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America's Bizarre and Venal New Religions
The COVID-19 Cult and other strange forms of worship.
By JOHN LEAKE
This morning a friend in Boston drew my attention to a strange essay titled The School That Couldn’t Quit Covid, which tells the story of the Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca, New York. As the author, David Zweig, relates:
As of today, children at EACMSI are still required to mask indoors and outdoors. They are still prohibited from speaking during lunch. Second-graders who began school there as kindergarteners in fall 2020 have never experienced a normal day of school in their lives. …
This is the story of why EACMSI is among the last schools in America to still enforce such draconian measures. It is also the story of how, when faced with a crisis, many public health authorities—along with regular people and bureaucrats following the authorities’ lead—believed that the more extreme the response to the virus, the more wise and virtuous the policy.
When I read this I was immediately reminded of accounts of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692-93, when the Witch Trials took place. As historians have pointed out, Salem was a fractious place riven by disputes about property lines, grazing rights, and who should be the congregation’s minister. The inhabitants were additionally stressed by the arrival of refugees from Maine who’d fled to Massachusetts from Indian raids of their coastal settlements.
In the winter of 1692, some of the girls who lived in this stressed-out community started to behave strangely, screaming, throwing things, contorting themselves, and complaining that they were being pricked all over as though by pins. The local doctor, William Griggs, could find no evidence of disease.
This generated the suspicion that someone (and possibly multiple persons) was practicing witchcraft and causing the girls to be possessed by the Devil. This in turn led to several arrests, trials, and executions for witchcraft. The last trial was held in May of 1693.
I suspect that in some deeply archaic way, a viral respiratory contagion may generate the same kind of terror that Salem inhabitants felt when they perceived that an invisible, malevolent spirit had infected their girls. No measure for identifying the causative agent (suspected to be practitioners of witchcraft) was thought too severe. On the contrary, once they concluded that the Devil was in their midst, they believed that the harshest conceivable were necessary to expunge him and his agents.
Philosophers and anthropologists have long observed that humans seem to be inherently religious in nature. Thus, if people no longer believe in the God of Judaism or Christianity, they are left in a spiritual vacuum in which they feel an implacable yearning to believe in something else. Many of the social and political movements that are now afoot in America and Europe strike me as an expression of fervent religious energy.
During the pandemic we witnessed something like a COVID-19 Cult, with Dr. Anthony Fauci playing the role of a “scientific” Pontifex Maximus replete with Papal Infallibility. “I am science,” he proclaimed, suggesting that he is Science Incarnate.
The so called COVID-19 vaccines were conceived as our Salvation, and their purported safety and efficacy were adopted as Articles of Faith. Once people embraced these gene transfer products as safe and effective, no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary would dissuade them.
Even among some people who considered themselves Christian, the vaccines were conceived as more protective of life than Christ himself. Indeed, one Methodist church in Cape Town, South Africa, draped itself with a banner that explicitly announced this:
The coin depicts a doctor, a nurse and a young person who is ready to receive the vaccine. The Holy Father has repeatedly stressed the importance of vaccination, recalling that healthcare is “a moral obligation”, and it is important to “continue efforts to immunize even the poorest peoples.
Note that the formulation, "a young person who is ready to receive the vaccine” is identical to the formulation for a communicant “who is ready to receive the host”—in Italian “pronto a ricevere l'Eucaristia.”
I suppose that true believers consider the banner in Cape Town and the coin in Rome as artifacts of a religion corrupted by falsehood and false worship. I also suppose it’s no coincidence that many of the doctors who treated COVID-19 (instead of doing nothing and waiting for the heralded Vaccine Savior) were, to some degree, believers in the Jewish or Christian faith. Their faith in traditional, revealed religion made them disinclined to embrace the new religion of Scientism.
The Christian philosopher, Paul Tillich, once described religion as one’s “Ultimate Concern.” Even people who do NOT see themselves as religious will nevertheless have an Ultimate Concern—that is, something they believe to be the most important thing in their lives, that shapes their identities, and motivates them to pursue certain ends.
For thousands (including many doctors) who participated in the pandemic response, the Ultimate Concern seems to have been MONEY. Humans have always worshipped money, and moralists have always lamented it. Nevertheless, the trillions of dollars created for “COVID-19 Countermeasures” seem to have elevated Mammon to a new and lofty height.