Religious Fundamentalists Are Making the Pandemic Worse

President Donald Trump listens while Mike Pence speaks about the corona virus. (Alex Brandon / AP Photo)

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This spring, the novel coronavirus pandemic raised the question of the relationship between the slightest type of religious belief and rational skepticism – this time in two countries that see themselves as polar opposites and enemies: Iranian leader Ali Khameini and Donald Trump’s America .

On the US side of things, New Orleans pastor Tony SpellFor example, he was arrested twice because, despite banning such gatherings, he had held services without evidence of social distance. His second arrest was for preaching with an ankle monitor and despite the Covid-19 death by at least one of his church members.

The publication of Charles Darwin’s famous in 1859 Origin of the speciesand argued as for natural selection (which many American evangelicals still refuse) could be seen as the starting point for the modern conflict between religious beliefs and science, a struggle that has shaped our culture in a powerful way. Given Iran’s reputation as religious obscurantism, science-minded people unexpectedly turned to a collection of Persian poems unexpectedly in the 19th and 20th centuries Rubáiyátor “Quatrains” attributed to the medieval Iranian astronomer Omar Khayyam, who died in 1131.

Edward FitzGerald’s loose translation of these poems, also published in 1859, put Khayyam on the map as a medieval Muslim freethinker and became a sensation for a century and a half amid heated debates about the relationship between science and science belief in the West. Known atheist Clarence DarrowThe famous defender of the “ape trial” of a Tennessee educator in 1925, who violated state law by teaching evolution, was typical of his love for Rubáiyát. He often quoted it in his concluding arguments, observe that for Khayyam the “mysticism of philosophy and religion were both hollow and bare”.

In his view, his River Tampa Bay Church was the “safest place” because it was the place of “redemption”. It wasn’t until early April that he finally put his services online, and it probably wasn’t protecting the health of his community. His insurance company had canceled him after he was arrested and continued to violate local regulations.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis further clouded the water in early April by finally issuing a nationwide protection order that exempted churches as “essential services”. Then, after just a month, he abruptly opened again the state anyway. DeSantis, who had led a Facebook group dominates Raised by racist comments and Donald Trump’s coattails has a sizeable Evangelical constituency and in his actions he and Pastor Howard-Browne were hardly alone.

It tells you everything you need to know until the beginning of May had more than 30 evangelical pastors died from Covid-19 on the Bible Belt.

Two epicentres of the pandemic

In the Muslim equivalent of the Bible belt, the spiritual leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, stopped shaking hands and visiting his office for a limited time in early February, but allowed the mass commemoration of the 41st anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic to proceed unhindered. Then, on February 24, he also allowed the national parliamentary elections to continue, hoping to anchor even more of his stubborn fundamentalist supporters – the equivalent of American evangelicals – in the Iranian legislature. In the meantime, his other religious leaders continued resist Strong Covid-19 mitigation measures through late March, despite the country being besieged by the virus. Deputy Minister of Health Iraj Harirchi Aroused the spirit of the moment by rejecting social distancing measures in February, while downplaying the severity of the outbreak in his country to infect and die of Covid-19 himself.

The virus first exploded in the holy city of Qom, which was said to have been populated by the descendants of Prophet Muhammad in the 8th century. It is full of countless religious seminars and has a famous shrine to one of these descendants, Fatima Masoumeh. At the end of February, even after government officials pressed to close the sanctuary, the clerics continued to administer Call for pilgrims to visit it. These pilgrims usually touch and sometimes kiss the brass grille around Fatima Masoumeh’s grave, a classic method of passing the disease on. His stewards (like these American evangelical pastors) continued to believe that the sanctity of the shrine would protect the pilgrims. They may also have been concerned about their loss of income if pilgrims from around the world stopped showing up.

Despite a theocratic government in which clerics exercise disproportionate powers, Iran also has a significant and powerful scientific and technical establishment that looks at the world differently, even if some of them are pious Shiite Muslims. In the end, when the virus hit the country and deaths increased, the scientists won briefly, and President Hassan Rouhani’s government introduced some socially distancing measures for the public, including canceling Friday prayers and closing shrines in March – as in Florida – These measures didn’t take long.

In this way, Iran became the global epicenter of the pandemic and the Middle East. Let’s call it an irony of curious affinity. Superstition was only part of the problem. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the Trump administration’s sanctions and the country’s financial blockade due to the government’s weak response as Iranians struggled to pay for much-needed imported medical devices such as respirators. In fact, the U.S. government has also prompted Iran to launch global banking exchanges and threaten third-party sanctions against companies that do business with it.

However, President Trump denied that the United States had blocked medical imports into that country, a statement that was technically true, but wrong in every other sense. The full range of U.S. sanctions had actually created a formidable barrier to Iran’s import of medical devices, despite attempts by the European Union (which Trump’s campaign with maximum pressure against Iran rejects) enable Companies sell medical supplies to Tehran.

Still, as with Trump’s policies in the United States (including essentially to ignore the virus for months), Iranian government policy must be held responsible for the fact that the coronavirus flood, which had occurred in early May according to May, could not be stopped official numbershas resulted in more than 100,000 cases and around 7,000 deaths (figures that will undoubtedly turn out to be significant counts).

A Rubáiyát world

Whether in America or Iran, fundamentalist religion (or, in the case of the United States, a Trumpian and Republican urge to use it to favor) often led to bleak, bad public policy during the first wave of Covid-19. Among other things, it encouraged people, whether in religious institutions in both countries or in America Anti shutdown protestsengaging in ruthless behavior that endangers not only yourself but also others. Ironically, the conflict in any country between defiant pastors or mullahs and scholars on this issue should commemorate the cultural wars of the early 20th century and the location of US Iranian poetry Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyam in a largely Western debate at the time.

That makes these poems worth checking again in our dangerous moment. As I wrote in the introduction my new translation of Rubáiyát::

The message of the poems … is that life has no obvious meaning and is heartbreakingly short. Death is near and we may not be alive to exhale the breath we just took in. The afterlife is a fairy tale for children. The only way to overcome this existential injustice is to enjoy life, love someone and become familiar with good wine. On the other hand, there is no reason to be angry with other people.

Part of the appeal of this poetry to past millions came from the dim view of the then (as now) robust religious obscurantism. The disrespectful Mark Twain once wondered: “No poem had given me so much pleasure before … It is the only poem I have ever carried around with me. it has not been under my hand for 28 years. “Thomas Hardy, the British writer and advocate of Darwin, has woven his themes into some of his most famous novels. Robert Frost wrote his famous (and known to be dreary) poem “Stopping in a Snowy Night in the Forest” taking into account Khayyam’s Quatrains. Beat poet Jack Kerouac modeled Sal Paradise, the unconventional protagonist of his novel On roadabout his idea of ​​what Khayyam could have been like.

Although the authors have always attributed these poems to this great Seljuk-era astronomer and mathematician, it is clear that they were indeed written by later Iranian characters who used Khayyam as the “frame author”, perhaps for fear of a reaction to the deep-seated religious Skepticism in poetry (the same way as that Thousand and one Night Stories composed over centuries in Cairo, Aleppo and Baghdad have all been attributed to Scheherazade. Most of these verses first appeared at the time of the Mongol invasion of Iran in the 12th century, a bloody moment that upset and paralyzed the region when Covid-19 brought our world to an abrupt and chaotic halt.

As if the destruction of the war in the city and the pile of skulls were not enough, historians have argued that the Mongols who opened trade routes from Asia to the Middle East also inadvertently facilitated the spread of the war to the west Yersina pestis Bacillus that would cause bubonic plague or Black Death, a pandemic that would wipe out almost half of the Chinese population and a third of the European.

A 15th-century writer in the picturesque Iranian city of Shiraz would actually create the first anthology of Quatrains entitled The Rubáiyát by Omar KhayyamMany composed during the Mongol rule and the subsequent pandemic. The dangers of what we would now call religious fundamentalism, as opposed to an enlightened spirituality, have been trumpeted in these poems::

In monasteries, temples and retreats
They fear hellfire and look for paradise.
But those who know the mysteries of God
Don’t let these seeds plant in your heart.

Instead, while some turn to theology to comfort themselves during a catastrophe, these quatrains urged us all to be aggressive here and now, trying to snatch our worldly lives to the last pleasure before it suddenly disappears:

A bottle of Shiraz and a lover’s lips on the edge of a meadow –
are like cash to me – and to you a merit of paradise.
You bet some would go to heaven and some would go to hell.
But who went to hell? And who came back from paradise?

Poetry mocks some religious beliefs and uses the fantasies of astrology as a proxy target for the fatalism of the Orthodox religion. The authors may have felt safer to attack horoscopes than directly against the powerful cleric of Iran. Astronomers know that far from dictating the fate of others, the celestial bodies spin in orbits that make their future position easily predictable and therefore have little to do with the lives of complex and unpredictable people (like you never did, for example) Could have predicted that American evangelicals would choose to support a profane, feminine presidential candidate with an orange face in 2016 and beyond:

Don’t blame the stars for virtues or mistakes
or for the joy and sadness that fate has prescribed!
Because science holds the planets for everyone
A thousand times more helpless than we are.

Wars and pandemics choose winners and losers and – as we all grimly learn in the world of 2020 – the rich are generally so much better positioned to protect themselves from disasters than the poor. To his eternal honor, the Rubáiyát (as opposed to both the Trump administration and the Iranian religious leadership) sided with the latter, pointing out that religious fatalism and superstition, like astrology, inherently support a rotten status quo in which the poor are first sacrificed whether they are experiencing pandemics or anything else:

Zodiac signs: They give something to every donkey.
They give them chic baths, mills and canals –
while noble souls have to play, hoping to win their nightly bread.
Who would give a fart for such a constellation?

In our own dangerous times, right-wing fundamentalist governments like those in Brazil and the United States, as well as religious fundamentalist ones like Iran, have made the outbreak of the corona virus far more virulent and dangerous by encouraging religious gatherings at a time when the pandemic broke out could only be done through social curve Distance be flattened. Your willingness to override providence, reason and science from a fatalistic and misguided belief in a supernatural providence that supersedes natural law, or, in Donald Trump’s case, a fatalistic and misguided belief in his own ability to override natural law ) was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths worldwide. Think of it as a fundamentalist version of genocide.

The financial motives of some of these obscurantisms are clear, as many churches and mosques rely on contributions from parishioners who provide livelihoods for imams and pastors. Their willingness to use their followers’ gullibility to maintain their stream of income should be seen as the culmination of hypocrisy and speaks to the importance of people never giving up their ability to think independently and critically.

Although you may not have noticed it on Donald Trump and Ali Khameini’s planet, religion seems to be on the verge of collapsing, at least in the industrialized world. A third of the French say that they have no religion at all and only 45 percent consider themselves Catholic (although perhaps only half of those are relatively committed to the faith), while only 5 percent go to church regularly. A majority of young people in 12 European countries claim that they now have no religion, indicating a secular future for much of the continent. Even in particularly religious America Self-identification Christian has dropped to 65 percent of the population, a decrease of 12 percent in the past ten years, while 26 percent of the population now refuses to have any religion at all.

In Iran after the pandemic, don’t be surprised if similar feelings spread, considering how the religious leadership has functionally promoted the devastation of Covid-19. In this way, Donald Trump’s America and Ali Khameini’s Iran really have something in common despite military threats, economic sanctions, and everything else. In the United States, where it is easier to measure what is happening, evangelicals are more than a fifth of the population when George W. Bush was first elected president in 2000, 16 percent two decades later.

Given the unpredictable nature of our world (as the creation of Covid-19 made it all too clear), nothing, including secularization, is a one-way street. Religion is quite capable of experiencing revivals. Still, there is no safer way to balance equilibrium towards Omar Khayyam-style skepticism than to let prominent religious leaders lead their believers and anyone in contact with them into a new wave of the pandemic.

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