The willingness — and at times, almost eagerness — of many Americanized Christians to aid the continuing COVID-19 spread may be baffling on the surface.
But this misguided and destructive view of science and available knowledge in general has a long and unfolding history.
From the 16th and 17th century observations of European astronomers Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei — both deemed heretics — to the Salem Witch Trials in the late-17th century, to the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, to the current theme-park style Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, many Christian defenders of their well-packaged beliefs — that leave no room for fresh revelation — have portrayed scientific pursuit and discovery as a threat to their faith.
Such a strong defense actually reveals a fragile faith — one that could get knocked down by the simple recognition that what we can learn about the universe now is more and different from what has been known before.
This house of straw belief system is poorly constructed on the weak foundation that the Bible explains in full how the world was formed — although writers at the time had no concept of or interest in science — rather than its real purpose in revealing who created the world and why.
So now, when God answers the prayers of millions and provides a safe and readily available life-saving vaccine, many who bear the Christian brand are skeptical or downright oppositional — asking why they should believe science and scientists at this particular time.
Though predictable to a large degree, considering this long history, the results are tragic in multiple ways:
First, this mindset is literally (unlike the Bible’s poetic accounts of creation) killing people, many people. That reality is plain and simple.
Second, it tarnishes the Christian witness by portraying the faith as both gullible and uncaring. The values exposed in this perspective are truly at odds with the one who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
Third, it divides families, friends and faith communities — some of whom simply don’t want to add the risk that comes from being with potential carriers of a deadly disease when immunity is so easily available. And it causes many to reconsider the values of those whose concern for themselves and others is missing at a crucial time in history.
Fourth, it extends a crisis. When history is written about this episode, it will include the same conclusion as writings about slavery, racism and other sad expressions of injustice and inequality: “…and many professing Christians were part of the problem rather than the solution to this abounding evil.”
Whether punishing scientists of old whose discoveries questioned or voided the wrongheadedness of a flat or stationary earth — or burning and drowning young women scapegoated as witches, or rejecting the carbon-dating reality that the earth is billions of years old and its creatures evolve — there has long been an unnecessary defensiveness from those wielding religious power.
Yet, the welding of politics to religion is especially noted in the deadly anti-vaccine propaganda today. Many church people — rather than burning a scientist deemed a heretic or projecting blame on a so-called witch — are literally killing each other (and others) unnecessarily.
This tragedy is the clear result of Americanized Christianity — to a significant degree of influence — being more defined by a political ideology of self-interest and self-preservation than by the life and teachings of Jesus.
This misguided mindset manifests itself in Christian culture as a fearful, fact-free faith based on listening to and trusting poor sources, often with self-serving purposes — rather than the brightest minds and life-saving resources God has created to serve good purposes.
If what is discovered through a microscope, telescope, test tube or other scientific method threatens what one holds to be divine truth, then the wiser approach is to consider the possibility that one has yet to know and experience all the truth and wonders of the Creator.
Wonderment keeps the mind and heart open to the real possibility that God is still revealing truth to us — and in many cases, truth that can make life better for ourselves and for others.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.