adogslifephoto - Adobe Stock

“Pikuach Nefesh” vs. “Ready to Lick the Floor”

March 18, 2020

So much of the news today seems to center around one all-important theme: People can’t seem to wrap their heads around how important it is to stay the hell away from each other right now. Just watch Jake Tapper and Sanjay Gupta on CNN as they struggle not to lose their minds over the indifference shown by San Francisco passers-by. Tapper says at one point:

First of all, we see a whole bunch of people here who are not distancing. They’re holding hands and walking down the street. Normally I’d say bravo, but this is actually kind of enraging.

Here’s another example, via the Post:

In Arkansas, the Rev. Josh King met with the pastors of five other churches on Thursday to decide whether to continue holding service. Their religious beliefs told them that meeting in person to worship each Sunday remained an essential part of their faith, and some of their members signed on to Trump’s claims that the media and Democrats were overblowing the danger posed by the virus.

“One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus,” said King, lead pastor at Second Baptist church in Conway, Ark.

Lick the floor. You do that. Writing for The Atlantic, law and religion professor John Inazu says to close the damn churches. I added the “damn”:

Social distancing presents a kind of collective-action problem: It’s only going to work if most people decide to follow along, even if their own individual preferences would have them do otherwise. But of course, hospital work and other essential functions must carry on. The strange outcome of this is that the necessary exceptions actually strengthen the compelling nature of the government’s interest in everybody else’s compliance. Houses of worship must practice social distancing to ensure that room remains for the few necessary exceptions. As long as the government can justify its exceptions, its legal position is strengthened rather than weakened by including them.

Fox News is still blowing it, seemingly eager to see more people die. In a special on the pandemic, the network featured the advice of one Steven Hotze, who has been repeatedly exposed as a snake oil salesman. Hotze urged viewers to “conduct your life normally,” which is exactly what we are not supposed to be doing, and also happens to make big bucks selling, you guessed it, colloidal silver.

Paula White, who I remind you has an official position with the White House, is telling her followers to send her $91. Can’t she at least wait for the Mnuchin checks to come through?

Another White House official, Avi Berkowitz, is at least trying to get leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community to comply with guidelines, per the Jerusalem Post:

According to the source, Berkowitz was asked if the learning of Torah could take place in the same building but in different rooms, in groups of no larger than ten people. He responded that it would be problematic, telling the rabbis that this is a situation of “pikuach nefesh” – the Jewish principle that preservation of human life overrides other religious rules.

Here’s something you might not think every day: Hey, what can I learn from the Black Death? According to Orthodox Rabbi Avi Shafran, a lot, at least as far as how it impacted Jews in the 14th century:

The ostensible reason that the Black Death may have affected Jews to a lesser degree than Christians lies, the historical consensus has it, in the fact that Jews frequently wash their hands. … Although it is likely that the spread of COVID-19 will intensify before it — God willing, soon — abates, we would all do well, especially the elderly and health-compromised among us, to do the equivalent of the Jewish ritual hand-washing throughout the day, ideally, thoroughly and with soap.

“Praying Medic” Christian extremist Dave Hayes says there’s no reason to give the coronavirus a second thought because the QAnon conspiracy theory generator hasn’t mentioned it, and neither has God, and it’s not clear to me if Hayes perceives a difference between the two.

Anti-vaxxers love seizing the moment. Skeptical Inquirer‘s Susan Gerbic writes about her encounter with the “Vaxxed Bus” as it pulled into her town:

The whole situation was a good education for me about vaccine activism. Attacking and ridiculing these people is only going to fuel their conspiracy-minded beliefs. Protesting them directly would only make them happy. Giving them attention would make their day. Speak to those willing to listen and move on.

Our time as scientific skeptics is limited. We need to pick our battles and play the long game. Getting involved in a drawn-out discussion online with people is not a great use of our time. These people are not reading those well-researched links you are giving them. They are moving the goal posts and engaging in “what-aboutism” and trolling you.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn (which is owned by Microsoft), Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube (which is owned by Google) issued a joint statement:

We are working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts. We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world. We invite other companies to join us as we work to keep our communities healthy and safe.

I guess we’ll see. Facebook isn’t doing so great so far.

There is so much we still don’t know about the coronavirus, but one thing we’re pretty sure about: It didn’t come from space.

Unrelated to the virus, Pew Research asked folks which figures they associate with different religious beliefs. The pope was associated with Catholics, obviously, Jesus was the top association for Judaism, which is kind of weird, but whatever, Billy Graham was number one for evangelicalism, and for atheism? Essentially no one. Richard Dawkins and Madalyn Murray O’Hair tied with 4 percent each, but the number one answer for atheism, at a teeny tiny 6 percent, was Satan. Aw, shucks, everybody. (The vast majority, a combined 87 percent, associated some combination of “no one/don’t know,” family and friends, or “other.”)

Bailey Harris, the 14-year-old author and activist, is Kickstarting a board game: Go Extinct! Stardust Catches the Carnivores.

Alright look, this is a bad time. Beyond the basics of stopping the spread, maybe the best thing you can do is tell yourself that it’s okay to be unhappy about it. It’s okay to be sad.


Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.