On the Practical Nature of Sneezing

How the metaphor of illness brings clarity to the state of Christian Culture in America

As I write this post, I have COVID-19 for the second time this month. I am grateful for the vaccine that has prepared my body for the internal battle that rages within. It is amazing (in the worst way) how contagious the new strains have become. Being sick so frequently started out being a real bummer. We had to cancel a trip to Seattle to see friends and family. But getting past that, I have had the opportunity to slow down and connect with myself and search God’s healing power and will in my life through much needed prayer, Bible study, reading, and introspection.

With a pounding head and intermittent sneezing, I began thinking of the evolutionary purpose of these symptoms. Sneezing is the funniest one, especially when it is loud. All illnesses eventually show outward signs, and it’s not pretty. You could say it sounds, looks, and smells gross and that this is by design (because I believe that evolutionary design is also God’s design). If you have a potential disease to spread, it makes sense that humans are conditioned to retract from your outward signs of illness so that they can avoid getting sick themselves. I heard that sneeze from a mile away! This beneficial behavior preserves the species.

On that note, do American Christians look healthy to the general public right now? Let’s be honest. And I’m not talking about how so many churches were anti-mask and anti-vaccine. The Bible tells us a great way to measure spiritual wellbeing:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 

Galatians 5:22–23 NIV

Based on this metric, I would say that based on the words and actions of the most vocal and politically active Christian churches, as well as many of the fundamentalist Christians that I know very well on a personal level, a trip to the intensive care unit is warranted. Their actions on the abortion issue alone speak to a need to own the libs and to quash the tide of secular empowerment because they view it as a threat, rather than any desire to be truly compassionate in meeting the needs of real, living people. The religious and spiritual have potential to be beneficial to society, fulfilling the role of the heart of our nation. Think about what the word “Christian” means. It means “Little Christ”. I do believe that if there were millions of little Christs running around, Christians would fulfill the role of the heart perfectly. In a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center, 65% of adults in the United States identified themselves as Christians (pewresearch.org), so like it or not, we are the heart. But right now, there are clear symptoms of disease. Christians who say that secular America is persecuting them for their faith are so ill that they cannot see that people are in fact repelled by their symptoms—hate, oppression, agitation, stinginess, self-centeredness, anger, and bigotry.

Evangelical fundamentalists can’t get well for these three reasons:

They won’t rest. In the Bible, God tells us to rest, a lot. This means to trust in God and stop getting so worked up and offended by the world. God doesn’t need us to be aggressive, judgmental, worried, or controlling of others. If we truly rest in God we can heal from the hurts of life and reflect goodness back into the world. Resting is also a quiet activity, and when we are quiet, we become much better listeners.

They won’t take their medicine. God provides the cure for our spiritual ills in many ways. The Bible is very important, but not a closed resource. It is meant to be understood though the Holy Spirit and with the help of others’ knowledge, research, and opinions (even—Gasp!— pagan opinions) and life’s disappointments. But their mouth is shut tight, so to speak, when the medicine cart comes, because they don’t think they need it. They believe their theology and their spirituality is water tight. All disappointment and negative consequence is seen as an attack from the Devil, and surely not a learning opportunity from God.

I didn’t pray to learn, I prayed for health and wealth! I named it and claimed it!

My church is very spiritually strong. Look how huge and opulent our campus is!

I have no doubts because there is nothing TO doubt!

How can God teach you anything if you think you already know everything?

They keep getting reinfected. These people only have close relationships with other people who share the exact same religious views that they do. Any friends or family brave or foolish enough to dissent are met with such vitriol and condescension that they either flee for the pagan hills or shrink back into submission. The perpetually infected only watch Fox News and alternative right-wing media. Many are getting sucked into the Q-Anon rabbit hole only to pop out frequently, like Alice in Wonderland’s frantic white rabbit, and spread that particularly heinous strain of deception. This seems to happen in a hermetically sealed petri dish, considering how the slightest doubt or smallest question is cause to be shunned from the Church. And the disease keeps passing back and forth, mutating, strengthening.

Evangelical fundamentalists are right when they say that America needs to turn to God, but let’s not pretend that American Christians have ever collectively done a great job at pointing people in God’s direction. It is futile to claim you have the cure when it is obvious that you are the disease, and it is detestable to sneeze all over America by forcing a particular moral agenda on those who disagree with you.

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