The following is adapted from a letter I wrote on March 27 to a longtime friend who had suggested to me that the coronavirus had hit New York and California hardest because of those states’ rejection of God. In this letter, I follow this line of thinking, that God’s favor may be inferred from the relative presence and absence of coronavirus in given areas.
I really regret my lashing out at you yesterday. We both know that we disagree on matters of theology, and we have done such a good job for so long in avoiding the topic. I’m sorry that I didn’t just note our differences on the matter and move on.
However, now that we have broached the subject, I feel compelled to investigate and try to explain my upset. Looking back, I was most upset at the idea that you seemed pleased that areas of our country (California and New York, in particular) that you regard as espousing godlessness were getting their “just desserts,” that they had earned their misfortune by rejecting God’s influence. There is a meanness in that perspective that surprised me and really bothers me.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that it’s true, that God does rescind his protection of places with values that differ from his own. What areas of the country seem to be enjoying his favor at present, in regard to this coronavirus?
California, it turns out, is enjoying more of God’s favor than Pennsylvania. It might not seem so, because California’s total number of cases of coronavirus is higher than Pennsylvania’s (4,000 in California, 2,300 in Pennsylvania).
However, California’s total area is four times as large as Pennsylvania’s. And California has three times as many people (40 million vs. 13 million). So based on the number of coronavirus cases in each state, it seems that God’s protective powers are demonstrably greater in California.
Pennsylvania does seem to enjoy much greater favor than New York: New York has something like 10 times as many cases as does Pennsylvania, relative to population. I don’t know what to make of this distinction that God seems to be making. Especially because I’ve heard you note that God considers homosexuality is a grave sin, and California includes San Francisco, home to many gay people.
Again, for the sake of argument, let’s apply this perspective to other countries, like Japan. Japan’s main religion is Shintoism, practiced by 80% of its population of 127 million. And Japan has fewer cases of coronavirus than Pennsylvania. Remember, Pennsylvania has a population of only 13 million. God seems to like something about Shintoism. I will have to look into Shintoism more later, but maybe it has more in common with your stripe of Christianity than I’d known.
How does God feel about Norway? Evidently, God feels much less warmth for Norway than he does for Japan. Or Pennsylvania, for that matter. Norway’s population is 6 million, and Norway has now recorded 3,700 cases of coronavirus. So, you could say that God feels four times better about Pennsylvania than he does about Norway. Norway, by the way, is largely Lutheran, which I’d have thought would have earned more warmth and protection from God.
Does any of this seem odd to you? Does it make you question your suppositions, or do you dismiss out of hand all that I’ve written. I, as you know, don’t believe in God, so maybe anything I have to say on the matter is utterly insignificant. Or worse, maybe I represent the devil’s position, which should always be resisted, no matter how appealing.
If you do want to continue this conversation, I think it might go better via email. What do you think? It might be nice to do this as an exchange of ideas. We each understand that we aren’t convincing the other, but simply explaining positions and asking questions.
I love you.
Chris Norris lives in Boulder.