A woman I know who has attended Baltimore secular groups for years is a self-avowed pessimist. In 2016, she warned that Donald Trump might well win the presidency, and I poo-pooed what I thought were her politically naive concerns. She has never let me forget that. She despises Trump and his ilk so much that she used her partly Italian ancestry to get European Union citizenship so that she and her son can flee to Europe if he is reelected.
My friend used to predict that someday some novel disease would spread across the planet, wreaking havoc. How silly, I told her—we live in an age of modern science after all—and I later paid little mind to reports of a new virus coming out of China. I have only seen her once since the lockdowns began two years ago. In weird statistical irony, I was getting my booster at a local pharmacy at the same time that she, who lives and works miles away, was helping an elderly relation get his shot.
I too am now an official pessimist. In March and April 2020, I did the calculations. Up until then, vaccines took years to develop. Assuming that would prove true, the then-known COVID-19 death rate indicated around a million would die each year or so in this nation, crashing the medical and mortuary systems and leading to the digging of mass graves in city parks while devastating the economy. Lockdowns and mask-wearing prevented the worst case scenario, but the strongman machismo of Trump and his right-wing supporters made matters two or more times worse than they otherwise would have been. On the other hand, Trump to his credit pushed the rapid development of vaccines by throwing a lot of cash at initially skeptical drug companies. Modern science developed remarkably effective and safe vaccines in stunningly short order to the point I personally currently have little concern for my safety.
By spring 2021, I had recalculated. I had presumed that with vaccines coming online enough Americans, along with those who had been infected, would get the shots to achieve herd immunity by the summer. There were the resistant, but after the initial wave of savvy folks had been vaccinated and not suffered ill effects, surely the rest would see the scientific light. Those nations with sufficient vaccine supplies would be out of the damn pandemic. Right? Had my pessimist friend been around, she likely would have rolled her eyes.
The American religious Right Catholic and Protestant claims to be prolife. That’s their grand and noble divine justification for harnessing big government’s power, which they decry when it supposedly hinders their precious liberties, to force women into being the reproductive slaves that they were from Victorian times to the 1970s. They are lying. Theoconservatives are fine with premature death, including theirs, children, and the unborn—as long as it aids the defense of their freedoms and especially their power.
Due to the bizarre inanity of Trump and his theocon base, up to over half a million Americans died from COVID-19 who did not need to. If conservative Christians were getting vaccinated at the same rate as secular liberals, then the current infection and death rates would be a small fraction of what they are, and the economy would be in better shape. But partly for cynical political gain, Republican leaders and their evangelical base—egged on by Fox News and the rest of the hard Right media—decided to play the conservative, self-aggrandizing variant of the liberty card. They cast aside the old and wise line that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and turned mask and vaccine requirements and mandates into the equivalents of slavery, fascism, and atheistic communism. They see affronts to the Godly American Way by a vast conspiracy of the atheistic left that rapes and eats kids to seize control of the nation. Never mind that Trump was behind the development of the vaccines and urged their use at a summer rally until his addled audience booed him down. So large swaths of the country—the red states and rural counties—go shockingly unprotected, killing hundreds each day, most of whom are conservatives, while traumatizing health care providers and further damaging the economy. Few evangelical children are being vaccinated even as conservatives press to open schools and glory over the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade. Christians are prattling about trusting in God’s good nature rather than showing lack of faith by turning to artificial medical science.
This is crazy. Until modern medicine, Mother Nature killed fifty billion children, largely from diseases, and hundreds of billions of pregnant women spontaneously miscarried. There is not a creator that cares about human life, and conservative Christians in their perverse logic do not seem to care all that much either. As I have explained in earlier columns (FI, June/July 2020, for example), the forced birth movement is an actual open conspiracy to return America to the right-wing Christian culture it used to be. It is not about saving the preborn, and women dying from botched abortions is not a big problem for the conservative Christians.
Saving lives is obviously not their priority, which helps explain why killing off Americans is in the conservative tradition. All other developed democracies enjoy universal health care that costs a lot less while delivering low rates of prenatal, juvenile, and adult mortality. The religious Right has ensured that America alone is afflicted by the most expensive and deadly health care system in the Western world in the name of the liberty they imagine their creator favors.
Then there is God, the gun, and the Bible. As I detailed in the October/November 2015 FI, the Jesus of the Gospels is pro violence and weaponry. Conservative Christians say he came to Earth not to bring peace but to bring the sword and turn people against one another. As he and his entourage entered Jerusalem, he affirmed they have enough swords—the AR-15s of those days—and fashioned a whip to assault folks at the Temple. Semi-automatics have become a thrilling fashion statement and lifestyle choice for the American religious Right. With more guns in the nation than there are people, the United States suffers from by far the highest homicide rates in the first world. Murder is rare in the rest of the West, where gun ownership is far less common.
So, if antiabortionists tell you they are prolife, ask if they are pro-vaccines and masks. If they are not, feel free to inform them they are actually part of the Christian death cult that is doing real harm to these United States.
The father of my atheist friend is a Fox News fan who refuses to get vaccinated and never leaves the house they share. My Hoosier stepmom is not protected, although considering she is ninety-three, I am not going to argue with her choice. Anti-vaccine liberals are not helping matters, and the vast difficulty of protecting a global population of billions is allowing mutations to threaten to perpetuate the pandemic indefinitely. This will largely liquidate conservative Americans (but probably not in sufficient numbers to impact their electoral power) unless they wise up. So, I am pessimistic. And I have no idea when I will see my smart friend again.
A woman I know who has attended Baltimore secular groups for years is a self-avowed pessimist. In 2016, she warned that Donald Trump might well win the presidency, and I poo-pooed what I thought were her politically naive concerns. She has never let me forget that. She despises Trump and his ilk so much that …