COMMUNING WITH COVID-19*
Facts Don’t Matter To An Imaginary Narrative
Untitled, Acrylic on Panel, 12" x 16", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Long ago I gave up on the idea that facts matter inside organized religion unless, of course, a fact lends support to some doctrinal principle or historical benchmark. Inconvenient advancements in science continue to interfere with canon and belief. The ubiquity of the internet makes it increasingly difficult for religious organizations, self-anointed preachers and money ministries to bluff adherents, separating them from their money and common sense. Core constituencies, however, continue finding refuge in the absurd. Clarity is the first casualty because to understand many religious claims, one must abandon the known and knowable, like science. For many on both sides of the pulpit, facts simply don’t matter.
The same, unfortunately, is true of the presidential podium. In the face of Trump’s declaration that places of worship are essential and mandate that states open them “right now,” I’m reminded that Trump’s core constituency sees Trumpism as theocracy, taking sanctuary in the absurd, blindly adopting as their own his imaginary narrative—a blend of government, dangerous misinformation, blatant falsehoods and fanciful wishes—with evangelical zeal. I’m somewhat surprised Trump didn’t demand that churches substitute lye for the body and Clorox for the blood of Christ. But that would require Trump to know as much about the Holy Eucharist as he does about science.
Everyone knows Trump’s mandate that states open places of worship is singularly meant to buoy his slipping support among evangelicals. For Trump places of worship are essential, not because he understands or gives a whit about religion or any of the values such organizations claim to promote—everyone knows he does not—but because he sees advancements in this culture war helping his prospects in November. Trump understands, however, the ardent interpret their world, his world, through their religious filters.
An emergency room doctor recently tweeted:
“I’ve been called a lot of names & accused of a lot of things by ER patients but it’s surreal to have a patient accuse me of falsifying their COVID result – bc they don’t believe the virus is real – as I’m actively trying to keep them from dying from multiple organ failure from COVID . . . . This is not a critique of the patient in this case, who needed help and had been lied to by others, but a critique of the fact that we live in a time where people are willing to deny their own reality to fit an imaginary narrative.”
I fully support this patient’s critical care needs. I am less forgiving, however, of her state of mind, for which she alone is responsible, because of its life-threatening consequences to others. God apparently allows, indeed, encourages, total abandonment of common sense and knowable facts. God will protect her from contracting the virus as she gathers, unprotected, with other fervent congregants (who are only as protected as their most exposed contact). When she contracts the virus, it’s god’s will. God is in complete control of whether she is contagious. When she or someone close to her dies, it’s because it’s time. It’s all a hoax, in any event.
Some people even believe, or allow themselves to be persuaded by others, that their only access to god is through some preacher inside some dedicated edifice.
God works in imaginary ways.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers