I’m seeing some really hateful rhetoric spewing out of the various secular online communities, much of it directed at the Bible Belt. As an atheist and a resident of Mississippi, I expect better from my contemporaries.
While I’m sure it isn’t all of you or even most of you, I’m very disappointed. Earlier today I was reading an article by Michael Stone at Patheos that points out (as I have also done) the dangers posed by ignoring social distancing guidelines. Many pastors in the South have coerced their flocks back into the churches (some never stopped attending) and the results have often been deadly. Dozens of pastors and hundreds of congregants, perhaps thousands, have contracted the disease and many have died. Stone is for the most part correct, but he spins things a bit to make it appear as if Bible Belt churches have totally dropped the ball. He corrects himself a paragraph or so later, to his credit.
But what surprised me was the hateful comments by others both on Patheos and on Facebook where it was shared on a community of which I am a member. For example:
- It pleases me when these preacher bite the dust due to their own ignorance, arrogance, and greed. Sadly, they are taking many with them that are not written about.
- Serves em right.
- Preachers are asshats and so are their Sheeple followers.
- They can’t die fast enough.
- Good riddance to bad garbage
- Culling the herd
- Good, the world needs to be rid of ignorance which is the number one enemy
I expect this kind of nonsense from the bigots on the far right. But not from those who supposedly pride themselves in being logical, reasonable, and capable of empathy. I can easily understand their anger and frustration, but as atheists we should rise above the ignorance-fueled hate and prejudice that permeates much of the religious right. We are supposed to be better than them. But many of you are not behaving that way. Judging from the comments above, a lot of you are instead acting like whiny little bitches. You’re adults. Please behave accordingly.
Anyway I decided to run the numbers and see if there was any substance to the claims made in the Patheos article. First, I decided to look into how many pastors inside vs. outside the Bible Belt had died of the virus. I can’t assume complete accuracy here since I didn’t find any statistics specific to the topic of pastors but I did find news articles about pastors dead from the virus in other parts of the country. So, it isn’t just us.
- Alex Bernard – Desert Reign Church in Downey, CA
- Bishop Robert Earl Smith Sr and pastor Kevelin Jones – Bountiful Love Ministries in Flint, MI
- Elder Phillip Parish – Jackson Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ in Flint, MI
- Sixty people in Washington State attended a choir rehearsal in March. 45 took ill and 2 have died – Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Mt Vernon, WA.
- Pastor Scott Elijah – Bethany African Methodist Episcopal Church in Yonkers, NY
More to the point, let’s look at state by state numbers for corona virus deaths. The only way to get an accurate read on whether the Bible Belt has been hit disproportionately hard is to look at the per capita numbers, which I have painstakingly put together in the table below. I’ve highlighted the Bible Belt states. Sources are at the end of the post.
July 1, 2019
|Covid-19 Deaths||Covid-19 Deaths
|District of Columbia||705749||368||52.14|
From what I saw it appears that the Bible Belt states are scattered fairly evenly with the rest of the country. As such I’d say that the claims made in the article (most are quotes from other articles) are overblown. Yes, some really stupid southern pastors put their flocks in danger and many of them paid the price. But the problem is not geographical – it’s religious faith itself and the ignorance it engenders. Regardless, we all need to be a bit more civil and considerate of others. We have no right to expect civil discourse when we behave badly ourselves.
- Patheos Article
- Population Data: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_population
- Virus Data: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1103688/coronavirus-covid19-deaths-us-by-state/