from the world's big
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.
Coronavirus: Who is driving the U.S. protests against lockdown?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4400883e82c7cc8972453d977d3e8c18"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TKqymsBdllg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The U.S. government has been unprepared from day one. Are shut-downs the best idea? There are <a href="https://www.aier.org/article/how-a-free-society-deals-with-pandemics-according-to-legendary-epidemiologist-and-smallpox-eradicator-donald-henderson/?fbclid=IwAR3QRCMOrWI6d9PWaWU7EBQa-JPzrY0cM_k0RQTf-qEF633ngSzGjP9cgio" target="_blank">credible cases</a> against it. This administration has <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-cuts-programs-responsible-for-fighting-coronavirus-2020-2" target="_blank">gutted our health care system</a>, which was <a href="https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2016/10/22/us-healthcare-system-bleeding-us-death-design" target="_blank">already hemorrhaging</a> 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. </p><p>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. </p><p>In California, questionable inclusions are <a href="https://covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/" target="_blank">on the list</a> 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? </p><p>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 <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/catholic-churches-paycheck-protection-program-12000-applied-9000-got/" target="_blank">applied for small business loans</a> after lockdowns began. In total, roughly 9,000 received them. Yet on the <a href="https://www.tylerbursch.com/religious-petition-to-governor-gavin-newsom" target="_blank">petition to reopen</a>, 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." </p><p>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 <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/how-to-make-71-billion-a-year-tax-the-churches" target="_blank">$71 billion a year</a>. A lot of heat is rightfully aimed at Amazon for <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/04/amazon-had-to-pay-federal-income-taxes-for-the-first-time-since-2016.html" target="_blank">not paying its fair share</a>. Tax evasion from religious organizations is equally problematic.</p>
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<p>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 <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-12/catholic-church-worth-$30-billion-investigation-finds/9422246" target="_blank">$30 billion in holdings</a> in that country alone. The overall wealth of the Church is, according to one journalist, "<a href="https://nationalpost.com/news/wealth-of-roman-catholic-church-impossible-to-calculate" target="_blank">impossible to calculate</a>." For an institution to claim independence (and even superiority) over government yet turn to the same government for taxpayer money needs to be addressed. </p><p>The social impact is hard on church communities, as it is on <em>all</em> communities. <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/" target="_blank">Increasing mental health distress</a> 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. </p><p>Prayer has long been a group activity, yet it is also an individual connection, as <a href="https://aleteia.org/2018/02/24/5-important-things-jesus-said-about-prayer/" target="_blank">Matthew 6:5-6 states</a>. 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. </p><p>The loudest garner headlines. Fortunately, <a href="https://www.christianpost.com/news/how-the-coronavirus-is-changing-the-way-we-do-church.html" target="_blank">plenty of religious leaders</a> 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. </p><p>Finally, there's a belief floating around that <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/24/us/churches-reopening-state-orders-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">God will protect the faithful</a>. 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.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</p>
A recent survey also found that political messaging from the pulpit increased the likelihood of believing presidents to be ordained by God.
- Evangelical support of President Trump has baffled many who find his conduct at odds with core Christian values.
- A recent survey found that 49 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe Trump was chosen by God.
- Additional data found evangelicals are mixed on his moral character but view him as critical to political victories.
For non-Trumpists, one of the most baffling qualities of his presidency is the overwhelming support received from evangelical Christians. A record 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, more than George W. Bush, and that support has grown into a fervor over the years.
As Reza Aslan, author of "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," told Big Think in an interview: "This makes no sense to people, especially when you consider that Trump is not just the most irreligious president in modern history. His entire worldview makes a mockery of core Christian values like humility and empathy and care for the poor."
While Jesus taught humility (Philippians 2:7), Trump is braggadocios. While Jesus taught us not to covet earthly possessions (Matthew 6:19), Trump built his reputation on worldly riches. While Jesus taught his followers to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44), Trump tweets vitriol at his opposition.
So how can so many Christians support two men with diametrically opposed worldviews? The answer is multifaceted, but a recent survey may have found a crucial element in understanding this ostensible discrepancy. According to the results, a healthy number of evangelicals believe Trump to be anointed by God.
A divine mandate
Two graphs showing how church attendance increases the likelihood that someone will believe all presidents (blue) or Trump (orange) were anointed by God. The graph on the left shows the survey's 2019 results, the right its 2020 results.
Paul Djupe and Ryan Burge, associate professors of political science at Denison University and Eastern Illinois University, respectively, noticed a spate of pastors, pundits, and politicians exclaiming Trump to be God's chosen one. To pick one example, televangelist Pat Robertson has claimed that Trump received a mandate from God.
"I think, somehow, the Lord's plan is being put in place for America and these people are not only revolting against Trump, they're revolting against what God's plan is for America," Robertson said during a February 2017 broadcast of "The 700 Club."
The two sociologists wanted to see if such beliefs were widespread among America's Christians or just the hyperbolic musings of ratings-hungry talking heads. In May 2019, they surveyed just over 1,000 church-attending Protestants and asked them two questions: First, did they believe all presidents were anointed by God; Second, did they believe President Donald Trump was specifically anointed by God?
In their sample, about a third of white evangelicals agreed that Trump was ordained by God to win the 2016 election. Djupe and Burge also found that as church attendance increased, so did the percentage of those who agreed with both questions.
For example, among white Protestants who attended church less than once a month, only 9.4 percent agreed that Trump was anointed by God. But among white Protestants who attended church more than once a week, that number leaped to 29.6 percent. When Djupe and Burge looked specifically at Pentecostals, they found 53 percent connected Trump's presidency with divine design.
Djupe and Burge ran their survey again in March 2020, asking the same questions to a quota-sampled cohort that matched the previous study in gender, region, and age. As with the previous study, they released their research as a teaching resource on their blog, Religion in Public.
They found belief in Trump's anointment had risen across their sample, again increasing in proportion with church attendance. Among white Protestants who attend church once or more a week, belief in Trump's anointment rose to 49.5 percent. Their sample also showed a rising belief that all presidents were anointed.
Other surveys have shown similar results. A 2020 Pew Research Center survey asked Americans, not just church-attenders, about God's role in recent presidential elections. They found that 32 percent of the more than 6,000 respondents, a sizable minority, believed Trump's election must be part of God's overall plan—though only 5 percent of those respondents believed God chose Trump because of his policies.
The survey found similar opinions regarding Obama's election, suggesting a not insubstantial belief that God involves himself with American elections but remains fiercely nonpartisan.
The political pulpit
A graph showing how political speech from clergy correlates with increased belief that Trump was anointed by God. The correlation proved strongest among Republicans.
Evangelicals believing God chose Trump may go some way in explaining their support of him, but it doesn't relieve the perceived cognitive dissonance between Trump's values and those of core Christianity.
In his interview, Reza Aslan argued Trumpism had become a cult for fundamentalists. For these fundamentalists, Trump became a warrior under the auspice of God to fight on behalf of evangelical beliefs. A "salvific character" to worship, as Aslan put it.
Bruge and Djupe don't go so far as to call Trumpism a cult; However, their data back the idea that Trump's rise can be linked to defensive circling against perceived threats and repeated messaging.
"We were quite surprised by the result that 49 percent of those frequently attending worship services believed that Trump was anointed by God to be president," Bruge and Djupe told Fox News in an interview. "At least until we examined the evidence that suggested religious and secular elites continue to claim that Trump has a religiously significant role to play."
The sociologists also asked their 2020 respondents whether they heard clergy mention political topics at the pulpit. They found a strong correlation between church attendance with political messaging and a belief in Trump's anointment among Republicans (see the above graph). That correlation was not as strong among Democrats or Independents.
Belief in Trump's anointment similarly climbed if respondents heard messaging that Democrats threatened rights and liberties. When hearing such arguments, even Democrat Christians were more likely to agree in Trump's anointment.
"We are not the first to note that right-wing media are having a profound effect on public opinion, serving to insulate Trump supporters," Burge and Djupe write. "We are some of the first to document how this is built and sustained from the bottom up. That is, political churches, among Republicans especially, reinforce the argumentation that is also coming from above."
They conclude, "But it is important to see that this is not just an evangelical Republican problem. The religious significance of the presidency is swelling across the board for the religious, indicating further polarization along religious and partisan lines is continuing."
The King David defense
As for Trump's moral conduct, evangelicals don't maintain the cognitive dissonance that Reza Aslan and other non-Trumpists perceive would be necessary. The same 2020 Pew Research Center survey found that white evangelicals were mixed on Trump's personal conduct and moral qualities—with only 15 percent agreeing that the phrase "morally upstanding" described Trump well.
Where there is more agreement, however, is the belief that Trump's administration is on the evangelical side of the culture war. Fifty-nine percent of white evangelical Christians believe that the Trump administration has helped their interests, and 63 percent say their side has been winning politically, which according to Pew is "triple the share who said this in May 2016, six months before Trump's election."
Rick Perry summed up this worldview last year when he told Fox News: "Barack Obama didn't get to be the president of the United States without being ordained by God. Neither did Donald Trump." He added that God has used "individuals who aren't perfect all through history" such as King David and King Solomon.
In the evangelical mindset, support for Trump isn't a moral inconsistency. They perceive the President's moral character to be lacking in fiber, but still believe he was chosen to fight the good fight with the blessing of God's will.
Whether that fight matches the will of the people, we'll have to wait until November to find out.
How religion changed the presidency—and vice versa
Philosophy professor James Sterba revives a very old argument.
- In his book, Is a Good God Logically Possible?, James Sterba investigates the role of evil.
- Sterba contends that if God is all-powerful then he'd be able to stop evil from occurring in the world.
- God's inability (or unwillingness) to stop evil should make us question his role, or even his existence.
A young boy carrying a placard in London's Trafalgar Square which says, 'Prepare to Meet Thy God'.
Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images<p>If God is unable or unwilling to stop the external consequences of evil—while good and evil can be culturally relative terms, murder is universally recognized as being in the red—then the implications, to the religious at least, would equate to blasphemy. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If there's all this evil in the world, maybe God can't prevent it. Then he's still all powerful, he just logically can't prevent it. The problem there is it turns out that God would be less powerful than we are because we can prevent lots of evil. Now if God is stuck in a logical possibility while we're only stuck in a causal one, then he's so much less powerful than us. The traditional God can't be less powerful than we are." </p><p>While this discussion is often relegated to religious philosophy, we regularly witness the effects. Sterba mentions the Pauline principle, that "one should never do evil so that good may come." Murdering a doctor that provides abortions, a platform accepted by extreme religious conservatives, falls into this category. We can place the <a href="https://apnews.com/015702afdb4d4fbf85cf5070cd2c6824" target="_blank">record number of migrant children</a> held in detention centers in 2019, nearly 70,000, because their imprisonment supposedly saves American jobs, or keeps brown people out, or this week's excuse du jour in that category as well. </p><p>Sterba says that a religion that purports to champion charity and poverty should not be making a utilitarian argument when at root its adherents should be thinking about not doing evil. Doing evil for a supposed later good is not, by its very nature, a charitable act. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In traditional religious views, utilitarianism is a horrible thing. Trying to maximize utilitarianism is a bad way of thinking about things. You should be thinking about not doing evil and you should be worrying about intention."</p>
- Changing the narrative around people's experience with pain or illness, combined with a bit of adrenaline and showmanship, can change their condition, says psychological illusionist Derren Brown.
- Brown has a show on Netflix, called Miracle, that comes at faith healing from a scientific perspective, demonstrating the psychological tricks that can seem so god-like.
- When we start to identify with a particular ailment and sink into that habit, it creates our psychological experience of pain. The so-called "healing" process of faith healers is really about tapping into the psychological component of suffering.
Spoiler: Microbiomes in space!
- A recent interview reveals the visionary inspiration behind Star Wars.
- The story was originally an excerpt from the Journal of the Whills.
- The Whills were the force behind the Force.
The Force<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5NjY0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTcxNzc4MH0.b2HHFBw1rAe1sUFfjvIfOU0hPGWl9T6o23zxoRuv-yQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="d786f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ba22974c1e8265a0a394fe6c11ce4ef7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Disney<p>Whatever one thinks of <em>Star Wars </em>as movies, there's no denying that Lucas contributed to humanity something that transcends the <em>Star Wars</em> movies and their fans: the Force. The vaguely theological, unseen struggle between opposites—good and evil, darkness and light—has become a secular religion, if such a thing is possible. While few would say they actually <em>believe</em> in it, few would say that they <em>don't</em>, even if they call it something else.</p><p>In its original conception, it turns out the Force was the activity of microbiotic beings called the "Whills," who were the real, if hidden, heroes and villains of <em>Star Wars</em>. As Lucas has said, "The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force." </p><p>Lucas recently revealed, "There's this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force."</p><p>Lucas planned for the third trilogy to largely leave the Skywalkers, etc. behind and shift the action down to where the story was <em>really</em> happening: the Whills' microbiome.</p><p>Disney said, um, nope, and wrote its own final trilogy without Lucas' involvement. And without the Whills. Says Lucas, "If I'd held onto the company I could have done it, and then it would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did <em>Phantom Menace</em> and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told."</p><p>Clearly, the beloved movie characters would have gotten a major demotion if we were to learn it's really the heroism of the Whills we're seeing.</p>
Reading between the lines<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5NjY0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDQwNTk4OH0.7n664SyAI4nmEJb4YaXTXe8ii1mFFJjNr_XhSHfG7wg/img.jpg?width=980" id="3bfcf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1695e62eb9d061a26a3255da974d93fc" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Full of mid-chlorians is young Annakin.
Image source: Disney<p>Fans of the movies have long known something about the Whills. In early story notes, summaries, and script drafts that have been published, notably in <a href="https://amzn.to/34MGkoA" target="_blank"><em>Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays</em></a>, the Whills loom large as the central focus of the whole saga. It was, in fact, originally called <em>Journal of the Whills</em>, and was to be presented to the audience by an unseen narrator, a Whill:</p><p><em>"Originally, I was trying to have the story be told by somebody else; there was somebody watching this whole story and recording it, somebody probably wiser than the mortal players in the actual events. I eventually dropped this idea, and the concept behind the Whills turned into the Force." — George Lucas</em></p><p>Passing references to the Whills pop up here and there in the films released before Lucas sold the rights to Disney, particularly in the widely disliked first trilogy, released decades after the acclaimed second trio of films.</p><p>Critics and viewers alike rolled their eyes in <em>The Phantom Menace </em>when young Annakin Skywalker was found to have a high "mid-chlorian" count. Here, Lucas was laying the groundwork for the Whills: Mid-chlorians, he now says, were micro-organisms that served as conduits though which their host, say, a Jedi, could communicate with the Whills. The more mid-chlorians someone has, the more in touch with the Force that person is.</p>
The Whills revealed<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5NjY0OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NjMwNjgzN30.Q7A9eY7_Ve688UgfEdsACcXuzrc7v8PQibqHQXySQcY/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C51%2C0%2C693&height=700" id="eee46" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a9bf535ee4414db512a7277f474187d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Art Zelin/Getty<p>The central role played by the Whills in the <em>Star Wars</em> universe became clear only recently, thanks to an eye-opening interview Lucas gave director James Cameron as part of compelling AMC series <em>James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction</em>. The publishers of the <a href="https://amzn.to/2Q4UVGK" target="_blank">companion book</a> for the series, <a href="https://insighteditions.com" target="_blank">Insight Editions</a>, published an <a href="https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/zzvghryuxyimgbdxhjyk.png" target="_blank">excerpt</a> of Lucas' interview online.</p><p>In his interview, Lucas recalls the thinking that led him to the Whills back in the early 1970s. It's remarkably prescient regarding what science now describes as our personal <a href="https://depts.washington.edu/ceeh/downloads/FF_Microbiome.pdf" target="_blank">microbiomes</a>: "Back in the day, I used to say ultimately what this means is we were just cars, vehicles, for the Whills to travel around in. We're vessels for them."</p><p>Nothing much is known about how Lucas would have visualized the Whills, and we may never know, if even he does. Meanwhile, bringing Lucas' original <em>Star Wars</em> vision into focus is fascinating. When <em>Episode IV, a New Hope</em> first exploded into the theaters, it played primarily as a deliberate and hokey—if thrilling—tribute to the director's beloved Saturday-matinee sci-fi popcorn serials. Who knew its origin had been so profound?</p>