When it comes to mainlining conspiracy theories around COVID, I fear that many Christians who have fallen victim to such theories, have doubled down on them more strongly than secularists because they’ve been given a theological reason to be suspicious, as well as a societal one.
Simply put, the online secular material available to us from Dr Google is being supplemented with a high protein dose of Pastor Google. And the results are staring to get messy. People are listening to sermons, not just talks. People are responding with end-time hysteria, not just angry panic.
I said at the start of the pandemic that it would be an apocalyptic event, in that it would reveal what is already there in us. And so it has proven to be.
What has been most revealing to me is how, for too many Christians, Pastor Google is a far more credible source of information and insight as to how to behave (and as to what is “really” going on) during the COVID pandemic, than biblical orthodoxy. There is a level of anti-intellectualism, and anti-institutionalism among many Christians that is a step up from those who are merely secular, and who aren’t busy poring over the book of Revelation looking for signs of the mark of the Beast or whatever. And this pandemic is showing it up.
In short, sound doctrine that has been handed down through the centuries from first the apostles, and then those who were taught by them and so on, is old hat. Godly doctrine from credible sources has been replaced – yet again – by teachers who will tell whatever itching ears want to hear.
The average secular person who goes down the online COVID rabbit hole, can only come up with non-transcendent reasons why the government is conspiring with big Pharma to lie to you.
Many Christians are coming back up from that rabbit hole with a tattered Bible in their hands with verses taken out of context, and whole genres of biblical literature being abused to shore up their increasingly angry and divisive comments. As I said, this COVID event has been apocalyptic in many ways, and it is certainly revealing a fracture in mainstream evangelicalism in particular.
This is precisely the reason I don’t view a skewed reading of the Bible’s apocalyptic literature as somehow “cute”, or just “your thing”, or even why I don’t agree to disagree with what the book of Revelation is actually about. The last 100 years has thrown up increasingly fantastic interpretations of this book.
Mix together the same rampant individualism among Christians as in the world, a refusal to submit to authority of any kind including theological, and an extreme – and theologically perverse – reader response theory to how one reads the Bible, and the result is a poison potion Kool Aid that is a far more toxic brew than any well-researched vaccination could ever be.
It’s kinda funny, but in this era of rapid discontinuous change, we predicted that one of the big dividers in the church would be around sexual ethics. And I think it will be – at a slow burn. The refusal of many post-evangelicals to submit to what the Bible says on sexual ethics because, well because of the same Google-driven autonomy and social media-driven change, was always going to come. The next time I hear another Christian say the bottom line in their lives is that they are “pro-choice” I might point them to the irony of that.
But here we are with a potentially more divisive issue for our churches, in which online platforms from those who have no ministry outside the ether, no corporeal responsibilities, are being used by the truly dark forces that Revelation speaks of, to tear the church down.
Let me be blunt. Vax is not the mark of the Beast. Any reading of Revelation that says it is must contend with the other mis-calculations down the centuries as to what the mark of the Beast was. That is why I say that personal interpretation does not matter one iota, if it is not backed up with careful questions, testing your biases against other sources, and asking the hard question that must be asked of any text of the Bible:
What is God saying to us today through what he said to them then?
And I’m here to tell you that God is NOT saying that vaccinations are the mark of the Beast. God is saying that all attempts to take or claim God’s role of authority in this world are beastly attempts, and that includes all secular and religious attempts. The point of the book of Revelation is to dial down the craziness, and demonstrate how King Jesus is in charge of all of the churning waves of history. Yet here we are with people using the book to ramp things up.
All that has been revealed in this sick, sad sorry mess is that, and it’s most ironic, some of the loudest voices condemning the increasingly bizarre sexual identity agenda being driven by anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-reality social media platforms, are as intoxicated with the messages of those platforms when it suits them.
Too many of God’s people are in a mess over this because they have never had a strong theological framework despite years of going to church (or perhaps because of years of going to church) and they have ears so itchy that no amount of on-line scratching will sate them.
And that is what is most apocalyptic about all of this.