How a marginal group of Christians hijack faith in a war on science
“The blood of Jesus is my vaccine,” read one of the signs during a recent protest against lockdown regulations in Sydney. While our tendency might be to roll our eyes at such ridiculous anti-science views, these sentiments have a long and complicated history in the Christian tradition.
On social media platforms, a small number of Christians offer a pastiche of biblical symbols to link the idea of the blood and protection of Jesus. In one video, a man claims we know that the blood of Jesus will protect 21st century Christians from COVID because the blood of the paschal lamb protected the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 12). By analogy, it’s a stretch.
Kolina Koltai, a vaccine disinformation researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, points out that appeal to people’s beliefs and the values in disseminating vaccine misinformation are particularly powerful. Such opinions can be extremely difficult to fight, as it is seen as an attack on someone’s core beliefs.
While for some, the “blood” of Jesus is invoked spiritually through prayer, other misinformation more explicitly links the protective power of Jesus to communion (or the Eucharist). Taking Communion daily, these people claim, keeps you from getting sick with COVID.
Communion is a Christian ritual in which symbolic amounts of bread and wine are consumed to remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before he died on a cross. While different Christian traditions have a variety of theological views, at the heart of fellowship is the idea that bread and wine are ritually shared as a way to connect spiritually, to have “fellowship” with Jesus. and with each other. The bread symbolizes the body of Jesus and the wine his blood. To drink communion wine is therefore to drink the blood that saves, according to these marginal opinions.
Anglican priest of Melbourne French Pierre told me that over the past year he had to turn down requests from people who wanted to buy communion bread and wine from his church, believing that taking it daily would prevent them from contracting COVID. Anglicans, it should be noted, do not teach that fellowship will protect you from disease and the Archbishop of Canterbury urged people to get vaccinated.
The association of the Eucharist and healing existed long before COVID. In 2013, Pope Francis addressed exactly this question in a sermon stating that the Eucharist is not a “magic rite”, But a way of meeting Jesus.
Where does this association of fellowship and healing come from? Nowhere explicitly, yet the Christian tradition has a long association of metaphors of fellowship and health.
In the second century, Bishop Ignatius wrote that the Eucharist is the “medicine of immortality” and the “antidote” to death. Ignatius’ “medicine” is that which brings eternal life rather than liberation from physical suffering.
In the 3rd century, Bishop Cyprien affirmed the blood of Jesus has pharmacological benefits, being “beneficial” and superior to the benefits of ordinary wine. The medicinal effects of wine were widely known in ancient times, being often safer to drink than water. But here we have Christians who claim something more for the wine which represents the blood of Jesus, even if their claim is still above all spiritual.
Andrew McGowan, a professor at Yale Divinity School, has written extensively on the history of the Eucharist. He says: “The Eucharist is always an embodied sign of the love and respect for the community shown by Jesus, and not a talisman for personal gain or benefit. “
In that sense, it is only like the vaccine to the extent that it exists for the good of the whole community, not for ourselves as individuals.
McGowan notes that there are more early Christian stories indicating that wrongly taking the Eucharist could hurt you that there are none that suggest that fellowship will bring healing. In several post-biblical apocryphal sources, bread and wine are shared after a healing miracle as a means of thanksgiving and confirmation of faith, but this does not bring physical healing.
Likewise today, Communion is regularly administered to the sick or dying. It serves as a reminder of Jesus’ saving action to people of faith, not as a magic pill or a healing potion.
This is because traditional Christian churches usually anoint the sick with healing oil or have other healing prayers that do not involve fellowship. However, one can see how superstitious ideas developed that linked recovery from illness to the body and blood of Jesus. To do this, we must confuse spiritual well-being and physical health. While spiritual health may correlate with other forms of health (mental, physical), it is not the same.
The vast majority of religious leaders urge people to get vaccinated. No serious Christian teaches that taking Communion will magically protect a person from disease.
Yet the line between taking the Eucharist (the blood of Jesus) for spiritual fullness and taking it as a magic potion that will protect physically remains thin enough to be abused by irresponsible people touting conspiracy theories.
To do so amounts to attacking vulnerable people, a most anti-Christian activity under the guise of religion.
This article was originally published on The conversation. Read it original article.
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