Christianity has seen many plagues in its bimillennial history. COVID-19 is by no means the first, and it likely won’t be the last. Overall, as far as plagues go anyway, COVID-19 has proved to be a mild one, even if it is global in nature. This is not meant to diminish the loss of those who have suffered from COVID-19, or who will suffer loss in the future. I’m just trying to put it into perspective. Compared to such diseases as smallpox, typhoid, yersinia, Influenza, polio and ebola: COVID-19 has a relatively low fatality rate (deaths/infected) and casualty rate (injuries/infected). The problem with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, appears to be how easily the virus spreads. It’s extremely contagious. Because of the massive number of people it can infect, in such a short amount of time, healthcare systems can be easily overwhelmed, even with such a low fatality and casualty rate initially, which can lead to a breakdown in modern medicine, resulting in skyrocketing fatality rates and casualty rates in selected areas.
For example: New York State initially saw a fatality rate of 1% to 2% for COVID-19 under normal conditions between February 2020 and August 2021 while the infection rate was low. However, during this same period, the fatality rate surged as high as 10% when the infection rate was high, resulting from New York’s medical system buckling under the increased case load (source). This tells us something important. The actual fatality rate of COVID-19 is approximately 10% with inadequate medical attention or no medical attention at all. However, with good medical attention, the fatality rate can easily be brought down to less than 2%.
Even though I am a medical professional, a respiratory therapist, and working with severe COVID-19 patients is very much a part of my regular life now, I’ve avoided blogging on this topic. This is mainly because I see my blog more as a religious-opinion resource, rather than a medical resource. However, with the advent of widespread religious objections to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, government interventions, and the disease itself, I now feel compelled to blog on this matter. This essay will not deal with the medical aspects of COVID-19. I’ll leave that topic to experts much more qualified than me. Rather, this essay will tackle the religious aspects of COVID-19 from the perspective of a practical, Catholic layman who is a healthcare worker by trade, and an evangelist/catechist/apologist by calling…
(1) The COVID-19 pandemic is real and dangerous, but it is not an apocalypse. This is not the end of the world, even if some of our elected officials and corporate executives act like it. While the disease is serious, and should be taken that way, it would appear that it has also been highly politicized. This is tragic. People on the political Left, including elected officials and corporate executives, as well as many in the mainstream media, tend to be those who advocate the strongest measures allegedly aimed at curbing the spread of the disease. However, some of these measures are not only unnecessary, but may be a violation of civil rights and Christian charity. On the flip side, it would appear the political Right is taking a reactionary posture to all of this, with some calling the whole COVID pandemic a “hoax,” while discouraging people from taking any precautionary measures against it at all. Both the political Left and Right appear to be acting irresponsibly, which is giving way to greater hostility, and in some cases tearing families apart. Maintaining a dispassionate, unemotional, realistic and common-sense view of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the measures used to fight it, will maintain the credibility of Christians when it’s eventually over. This will help non-believers understand that our beliefs are based on good faith, and not political ideology or stubborn ignorance.
(2) There is no need for massive shutdowns of commerce and religious or social activities. Lockdowns don’t work. A comprehensive study published by the European Journal of Clinical Investigation (source) found that mandatory “stay-at-home” and business closure orders, (commonly referred to as “lockdowns” in reference to the prison term by the same name) are ineffective at curbing the spread of COVID-19. However, these same lockdowns have been credited for a massive rise in poverty, government dependence, clinical depression, domestic abuse, substance abuse and suicide. So the question begs to be asked; do the benefits of lockdown outweigh the risks of freedom? It would appear the answer is an overwhelming “NO.” Not only as a matter of civil rights and justice, but also as a call to Christian charity, it is perfectly permissible (even beneficial) to demand an end to government imposed lockdowns, especially the pernicious and sinister anti-religious orders against churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. At a time when people need their religion the most, some reckless government officials would dare to take it away from them.
(3) Vaccine mandates are unnecessary in most business and charitable sectors. Vaccination has always been a choice, and should remain so for most sectors of the economy and charitable services. Healthcare may be one type of an exception to this rule. For example, many hospitals won’t even let employees work without them first getting an annual influenza vaccine. Hospitals basically vaccinate for everything. It’s one of the few ways they can reduce workplace hazard. Schools have a history of requiring some vaccines, but their list is usually not comprehensive. One could make the case for requiring COVID-19 vaccination among students who live on campus. However, no such requirement has historically been made on retail business, manufacturing or customer service jobs. In this regard, the COVID-19 vaccines should be treated just like any other vaccine.
(4) Vaccine passports are completely unnecessary and likely infringe upon civil rights. As Christians, this particular one should send chills down our spine. We’ve seen this before, particularly in nations where Christians are persecuted. Tyrannical governments use such things as a way to control movement and monitor locations. It conjures the image of police asking random people on the street: “your papers please?” If they follow with “your papers are in order,” you’re allowed to go about your business. If not, “come with me” follows next. We saw this sort of thing in Germany during the Third Reich, and in every communist country since 1917. Is this really the kind of world we want to live in? What happens when some people are allowed to go to the grocery store, while others are not, because their papers aren’t in order? Who cares if we simplify it to an easy smartphone application. Is this really the kind of world we want? Christians should be particularly suspicious of any government that seeks to control the movement of people in this way. We’ve seen it all before. It usually doesn’t end well for the Church. Sadly, some Americans are just into big government now. To them, the bigger the better. To them, the more intrusive the better. Their mindset is influenced by a century of communist propaganda in our schools and media. So they don’t see any problem with police randomly stopping people for “your papers please.” It’s a sad commentary on just how far American society has fallen from the ideas of freedom and liberty. The only thing Christians can do in the face of this kind of tyranny is resist it, but when doing so, do so for the cause of human rights (or civil liberties), and leave it at that. Taking it further, into grandiose conspiracy theories is sure to backfire.
(5) Christians should avoid elaborate and grandiose conspiracy theories concerning the nature of the vaccine, or the pandemic itself. These will only serve to diminish the credibility of Christians in the years ahead, when these conspiracies prove to be false. Playing devil’s advocate, if said conspiracies turn out to be true (even partially true) how does that help the credibility of spreading the gospel message? It seems like an awfully big gamble for almost no additional traction in evangelizing the lost. It’s important to understand that a lot of what people deem a “conspiracy” is really just good ol’ fashioned human nature. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When governments become powerful, there is a very human lust to acquire more power. That’s just what human beings do, and there is nothing new about this. We saw it happen countless times in human history. We see it happening right now. Look at China. Look at North Korea. This is just what people do when given absolute control. They seek to secure that control indefinitely, and gain more if possible. The entire theory of limited government was the impetus behind America’s Founding Fathers when they separated the branches of the federal government, and made sure the states retained their virtual autonomy. The idea here was to make it difficult for government to grow, seize more power and become tyrannical. We have seen that deteriorate over the last two centuries, but the separation of powers has slowed the (normal) human march toward tyranny in North America. Should we be surprised that our government (along with many other governments) would use a global pandemic as an excuse to do what they’re always trying to do (which is seize more power)? Why not? They’re still using global warming (climate change) for the same purpose. They used the events of 9/11, in the form of the Patriot Act, to seize power and remove any notion we ever had of privacy in telecommunications. This is just what they do. Big governments get bigger. They seize more power whenever the opportunity is given. There is no conspiracy here. It’s just human nature. Opposing the growth of big government, and the march toward tyranny, is something that any Christian should feel obligated to do. Delving into conspiracy theories about global elites, and mass sterilization, genocide and the Mark of the Beast is a credibility killer. Just stop.
(6) Objection to the COVID-19 vaccine should be limited to moral grounds, based on the use of fetal stem-cells either in development or testing of the vaccines. Christians should focus their objections not at the government, but at Big Pharma, informing them that had they used adult stem-cells instead there would be no moral objection. This is the key here, and it’s an area that most Christians are actually competent to speak on. That’s because it has to do with morality not science. Anyone can speak on morality, and Christians most certainly should. Big Pharmaceutical companies need to know that their immoral choices, as to how they make or test vaccines, are causing people to avoid their products, and this is resulting in unnecessary hospitalizations, handicaps and even deaths. These companies need to know that the blood of the unvaxxed is on their hands, because of a really dumb decision to use aborted fetal stem-cells either in the formulation or testing of their vaccine products. Approaching the moral question this way retains credibility for Christians, because its regarding one particular area of morality (not science), and involves a Big Pharma decision that could have gone differently if the executives were more sensitive to the issue. It’s an example of corporate failure in making controversy where none needed to exist. Most companies hate controversy. It’s bad for business. Christians just need to make it known how much it’s hurting their business and their public relations. Keep it limited to that, and you have a winning battle. However, if you decide to go down the road of conspiracy theories, regarding the science of the vaccine itself, forecasting all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios as a result of mass vaccinations, that is a losing argument, which will eventually prove false, and result in a massive loss of credibility for those who espouse it. Most Christians are not competent enough in the study of medical science to comment on the safety (or efficacy) of mRNA vaccines. Sorry, but unless you’ve spent years training in this sort of thing, you really don’t know what you’re talking about, even if you think you do. Furthermore, citing others (with varying medical degrees) who you think agree with you, isn’t much help either. Most of the time, they don’t really agree with you as much as you think, and they too can be wrong. If you’re a Christian, the smart thing to do is to stick to the moral argument alone, and leave the scientific debate to the scientists.
(7) Local, indoor, mask ordinances are a reasonable way of mitigating the rapid spread of the disease and are within the civil and constitutional authority of governments. Opposing mask mandates is a good way to get people to walk away from the gospel for no good reason. That’s because this has NOTHING to do with the gospel, but it does make Christians look ignorant, stubborn and selfish to those who disagree with us. That may not be our intention, but it is the result. We can debate about the “science of masking” all we want, but it makes no difference. Most of us aren’t scientists anyway. So it’s not normally within the realm of our competency to say one way or another. Since I have some limited training in medical science, in regards to aerosol and gas diffusion, I can say that masks do work, but not for the reason most people think. It has nothing to do with filtration, and everything to do with airflow. I’m not going to get into that here, as this is primarily a religion and culture blog. So, instead I’ll just say it has always been the position of Western Civilization (Christendom) that governments can make reasonable regulations on clothing. Masks are a type of clothing. If the government can tell us to cover are bare butts and bare breasts for nothing more than “modesty” or “decency” reasons, then it can tell us to cover our mouths and noses during a respiratory pandemic. Even if such activity has only a modest effect at curbing the spread of the disease, it is worth it, not only because every little bit helps, but also because such a mitigation technique allows people to go about their business freely without lockdowns. Yes, I know some governments are doing both, and those governments should be called out for tyranny. Christians should hold to the position that indoor mask-mandates are acceptable but lockdowns are not. Our religion allows mask mandates. Our cultural heritage allows mask mandates. Lockdowns, however, are forbidden by both our religion and our culture. If Christians would just present a united front on this, they would gain a lot more traction, and non-believers wouldn’t be so quick to judge us as ignorant, stubborn and selfish. We have to understand, when a population believes (rightly or wrongly) that masks help protect them from a potentially dangerous disease, and Christians come out saying “we won’t mask!,” what do you suppose the general population will think of us? I’ll tell you exactly what they think, because I actually listen to people outside my own social circle. They think we are really saying: “I don’t care if you get sick, because my freedom is more important than your health, or even your life.” That may not be the message we intend to send, but that is exactly the message they are receiving. How do I know? I hear it all the time. So the best advice I can give a fellow Christian is to suck it up for Jesus, show a little humility, and put your damn mask on. It’s not a “muzzle.” You can still say whatever you want as loud as you want. It’s not a “face diaper,” unless you believe what you have to say is crap. And it’s not a violation of your civil rights, unless you believe covering your bare butt and bare breast is a violation of your civil rights too. Christianity has always permitted the reasonable regulation of clothing, and a face mask is an article of clothing.
(8) Lastly, we must resist vaccine tribalism. The choice to vaccinate is a personal one. As I said above, moral considerations must be taken into account, as well as personal health, age and occupational vulnerabilities. Not everyone is going to come to the same conclusion, or make the same decision. That is to be expected and accepted. Choosing to take a vaccine does not make one any more or any less Christian. One can choose to take a vaccine, and at the same time write to a Big Pharma company, expressing dismay over the use of fetal stem-cells. One can also choose not to take the vaccine, and then write to Big Pharma explaining dismay over the use of fetal stem-cells. Either option is valid. The Catholic Church, officially, takes a neutral stand on this point, leaving the choice up to the individual, assuring the Faithful that taking a vaccine does not equate to material cooperation in the sin of abortion. At the same time, however, the Faithful should try to find the vaccines least involved in abortion whenever possible. Also simultaneously, the Church upholds and protects the right of the Faithful to refuse vaccination based on conscience. The fact that the single, largest Pro-Life organization in the world (The Catholic Church) has handled this subject so delicately, should be taken as a sign that the issue is much more complex than many would have us believe. Those who choose to take the vaccine are not evil, nor have they cooperated in the sin of abortion. Those who choose to avoid the vaccine are not evil either, nor should they be looked down upon in any way. It’s a personal choice, and it needs to be treated that way. As Christians, we must resist the efforts by some to blame the unvaccinated for virus mutations. We must also resist the efforts by some (even those within our own camp) to blame the vaccinated for making people sick. Both of these are scientific issues anyway, which should be relegated to experts within the field of medical science. It’s not the business of Christians, whose primary job is to spread the gospel, to decide who is causing viral variants and who is getting people sick. We need to stick to our realm of competency, and not jump on another bandwagon that is hell bent on dividing Americans against each other.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.