Wednesday 6 May 2020

On the Coronavirus Conspiracies

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

By now, you’ve probably heard some of the conspiracy theories around the ‘real cause’ of Covid-19. Perhaps you’ve read an article or been sent a link to a video by a well-meaning friend.

In some cases, it has to do with a plot on the part of China to develop biological weapons. Or it has to do with the rollout of the 5G data network (which has led to acts of vandalism and arson against mobile phone masts). Or Bill Gates is said to be using the virus as part of a plot to control the world’s population through immunisation. For Christians, permutations of these theories often get combined with a large dose of the book of Revelation!

You might think differently, but – even apart from the fact that there is no credible evidence for any of these links – I tend to sit light to such theories.

In times such as these, there’s an innate human tendency to want to find explanations for what’s happening or to attach blame in some way. There is something about a sense of powerlessness which generates the need for some overarching explanation.

So far as we can tell, this has happened throughout history. Writing in The Guardian, Tim Adams notes that ‘at the time of the great plague in London, the spread of miracle cures and scapegoating prophecy was almost harder to contain than the infection itself’. Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, set in London in 1665, records the popularity of superstitions during that deadly time: ‘The apprehension of the people were likewise strangely increased by the error of the times... They were more addicted to prophecies and astrological conjurations, dreams and old wives tales than ever they were before or since.’ Examples could be multiplied many times over.

Sadly, conspiracy theories like this often tap into suspicion of ‘foreigners’. Again, there are many historical examples. In the spread of syphilis across Europe in the 1390s, it was known as ‘the French sickness’ in Germany, ‘the German sickness’ in Poland, ‘the Polish sickness’ in Russia, ‘the disease of the Christians’ in Turkey, ‘the disease of the Turks’ in Persia, and so on. As Richard Evans points out, ‘since pandemics by definition spread across the globe, everywhere they arrive they come from somewhere else’.

Conspiracy theories perpetuate the sense of powerlessness and isolation people feel, feeding the idea that ‘evil forces’ are at work, offering little sense of hope.

It’s understandable that this period should raise questions that many people – Christians included – have not grappled with before. But Christians are able to reflect on the issues in a different way. Our faith in Jesus and the salvation he brings provides true hope, not because it ignores reality, but because it points to a deeper reality. We of all people know that God has addressed the sin and suffering of the world head on. We of all people know that Jesus’ death and resurrection are the climax of God’s plan to restore the whole of creation back to himself.

We can be people of truth, wisdom, and hope at this time, not because we have everything stitched up, but because we know the one who does – and his love is stronger than death itself.

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