The Zuck Treatment: Religious Versus Secular Responses to C-19


Secularism seems rife with popularizers, dilettantes, ‘keyboard warriors,’ and scientists. However, regarding formal researchers into the world of secularism and the divides and two-storey buildings of seculars  and the religious, Dr. Phil Zuckerman is a rare individual who takes part in some extensive research into the worldviews and worlds of the “seculars,” the “Nones,” or those without a formal religious affiliation, which can be amorphous – gooey and vague – definitions of the non-religious. When he examined some of the results of the research, something noted within the research was the degrees to which, during a pandemic, faith-based belief systems and, thus, responses utterly failed to deliver on the divine promises. In fact, they worsened the circumstances.

“Back in mid-March, nearly 40 percent of congregants who attended services at a small church in rural Arkansas came down with COVID-19, and a few subsequently died. In April,” Zuckerman stated, “at least 70 people who attended a church in Sacramento caught the virus, and a pastor in Virginia who piously defied social distancing orders within his flock died from COVID-19.”

Amazing – God did not help the most dependent upon his succour. (Many turn out as suckers.) The most devoted, most devout, most dedicated, and the most likely to demise based on a formal belief in the saving grace of God Almighty and the power of prayer. Zuckerman went from Idaho Falls to Frankfurt to Cameroon to South Korea to Cameroon to Israel speaking on the devastation of religion and its ill-equipped worldviews in response to a once-in-a-century pandemic, especially in an era of high-tide science relative to prior history and the tools – and knowledge of in general terms – of the reasons for the disease and death: a virus; not demonic possession, for example.

“While most religious people, communities, and congregations have taken COVID-19 seriously and have followed recommended social distancing practices, many of those pushing hardest to denounce or limit social distancing are strongly religious,” Zuckerman explained, “The fact is, this pandemic has brought into stark relief the underlying differences between a staunchly secular worldview and a fundamentally religious worldview.”

A god who helps those who help themselves is a god who either does not exist or cares not to help those most giving in worship to this god, i.e., the god is either a sadist or an insensate. Your pick. In this, the naturally naturalists, or those who adhere to Naturalism – as in natural events following from prior natural events (on the macro scale), deny the supernatural and the ideas of the religious. The religions claim and the religious believe in a supernatural, otherworldly, order to the constituent portions of life, the universe, and everything.

If a pandemic happens, then the, almost, natural follow-through from a naturalist perspective is to look for functional, scientific procedures and empirically-informed policies to mobilizer actions against the proliferation of a, for instance, virus. In a supernaturalist framework, one can pray for help; angels may assist one; and, God may intervene in the affairs of the believer for the protection, for example, one’s flock and oneself, though this didn’t happen in rural Arkansas.

Zuckerman said, “The results of these different orientations can, sometimes, literally be matters of life and death. We see this in terms of the current COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the strongly secular are more likely to accept the findings and dictates of science while the strongly religious are more likely to ignore or distrust such empiricism, favoring instead faith”

He referenced by Brett Pelham, where, as per an obvious prediction from the data on religion & faith-based thinking versus secularism & scientific-based thinking, the highly religious parts of the United States were “markedly less likely to look up scientific advice regarding best-practices for staying safe…” Religious people aren’t stupid; religion enforces or motivates a worldview of ignorance, motivated not-knowing. The correlation held with education, so the mediating factor is religion.

“According to a recent report, those states that are providing the best support systems to protect their at-risk populations from COVID-19 tend to be the more secular states with lower rates of church attendance and faith in God—states such as Vermont, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Maine—while those states with the worst support systems are nearly all states with highly religious cultures, such as Tennessee, Mississippi, and South Carolina,” Zuckerman said.

And yes, religious exemptions for social distancing furthered the poor outcomes of public health too. It held internationally too. Those more “secular populations and secular leaders” were more likely to “on average” perform better in terms of public health of their respective populations. This is not to deny the positive benefits of community and mental wellness coming from religion in the guise of community involvement and a feeling of solidarity and love with those around oneself. However, why do we need supernaturalism for this?

“To be sure, being religiously-involved has been correlated with many health benefits, especially in societies lacking a well-functioning welfare state that provides free and excellent health care to all citizens,” Zuckerman said, “For example, here in the U.S., people who attend church regularly tend to live longer and report lower stress levels. But what we see today is that the strongly religious appear to not be faring as well as the strongly secular in the face of this global pandemic.”

So, the real culprit is religion in general with hyper-religiosity, specifically; the issue is the extremes of religious belief leading to a denial of the obvious aspects of reality and hoping for some magical cure.  

Photo by Katarzyna Urbanek on Unsplash

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