Priests, bigots and ignorance: the sinister world of conspiracy theories in the era of COVID-19 

Georgio Konstandi 14 May 2020
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When the Black Death struck Sicily in the fourteenth century, it was the Jews that were blamed for the deadly disease (thank the lord for the Inquisition!). Indeed, centuries later, as wave after wave of yellow fever hit communities across Europe, there the Jews were (you mean the Inquisitors didn’t catch them all?!) ready to take the demonisation as was custom. And they weren’t alone. Prostitutes, (female) adulterers, homosexuals and ‘heretics’ of all shapes and colours became society’s punching bag as prejudice ruled over reason. If any good Christian were to forget who the disease-infected rodents were, those efficient priests and clergymen could be relied upon to spread Christ’s love.

But this was all long ago, when people lived under the yoke of clerical dogma and scientific truth was in its infancy. Surely reason and science means we have moved on since those dark days of conspiracy theories?

You would think so. Alas, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has sadly proven otherwise. It may be socially frowned upon to torture Jews and lynch homosexuals but that does not stop those same culprits from recycling age-old lies as well as cooking up new half-baked ideas.

Let us start with the tragic rise of anti-Asian racism across Western nations. Reports of Chinese commuters being spat at, yelled at and attacked in countries like France and the United States are hard to ignore and eye witness accounts usually back up these events. I myself witnessed such an attack on the Parisian metro back in February. Thankfully in that case, the majority of the carriage’s passengers sent the attacker on his way. Of course this form of racism is only fuelled by the likes of President Trump calling COVID-19 the ‘Chinese virus’. But what do you expect from a man who locks up South-American children in cages?

A deadly virus originating in China provoking anti-Chinese racism. As senseless and bigoted as this is, one can almost see how such a sad tale could unfold. But surely the bigotry ends there? How could an unprecedented respiratory illness indiscriminately killing thousands of people be used as fodder for any other form of hatred? How could you possibly claim that COVID-19 is linked to Jews, homosexuals or women? You just leave that to society’s evil-eyed monsters.

Let us begin with those pesky priests (God love ’em). As someone who grew up in the Orthodox community, it always interests me to see its religious leaders providing the much-needed spiritual guidance in our world of sin. Indeed I”m reminded of the time when, sat in one of London’s Orthodox churches one Sunday morning, I heard the bishop proclaim to his faithful brethren that (and I quote) ‘the Church does not want your pound coins – we want ten pounds or twenty pounds.’ Ah – doing the Lord’s work again I see, Father.

So you can imagine my further amazement when I heard the latest rumours doing the rounds in the community, that this pandemic is God’s ‘wake-up call’ for humankind because ‘we have allowed gays, transexuals and abortions’. Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment (you see, many an Orthodox will tell you it is only Catholics who have facilitated hatred over the years but alas, fine words doth butter no parsnips).

The philosophical stylings of the clergy have not stopped there in this godawful pandemic. Consider Cypriot priests defending Holy Communion (entire congregations sharing one spoon) with the reassurance that “If it is indeed the body and blood of Jesus Christ then there is no issue.” [Cyprus Mail]  If indeed, Father. Or consider the priests of Montenegro defying their nation’s ban on large gatherings [9and10news] with a very large religious procession (it’s as if the Church would benefit from a subsequent surge in funerals! ) .

But it’s ok. What’s the harm in pockets of followers around the world defying science for dogma? And it’s not as if preaching homophobic, transphobic, misogynist rhetoric has ever done any harm.

Now what about those Jews – surely they can’t be left to live their lives unscathed? The last time we allowed them that freedom, 9/11 happened. Queue social media conspiracy theories. Burning down 5G towers, aside from being utterly senseless, has facilitated a new line of anti-Semitic rants from social media users. In its report on antisemitism during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CST shared one such post from Facebook declaring, “Good morning guys Quick update there are no 5G Towers in Jewish areas i wonder why”. There are also no signs of logical punctuation in your sentence, Sir. Such rants have been coupled with claims that the virus is a ‘Jewish hoax’ as well as calls for killing Jews with the ‘Holocough’ [cst.org]. The Inquisitors would be proud.

And where does one begin with the already crescendoing cacophony of theories that the virus is a government hoax to force vaccination and control us all? The mind truly boggles. In the age of free speech, all such drivel must be allowed its moment, lest we enter a slippery slope of censorship. But must it be allowed to circulate? Sacha Baron Cohen’s comments on Facebook’s dubious neutrality-above-all policy should be of interest to us. And what about those clergymen (yes, men)? How long do they get a free pass to sow division and hatred between people? How many Jews, gays, women and Muslims must cower, flee or die before our communities realise that the fish stinks from the head?  How long will science and reason be rejected as dispensable throwaways in the name of dogma and corruption? To be decided.