Brief history of the Christian anti-vaccines movement

Giovanni Tazza


Guillermo Flores Borda-

According to theologist Paul Martens, Metallica is a “strongly religious band,” with songs filled with theological sensitivity. “Creeping Death” tells the exodus of the israeli people. “Leper Messiah” criticises those who preach to enrich themselves. In “The God that Failed,” James Hetfield expresses his frustration in regard with his mother’s death, who refused to be treated by the doctors calling upon her faith: “Christian Science,” a collection of religious practices and beliefs which emphasise the healing power of prayer.

American history records several moments of disturbance between faith and science. Since 1923, southern states have adopted anti-evolution laws which prevented the teaching of darwinism in public schools. In the Scopes case (Tennesse, 1925), a biology teacher would initially be found guilty. But, in light of public opinion, progress prevailed over the past.

Massachussetts would become the first state to make vacciation mandatory under the law (1809) and request it from the parents of public schools (1855). Along with the legal obligation would come the opposition to it. In Jacobson v. Massachussetts (1905), the Supreme Court confirmed that states had the power to request vaccination in the best interest of public health, responding to a preacher’s refusal to get vaccinated or pay a fine. During the 60’s, vaccination laws already contained religious-based exemptions, owing to the lobby from the Christian Scientists.

Given that the Christian doctrine does not contain objections against vaccinations, the opposition of minoritary sectors would mainly be based on personal beliefs. Reich (2016) claims that opposing parents doubt that vaccines are safe, question the ingredients (or the use of fetal cells) and suspect of their importance because they are produced massively by companies to make profit. Only the Christian Scientists mentioned their religion as a ground for opposition. Even though the evangelics mentioned ways in which vaccines violated their biblical interpretation, this was not the main reason for rejecting them

For some, the rejection would come from a perception of “antinaturality,” considering vaccines as an “artificial immunity.” The explanations written in academic register only confirm their “antinatural base.” For othes, opposing scientific knowledge accepted by the community in general is an exercise of freedom, allowing them to see themselves as free thinkers amidst a society that is “less enlightened.”

Often, personal beliefs are surrounded by religious simbolism to give them divine authority. With Trump’s victory, the Christian Nationalism would re-emerge: the belief that USA is a “Christian nation” with a conservative “Christian” identity that must be preserved. Its followers do not call for a theocracy but do consider that their ideology must enjoy a privileged position within the public life. They have political claims that they consider “biblical” but are really cultural extrapolations of their religious beliefs.

On the topic, Perry and Whitehead (2020) claim that Christian nationalists are the most willing to question the safety of vaccines, even after having been responsible of controlling influences as race, education, political ideology or religiosity. Perry, Whitehead and Grubbs (2020) show that Christian Nationalism is a main predictor that an individual will ignore preventive measures related to COVID-19, because they trust divine protection, do not trust the scientific community and thinks and feels that scientists are hostile to religion. Though these arguments come from an american analysis, in a recent study (2020) I show that, after Trump’s victory, different Latin-American politicians borrowed theological ideas that appeal to the “Christian nation myth” with the ultimate goal of attracting conservative believers that think their identity is being threatened by demographic and cultural changes. The “solutions to the pandemic” suggested by candidate Beatriz Mejía base don “learning to pray”, “reading the Bible outloud” and healing through “the sores of Christ” to oppose “globalist instrumentators interested in eliminating us with (…) vaccines” evidence that Christian Nationalism is already in Peru.

In their search of sense amidst chaos, many believers will confirm their cultural identity through religious courses, and it is because of this that the Government should consider the religious factor when developing their communicational strategies, in coordination with leaders of organisations and religious orders to present vaccination as a selfishless act base don faith instead of fear and using temples (where believers are more at ease) as vaccination centres.

Though it could be estimated that this is a problema affecting the Christian community alone, preacher King would remind us that we are “trapped in an inescapable web of mutuality.” We long for a lay government, but do not cease to consider the effect of religious matters in the developing of public policies.

The author is a Proffesor of the School of Law of the Pacific

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