Should churches be considered essential businesses?
A debate is raging inside and outside of churches.
- Over 1,200 pastors in California claim they're opening their churches this week against state orders.
- While church leaders demand independence from governmental oversight, 9,000 Catholic churches have received small business loans.
- A number of re-opened churches shut back down after members and clergy became infected with the novel coronavirus.
Last week a group of over 1,200 pastors signed a petition to announce that their churches will be open for business beginning on May 31. This announcement defies California's shelter-at-home orders—in fact, a federal court just backed Governor Newsom's directives. Under the state's four-stage reopening roadmap, churches are allowed to resume corporate worship in Stage 3. At the moment, California is early in Stage 2. Church leaders claim they need to open now.
This problem isn't confined to California, as churches from Massachusetts to Texas are already open for business. This story doesn't always have a happy ending. A Catholic church in Houston had to shut its doors again after five church leaders were diagnosed with COVID-19. Two weeks after reopening, a Georgia church closed after several families that attended discovered they had the virus.
In Sacramento County, California, 71 people that attended a service later learned they were infected. The virus has hit African Americans especially hard. So far, 33 bishops, pastors, and reverends have died from the disease. Epidemiologist Kimberly Powers says indoor religious services are a high risk for transmission.
An ongoing spreadsheet database by mathematical modeler Gwen Knight has linked around 220 different church events resulting in disease transmission. Her detailed report links to each case, which tracks religious services around the world.
But not all religious are rushing back to the pulpit. Father James Martin, Jesuit priest and consultant to the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications, called for leaders to listen to the advice of public health officials and state orders. He said reopening early is "the opposite of pro-life." California churches that have reopened are producing new clusters of cases. Martin is hosting services on his Facebook page instead of in person.
All of this makes you wonder: What is the rush to reopen really about?
Coronavirus: Who is driving the U.S. protests against lockdown?
The U.S. government has been unprepared from day one. Are shut-downs the best idea? There are credible cases against it. This administration has gutted our health care system, which was already hemorrhaging from previous administrations supporting the for-profit model. Our response to this virus has been piecemeal because that's exactly how health care has been dismantled. That trend leaves the onus to state and local governments.
The rebellion against state orders has largely been Christian, as mosques and temples have remained quiet. Religious believers claim their houses of worship are essential even though churches are not necessary for survival. Food stores, pharmacies, and laundromats, sure. Appliance repair and plumbing, understandable.
In California, questionable inclusions are on the list of essential businesses. Florists? Big Flower might rule yes, but that's a strange one. Speaking of flower, a bit of an uproar ensued when marijuana dispensaries remained open. Yet my local dispensary only allows a handful of people to enter, masks are required, and social distancing is strictly enforced. Is that really possible in a church?
Perhaps. Smaller services, absolutely. Some of the stated reasons for reopening don't add up, however. Over 12,000 Catholic Churches in the United States applied for small business loans after lockdowns began. In total, roughly 9,000 received them. Yet on the petition to reopen, the author opens with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote which reads, "[The church] must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool."
How does an institution alleging to be the "guide of the state" claim it doesn't have to play by the state's rules, yet turn to the same governing body—one it doesn't pay taxes to—and request money? This is a longstanding problem. Revenue from church taxes would equal $71 billion a year. A lot of heat is rightfully aimed at Amazon for not paying its fair share. Tax evasion from religious organizations is equally problematic.
The church organist plays for the congregation during a drive-in Sunday church service at Dunseverick Baptist Church on May 24, 2020 in Bushmills, Northern Ireland.
Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Many churches are small and rely on member donations. While an understandable concern, the problem with church structure must be addressed. A 2018 investigation into the Catholic Church in Australia uncovered $30 billion in holdings in that country alone. The overall wealth of the Church is, according to one journalist, "impossible to calculate." For an institution to claim independence (and even superiority) over government yet turn to the same government for taxpayer money needs to be addressed.
The social impact is hard on church communities, as it is on all communities. Increasing mental health distress due to isolation is a growing problem we need to reckon with as a society. We must also ask how a church service is different from other gatherings. Many religious will claim this to be the case, but plenty of Americans find solace in yoga studios, health clubs, and sporting events. There is no supremacy for one social circle over another. This is about transmission of disease, not personal preferences.
Prayer has long been a group activity, yet it is also an individual connection, as Matthew 6:5-6 states. Church goers are missing the feeling of being in a group. Severing this connection is painful. But we mustn't confuse loss of group for loss of faith.
The loudest garner headlines. Fortunately, plenty of religious leaders are putting smart guidelines in place for reopening. As with every public event, vigilance is required. A number of churches appear ready to practice precaution for the health of their flock. They're also listening to public health officials for a reopening timeline.
Finally, there's a belief floating around that God will protect the faithful. We don't have to spend too much time on this, except to shame anyone using the pulpit to make such a ridiculous claim. Viruses don't pray. They only prey. Their followers deserve better than that.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.
- Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
- The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
- The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Vanchurin interview:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="539759cbfd8fcd5b6ebf14a3b597b3f9"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bmyRy2-UhEE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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