H1N1 and the Catholic Church October 10, 2009

H1N1 and the Catholic Church

A couple weeks ago, the News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) published an article about how Catholics are making certain sacrifices in the wake of the H1N1 virus.

They’re not taking sips from the same Cup of Jesus’ Blood.

They’re not shaking hands to greet each other.

Bottles of Purell hand sanitizer now rest upon the altar.

Silly rituals aside, the precautions make a lot of sense.

That led a Raleigh citizen to write a letter-to-the-editor in which she accused Church leaders of “suffering from a crisis of faith” because, of course, the blood of Jesus can never be contaminated:

So my household will continue to serve the Lord and to partake of the blood of Jesus, believing that the blood of our Lord Jesus cannot be contaminated by the evils of this world and will never harm us.

I find it distressful that the pandemic flu has the power to change ancient Roman Catholic ritual, even temporarily. What would Mother Teresa say?

That last question poses a fun little mind game for you…

Todd Stiefel, a Humanist from the area, wrote a rebuttal to her letter and it was published earlier this week. It offers an answer to the Mother Teresa question:

Contending that doctrine asserts that the blood of Jesus in such rituals cannot be contaminated does not refute reality and leads people to unnecessary disease exposure. Putting ancient ritual and baseless belief ahead of modern science leads to the deaths of innocent people.

As someone with a primary immune deficiency, I urge people to act by putting human lives, like my own, ahead of unfounded wishful thinking. You ask what would Mother Teresa say? Given her opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of another virus, HIV, she would likely agree that it is better to put faith ahead of life. I believe this is vile.

As a humanist, I implore the religious to keep the good in their doctrines and cast aside the false, immoral and intolerant.

I think the response is an excellent one. It’s not snarky or mean. It just spells out her own erroneous beliefs about condoms. It’s bad enough when people have blind faith. It’s even worse when people’s faith makes them blind to reality (even more than usual, anyway).

It also stresses the importance of reality. Just because you think Jesus is magic doesn’t deny the fact that churchgoers are not immune from the diseases of the world. They would be wise to play it safe.

(By the way, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Todd has offered the Secular Student Alliance a generous matching grant — I’ll write more about that soon.)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Typical Christian, putting others in danger by thinking only of herself. Maybe we should throw Pascal’s Wager at her: what if she’s wrong?

    If you’re right and you are literally drinking the blood of a 2,000 year-old demigod, then that’s pretty gross but probably safe.

    If you’re wrong, you are deliberately spreading a virus that will cause a potentially fatal disease that infects your children.

    So why not do the safe thing and not accidentally kill your children? It’s not like we want you to believe in a sky fairy or something. We just want you to wash your hands (which you ought to be doing anyway).

  • In the late 80’s, in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, the Catholic church changed the rules for communion. The wafer was to be placed in the communicant’s hand, not his/her mouth, wine was not offered in a communal chalice and some priests even wore gloves. NOT to imply that the ritual cannibalism might be tainted, but to calm fears in congregations that others before them at the communion rail might be tainted and leave enough to sicken them, too. (There was a lot more disinformation in those days about how AIDS was spread…tears, sweat, mosquito bites, etc)

    The ‘blood’ might not be contaminated but the rim of the chalice sure as hell might be. The offering coffers aren’t filled if the sheep are at home sick.

  • I agree that it shows a lack of faith — they think their perfect deity can’t/won’t protect them from a simple disease when they obey his commands — but that’s a good thing. They keep their absurd beliefs tightly locked up in a little box where they don’t affect anything outrage over cracker destruction.

    It’s similar to my post about “Buckling Up With Jesus.” Why can’t Jesus protect you without seat belts? Maybe because he doesn’t exist?

  • zoo

    I was thinking the same thing as Judith. Ignore the “blood” if you must, just look at the cup everyone else just slobbered on.

  • Another thing wrong with this: Purell is anti-bacterial only, not anti-viral. Vigorous hand washing is about the only thing that can rid the hands from virus’.

    This great ending line just happened to be on the radio as I wrote this:
    “History shows again and again,
    How nature points up the folly of men.”
    Blue Oyster Cult – Godzilla

  • Richard Wade

    Whenever someone tries to pit faith against prudence, saying that taking simple steps to protect oneself in a mundane way indicates a regrettable lack of faith, I ask them this question:

    When you have to walk across a busy street with fast-moving cars, do you look both ways, carefully calculating when is your best chance to safely cross, or do you close your eyes, say “Praise the Lord,” and step blindly into the street?

    Don’t expect this metaphor to suddenly wake them up from their silly irrationality. After some similar conversation, I asked this question of my Baptist brother once. He said, “Well, I wish I could do that, but my faith isn’t strong enough.”

    I was stunned by this response. I had thought him to be a more reasoning person. He wasn’t thinking of “crossing the street” as symbolic of something larger or more general. He took it as I meant it, literally crossing a dangerous street. He actually considered looking both ways to be the inferior way to cross the street, and he felt some shame about that.

    All I could muster to say was, “Well, Brother, I love you and I want you to stay alive, so I’m very glad that your faith is so inadequate. Please don’t try to make it stronger.”

  • yourn

    There was no need to bring up condoms. If you want to be inflammatory, mention how Mother Teresa’s hospices liked to reuse needles and didn’t think highly of preventive care for the healthy. The woman’s absolutely right: Mother Teresa wouldn’t have had a problem with sharing a cup.

    As has been stated, however, if the goal is to convince someone like this to go along with the flu precautions, it’s more productive to focus on the cup, not the liquid inside.

    If all else fails, appeal to church doctrine which says eating just the bread is enough to totally participate in communion. This has been the case for years, long before the current flu concerns.

  • yourn

    Also: shame on the lady for thinking that going back for a second helping of Jesus in defiance of reasonable health precautions that don’t actually conflict with her religion makes her family holier than her neighbors. That’s not avoiding a crisis of faith, that’s being self-righteous.

  • Valdyr

    So my household will continue to serve the Lord and to partake of the blood of Jesus, believing that the blood of our Lord Jesus cannot be contaminated by the evils of this world and will never harm us.

    Oh, really? Hold that cup still, I think I’m gonna sneeze… should be fine, though, right?

  • littlejohn

    Technical question for the biologists out there: Wouldn’t the alcohol in the wine (in Catholic and Episcopal churches, at least) kill any virus? It’s only the Presbyterians with their sissy grape juice who might be in trouble.

  • I think such thinking should be encouraged. Then we have some data to test the efficacy of faith over medicine. As the religious fall down dead we’ll be able to rub our hands together and say “I told you so”.

    Oh, if only atheists were so callous and shortsighted.

    Acting in a way that can encourage the spread of a virus is surely a public health issue. If the religious persist in their irresponsible behaviour then the CDC should step in and shut down their disease spreading rituals and close their churches. It’s the safest way to protect society.

  • kdj

    Well, over here in Europe that’s nothing new: http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/schweiz/standard/Kommt-die-Schweinegrippe-werden-Kirchen-geschlossen/story/21075725

    @Judith Brandsma: In Europe, the cookie was placed in the hand already in my childhood in the 70s.

  • Godfrey Zone

    Here in Alberta, Canada, the holy water has been drained, too! It seems as though when push comes to shove, very few people REALLY believe that there’s anything in holy water that’s going to deliver salvation from a virus! Science has lifted the scales from the eyes of those who still hedge their bets and curry favour with their deity. What a trap! None of the protection from God, but all the fear of retribution! Wow! I’m quite glad I don’t carry that burden.


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