In an interesting look at the intersection of faith and science, we see another example of (I believe it was) Dennett’s observation that religious practice may change due to scientific discovery, but that the flow of information seems to only go from science to religion, never from religion to science. In times of illness, people may turn to science, or they may turn to their faith, for comfort. Some fully expect healing miracles, but I would be surprised if many people felt that turning to faith for comfort would actually be harmful (in and of itself–I will assume here that people still see a doctor; if they turn to religion instead of medicine, we have a different story). Turns out, the church has found that some of its cherished rituals may indeed contribute to the spread of swine flu, and they are taking measures (as they should) to address the issue and to limit the spread of the virus.
A bishop has advised that holy water be removed from churches in a bid to halt the spread of swine flu.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend John Gladwin, said at some churches people were invited make a sign of the cross using holy water.
“The water in stoups can easily become a source of infection and a means of rapidly spreading the virus,” he said.
They are also asking people with flu symptoms not to drink communion wine from the chalice, and are advising priests to wear protective gear if they feel they must visit flu sufferers. Apparently, the Church recognizes the effectiveness of barrier methods of protection against viral infections. For priests, anyway, if not for people in Africa.
In sane and thoughtful words, which ought
To comfort and inspire us,
The Bishop says the love of God
Will not hold back a virus.
Holy water, used for prayers
By people in a group,
May somewhat inadvertently
Be turned to swine flu soup,
And spread the flu to others, who
Might dip their fingers there,
And so the Bishop, rightly, asks
His flock to take some care.
Communion wine, the Blood of Christ,
Where all may share a chalice,
May also act to spread the flu,
Though not through purposed malice.
The Bishop, faced with evidence,
Could not remain a fool—
Communion is a sacrament,
But still he changed the rule.
You now can take communion with
No wine, but just a wafer;
If Christ’s blood is infected, then
The cracker may be safer.
Lastly, those who get the flu
And want a priest to visit
Are apt to have some problems here
(Not unexpected, is it?)
The priests should wear an apron,
Surgeon’s mask, and sterile gloves,
Before they meet with sickly folks
To show how much God loves.
It’s simple, but it’s good advice
When comforting a carrier,
God knows, when fighting viruses
It’s best to use a barrier.