It was chilling to note on Wednesday how quietly America passed Italy with very little press fanfare. The number of confirmed American cases (less dead and recovered) at 58,934 compared with Italy’s 57,521 gave America the doubtful distinction of a new number one status. It’s hard to credit that as recently as the start of the second week of March, Donald Trump was tweeting assurances that the situation was “perfectly coordinated and fine tuned.” He then made it clear that if you think otherwise, it’s all the fault of the “Fake News Media” which he said “is doing everything possible to make us look bad.”
Naturally this is all about how Donald Trump looks and has nothing to do with the inconvenient reality that Americans are sick and dying in alarming numbers. That Trump looks bad because of Trump’s own words is no one’s fault but Trump’s. But in a world of “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge” conspiracies abound, even conspiracies accounting for how Trump looks at any given moment and why he looks so unfairly bad, and if one religious leader isn’t darkly hinting that “all of this” is a consequence of North Korea in cahoots with China in a joint effort to harm America and Trump’s re-election chances, another is suggesting it’s God’s judgment on America for allowing gays and lesbians to intermarry. When such nonsense actually holds sway over a significant part of the American population, that’s when we know we are really in trouble.
So it should come as no surprise that the leader of Donald Trump’s weekly bible study made a blog post stating that America “is experiencing the consequential wrath of God,” and coronavirus is a direct expression of that wrath. The Reverend Ralph Drollinger is the fool behind this idiotic pronouncement, and it would be bad enough if he’d screeched it atop a little wooden box on some forelorn American street corner, but that he should have the weekly ear of the president of the United States is a crime against the Constitution and an insult to the American people.
But the madness doesn’t stop there. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., the one proposing the conspiracy between China and North Korea, has ordered Liberty University’s reopening against the advice of experts and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s order that nonessential businesses and public schools remain shuttered to the end of the year. Apparently Falwell, in one of religion’s odder yet unexamined contradictions, wants his students to get a little of that consequential wrath of God, too.
This is a problem, what you might call an unintended consequence, of a religion that anticipates the return of its leader in “fire and fury.” It makes the rest of us who don’t think that way irrelevant and defies a Constitution that insists that government sanctioning of such ideas are emphatically illegal.
When death is seen not as an end, but the only ultimate dispensation of the only justice that matters, its interpretation in this way renders it as a lethal expression of tyranny. For me and for many of us, life itself is a kind of miracle, the gift of a brief glimpse into this incomprehensible thing called the universe and the baffling majesty of this thing we call reality— “our little lives rounded by a sleep,” as Shakespeare put it — and not a dress rehearsal for someone else’s idea of the Real Thing. For the evangelical Christian, life is a proving ground, part of a ritual, an unpleasant,inconvenient trial for our ultimate destiny beyond the grave. To the evangelical, the earth is ultimately disposable, and it’s only the human soul that is significant, a thing that is eternal and therefore requiring nothing so silly as a planet upon which to live.
It is the ultimate hateful expression of religion, made unconstitutionally powerful by the president, pushing their views on the rest of us by imperilling our lives. That Donald Trump cynically uses it to harm his people so he can get re-elected is all the proof we need of the unregenerate evil of the man. The drooling cretins that follow him, his low-information base full of hate, his MAGA death cult, are prepared to follow him over any cliff he names. I, for one, don’t plan to violate the good sense of social distancing by trying to stop them. I just wish they’d stop trying to drag the rest of us with them.