Good commentary:

The evolution of the Christianist right has been quite something these past few years. In this century, the Evangelical right has embraced the cult of prosperity, the efficacy of torture, and the denial of health care to the poor. They upped the ante in 2016, of course, by embracing a pagan worshipper of Mammon, with a sideline in philandery, cruelty, gluttony, pride, deceit, envy, insatiable greed, and the foulest abuse of women. How could they top that? Well, they’re trying.

In an apparent attempt to defend a president who clearly dismissed and for too long ignored the greatest threat to the U.S. since 9/11, they’ve decided to embrace what they once called the “culture of death.” The correct response to COVID-19, many pastors have declared, is to let it rip. Social distancing is acting like “pansies,” as one put it. The elderly, instead of protecting themselves, should sacrifice what’s left of their lives to save the jobs of the young and to help Trump keep the economy going. Wealth, it appears, is far preferable to life — or at least when a Republican is president.

The most eloquent case in this vein came from one Rusty Reno, the editor of the theoconservative magazine First Things. The passionate pro-lifer writes:

There are many things more precious than life. And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to the false god of ‘saving lives.’” This response, Reno argues, “creates a perverse, even demonic atmosphere. Governor Cuomo and other officials insist that death’s power must rule our actions. Religious leaders have accepted this decree … They signal by their actions that they, too, accept death’s dominion.

How is risking the deaths of hundreds of thousands “pro-life”? Reno:

The pro-life cause concerns the battle against killing, not an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.” But if by ignoring “social distancing,” we individually and collectively guarantee someone’s death down the line, why is that not a kind of indirect killing?

The indomitable conservative, Peter Hitchens, brother of the late Christopher, offers a different version of this argument. The lockdown is a violation of religious freedom:

The churchwarden at the small village church where we still follow the 1662 Prayer Book, read the King James Bible, and sing proper Anglican hymns wanted to continue. He pointed out to the Church authorities that there really aren’t very many of us, and that even now we mostly manage to worship while at least seven feet away from one another, and sometimes farther. Not a chance … Such a thing has not happened in England for 800 years, since the days of Bad King John.”

To that end, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, exempted religious gatherings from the stay-at-home order he has finally managed to announce. The trouble, of course, is that no one is an island in an epidemic. Every single new case offers a new and exponential way for the virus to replicate and infect another human host. This is one of those moments, like war, when we really have to act as a collective entity. It’s temporary, but it’s vital.

Reno argues that in the 1918 epidemic, no such pansy-ass restrictions occurred:

Their reaction was vastly different from ours. They continued to worship, go to musical performances, clash on football fields, and gather with friends … That older generation that endured the Spanish flu, now long gone, was not ill-informed. People in that era were attended by medical professionals who fully understood the spread of disease and methods of quarantine. Unlike us, however, that generation did not want to live under Satan’s rule, not even for a season. They insisted that man was made for life, not death.

This is not accurate: In countless towns and cities in 1918, severe restrictions were enforced — as was the case in plagues and epidemics from the beginning of time. Across the world, according to Catharine Arnold’s Pandemic 1918, “entire cities became ghost towns as daily life ground to a halt.” In St Louis, the response was swift and tough: “In early October, city health commissioner Dr. Max C. Starkloff ordered the closure of schools, movie theaters, saloons, sporting events and other public gathering spots. Churches were told to suspend Sunday services.”

Yes, some other cities chose the Reno line. The day the first civilian casualty arrived at Boston City Hospital, according to Arnold, 4,000 men were allowed to march through the city in a freedom parade, celebrating imminent victory in the First World War. Boston subsequently saw one of the deadliest outbreaks of any city in America. Ditto in Philadelphia, where the let-it-rip types dictated policy, and 200,000 marched in a massive parade on September 28. Two weeks later, close to 8,000 people lay dead.

The other reality is that, once plagues set in, people quarantine themselves, shutting themselves in, staying away from others, wearing masks — close to ubiquitous in 1918. Is this a “demonic” impulse? The fantasy that in the past, God-fearing folk never wilted in the face of the plague, unlike us wussy moderns, is, well, a reactionary delusion. In Florence in 1630, for example, as Erin Maglaque points out in a recent London Review of Books essay, “churches were gated and Masses prohibited. Parish priests stood in the streets to hear parishioners’ confessions, through doors and windows, covering their mouths with waxed cloths to withstand the ‘seeds of disease.’” These faithful Florentines were being “demonic”? Nah. Just sane.

Yes, Christians should not cower in constant fear of death. But we don’t have to embrace it either. I’m trying to think of a version of the Gospels where Jesus meets a leper and tells him not to worry, he’s going to die some day anyway, and make the best of it; or when he tells Martha and Mary to suck it up, and accept that Lazarus is dead, and move on. He didn’t. In fact, he risked and lost his own life by raising Lazarus from the dead.

I’m also reminded of one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of the Black Death. In a northern English town called Eyam, in 1666, the local tailor received a batch of cloth from London that turned out to be infected by fleas carrying the disease. Suddenly, people started dropping dead. Two Christian pastors then made an extraordinary decision: They would quarantine the entire town, forbidding anyone from leaving — so that the plague would spare their neighbors and county. They kept up that quarantine, even as families were wiped out, and never left, losing more than half of their residents, a higher proportion than even London. But the rest of the region was spared thousands of deaths.

Those people, as devout Christians, were indeed not afraid of death. But they faced it because they wanted others to live. I have to say I find their faith a little more impressive than that of the today’s American Evangelicals.