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Trust, Faith and Fear

 

 Dr Anne Richards, the Church of England's National Adviser on Mission Theology

 

 

The thousands of enquiries I received via social media during the pandemic have followed an interesting trajectory. From enquiries about vaccines, starting from panic-driven requests for a ‘miracle cure’ to a heightened susceptibility to conspiracy theories about vaccination as the perfect vehicle for control, harm or even genocide. I have even been contacted about the injection of nanobots or microchips by particular wealthy individuals and secret societies!

Alongside fear and anxiety about what we might be letting into our bodies, a swell of resistance has also broken up about personal autonomy and choice, whether the virus actually exists or has been made up as fake news to frighten us into blindly accepting world domination by various powers. Such resistance has swelled into a political and social stance with T-shirts announcing ‘Unvaxxed, Unafraid’ and so on. A new evolution in vaccine hesitancy and outright resistance has been the creation of an unvaccinated subculture, with people seeking each other out through a new fear that vaccinated people can actually do harm to others. So now deliberately unvaccinated people are meeting via their own social media groups for dates, meet-ups and social outings.

Religion has had its part to play in all this, with various religious groups arguing that the power of God is greater than that of human beings and that God’s own would be protected. Such protection extends to all prophylaxis, not just vaccines, and inculcates a sense of superiority and elitism, sadly often abruptly punctured by illness and death, but then followed by blaming the sick for their lack of faith. Others have felt protected by religious practice, rituals and talismans, or simply by the power of prayer – the requests for ‘how do I pray’ mushroomed a month or two after the first UK lockdown. Messaging appearing in the media about minority ethnic people being disproportionately affected by Covid-19 also led to some mistrust in vaccines and fear of reporting to the NHS, preferring to believe in safety at home or at church, no matter how sick.

There are various fascinating strands to tease out of all this. What does this teach us about language, trust, faith and fear? Why do conspiracies snowball? What did people hope to get from the Church and are Church decisions actually implicated in vaccine hesitancy?

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