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Honorable mention: Grad student essay contest — Yarrow Mead

Yarrow Mead

Let the first-born die: Christian Nationalists and the inevitable hypocrisy of allowing religion to dictate policy

By Yarrow Mead

Christianity actually has some rather helpful things to say about pandemics and personal responsibility — a surprising thing to claim in a freedom from religion essay, I know. Pandemic is a modern word. The ancient Israelites had the plague — and plagues were almost always the result of the wrath of God. This, of course, isn’t very helpful to us. We know and understand viruses to be entropic; ascribing a reason might feel comforting, but it’s useless from decision-making perspective. What’s interesting about Old Testament plague solutions is their emphasis on personal sacrifice and ritual. In perhaps the most famous plague story of the Western world — the story of Passover — there are only two protections from the plague that kills, maims and, interestingly, targets eldest sons (Exodus 9:9). One is a sacrifice of personal wealth in the form of slaughtering a lamb and placing the blood above the door. The other is the simple instruction to stay inside after dark. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?
Galatians 5:13–14 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” The message is clear, even to a skeptic like me — biblical self-sacrifice is to set aside one’s own desires for the greater good. So why isn’t that reflected in the policies and rhetoric of the most aggressive proponents of Christian Nationalism?
2 Trump, perhaps the most obvious example of a high-profile Christian politician who doesn’t seem to adhere to the “Love thy neighbor” adage, is also probably the most obvious answer to this question. He consistently downplayed the threat this virus poses and has been joined by many other prominent Christian Nationalists, such as Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell. This sort of downplaying in the face of obviously spiking death rates requires a deep indifference to others that is simply not found in the bible — yet its roots are also religious in nature.
Religious thinking is emotional thinking, and a glance at the mismatch between the message of love found in the bible and the policies of its most aggressive proponents show that humans do not possess the consistency to follow its dictates faithfully in the realm of politics. Once we have allowed ourselves to be swayed by magical thinking in this area, it becomes simply too easy to continue in that process. The reason religion must be kept out of elections and politics is because it cannot be trusted to adhere to even its own values when faced with the overwhelming power of human fear and greed to justify un-Christian acts.
Perhaps for the average American this can be somewhat forgiven. Who can really judge how another copes in times of extreme fear and death? Opening up congressional and presidential debates and decision-making to this way of thinking, however, is something very different. Your neighbor down the road comforting himself with some wishful thinking isn’t such a huge deal — even if he does vote — but the people whose decisions have a direct impact on the health of a nation of 328 million people? These people must hold their thought processes to the highest level of rigor possible, and the first introduction of religious rhetoric undermines that lofty goal and opens up the thinker to the worst kind of hypocrisy — and invites their supporters to follow them.
3 In the rash of politicians openly calling for the sacrifice of our elders and immunocompromised for the benefit of the economy, we perhaps have a new take on Passover. These public servants seem to suggest that those ancient Israelites should have just let the plague take their firstborn. After all, having to hide inside after dark and sacrifice personal wealth in the form of young lamb is fairly analogous to being asked to stay home and work less.
Let the angels take the firstborn, the ancient economic price is just too high.

Yarrow, 25, is from Finley, Minn., and attends Hamline University.
“I am working on my Masters of the Art of Teaching. I’m a self-employed metalsmith, and my capstone project is focused on merging the worlds of art and education by creating curriculum that encourages young students’ confidence and technical skills while also teaching them high-level academic writing.”