Arts & Entertainment

THE NAKED CITY – PREACHING THE PANDEMIC

Cartoon by Sam The Caricaturist

“And then came a Plague, a great and powerful Plague, and the World was never to be the same again! But America rose from this death and destruction, always remembering its many lost souls, and the lost souls all over the World, and became greater than ever before!

Wow, that does sound biblical – like the words of some great and esteemed prophet. In reality it’s the sort of thing you might tweet at 2am when you have just eaten three cheeseburgers and the White House has run out of Pepto-Bismol. Yes, you guessed it – just another of the increasingly bizarre and demented tweets that the increasingly portly Donald Trump has broadcast to the world during the current pandemic.

That he has chosen to phrase his late night lunacy in such religious jargon is indicative of not only his ongoing mental disintegration but the emergence perhaps of a messiah complex, as he stumbles from one awkward press briefing to the next. Trump’s shambolic handling of the pandemic crisis, in particular his advocacy of quack cures like mainlining disinfectant has green lighted a host of quasi religious solutions.

Whilst most orthodox religions have followed the government guidelines and offered their usual spiritual reassurance, others have opted for some truly radical solutions. Televangelist Jim Bakker, currently recovering from a stroke, is now being sued by the state of Missouri over the sale of his cure all Silver Solution, which he claimed “has the ability to kill every pathogen it has ever been tested on, including SARS and HIV.”

Meanwhile the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, a church in name only with no real endorsement of Christian beliefs, is peddling an even more dangerous cure for COVID-19 – the drinking of bleach. With chapters all over the world, the Church flogs 4oz bottles of sodium chlorite as “sacramental cleansing water” for $15, which when mixed with citric acid produces the virus destroying chlorine dioxide.

Not surprisingly America’s burgeoning Pentecostal movement and its neo charismatic preachers have been emboldened by Trump’s late night epiphanies. Many have seen it as an opportunity, in a time of fear and uncertainty,  to recruit even more followers and swell the coffers of the pay to pray movement. Mega pastor Kenneth Copeland, said to be worth a humble US$760 million, has had a field day telling his many subscribers that “fear of the coronavirus was a sin – that when people fear they give the devil a pathway to their bodies.

Mike Bickle of the International House Of Prayer sees the realities of self distancing as a conspiratorial plot by Satan to shut down large gatherings or what he refers to as “stadium Christianity.” In a similar vein “apostle” Guillermo Maldonado, the founder of the King Jesus International Ministry in Miami, has also urged his congregation not to give in to the “demonic spirit of fear” of the coronavirus, to continue attending meetings and to not “heed warnings from officials to avoid crowded spaces.” These TV preachers certainly know on which side their bread is buttered – that mass religious fervour does not work very well without an actual mass.

Elsewhere in the world, in countries like Nigeria where there is also a huge Pentecostal movement, the charismatic leaders have dug deep to put their own spin on the pandemic. Christ Embassy pastor Chris Oyakhilome has linked the virus to 5G networks, alleging it was part of a plot to create a “new world order.” TB Joshua, one of the country’s most popular and outspoken pastors, defiantly declared that the virus would be over by March 27, just before a widespread lockdown was introduced. When his divine optimism was not rewarded he later squared off, stating “what I meant was that the virus would be halted where it began, and in Wuhan it has stopped.”

Mercifully we have been spared by most of the shameful religious opportunism that the virus has generated in countries like America and Nigeria. In the main, religious groups of all denominations here have acted responsibly and sympathetically during the Government lockdown. Even the Hillsong Church has got into the spirit by producing their own “Not Today” (i.e. Ha. Devil no, not today”) facemasks. They are not for free but hey, make a donation to the Hillsong TV Channel and they will send you one in the mail!