How a fringe Christian group hijacks their faith to wage a war on science

One of the signs displayed at a protest in Sydney against lockdown regulations read, “The Blood of Jesus is My Vaccine.” Although we might roll our eyes when such anti-science views are expressed, they have a complex and long history in the Christian tradition.

A small group of Christians use biblical symbols on social media to connect the idea that Jesus’s protection is based on his blood. In one video, the man says that the blood of Jesus will protect Christians of the 21st Century against COVID-19 since the Passover lamb’s blood protected the Israelites of Egypt ( Exodus 12). It is not a good analogy.

Kolina Koltai is a researcher on vaccine misinformation at the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public. She points out that appealing to people’s values and beliefs in spreading misinformation about vaccines can be particularly effective. It can be difficult to counter such views, as others perceive them as an attack against their core beliefs.

Some people believe that Jesus’ “blood” can be invoked spiritually through prayer. However, some misinformation ties the protective power Jesus has more directly to the Eucharist (or Communion). Some people believe that taking Communion every day will prevent you from becoming sick with COVID.

The Christian ritual of Communion involves the consumption of small amounts (of bread and wine) to remember Jesus’s final meal with his disciples before he died on the crucifix. The theological beliefs of different Christian denominations vary. Still, the core of the Christian ritual of Communion is that the bread and wine are shared to “communicate” with Jesus and each other. The wine and bread represent Jesus’s blood and body. According to fringe beliefs, drinking communion wine is like drinking the blood of Jesus.

Peter French, an Anglican minister in Melbourne, told me last year that he had to turn down requests from people wanting to purchase communion bread and grape juice from his church, believing that doing so daily would prevent them from getting COVID. Anglicans do not believe that taking Communion daily will prevent you from getting sick. The Archbishop has also urged people to get vaccinated.

Read more: God, plagues, and pestilence – what history can teach us about living through a pandemic.

The association of the Eucharist and healing were around long before COVID. In 2013, Pope Francis addressed exactly this issue in a sermon, stating the Eucharist is not a “ magic rite ” but a way to encounter Jesus.

What is the origin of this association between Communion and healing? The Christian tradition does not mention it explicitly, but there is a long-standing association between Communion and healing metaphors.

Ignatius, a bishop in the second century, wrote that the Eucharist was the “medicine of immortality” and “antidote to death.” Ignatius’s “medicine” is a medicine that gives eternal life, not freedom from suffering.

Bishop Cyprian, in the third century, claimed that the blood of Jesus had pharmacological properties and was “health-giving” superior to ordinary wine. In antiquity, wine was known to have medicinal properties and was often considered a healthier drink than water. Christians are now claiming that the wine represents Jesus’s Blood, even though their claim is primarily spiritual.

Communion is not a cure for COVID in the Christian church. It’s a way of being closer to Jesus. Shutterstock

Professor Andrew McGowan of Yale Divinity School has written extensively about the History of the Eucharist. He says:

The Eucharist always represents the love for Jesus and his community, never a talisman or a way to gain personal benefit.

It is similar to a vaccine in the sense that it only exists for the benefit of the entire community and not us as individuals.

McGowan points out that there are many more stories from early Christians indicating the dangers of taking Communion in error than those claiming it will heal you. According to several post-biblical sources, the sharing of bread and wine after a miracle is a way to express thanks and confirm faith but does not result in physical healing.

In the same way, today, Communion is administered regularly to those who are sick or dying. It is a reminder to those of faith of Jesus’s saving action and not a miracle pill or healing potion.

In fact, many traditional Christian churches anoint sick people with oil or pray for healing without Communion. One can understand how superstitious beliefs developed that link recovery from illness with the body and blood of Jesus. This is a way to confuse spiritual health and physical well-being. Spiritual health is different from other types of health, such as mental or physical.

Read more: Pray, but stay away: holding on to faith in the time of coronavirus.

The vast majority of religious leaders are urging people to be vaccinated. No serious Christian teaches that taking Communion will magically protect a person against illness.

The line between using the Eucharist to achieve spiritual well-being and as a magic potion for physical protection is thin enough that it can be abused by people who spread conspiracy theories.

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