Bad theology

When the County Commissioners of Palm Beach County, Florida, held a vote in a public meeting to mandate wearing face masks in the county, at least two of the public comments dove into bad theology (as captured on video, as shown on the BBC News Web site). One commenter forlornly said:

“They want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door. You’re all turning your backs on it.”

By this theological argument, anything that is done that augments or alters God’s wonderful breathing system is forbidden. Thus, we should not allow surgeons to wear face masks while performing surgery; we should not supply supplementary air pressure or oxygen to help people breathe while flying on a jet at high altitudes; and so on. Clearly this argument is absurd on its face.

“You literally cannot mandate somebody to wear a [face] mask knowing that that mask is killing people…. And my — the people, we the people, are waking up, and we know what citizen’s arrest is. Because citizen’s arrests are already happening…. And every single one of you [the commissioners] that are obeying the Devil’s laws are going to be arrested.”

The bad theology here lies in the ill-defined phrase, “the Devil’s laws.” If the speaker defined what “the Devil’s laws” actually are (in her view), then there’s the possibility of a conversation with her about how she has misinterpreted the Devil’s laws. Instead, the speaker uses the phrase to block off any two-way conversation: she knows what she wants, and she’s not going to listen to anyone else.

I would also term this bad theology in part because by most definitions of the Devil, the Devil is a supernatural being who sows discord: this woman’s divisive speech, her threats against the commissioners, are sowing discord, and therefore by most definitions of the Devil she is, in fact, doing the Devil’s work for him. It’s also bad theology because she’s using religious terms as a bludgeon instead of using reason to come to understanding; but theology is actually firmly rooted in the assumption that God gave humans the capacity for reason, which leads to the conclusion that God wants humans to use their reason instead of jumping to unreasoned conclusions; by going against God’s purpose for human beings, the speaker is (once again) doing the Devil’s work. Finally, it’s bad theology because the speaker is using her irrational arguments to justify vigilanteism; again, by most definitions of the Devil, the Devil is a being who loves vigilanteism because it breaks down the social order; once again the speaker is doing the Devil’s work for him.

Oh dear. Such bad theology!

There were, of course, people who spoke rationally about the necessity of wearing masks. One commenter said:

“I’m going to speak on behalf of a friend who’s home sick with COVID. She says she did not wear her mask for one day at the beach, and a friend who was asymptomatic infected her and fifteen other people. And she said [to me], ‘Please go there and tell them [the commissioners] I didn’t wear a mask because I so many other people without a mask on, [and] I forgot I was in the middle of a pandemic.”

Forget the bad theology. Wear your mask.

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