Ebola: Faith Trumps Science

When the Black Death was raging in Elizabethan London, some terrified citizens sought to assuage the Plague. The Queen herself ordered that anyone leaving London would be hanged. As in times past, some offered penitence to God in the form of self-flagellation, but to no avail. The Plague continued to rage even as the flagellants beat themselves to a bloody pulp.

Some frightened but resolute groups resorted to boarding up houses inhabited by anyone who exhibited symptoms of the disease. Armed watchmen saw to it that no one could go in or out, regardless of how much those trapped inside begged for mercy. The victims were given bare sustenance by means of baskets filled with provisions, which were lowered through upper windows.  If any unfortunates in the plague houses survived the quarantine, which was rare, they were eventually let out. 

History repeats itself.

Apparently, a family exposed to Ebola is being quarantined in their home under armed guard. No one can enter and no one can exit until health officials are assured there is no danger of contagion. Despite the family’s strong objections to the loss of their liberty to freely roam about, the action is perhaps one of the first sensible precautions yet taken to quarantine the Ebola virus.

It’s about time scientific sensibilities rather than ideological purity takes the measure of a pestilence with the capacity to wipe out entire populations. Let’s hope the politically-correct response aimed at protecting the sensitivities of gays that characterized the first reactions to appearance of AIDS in the 1980s does not once again prevail. Let’s hope Ebola does not become the vanguard of a campaign conferring civil rights on a disease because any rigorous response to a deadly virus is considered racist by the likes of Louis Farrakhan. Let’s hope sane medical practices for limiting exposure and stopping the spread throughout the entire population are actually followed.

In brief, let’s hope ideological faith does not trump science. 

How ironic incidents of faith trumping sound scientific and medical are repeating themselves. 

The Left has long pointed to the idiocies of the past as reasons that faith means nothing and that religion gets everything wrong because it does not bow to science.  The examples abound, be they Galileo’s discoveries disputed by the Church or ignorant pastors resisting the administration of chloroform ( “a decoy of Satan”) to women in labor because God had supposedly decreed women had to suffer in giving birth. 

Even among the scientists themselves, horrendous disputes over orthodox practices resulted in deaths of innocent people. Louis Pasteur’s discoveries (1862) about the transmission of disease via invisible microbes were ignored by many doctors who continued to deliver babies with unwashed hands only to see women continue to die of childbed fever. Joseph Lister’s prescription for sanitizing the hospital and surgical environment was scorned because Leeuwenhoeck’s “wee little beasties” were still not regarded as a particularly potent threat centuries after he peered into his microscope, as Thomas Eakins’ “The Gross Clinic” illustrates. Today’s viewers of the painting are less inclined to admire the composition of the piece than they are to not the horribly unsanitary practices still in place as late as 1875.

“Terrible, terrible,” is what just about any liberal would say; adding that those poor deluded people should have listened to science.

But here we are again facing resistance to science because of prevailing ideology, but this time the onus is on the Left, whose paradigm of thought is now so tightly structured nothing considered alien to it, including proven science, can intrude.  Contagion of thought is evidently considered worse than actual contagion.    

Ironically, the Ebola scare in the U.S. is following the pattern outlined by Albert Camus in his novel The Plague. The first stage is denial:

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.  In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. […]Pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven't taken their precautions.

In other words, since pestilences were impossible, everyone went on with business as usual. After all, a pestilence would interfere with their freedom to live life as they saw fit.

Camus writes the second stage was the disseminating of “information” in order to keep the public calm:

A new paper has been launched: the Plague Chronicle, which sets out 'to inform our townspeople, with scrupulous veracity, of the daily progress or recession of the disease; to supply them with the most authoritative opinions available as to its future course; to offer the hospitality of its columns to all, in whatever walk of life, who wish to join in combating the epidemic; to keep up the morale of the populace; to publish the latest orders issued by the authorities; and to centralize the efforts of all who desire to give active and wholehearted help in the present emergency.'

The third stage is growing alarm as the body count rises:

On the day when the death-roll touched thirty, Dr. Rieux read an official telegram that the Prefect had just handed him, remarking: ‘So they've got alarmed at last.’ The telegram ran: Proclaim a state of plague stop close the town.

The fourth stage is philosophical and religious contemplation. Why is the plague happening?  Savonarola-type religious leaders arise, seeing the Plague as God’s visitation of wrath, a bonfire of the vanities. 

[Father] Paneloux stretched forth his two short arms toward the open porch, as if pointing to something behind the tumbling curtain of the rain. ‘My brothers," he cried, […] See him there, that angel of the pestilence, comely as Lucifer, shining like Evil's very self! He is hovering above your roofs with his great spear in his right hand, poised to strike, while his left hand is stretched toward one or other of your houses. Maybe at this very moment his finger is pointing to your door, the red spear crashing on its panels, and even now the plague is entering your home and settling down in your bedroom to await your return. Patient and watchful, ineluctable as the order of the scheme of things, it bides its time. No earthly power, nay, not even, mark me well, the vaunted might of human science can avail you to avert that hand once it is stretched toward you. And winnowed like corn on the blood-stained threshing-floor of suffering, you will be cast away with the chaff."

The next stage involves martial law:

"I've heard that the authorities are thinking of a sort of conscription of the population, and all men in good health will be required to help in fighting the plague."

Finally, the plague exhausts itself and cries of joy rise from the afflicted town. But even as the townspeople rejoice, “the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”

We in the West have lived for decades without a decimating plague visiting our country. But here it is. Even now a fatal virus is being imported into our country while officials dither about sensible precautions such as forbidding flights from Liberia and other ravaged countries. 

How ironic is it that in times past, people of faith did everything they could to stop the Plague, but were hampered by the lack of scientific and medical knowledge.  Now we in the West have all the scientific and medical means necessary to combat the most recent plague, but fecklessly invite it in thinking that true and unsullied belief in a nonjudgmental, multi-cultural faith will surely keep death away from the door.

What will it take to shake the Left’s delusions?  Alas, it will probably take more deaths to get them to stop clutching the crutch of blind belief.

In the meantime, those who “bitterly” cling to religion as well as to the realities of modern science will prove to be the rational ones who actually do something practical about the danger of contagion.

It will be they who pray the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are not yet loosed; that the angels be not yet commanded to pour out the Seven Bowls of Wrath.

It will be they who exercise the pragmatic and severe mercy necessary to save lives.

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she received an award for excellence in systematic theology.  Her articles have appeared in many online magazines, including American Thinker, PJMedia, RealClearReligion, National Review and many others.  She may be reached at fvoshell@yahoo.com

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