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Michael Abrahams | Apologise for what?

Published:Monday | May 11, 2020 | 12:17 AM
Michael Abrahams
Michael Abrahams

A few weeks ago, an article I wrote, titled ‘Religion – A barrier to the management of COVID-19’, was published in The Gleaner. In it, I mentioned instances of people of different faiths (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) gathering in defiance of social-distancing recommendations and laws. I said these people believe that their gods will protect them, but by congregating in large groups, they place not only themselves, but also their families and communities at risk. At one point I said, “The ‘blood of Jesus’ offers woefully inadequate protection against COVID-19. The novel coronavirus is not haemophobic. It will dive into and swim through that blood and bite your behind.”

One evening last week, I received a message from a Christian acquaintance of mine, a pastor, who instructed me to apologise for what I wrote, referring to my article as being “too harsh”. I asked him who I should apologise to, and for what. I also asked if there is any evidence that the “blood of Jesus” is effective in providing protection against COVID-19. He replied by telling me, “The blood of Jesus is central to the Christian doctrine of salvation/redemption/propitiation”, and that “Faith is the evidence that people will bring, because that’s what we have.” He told me I should apologise to my readers as many will find my “pejorative” comments about the blood of Jesus to be repulsive. I told him I owe no one an apology and that he had some nerve to attempt to elicit one from me, adding that he has his beliefs, I have mine, and that we both have a right to openly express what we believe.

It has been several days since our interaction, and I have found myself reflecting on the incident and exploring the reasons why I was annoyed, to say the least, by the request. I realise that our dialogue exemplified one of the reasons why I am wary of religion. Let me clearly state that I do not place all persons of faith in the same boat. There are many whose approach to their faith is one of humility and tolerance of others and their beliefs. However, religion provides fertile ground in which the seeds of self-entitlement can germinate, grow, and flourish, and I find this to be undesirable, and even harmful in some instances.

CONDEMNING SINNERS

In our culture it is not uncommon for persons of faith, usually Christians, to openly rebuke ‘sinners’. Many a pulpit on any given Sunday or Saturday separates congregants from preachers spewing fire and brimstone while harshly condemning those who fail to walk the straight and narrow. However, many clergy and members of their flocks take offence if their beliefs are questioned or called out for contradictions, inconsistencies, or fallacies.

For too long religion has been given a pass from being objectively critiqued and criticised, with belief being presented as fact ad nauseam, effectively indoctrinating much of our populace. Many of us have questions but are afraid to challenge long-held dogmas and doctrines for fear of being judged as being ‘of Satan’ and being marginalised by our families, co-workers, and communities. Indeed, there are sceptics I interact with on social media who use aliases, and never show photos of themselves, for that reason.

EXPRESSING SCEPTICISM

Somehow, in a bizarre pretzelised twist of logic, people who gullibly profess belief of ancient fantastical tales are embraced, and those who think critically and reject them shunned. But we should not be afraid to express our scepticism of any belief system and discard fantasy in favour of reality. The inconvenient truth is that during this pandemic, many who claimed to be covered with the blood of Jesus are now covered with six feet of dirt and a concrete slab after contracting COVID-19. The virus is no respecter of age, gender, ethnicity, or religious belief.

Had I said that worshipping Hindu gods is ineffective protection against the novel coronavirus and that bathing in the Ganges to prevent infection from the microbe is wacky, I doubt I would have been contacted by the pastor. So, what is so special about the blood of Jesus? Is there any evidence that being ‘covered in the blood’ is an effective shield? Why, when scores of parishioners and clergy have died from COVID-19, am I not allowed to say that their belief is ineffective protection against viral invasion of our bodies?

I believe we should respect a person’s right to believe what they want. But we should not be compelled to respect a person’s belief simply because it is grounded in religion. If someone brings their 10-year-old daughter to my office for me to lop off her clitoris, because it is their religious belief that it must be done (and it is the religious belief of some), I will not respect it. As matter of fact, I would do all I can to protect the child because, in my opinion, any belief that supports such an act is downright cruel.

Let us be honest. Some beliefs are very strange, but we have been socialised not to challenge or question them. In my opinion, the concept of the creator of the universe sending his ghost to impregnate a virgin teenage girl to bring forth his son, who is also him, to be killed so that we have a chance to live in everlasting bliss if we believe in him, but be tormented for eternity if we do not, is very, very weird. I do not believe it, and I should not be chastised for publicly saying so.

So, will I apologise for my comments? If evidence of the virucidal effect of Jesus’ blood is presented I will. But, until then, hell no.

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams