I have just finished celebrating Pesach, aka Passover, the holiday commemorating the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt-Mitzraym in Hebrew, the “narrow place,” the place of limitation and powerlessness. My synagogue, Congregation Leyv ha-Ir (http://www.leyvhair.org/) held its second night Seder over the video-conferencing system Zoom (zoom.us). Many congregations have held their Passover and Easter services online due to the COVID-19, aka Coronavirus.
Alas, several others have refused to heed the warnings about social distancing and not congregating during the pandemic, thereby possibly exposing them to the virus. One such is Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana, near Baton Rouge, where the pastor, evangelist Tony Spell, has defied a ban on mass gatherings in his state and has insisted on holding services, including Easter services. (https://www.thedailybeast.com/louisiana-pastor-tony-spell-vows-satan-and-virus-wont-stop-easter-service-as-others-make-unusual-plans) Spell has made this a form of martyrdom, saying “Like any zealot or any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend.” ( https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/491928-louisiana-pastor-who-refuses-to-stop-holding-church-services-says-true) Several states, like Florida, have carved out exemptions to the state-at-home orders for religious bodies.
This follows along with other evangelists, such as Rodney Howard-Brown of Tampa, who has refused to close his church because “we’re raising up revivalists, not pansies.” (https://nypost.com/2020/03/17/evangelical-pastor-mocks-pansies-wont-close-church-for-coronavirus/) Jonathan Shuttlesworth, an evangelist near Pittsburgh, called for a “Woodstock-style” Easter gathering, and called pastors who close over the virus a ”bunch of pansies” and they practice a “fake faith.” (https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/04/01/pittsburgh-pastor-to-hold-woodstock-like-easter-gathering-despite-coronavirus-pandemic/) (https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2020/03/pastor-says-sissies-pansies-wash-hands-prevent-coronavirus/) (Here he sounds like a little kid in the playground.)
I see a pattern here; religious zeal, certainly, but also a sense of privilege and entitlement that conservative-evangelical communities have about how they conduct themselves, like they don’t have to follow the same rules everyone else follows. This shows in the evangelical movement’s pushing for certain privileges, like the end of the Johnson Amendment, the rule that prohibits nonprofit 501c(3) organizations, like churches, from endorsing political candidates.
Also there is the strain of theology traditionally known as “Muscular Christianity,” a movement from the Victorian Era that combined Christianity with manliness and physical fitness. This movement called for young men participating in sports as a means towards self-discipline and moral standards. This movement led to the development of the Young Men’s Christian Association (the Y) And the Boy Scouts. President Theodore Roosevelt was part of this movement, as was Billy Sunday, the leading evangelist of that time. It also played into the development of Laisse-faire capitalism and the dominance to the corporate “robber-barons;” Social Darwinism, the biologically-based reasoning for the dominance of wealthier classes over everyone else, even for the death of the “unfit;” eugenics, the “science” of determining the “superiority” or “inferiority” of certain races and ethnic groups; and imperialism, the drive for European (and American) powers to dominate African and Asian nations, thus asserting their “superiority” Here is a great article about Muscular Christianity in Counterpunch, https://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/09/the-brutal-legacy-of-the-muscular-christian-movement/.
In Muscular Christianity, we have several toxic strains in American thought-racism, sexism, imperialism, the glorification of force over intellect, the treating of reason and thought as effeminate. This has shown up in the forming of the Ku Klux Klan (coinciding with the movement of Christian Fundamentalism) and the resistance to the Civil Rights movement in the Sixties, where white parents, refusing to allow their kids to go to school with black kids, formed “Christian “ schools for the sole purpose of racial self-segregation, under the cover of “Christian”. It was out of this movement, rather than campaigns against abortion and gay rights, where the religious right political movement gets its origins; it could also explain why this movement loves trump-racist, whoremaster, misogynist, wife-tax-business-golf cheater. He like a “real” man would not tolerate any opposition or dissent.
Due to businesses closing down due to the pandemic-to prevent people congregating and spreading the virus-people have been laid off from their jobs, and are having trouble paying their rents. Many of these are workers in the restaurant and hotel industries, which don’t make much money and are thus already struggling. Many of them, in Philadelphia and throughout the country, are preparing to carry out rent strikes, to try to cut deals with property owners. (https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/rent-strike-coronavirus-philadelphia-constellar-corporation-guy-laren-20200408.html).
Among the progressive media, these has been talk about a general strike. (http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/22426/general-strike-coronavirus-workers-unions-labor-healthcare-economic-crisis?link_id=2&can_id=a133d0f069f90f7c5fb79c2acd0407fd&source=email-not-working-in-these-times-the-incoming-wave&email_referrer=email_767511&email_subject=so-you-want-a-general-strike-workers-are-essential-ceos-are-not) That would be an extraordinary event, but we’re living in extraordinary time, with corporations demanding that workers go to work while the virus is still going on, our “president” more worried about how he looks on Facebook and how the stock market is doing, and pundits saying that workers need to go back to work and possibly die from the virus for the greater glory of the “economy.” But whose “economy?” Is the “economy” Wall Street, the Fortune 500, the 0.1 percent of billionaires ruling our politics, government, media, and academia? Or is it the workers who work in the factories, stores, and shops, and who buy from local vendors and thus stimulating the local economy?
The Coronavirus crisis has laid bare many of the social problems in this country, like the commodification of health care, so that people can’t afford to get sick due to medical bills and huge co-pays; racial disparities in health care, as seen in the disproportionate number of deaths from Coronavirus among African-Americans; the “one paycheck from disaster” phenomenon, where any sudden reversal of fortune, like losing a job, could mean eviction or foreclosure from your home, shutting off of your utilities, and inability to buy groceries.
And-What federal response? Initially, trump told governors that they were on their own, telling them to get their own ventilators to deal with the Coronavirus, rather than utilize the resources of the federal government to deal with this crisis-and greater buying power than any of the states-as any other president would deal with a war or other national crisis. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-respirators.html) (https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-trump-told-governors-get-medical-equipment-on-their-own-2020-3) (https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-to-us-governors-get-your-own-ventilators) This approach has created a bidding war between states and cities for equipment, driving up the costs of the equipment. (Here, the “free market” hasn’t done any good, as corporations are using this catastrophe to line their pockets, the public’s health and safety be damned.) Can you imagine, during the Civil war or the Second world war, Lincoln and FDR telling divisions and regiments, “get your own rifles, cannons, bombs, bullets,” etc.?
Jared Kushner, trump’s son-in-law/senior advisor/pet boy, told a press conference that the Federal Strategic Reserve, a stockpile of health-care supplies to be used for such emergencies as this, kept saying “the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile, it’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpile that they then use.” No it’s the American stockpile, to help Americans! (https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/04/03/jared-kushner-federal-stockpile-sanders-intv-cooper-nr-vpx.cnn) (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/jared-kushner-stockpile_n_5e86dca8c5b6a949183425ca) And what the hell does he mean by “our” stockpile? Who does he think it belongs to? The Strategic National Stockpile’s website has stated, “When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”
All along, trump and his minions have told the sattes they were on their own, in a perverse version of “federalism” and “states’ rights,” the Republican gospel since Barry Goldwater.
Now? trump has arrogated to himself, supposedly as “President,” the authority to order states’ governors to reopen their states’ businesses, no matter what the situation is with the virus. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/us/coronavirus-updates.html) State governors in the northeastern United States-including Pennsylvania-and on the West Coast have formed alliances to work together in this crisis, and they let trump know they would decide when to reopen their businesses; trump has since backed down from his “edict.” (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-backs-down-after-cuomo-governors-unite-coronavirusk-response-n1183471) Thus ends the notion of “states’ rights” and “get the government off our backs.” Conservatives and Republicans find the federal government useful, is it’s used to beat down anyone they want beaten down, like minorities, workers, and slammed nations.
So much has been discussed around this crisis-the possibility of a general strike, the incompetence of our federal-level leadership-yes, I mean our alleged “president!”-the forming of mutual-aid networks locally, cluster of states doing collectively what the federal government can’t and won’t do, the movement of rent strikes and-maybe-a general strike-what does the future hold?
In my interactions with my fellow Americans, I have regained hope that we will overcome this crisis-if we consider our friends and neighbors, our co-workers, and our own health, to follow the science, not the rhetoric or the blather from the strange person lurking around the White House-AND his enablers in Congress and his regime and his family-and realize this “person” cares nothing about our health and safety, and we know the value of our lives and health. We do NOT deserve to die of a disease that could have been prevented, and we do NOT deserve the “leadership” that has constantly misled us into this crisis. Let us, NOW, lead ourselves out of this. We can do it.
Stay safe, stay together, and stay strong. Bye!