Although its been pushed to the back burner by NBC news anchor Brian Williams the topic of vaccinations has been very prominent lately. Measles cases - a disease nearly wiped out in America - are on the rise across the country. Other infectious diseases once controlled by vaccinations are on the rise.
There are some who are trying to make this a political issue to hurt their opponents, claiming this party or that is most responsible, but it seems to actually be unrelated to political ideology. There seems to be a pocket in each different group that opposes vaccinations for various reasons.
The rise in popularity of not vaccinating children seems closely related to a cultural movement that began with a false and heavily discredited study done in Germany that claimed a connection between a mercury-based preservative in vaccinations and a rise in autism in children.
This wouldn't have gone anywhere, but Oprah Winfrey picked it up and featured this several times on her show, and she had a huge influence on popular culture and many, many less-than-discerning women. Talking heads and pundits such as Jon Stewart and Bill Maher had guests on their shows and were supportive of the concept.
Now, most of these have changed their minds since, and reject the idea. The study was trash to begin with and the preservative mentioned isn't actually in use any longer, so the entire fear was without the slightest merit. In addition, the rise in autism is a combination of a change in the diagnosis to broaden it considerably (taking in several other ailments under the umbrella, for example) and that people are less likely to cover up or keep their child's problems hidden.
But the theme stuck in parent's heads, and the horror of having an autistic child clung to them like a cold shadow, clouding judgment to this day.
On the left, people who are all about buying organic foods, eating the latest health craze fad food, and consider healthy living and exercise a religion of sorts are very skeptical of inoculating children against diseases. You can almost exactly plot the rise of these infectious diseases with the hotspots of this kind of thinking. Its like you can figure out where the measles cases are coming from by drawing a circle around a Whole Foods market.
On the right, there's long been a suspicion of science, scientists, and traditional medicine by some who think either that they are in opposition to religion, or that one should just trust God. Holistic "medicine," homeopathic treatments, and herbal supplements are all heavily advertised on any right wing talk show across America: they know their demographic.
In other words: this isn't a political issue at all. Its a fear and ignorance issue, compounded by cultural boundaries.
And part of the reason for the spread isn't related to Americans or their culture wars at all. A huge surge of children (and their families) of illegal immigrants into the country as "refugees" was allowed by the President, and distributed around the country. Few of these children were ever inoculated against any diseases and some were carriers. That resulted in a combination of carriers plus unprotected kids being combined in neighborhoods, and the spread began.
Some Christians believe that God and prayer is all that is needed to heal anything, that faith is enough and further that using anything other than love and prayer is showing a lack of faith that God can heal. They expect God to heal anything and everything by miraculous intervention.
It reminds me of an old joke that goes something like this:
There was a big flood, and Bob's home was on low ground. He could see the water
rising. A neighbor dropped by in his big 4 wheeler and offered Bob a ride out of the flood area, and Bob said "Oh, no I'll be fine, God will provide."
The waters kept rising, and soon, Bob was on the second floor balcony, watching his neighborhood vanish beneath the brown water. A boat swung by offering him a ride to safety, and Bob replied "God will provide"
Finally the waters were so high, Bob was on the roof, clinging to his chimney hoping the house didn't wash away entirely. A helicopter swung over head dropping a ladder down, and while neither side could hear each other, Bob waved the helicopter away.
Bob's house collapsed, and he drown in the flood waters. Reaching heaven, Bob stared God right in the face and said "You promised you would provide, you said I would not have to worry, where were you? I died!"
God patiently responded: "I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. Why didn't you take what I gave you?"
God uses means in the world, almost never miraculous, supernatural direct intervention. Doctors, medicine, and science are all gifts from God to bring us His providence. Those vitamins you refused to take, that doctor that could have innoculated your children, those are all God-given.
Like anything man gets his hands on, medicine and science can be abused and misused. Corruption, fraud, lies, and accidents can happen, but that's true about all of life in this fallen sinful earth. We have to deal with the curse; we deserve far worse and have been given far greater than we deserve in Christ.
Refusing to take advantage of what God has given us through His providence and leading men of genius and invention to develop with medicine and science is not just foolish but wrong. I agree often medicine is expensive and sometimes worthless. I try to avoid doctors as much as possible, but I'll take advantage of basic reasonable care, and that's what inoculations are for.
We have to repent of our cynical attitude toward science and our refusal to take the gifts God offers. Science isn't anti-God and God isn't anti-science. Science is, as the reformers said, "thinking God's thoughts after him." It is looking closely at what God has done in the world and seeing His touch and character in the world.
Now not all of us have an anti-science attitude or have been duped by well-meaning fools such as Jenny McCarthy, Oprah Winfrey, and others. We still need to examine our hearts and how we approach this issue. Are we treating it as a club to attack people we hold in contempt or consider enemies?
We as Christians should always first seek to glorify God and love our neighbor, as Jesus taught us. At the very least that means we should be first concerned with the kids getting this disease and how we can work to stop and reverse it, not how it helps "our side" or hurts "their side." And certainly God isn't glorified when we mock and attack or belittle people for what they believe or do.
So we need to first repent of our sins, our arrogance, and our snide, snarky attitude, whatever we're guilty of. This modern culture makes it too rewarding and easy to mock and sneer at others when we should be humble and loving.
And we need to reach out in love and service to help those in need.
Thankfully... there aren't very many in need. You'd think with all the hype and coverage that measles was sweeping the nation and we all should build bio shelters. The truth is, the largest outbreak of the disease is in California and it numbers about 100*.
One hundred. The state of California has over 38,000,000 people in it. How big is your town? Because if you divide it by about 400,000, that's how many kids would have measles in it, by comparison.
The second largest outbreak is in Arizona. It totals seven.
Now, every one of those kids is someone I would rather not have measles, particularly with how easy it is to prevent. And measles is just one example of the formerly stopped infectious diseases we never had to deal with just a year or two ago, because people were getting shots.
But this isn't something to panic over or yell about. Its a tiny number of children being infected by a miserable and uncomfortable disease that is at the same time not particularly dangerous in modern America.
So here's where I respect and lean toward the anti-doctor Christians I mentioned above. Freaking out over this is a sin, too, because we are supposed to trust God. Trust God and use the tools and gifts he's given but trust God. He's in charge, whatever comes to pass. He will work things out according to His good will, toward a perfect end.
So act wisely, humbly, and lovingly while trusting God, and giving everything up to Him in prayer while working to help those around us.
*There was an outbreak of about 400 last year in Amish country where they get no vaccinations of any kind, this happens periodically even with their relatively isolated community and always has.
This is part of the Christian Response series.