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Press: Pity, not bitter derision, for anti-vaxxers

21 January 2022

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TWO of the deadliest blows to the establishment of the Church of England had nothing to do with its theology. One was Sunday trading, and with it the loss of the notion that there might be a part of the week that was not devoted to shopping and earning enough to shop some more. The other was the loosening of wedding regulations. Only the most picturesque can compete in that market, unless the couple actually suppose that marriage has something to do with Christianity.

The Economist ran a piece on the prospect of further deregulation of weddings. Noting that church funerals had halved in number in the past 20 years (from 48 per cent to 23 per cent by 2019), it suggested: “Weddings are the next frontier. By law only registrars and religious leaders can conduct legal marriages. But in 2019 celebrants in England and Wales may have led around 10,000 ‘wedding celebrations’ for couples who had already tied the knot in a registry office, according to research by Stephanie Pywell of the Open University.

“In July the Law Commission will publish a review of marriage regulations in England and Wales, which was ordered by the government in 2018. Among the topics covered will be ways to enable celebrants to marry people in the eyes of the law, should the government decide to do so. Experience from Scotland, which granted celebrants affiliated with humanist groups that power in 2005, suggests that demand would then soar. These days they officiate at more marriage ceremonies than Christian clergy do.”

 

THE GUARDIAN, meanwhile, suggested that it was time for gay marriage in the Church of England. In a remarkable leader, which leaned so heavily on the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, that I wondered whether she had been to lunch there, the paper suggested that change was coming soon. “The Gospels convey a message of loving inclusivity; England’s established Church should reflect that,” was the conclusion — which seemed to me unrealistic both about the Church and the Gospels. In any case, the Jesus of fluffiness can never compete with real teddy bears.

 

THE most morally interesting piece of the week was Simon Kuper’s column on anti-vaxxers in The Financial Times. “For most inhabitants of rich countries, Covid-19 is no longer lethal, but for the voluntarily unvaccinated, it’s a slaughter they don’t understand. Their risk of Covid-related death is 14 times that of vaccinated people. . .

“Just between June and November, 163,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US alone could have been prevented by vaccination, estimates the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s nearly double all the American deaths in war in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined — and the unvaccinated continue to die, pointlessly.”

The natural reaction among the vaccinated, in the US, has been bitter and derisive laughter. There there is even a subReddit — the Herman Cain awards — devoted to the social-media accounts of anti-vaxxers who boast of their freedom and immunity until they report a positive test and shortly thereafter go silent.

Kuper wants us to think instead of the children of these victims, orphaned in ways that they can’t publicly acknowledge: “When the parent is an antivaxxer taken by Covid, the child may feel shamed into silence over an unnecessary death that some people will always regard as farcical.”

I was recently contacted by a Charismatic Christian who used to try to persuade me of supernatural healings. (I remember a video about a diver who had been entirely deprived of oxygen for 20 minutes, but recovered to join an HTB congregation.) She now believes with equal fervour in miraculous poisonings brought about by the vaccines orchestrated by Dr Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, the World Economic Forum, and so on. She has spent, she says, hundreds of hours researching this. She implores me not to believe “the rhetoric” of the mainstream, but instead to discover “the facts” for myself.

She believes this nonsense without any malice at all. She presumably supposes that I, double-vaxxed and boosted, am at a much greater risk of death than she is, but she gets no pleasure from the thought, unlike many of those who would mock her. The experience made me wonder about the links between Charismatic enthusiasm and conspiracy theories. In both cases (as in the bits of the New Testament that Guardian leader writers don’t read), the world is divided into the sheep and the goats (or sheeple).

In both, the elect contend against a world controlled by powers and principalities and are helped in this by the “research”, aka “words of knowledge”, that illuminates their path. The style of reasoning — the collective decryption of opaque but wholly authoritative texts — is the same, whether you open the Bible at random or the first page of Google results. Both are just as effective in teaching science or statistics.

There are important differences. To believe in the imminent end of the world has no consequences for most people, whereas the belief that vaccines are more dangerous than Covid is bad for physical as well as mental health. Still, I stand rebuked by Kuper’s thoughtful compassion.

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