In this post:
Taking Faith Home
Current Status of COVID-19 in Wharton County
Racism and the Just World Fallacy
|The Bulletin for||The ‘Taking Faith Home’ Handout for|
According to the information released from the Texas Department of State Health Services, a cumulative total of 8285 tests for COVID-19 have been given in Wharton County since late April, with a cumulative total of 862 positive cases of COVID-19, with an estimated 598 active cases, and 18 total deaths. You can see the breakdown of where these cases are and the ages of infected here:
As of August 7th, there has been a significant uptick in the number of tests performed, which has altered our percent of positive tests. According to the Wharton County Office of Emergency Management, about 11% of the people they are testing in our County are showing positive.
So what can we do?
I know I include this part every week, but it is important. Viruses are dealt with by changing our behavior so they cannot spread. There are 5 specific things that we can do as Christians to assist in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.
- Pray for God’s mercy and protecting hand to sustain the health of the ill, the vulnerable, the elderly, those who must work to provide for their families, the medical workers who care for the ill. Pray that everyone considers the welfare of their neighbors, of the vulnerable, and those who need our support to avoid being put at risk of contracting COVID-19.
- Take this seriously. Remember that the majority of the people who are infected with COVID-19 show few if any symptoms. In fact – strange as it may seem – people tend to be the most contagious before they develop symptoms. In addition, we still do not know about long term health effects, but physicians report seeing high rates of blood clots (causing strokes), inflammation of and damage to the heart muscle, cardiovascular damage, lung damage, neurological symptoms, and kidney damage. We are still learning what this virus does and how to treat it. This is NOT ‘just a flu’ and we cannot afford to treat it that way.
- Wear a mask. Your wearing a mask protects me. My wearing a mask protects you. The virus itself is tiny, but is spread between people in ‘respiratory droplets’ – small droplets formed from our speaking, breathing, coughing, sneezing – that travel from an infected person to a new host. Even a cloth covering traps most of the respiratory droplets and reduces the spread of the virus. As the state opens up and more people are out in public, wearing a mask becomes more important – not less.
- It is worth noting that the CDC, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Wharton County Office of Emergency Management, all encourage or mandate the use of masks in public. In addition, stores such as Apple, Best Buy, Costco, CVS, Dollar Tree, Kohl’s, Starbucks, Target, Trader Joe’s, Verizon, Walmart, and Whole Foods all require masks to be worn while inside their stores.
- Wash your hands. In addition to the respiratory droplets, objects around an infected person can become contaminated and help spread the virus to a new host. (These contaminated objects are known as ‘fomites’ ) Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds breaks down the virus, and helps prevent its spread. Wiping down faucet handles, door knobs, and commonly touched surfaces with a disinfectant helps prevent fomites from infecting new persons.
- Social Distance. Limiting face to face contact with others is another way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This ties in with wearing a mask – staying out of the range of any droplets the other person produces from singing, talking, breathing, coughing, sneezing, shouting – and keeping distance from any fomites the infected person creates around them.
If anyone is interested in research about the effectiveness of masks, there is a google document you can look at here. That information has been put together into a full campaign that you can see here.
As part of our own exposure to God’s Word, a group has started to read Immerse: Messiah again. This will allow us to read through the entire New Testament in 16 weeks, with an average of 30 pages a week.
This week we are reading pages 125-158 our books. We will then meet on Monday evenings at 7:00pm via video chat and phone for our discussions of the readings.
Anyone is still invited to participate with us. If you need a new copy of the book, please reach out to me, as I have several extra copies in my office.
For those participating, there are lots of resources available here: https://www.tyndale.com/sites/immersebible/messiah-resources/ , including an audio recording of the readings, if you prefer to listen.
There’s also an introductory video for this week’s readings, which can be found on the page above, or right here: https://youtu.be/hNPt5sgTVYs
Everyone is welcome to send an email to me at any time during the week with any questions, concerns, or insights you find. I can either answer them or bring them up during a weekly meeting.
For our video chat, here’s the information from the software we’re using for this:
Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (571) 317-3112
Access Code: 841-954-213
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
If you use the computer, tablet, smartphone, you’ll be able to see me and anyone else using a webcam. You *don’t* have to use a webcam if you don’t want to. If you prefer to just call in, use the phone number and access code.
Join with me in considering a story recorded in John chapter 9.
As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Jesus then spit on the ground making mud, anointed the man’s eyes with it, and gave instructions on where to wash it off. The man was then healed.
The disciples were looking for the reason for why this particular man had to suffer blindness. They asked ‘who sinned?’ – who was the cause of this man’s suffering? Today we ask similar questions, but we tend to phrase them as statements. “He got what was coming to him.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “You reap what you sow.”
There’s actually a well-known psychological quirk for the motivation behind these questions and statements. At its heart, people tend to assume that a person’s actions are inherently inclined to bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person. ‘Good’ actions are rewarded, and ‘evil’ actions are punished. Furthermore, we expect this to happen now, in this life on Earth.
This psychological quirk has a number of names, but one of the most common is ‘The Just-World Fallacy.’ This is a bias that tells us that when something good happens to people it is because those people are good and deserving of their good fortune. It also tends to make us downplay the role luck, circumstance, and other people’s actions play in our fortunes.
The negative side of the Just-World Fallacy is that it can lead us to blame the victims of circumstance.
- Someone is poor? They just need to work harder and make better choices.
- That girl was sexually assaulted? How was she dressed? Wasn’t she asking for it?
- This person is addicted to a drug? They need to stop using and clean up their act, this is clearly a moral failure and weak willpower on their part.
- This person was killed in a police altercation? They should have followed the law and not committed crimes.
- This person criticizes how they are treated because of the color of their skin? They have just been taught that everyone is against them, and they are making a mountain out of a molehill.
Perhaps the most famous example of the Just-World Fallacy is found in the book of Job. Job suffers a series of terrible circumstances as God allows Job to be tested with all manner of suffering. He loses his wealth, his standing in the community, his children, his health. Job endures, but does consult with this friends for some idea as to the cause of his misery. The answer from Bildad the Shuhite is found in Job chapter 8.
“Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right? If your [dead] children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.” (verse 1-4) In other words, God will only allow just things to happen, and your children surely did something wrong to deserve death.
Bildad continues. “Behold, God will not reject a blameless man, nor take the hand of evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.” (verse 20-21) In other words, you must have done something wrong, and when you straighten up, God will reverse your punishment. This is a classic ‘blame the victim.’
There is a reason why we have the Just-World Fallacy deeply embedded into our heads. It protects us. It protects us from the pain of empathy. It protects us from feeling helpless and anxious in the face of evil and injustice. It helps us remain optimistic about the world and not become overwhelmed.
Having empathy and identifying with others can be deeply draining and painful for those involved. We spend time and effort and sacrifice for our spouses, our children, our grandchildren. We select who and what we pour our energy into and what we fight for, because we don’t have an unlimited supply. The Just-World Fallacy can act as a kind of emotional circuit-breaker or pressure-valve to help keep us from getting overwhelmed. The dark side of the Just-World Fallacy is when it goes too far and causes us to disparage and blame victims for their suffering.
God addresses the Just-World Fallacy several times in Scripture. In answer to Job, Yahweh answers Job in chapters 38 and following. He basically appears and announces that He is God – and that Job is not capable of understanding everything that is going on. (Personally, this is an answer that both comforts and annoys me by turns.) Yahweh then severely criticizes Job’s friends for their earlier comments, before ‘restoring the fortunes of Job.’
Jesus address the Just-World Fallacy as written above, in John chapter 9. He also addresses it in Luke 13. “There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Evil and misfortune happen. We have a strong, innate desire to assign a direct cause to misfortune. We have a reflex to justify as right what we see, and to explain how victims in fact caused and contributed to their pain. That reflex is a perversion of an emotional safety valve which encourages us to call and identify injustice as justice.
Two weeks ago I linked to videos where comedy writer Amber Ruffin shared her experiences with police officers in Chicago. It’s tempting to dismiss her stories and circumstances – was she telling the whole story? What else was she doing? What did she exaggerate or leave out?
George Floyd was killed by police on May 25th, 2020. In talking with members of the community and our church about this, its been suggested that Mr. Floyd was a murderer (he was not), a convict (he was), was using drugs or was drunk, and paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20.00 bill (I don’t know.)
None of these things matter. None of these take away the fact that Mr. Floyd had a knee pressed to his neck for nearly 9 minutes. We CAN talk about police procedure, about de-escalation training, about Mr. Floyd’s actions during the arrest – but we should not bring in comments about Mr. Floyd’s character or ethics as part of an explanation for why this is not a tragedy.
There have been protests across the country and the world as a result of George Floyd’s death. One of the major complaints of the protests is that communities and people of color are subject to police brutality and violence.
I deeply don’t want to believe this is a problem. News reports, YouTube videos, newspaper articles, it seems that for weeks there was nothing on but reports of protests and riots, of police forces responding sometimes calmly (and even joining protests!); other times video was shared of police shooting people on the front porch of their own house with pepper bullets and exchanging White Supremacy signs with ‘Proud Boys’ (a neo-fascist organization that engages in political violence.)
When there are protests across the nation it is easy to hear multiple stories from multiple cities and get them all mixed up. T. Greg Doucette (a lawyer) and Jason Miller (a mathematician) have been compiling a Google Sheet listing authenticated videos of police violence, sorted by date, city, and state. You can find their spreadsheet here: https://tinyurl.com/GFProtestPoliceBrutality
When I first learned about this spreadsheet it had listed maybe 300 incidents. Currently it lists 949. Some of them (118) are items from before the protests. The rest are all dated on or after May 29th, 2020.
My Just-World Fallacy badly wants to explain this away. When I see one of these videos, by itself, I fall into the pattern that clearly the victim(s) in these videos ‘weren’t perfect’, or ‘angels’, and ‘should have just complied with police.’ The officer is ‘just one bad apple, and ‘I don’t know what happened before the video started rolling.’
But there is a pattern, and these are not just isolated incidents. And so painfully, against my own desire, I must acknowledge a pattern of injustice and violence in police forces across the county. Ironically, protests against police violence have been met with police violence.
What can we as Christians do? To start with – and this can only be a start – be aware of your own Just-World Fallacy. I’d encourage you, if you can, scroll through the spreadsheet and read some descriptions. If you can stomach it, watch some of the video. I have no organization for you to join, no phone calls to make. I ask you to think and consider.
As I’ve written before, I repeat now. What we cannot do is refuse to confront a problem by denying that it exists. That is an old strategy that Satan uses to blind people to the reality of their sins and thereby to hold them in bondage. Since denial involves a refusal to recognize, confess, and repent of sin, it is a matter of grave spiritual consequences. When we deny sin, God cannot enter with his forgiveness and with his healing power. We, not someone else, then become the victims of our own self-deception. However God is also merciful and just, and has given us the promise that he ‘will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
In the next few weeks, I will write about how protesting vs riots, about the Black Lives Matter Movement vs the organization by the same name. There is a group some call Antifa and we should examine what it stands for. I will address the calls to remove Confederate flags and monuments, and a movement to ‘Defund the Police’. Each of these movements and organizations can have multiple, and sometimes conflicting, leaders, demands, and goals. With God’s grace, we will strive to add a little nuance to our understanding.
If you need prayer, comfort, or simply want to say ‘hi’ – please do not hesitate to give me a call or email. My cell phone is 979-488-4560, and you can call or text.
I remain your servant in Christ,
Rev. R.W. Lutjens