Americans don’t like science. Well, some Americans don’t. Tennessee’s 1925 Butler Act had made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. Deny the biblical account of how we all got here and go to jail. And they needed a show trial to drive the point home. That was the Scopes Trial that year. It was the event of the year. William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate and former Secretary of State, for God and the Bible, duked it out with Clarence Darrow, the famous defense attorney, for science and freedom of thought. The chosen science teacher, John Thomas Scopes, was found guilty, as arranged, and was fined one hundred dollars, paid by others for him, and then everyone went home. No minds were changed. The God folks felt smug and vindicated and righteous. The science folks felt smug and superior to those ignorant backward back-woods yokels. They lost the trial but this was their century. Let the yokels live in the twelfth century or wherever.
And there was no more to say. Americans chose sides that year. And nothing changed. The New York Times’ Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham report this:
Stephanie Nana, an evangelical Christian in Edmond, Okla., refused to get a Covid-19 vaccine because she believed it contained “aborted cell tissue.”
Nathan French, who leads a nondenominational ministry in Tacoma, Wash., said he received a divine message that God was the ultimate healer and deliverer: “The vaccine is not the savior.”
Lauri Armstrong, a Bible-believing nutritionist outside of Dallas, said she did not need the vaccine because God designed the body to heal itself, if given the right nutrients. More than that, she said, “It would be God’s will if I am here or if I am not here.”
The deeply held spiritual convictions or counterfactual arguments may vary. But across white evangelical America, reasons not to get vaccinated have spread as quickly as the virus that public health officials are hoping to overcome through herd immunity.
Of course it spread. This divided nation didn’t change. But now this is dangerous:
The opposition is rooted in a mix of religious faith and a longstanding wariness of mainstream science, and it is fueled by broader cultural distrust of institutions and gravitation to online conspiracy theories. The sheer size of the community poses a major problem for the country’s ability to recover from a pandemic that has resulted in the deaths of half a million Americans…
There are about 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S. About 45 percent said in late February that they would not get vaccinated against Covid-19, making them among the least likely demographic groups to do so, according to the Pew Research Center.
“If we can’t get a significant number of white evangelicals to come around on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than it needs to,” said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois.
In short, this time, this kind of thinking might well kill us all. Some of these people understand that. Some don’t:
Many high-profile conservative pastors and institutional leaders have endorsed the vaccines. Franklin Graham told his 9.6 million Facebook followers that Jesus would advocate for vaccination. Pastor Robert Jeffress commended it from an anti-abortion perspective on Fox News. (“We talk about life inside the womb being a gift from God. Well, life outside the womb is a gift from God, too.”) The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, tweeted a photo of himself receiving a shot.
But other influential voices in the sprawling, trans-denominational movement, especially those who have gained their stature through media fame, have sown fears. Gene Bailey, the host of a prophecy-focused talk show on the Victory Channel, warned his audience in March that the government and “globalist entities” will “use bayonets and prisons to force a needle into your arm.” In a now-deleted TikTok post from an evangelical influencer’s account that has more than 900,000 followers, she dramatized being killed by authorities for refusing the vaccine.
Dr. Simone Gold, a prominent Covid-19 skeptic who was charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, told an evangelical congregation in Florida that they were in danger of being “coerced into taking an experimental biological agent.”
The evangelical radio host Eric Metaxas wrote “Don’t get the vaccine” in a tweet on March 28 that has since been deleted. “Pass it on,” he wrote.
People passed it on:
Some evangelicals across ethnicity believe that any Covid restrictions – including mask mandates and restrictions on in-person church worship – constitute oppression. And some have been energized by what they see as a battle between faith and fear, and freedom and persecution.
“Fear is the motivating power behind all of this, and fear is the opposite of who God is,” said Teresa Beukers, who said she is Mexican-American and travels throughout California in a motor home. “I violently oppose fear.”
Ms. Beukers foresees severe political and social consequences for resisting the vaccine, but she is determined to do so. She quit a job at Trader Joe’s when the company insisted that she wear a mask at work. Her son, she said, was kicked off his community college football team for refusing Covid testing protocols.
“Go ahead and throw us in the lions’ den, go ahead and throw us in the furnace,” she said, referring to two biblical stories in which God’s people miraculously survive persecution after refusing to submit to temporal powers.
But what if everyone just shrugs and ignores her? That’s more likely, as is this:
White evangelicals who do not plan to get vaccinated sometimes say they see no need, because they do not feel at risk. Rates of Covid-19 death have been about twice as high for Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans as for white Americans.
Yep. They’re white. They’re good. And no one is going to argue with them:
White pastors have largely remained quiet. That’s in part because the wariness among white conservative Christians is not just medical, but also political. If white pastors encourage vaccination directly, said Dr. Aten, “there are people in the pews where you’ve just attacked their political party, and maybe their whole worldview.”
So it really is 1925 again:
There has been a “sea change” over the past century in how evangelical Christians see science, a change rooted largely in the debates over evolution and the secularization of the academy, said Elaine Ecklund, professor of sociology and director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University.
There are two parts to the problem, she said: The scientific community has not been as friendly toward evangelicals, and the religious community has not encouraged followers to pursue careers in science.
Distrust of scientists has become part of cultural identity, of what it means to be white and evangelical in America, she said.
So send no actual scientists their way:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci are not going to be able to persuade evangelicals, according to Curtis Chang, a consulting professor at Duke Divinity School who is leading an outreach project to educate evangelicals about the vaccine.
The project includes a series of short, shareable videos for pastors, answering questions like “How can Christians spot fake news on the vaccine?” and “Is the vaccine the Mark of the Beast?” The latter refers to an apocalyptic theory that the Antichrist will force his sign onto everyone at the end of the world.
These are questions that secular public health entities are not equipped to answer, he said. “The even deeper problem is, the white evangelicals aren’t even on their screen.”
No one is talking to anyone now:
At this critical moment, even pastors struggle to know how to reach their flocks. Joel Rainey, who leads Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va., said several colleagues were forced out of their churches after promoting health and vaccination guidelines.
Politics has increasingly been shaping faith among white evangelicals, rather than the other way around, he said. Pastors’ influence on their churches is decreasing. “They get their people for one hour, and Sean Hannity gets them for the next 20,” he said.
But there is this:
Mr. Rainey helped his own Southern Baptist congregation get ahead of false information by publicly interviewing medical experts – a retired colonel specializing in infectious disease, a church member who is a Walter Reed logistics management analyst, and a church elder who is a nurse for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
On the worship stage, in front of the praise band’s drum set, he asked them “all of the questions that a follower of Jesus might have,” he said later.
“It is necessary for pastors to instruct their people that we don’t always have to be adversaries with the culture around us,” he said. “We believe Jesus died for those people, so why in the world would we see them as adversaries?”
That’s not the majority view in that world, but it’s not just the white evangelicals. Philip Bump reports on the other resistance movement:
Two things have happened over the past several months. As more Americans have received doses of the available coronavirus vaccines, the percentage of people who say they are wary of being vaccinated has declined. The percentage of people who flatly state that they won’t be vaccinated, though, hasn’t changed much at all.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, made that point flatly when releasing new data showing that 21 percent of Americans say they will probably never get vaccinated.
“The number of people who have been skittish about the vaccine has dropped as more Americans line up for the shot,” Murray said in a statement, “but the hardcore group who want to avoid it at all costs has barely budged.”
That would be the Trump Republicans:
What stands out is that while Democrats and those 65 and older have followed the overall pattern, there has been little difference in the views expressed by Republicans. In October and November, an average of 38 percent of Republicans told YouGov that they didn’t plan to get vaccinated. In March and April, the average was 37 percent. In Monmouth’s poll, 43 percent of Republicans said they would probably never get a dose…
As vaccine availability has expanded to include more adults, a pattern has emerged: States that voted more heavily for President Donald Trump in 2020 are also states where lower percentages of the population have been vaccinated.
Kevin Drum is not impressed:
None of us would be surprised if red states were a little lower than blue states in vaccine acceptance, but they’re way lower. Recent polling shows that among Democrats vaccine resistance has dropped to about 10%, but among Republicans it’s held steady for months at about 40%.
Forty percent! And another 15% are unsure. In all, less than half of all Republicans have either gotten the vaccine or say they will.
This is a public health disaster. How do we ever get to herd immunity if a quarter of the country has already decided to never get vaccinated?
What are these people thinking? They aren’t thinking. They trust Fox News. They trust Tucker Carlson. Aaron Blake covers him:
Fox News host Tucker Carlson is forever propping himself up as The Guy Who Is Just Asking Questions – questions others, in his telling, are too afraid to ask….
That has been the case with Carlson’s commentary on the coronavirus and, more recently, his loose talk about vaccines. He did it again Tuesday night. Carlson floated that idea that vaccines might not actually work nearly as well as scientists say. His reasoning? Because scientists say people shouldn’t just go completely back to normal once they’re vaccinated – that they should still wear masks and social distance, among other things.
“At some point – no one is asking this, but everyone should be – what is this about?” Carlson said. “If vaccines work, why are vaccinated people still banned from living normal lives? Honestly, what’s the answer to that? It doesn’t make any sense at all. If the vaccine is effective, there is no reason for people who have received the vaccine to wear masks or avoid physical contact.”
Carlson added: “So maybe it doesn’t work, and they’re simply not telling you that. Well, you hate to think that, especially if you’ve gotten two shots. But what’s the other potential explanation? We can’t think of one.”
Ah ha! Those vaccines don’t work! They never have and they never will! And they’ve been hiding that from us all along! Blake understands:
This is actually a question, contrary to Carlson’s premise, which lots of people are asking right now – particularly with regard to the idea that vaccinated people should still wear masks. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) clashed with Anthony S. Fauci on the topic at a recent hearing. Carlson just takes it to a much more conspiratorial conclusion: that we’re being lied to about vaccine efficacy.
But he also sees this:
For weeks, critics of the federal government’s guidance on post-vaccine activity have criticized the calls for plenty of continued caution. And there are valid questions about whether that’s the right message. Large portions of the population are skeptical of the efficacy and the need for the vaccines – particularly on the right – and they will undoubtedly be less likely to get one if they don’t think it will suddenly free them up. Giving people something amounting to a finish line, or at least something they recognize as a significant enough incentive, is important.
But the idea that the guidance makes no sense whatsoever is also overwrought. Vaccines do work very well; there is overwhelming evidence of that. But none of that evidence indicates they will 100 percent prevent you from getting the coronavirus and potentially transmitting it to others. The virus is also mutating in ways that suggest the vaccine, while still very effective, might be less so moving forward as new strains take hold. There is a premium on getting ahead of the virus before it gets ahead of us, and scientists are racing to keep up. Put plainly: It’s the best tool we have in mitigating the spread (and a very good one) but it’s still mitigation rather than a panacea.
Of course, but now Carlson is angry:
Tucker Carlson on Wednesday responded to Anthony Fauci’s criticism of an earlier segment in which the conservative television host appeared to question the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines, saying that he “never for a minute doubted” that they work.
He’s just misunderstood by the lesser people among us:
During his Wednesday episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the Fox News host played a clip from a CNN interview with Fauci earlier that day in which the nation’s top infectious diseases expert argued that Carlson was advancing a “typical crazy conspiracy theory.”
Fauci specifically criticized Carlson questioning guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that recommends that vaccinated people continue to wear masks and conform to social distancing guidelines.
Fauci said Wednesday that Carlson’s remarks “were counter to what we’re trying to accomplish to protect the safety and the health of the American public.”
But of course Fauci is the fool here:
Carlson, who has previously said he is pro-vaccine, said Wednesday that he had not intended to doubt the efficacy of the vaccines, but instead sought to address concerns on the safety requirements for Americans post-vaccination.
“Wait a second. Who is doubting that vaccines work?” Carlson began. “For the record, we never for a minute doubted it.”
“We assumed they had detailed studies showing that it does work. We still think that,” Carlson added. “The only reason we are asking the question is because the people in charge are acting like it doesn’t work.”
“You see the president of the United States wearing a mask outside, you see the vice president doing the same thing,” he continued. “You see the guy in charge of coronavirus response… telling us that, again, after you’ve had the vaccine, you must remain under the restrictions.”
“So we’re asking a question that is rooted in science, which is why?” Carlson continued. “If this stuff works, why can’t you live like it works? What are you really telling us here?”
“If the coronavirus vaccine prevents you from catching the coronavirus, why are you wearing a mask?” he asked. “So that’s the question. It’s not a conspiracy theory. As an American, you should ask it too.”
Nothing in this is rooted in science, but Carlson is the Republicans’ Fauci, the only one they now trust:
Sen. Ted Cruz is no longer wearing a face mask as he walks the halls of the Capitol complex or goes to the Senate floor for debates and votes.
“At this point I’ve been vaccinated. Everybody working in the Senate has been vaccinated,” the Texas Republican told CNN, even though many staff members and reporters in the Capitol have not been vaccinated.
Cruz defended his decision to drop using the mask even after being told that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still recommending people who have been vaccinated wear masks in public.
Yes, those are the science guys:
In fact, the current CDC guidance says because “we’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19” it’s important that “after you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions – like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces – in public places until we know more.”
Vaccines are not 100% effective and the CDC and National Institutes of Health say there is no way for a fully vaccinated person to know if they are perhaps carrying an asymptomatic infection that could spread to someone else.
Cruz doesn’t care:
Cruz’s decision comes as there has been growing tension among conservative lawmakers and the CDC over its guidance for wearing masks. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, last month was in the basement of the Capitol reading from a Dr. Seuss book to make the argument that vaccinated Americans should not be pushed into wearing masks.
And Cruz in February complained to the Conservative Political Action Conference that Americans were going to be forced to wear masks for “the next 300 years.”
He added, “Not just one mask, two three, four. You can’t have too many masks. How much virtue do you want to signal? This is just dumb.”
How much virtue do you want to signal? How much virus do you want to spread? Those are two different things, and then this happened:
A congressional hearing on the pandemic turned personal when Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) loudly attacked Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease doctor, about when Americans will be able to stop taking public health precautions like wearing masks and physical distancing.
During multiple rounds of questioning at a House Oversight coronavirus subcommittee hearing Thursday, Jordan pressed Fauci on the idea of herd immunity, and when Americans can expect to go back to normal.
“When do Americans get their freedom back?” Jordan asked. “We had 15 days to slow the spread, turned into a year of lost liberties.”
This did not go well:
Fauci tried to explain that the best course of action is to gradually lift restrictions and return to normality “when we get the level of infection in this country low enough.”
Jordan interrupted, pressing Fauci to “give me a number.”
“You’re indicating liberty and freedom. I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to hospital,” Fauci said, adding that life will return to normal when people get vaccinated.
Jordan later claimed Americans’ First Amendment rights have been “trampled” throughout the past year, because of public health restrictions like mask orders, curfews and capacity limits on businesses.
“We’re not talking about liberties, we’re talking about a pandemic that has killed 560,000 Americans,” Fauci said.
The former college wrestling coach from Ohio was having none of that:
Jordan also claimed people have been censored because they dared to disagree with Fauci.
“You’re making this a personal thing, and it isn’t,” Fauci said. “My recommendations are not personal recommendations.”
But it didn’t end there:
During a second round of questions, Jordan continued to press Fauci on when he thinks the level of infections will be low enough for people to “move on with their lives.”
Fauci, who has been reluctant to embrace the idea of achieving herd immunity because the number will constantly change, said his “best estimate” would be when new infections drop to about 10,000 a day.
“At that point, and up to that point, there would be a gradual pulling back of some of the restrictions you’re talking about. Particularly when people are vaccinated more and more,” Fauci said. “The more people that get vaccinated in a community, the lower the level will be.”
But Jordan appeared to ignore him, asking how long it will take to get to the low level.
“Are we going to be here two years from now, wearing masks? And I’ll be asking Dr. Fauci the same question?”
“You’re ranting again,” Fauci said.
Isn’t that what Clarence Darrow said to William Jennings Bryan on a sweltering hot afternoon in that Tennessee courthouse long ago? This is America. This will never end.