Pandemic religion – a lab leak?

I well remember, as a student, going to the home of another guy to pick him up for some evangelistic work we were doing. For interested Brits, it was actually street-theatre in North Wales with a group called Breadrock, later to become Riding Lights, Britain’s first Christian theatre company, which is still going strong although its co-founder and Artistic Director, my good friend Paul Burbridge, sadly died this April. RIP Paul – see you in glory, with many a laugh.

Anyway, the chap I picked up had only recently become a Christian, and his parents were clearly deeply suspicious of this bizarre change. Father, apparently a successful businessman, was of the opinion that being religious would seriously disadvantage one from getting anywhere in the world.

Whether that’s true or not, it’s the societal opinion that has predominated throughout my life. Whether we’re talking about commerce, or politics, or arts and entertainment, or my own field of healthcare, to be a committed Christian has been to be something of an outsider or, from the point of view of other believers, a light shining in the darkness.

Christians in business have been suspect for being unwilling to do shady stuff. Christians in politics likewise, only the stuff is shadier. Christians in the arts have been seen as bourgeois betrayers of the orthodox left wing. Christians in medicine have been perceived as letting their beliefs get in the way of dispassionate care, or worse still as imposing their beliefs on the vulnerable. The last was increasingly so over the years, to the extent that one could be sacked or struck off merely for offering to pray with patients. As a result, one’s professional colleagues have, historically, been among the hardest people with whom to share the gospel – there’s no time for religion if it interferes with profits, or foreign policy, or art, or health management.

In the light of that, I’m mystified by the way that the Religion of Identity has swept across all these professional fields, and more, sweeping aside all consideration of profit (as in the Budweiser Lite affair), votes (look at the collapsing “red wall”), audiences (think Disney) or patient well-being (no treatment for you if you baulk at biological male patients on your gynaecology ward).

The latest example, or at least the one that prompted these thoughts, is the publication by the Magistrates Association of a PC language guide which Tom Franklin, its Chief Executive, wants to “be part of everyone’s working day.” As one commenter replied to the linked post:

“I think it’s at a stage where it’s quicker to name people who are not members of this Cult of Woke than who are.”

And he’s right. Every day some organisation, from inter-governmental bodies to the police to church leaders to razor manufactures, seeks to proselytise the rest of us, or at least to impose their intersectional values on us by main force – since in many cases we have no significant choice regarding who governs us, who manages our money, or who indoctrinates our children.

And not only that, but each day one hears evidence of yet another shadowy network coordinating it all. You just get your head round the WEF, the Nudge Unit, Common Purpose and Black Rock when some totally new entity like B Corps comes to attention. It appears that everyone is on board from your local council enthusing over ULEZ to your favourite football club taking the knee – although the people you actually know are either sceptical, blithely unaware, or at most innocently naive that promoting tolerance and kindness is probably a good thing.

And yet despite the near-universal domination not only of this new religion, but of the militant assertion of its values on those “of all faiths and none,” we never hear of anybody actually being converted to it. Instead the new values are promulgated from cereal packets and lifestyle magazines as if they had always been universal truths, from which weird ideas like biology or patriotism or speaking truth are recent departures. The impression given is that the CEO of the Magistrates Association learned at his mother’s knee that “committing suicide” is a problematic term, or that referring to “black, Asian or minority ethnic groups” is “unintentionally divisive.” But since none of that was true even last year, they must have learned this doctrine by some revelation. As I wrote in my own comment on the piece:

Was the CEO of the Magistrates Association an ideologue since university, who took his faith into his job? Did he suddenly become woke by reading intersectional books from his local library? Was he transformed by a course run from his local HR department? Or was he visited in his sleep by black angels?

Contrast the invisibility of the process behind the awokening of so many thousands of influential and, now, jihadist people with those of the old religions, and particularly Christianity. Ask us why we believe, and we’ll give an account theological, personal or both – and we’re likely to do it even if you don’t ask us, since good news in an evil world seems worth sharing. Contrary to the propaganda, evangelism does not consist of shouting at people that unless they believe everything we believe they will go to hell, and get sacked from our firm as well.

In fact, even the most belligerent street preacher, bending a floppy black Bible and saying that God says there that unless they repent and believe in Jesus, they will indeed go to hell – even he is giving an explanation for his views, providing a source, and offering people the choice of taking it or leaving it. But I’m willing to bet that the actual experience of every reader here is, more often than not, that some friend or relative has explained how, through some person, or book, or dream, they realised the emptiness of their life and found truth in Christ. Explanation, source, choice.

But I have no idea why the people behind B Corps believe what they do, and nobody who has signed up to their agenda wants to tell me about it either. Instead, their winsome evangelistic message is “From now on, these are the words you must use, and no others,” or “If you don’t come to see this film, you’re a bigot.” As if by magic, many of these edicts even become law, though none of us ever vote for them.

But surely coercion can’t be the only way that the new religion spreads? Did someone direct Tom Franklin of the Magistrates Association how to speak, as he is now directing independent magistrates around the country? When someone in Spi-B admitted using psychological trickery on Boris Johnson to get him to comply with mask-mandates, had someone in turn used psychological trickery on him to believe that masks are not worse than useless?

I confess I don’t know the answers to such questions, but I simply note the profound difference apparent between Christian believers, generally open about how they got to be that way (as are Mormons, Buddhists Jews, and even atheists) and the adherents of the New Religion, whose ideological origins are generally so obscure that even those who study them find it hard to say who and where the ideas come from in the first place.

A bit like rumours and malicious gossip, really.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to Pandemic religion – a lab leak?

  1. Ben says:

    I think it was in my first job interview after finishing my degree that the interviewer noted that I was a Christian and considered that my being ethical was likely to be a problem for getting the job done. I suspect he couched it in slightly more socially acceptable terms, but both parties concluded that there wasn’t much point continuing.

    I had a now long-dead friend who got demoted from his position in sales because he refused to lie to customers. He was reinstated some time later because the customers wanted “the one we could believe” back.

    As to you central point: I used to be surprised when discussing theological differences with Catholics that quite often, they just “believed whatever the church believes”, without being too clear on the details, let alone the reasons. And I think it’s the classic neo-atheist criticism of nominally Christian society in past times that people “just believed what they were told”, rather than the science.

    It’s rather ironic that nowadays people continue to “just believe what they are told”, but by ‘the science’ – or more accurately, they just believe “what everyone else believes”. Which means that you can can anyone to believe pretty much anything, if you can convince them that it’s what everyone else believes.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Your first point is so true. I remember in a Bible Study once a travelling rep told me she was in trouble at work because she put in here mileage claim accurately, which showed up all the others!

      And your second is also relevant to Protestants as well as Catholics. Even in good churches, I’ve been saddened to hear people praising a guest speaker who talked heretical nonsense simply because his presentation was good and full of personal anecdotes. You can see why churches end up in a mess without engaging critical judgement (or “gifts of discernment” in religion-speak).

      That’s why in mine I’m careful to teach not what to believe, but how to get there from first principles (in this case, Bible).

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