Most of the coronavirus cases are in the New York area. Most of them involve elderly people in nursing homes. So why has the country been shut down and the economy wrecked to counter a virus that is no more deadly than many others for which we have not brought the entire country, and much of the world, to a screeching halt?
The answer is multifaceted, but one largely overlooked aspect of this fiasco is the fact that the politicians and establishment have embraced the coronavirus restrictions with a fervor that is religious in its intensity. Those who doubt that the virus is circling everywhere, waiting to infect anyone who dares to resume making a living or even venture outdoors without a mask, are heretics, and you know what happens to heretics: they must be cast out. And in some cases, burnt at the stake.
Consider this viral video from Staten Island, in which a woman who has ventured into a supermarket without a mask is set upon by a screeching mob that ultimately drives her from the store. Compare this scene to Salem during the witch trials, or the Spanish Inquisition trying heretics, and you’ll find little difference. The fervor of the crowd testifies to the status of the mask as a sacrament of the new religion, akin to baptism in Christianity, or in Islam, to the shahada, the profession of faith: it’s a public declaration that one is in the group, that one accepts the group’s assumptions and priorities, and one can now be exempt from any suspicion that the group may have for outsiders.
In the sacramental act of wearing masks, it doesn’t matter that the risk is minuscule. It doesn’t matter that it really only makes sense for people who work in nursing homes, and people who live in them, to be wearing masks, if the masks were really about preventing the spread of the coronavirus. But the facts don’t matter, any more than it mattered to the Aztecs that eating of the flesh of the victims of human sacrifice did not bring them wealth and prosperity, or that it matters to devout Islamic jihadis that their zeal to please Allah does not give them the success in this world that Allah promises in the Qur’an. Religions are for most people not sets of rational propositions that are subject to proof or disproof; for many they are, rather, primarily bases for social cohesion and belonging.
And that’s why we are not actually all in this together, contrary to the creed of this new religion. Every religion defines itself, and in so doing defines also those who are outside its fold. Those religions with only a tenuous sense of their own identity are generally insecure regarding dissenters, and must punish them. The mask-wearers in the Staten Island supermarket need the woman who was not wearing a mask, for humiliating her and casting her out reinforces their own sense of who they are, as well as their sense of their own righteousness and their good standing within the group.
Consequently, by the nature of the case, some of us are in this together, and some aren’t. But the claim that we are all in this together is a religious dogma, and as such is not open to question. The same Leftist secular religion mandates that we all believe that wheelchair-bound grandmothers from Iowa are just as much of a jihad terror threat as Muslim males in their twenties from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. Dissenters from that dogma are branded as “Islamophobes” and “bigots” and “hatemongers.”
Since this secular religion is also the religion of the state, taxpayers are made to spend billions on the TSA’s security theater, in which everyone is treated as an equal threat, no matter how preposterous that may be, because the alternative is heresy, which will result in ostracism and even possible shunning by one’s family and friends. And no matter how much one may explain on rational grounds that it would be cheaper and more efficient to engage in some reasonable profiling of groups from which all jihad terrorists have come, that idea is heretical, and may never be considered rationally, but only condemned.
And so we are all in this together, except for us heretics and apostates. We can only hope that the fanatical adherents of this silly new religion don’t start gathering the kindling for a few good burnings at the stake anytime soon.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.