Vaccines undermine “divine providence”

At the end of August, epidemiologists in Texas traced a measles outbreak to people who attended a particular megachurch, the pastor of which has preached against vaccinations. The pastor has apparently repented that stupid move.

Fortunately, that outbreak was able to be pretty well-contained — after the disease sickened about 21 people, Texas issued a public health alert and quickly found the source of the issue. The megachurch’s pastor was very cooperative and even agreed to host several free clinics to encourage the congregation to get their shots.

That’s good, but a fundamentalist area of the Netherlands isn’t doing so well.

The Netherlands has been struggling with a measles outbreak since May. So far, more than 1,200 people have been sickened, and 82 of them have ended up in the hospital. It’s the first time in the past 13 years that the country has experienced a rash of measles cases. And as the Irish Times reports, the “outbreak is concentrated in the country’s extensive Bible Belt, where the majority of fundamentalist Protestants do not believe in having their children vaccinated.”

So I look at the Irish Times article, from last June.

For the first time in 13 years, the Netherlands has been hit by a serious outbreak of potentially deadly measles. The outbreak is concentrated in the country’s extensive Bible Belt, where the majority of fundamentalist Protestants do not believe in having their children vaccinated.

More than 30 cases have so far been reported, but the public health institute, RIVM, says that “in view of the low vaccination uptake in the Bible Belt, it is assumed that the illness will spread further among unvaccinated children in the near future”.

In fact, the figure of 30 could already be a significant underestimate, acknowledges the RIVM. Given the reluctance of most of the ultra-conservative population to put their faith in medicine, not everyone who has become ill will have visited the family doctor.

So the Netherlands has its own Texas, only more so. Fewer people but more wrong. I did not know that.

The country’s epidemiologists are having difficulty tracking the outbreak because orthodox Protestants don’t usually seek treatment at the doctor after they become sick. The close-knit religious community believes in faith healing, and opposes medical interventions like vaccines because they undermine “divine providence.” And because they live among other orthodox Protestants, rather than being integrated among the rest of the country’s residents, they don’t benefit from the “herd effect” that helps prevent the spread of diseases — that is, the fact that vaccinating some people can end up protecting the unvaccinated ones around them.

So they believe in a stupid incompetent god that wants them to do stupid incompetent things like not getting vaccinated and not using medical treatment. How miserably pathetic.

And how horrible for the children of that “close-knit religious community.”


  1. says

    It could be “divine providence” that their imaginary god put the researchers there to develop the vaccine and the doctors to administer it, but of course they don’t make that leap. Better to do nothing and hope for the best. Because that always works like gangbusters in all other aspects of life. *facepalm*

  2. Abdul Alhazred says

    Anti-vax with a difference.

    They are against vaccinations precisely because they *do* work as claimed.

  3. says

    B..b…b.b..ut the Reptilians from Sirius are putting fluoride in the vaccines culled from the bodies of dead aborted babies, to mind control the entire population into worshipping the 5th Dynasty Walt Disney Illuminati bloodline. Stop the vaccines before we all turn into waking zombies wanting nothing in life but to put more money into the Mighty Morphin’ Super Reptile’s(PZ/Ophelia shapeshift being) Swiss bank account!!!!!

    Oh god I think they chipped me, I better run to pull all my teeth out!!

  4. Randomfactor says

    They should also refrain from tithing. “Divine providence” will provide.

    Bet THAT would end this nonsense in a week.

  5. says

    In the Netherlands actually only 20% of the unvaccinated children are orthodox protestants.
    It’s their bad luck that they live relatively close together.
    The remaining 80% however are anti-vacs, among them many antroposophers, but they profit from the herd.

  6. Claire Ramsey says

    Perhaps their entire gene pool, weak reasoning abilities and all, will simply disappear soon, I hope before they take the rest of the population of the Netherlands with them.

  7. reinderdijkhuis says

    It turns out, though, that if you give parents in that community the opportunity to have their children vaccinated at home, discreetly-like, quite a few of them do. “Close-knit”, as usual, really means “coercive”.

  8. APic says

    Reminds me of that joke.

    The rain is torrential, and an old man is sitting on the porch of his house next to a river watching the water rise and singing hymns.

    HIs neighbours see him sitting there and pull up in their 4×4. “Come on!” they yell. “The dam is going to break and you’ll drown.”

    “Nope,” answers the old man. “I am praying to God and God will provide.”

    The water keeps rising and soon the man has to climb up onto the porch roof to escape the waters.

    Along comes some more people in a boat. “Come on!” they yell. “The dam is breaking and all of this is going to be washed away.”

    “Nope,” answera the man. “I am praying to God and God will provide.”

    The water keeps rising and soon the man is sitting on the roof, still siging his hymns.

    A helicopter flies over, stops, and comes back and hovers over him, lowering a ladder. “Come on!” yells someone from the helicopter. “The dam has broken and if you don’t leave you’ll be washed away!”

    “Nope,” answers the man. “I am praying to God and God will provide.”

    Well, the water crashes into the house and sweeps the man away. When he wakes, he finds himself standing before the Pearly Gates. Furious, he demands to see God and is taken into His presence by St Peter himself.

    “God,” the man said, “I don’t understand. All my life I’ve been a good Christian. When the rain came down I prayed to you and prayed to you and still you let me drown.”


  9. Leon says

    So the Netherlands has its own Texas, only more so.

    It’s worse than you think. We tend not usually to make much of a fuss about our bible belt because it’s been like that since forever, and I guess it’s mostly regarded as a slightly annoying anachronism, or maybe colourful folklore.

    They tend to fail to turn back things such as abortion rights (though not for lack of trying), but they do have real political power.

    An anecdote: a while ago, a school made the news because they forbade girls to wear trousers, even through they had to ride a bike to school in temperatures of less than -15C. We get much more of this sort of fuckwittery from christians than from those scary swarthy muslems.

  10. says

    @MrFancyPants in #1: yes, I’ve never understood that either. Surely they can’t mean to say that the development of these vaccines wasn’t according to God’s plan? It’s not much of a divine plan if a few puny scientists can throw a spanner in it.

  11. Who Cares says

    Few more tidbits on these people in the Netherlands.
    They have their own political party (SGP), which has it’s foundation in two religious tracts from the 16th and 17th century. Their ultimate goal is a theocratic government form, the good thing is that they only have enough people to vote for them to get 2% or so of the seats in our version of the senate and house.
    Also until recently only men could be members, until they got told either allow women as well or lose government funding. This year they lost the legal battle about being able to exclude women from the ballots, but still claim women are not supposed to govern. Which resulted in a bit of hilarity when in a town election (Vlissingen) none of the men could be bothered to put themselves on the ballot when a woman did so, she got elected.

    This bible belt is also our local nexus for creationism, going to the point that the local TV station there messes around with the sound and subtitles to keep it from airing.

  12. Ex Patriot says

    Sounds like the beeble belt in the Netherlands is just as screwed up as the one in the States. I had the misfortune of living in Ok because of a job and it was a experience that I never care to repeat. I ran into some these types in OK and they spouted on how they thought their spook in the sky would cure all things and of course some got sick an nothing cured them and as I told a couple of them, you sit there and pray, you are talking to an idiot, yourself. I left in 99 an now live in Europe.

  13. says

    I remember in the late 70s — I think it was 1979 — when the Tucson Unified School District made it a policy to require vaccinations for everyone in public schools. From the public outrage by religious conservatives, you would have thought the district was demanding participation in a Black Mass.

    The “vaccines are Satanic because they interfere with God’s ability to smite with disease” meme goes all the way back to the mid 1800s, with the development of the first vaccines. Like all religious arguments, it was a ridiculous, dangerous and fanatically held belief when it first appeared, and has only become more so over time.

  14. says

    @Patrick in #8: interestingly enough, it turns out the vaccination rate is actually lowest among anthroposophists, but then again, there aren’t really as many of them as there are of orthodox Protestants.

    Also of note: compare the map of vaccination rates from the Eurosurveillance article with the election results for the SGP (you’ll have to select the SGP in the first column to see where the SGP was most popular in the 2010 elections). See any similarities?

  15. Leon says

    #13: “… the local TV station…” You mean the part government funded public television that represents this particular sort of fundamentalism. Important distinction. Also, since they show most nature documentaries, the systematic excision of evolution and geological timescales actually matters.

  16. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    It’s amazing what things conveniently do or do not “undermine divine providence”. You’d think these fuckers should be running around naked in the woods eating nuts and berries, because God Will Provide.

  17. Pieter B, FCD says

    @ Patrick #8

    It’s not only the Orthodox Protestant community, it’s the Anthroposophists as well.

    The vast majority are of the orthodox Protestant sect, and almost ten times as many anti-vaxers as anthroposophists. From your link

    Reasons for being unvaccinated were: 1,072 (93.6% of 1,145 cases with information) orthodox Protestantism, 3 (0.3%) anthroposophical, 30 (2.6%) parents’ or own critical attitude towards vaccination, and 40 (3.5%) other.

  18. Who Cares says

    @Leon(#16): The EO is not theirs. That one roughly translates to Evangelical Broadcasting while the ones I meant are stations, which broadcast at most county wide or at least the dutch equivalent of a county, aimed at the Calvinists (believe the english translation is Reformists) that form the basis of the SGP membership.
    The main difference is the people which the broadcasts are aimed at. The EO is trying to create more Christians while the local stations are more aimed at supporting the fundamentalist identity.

    But you are right about the EO. It has enough paying members (second or third largest member base) to get funded by the government & getting slots on the public channels. And they also have the habit of butchering what they buy to fit with their interpretation of the bible. What they did to that BBC series was commented on by them as a standard procedure.

  19. lorn says

    I suppose the “divine providence” thing is akin to the claim that, variously, this or that intervention ‘interferes with the will of God’. I’ve seen that ‘will of God’ claim applied to all sorts of things. Abortion, naturally, but also to antibiotics, and, open heart surgery. Evidently God, always so clean, works through bacterial infections and food poisoning. Taken to teh logical end I guess you could claim that the whole interference with the will of God thing is also related to the whole ‘if God had intended _____ …’ meme. ie: If God had intended men to fly he would have given us wings.

    The thing all these things have in common is that it strips away human agency and assumes that we all just have to deal with what is given to us. Or at least we have to if it is going to go as planned.

    It also depicts this mythical all -powerful God, capable of manufacturing an entire universe out of nothing and moistening and entire globe in anger, as so weak that He can be thwarted by moldy bread, or deft cutting and stitching by a mere human.

    Someone needs to sort out the power relationship there. If God, assuming one exists, is all-powerful nothing we could do should make any difference. If we assume that God exists, and also observe that we can make real changes, even if it is just around the edges, then the power relationship is completely different. If God is anything but all-powerful then He is limited and so something more like a demi-God. Also, if man can create on the same field as God then man is more powerful than many assume. We too are a bit more than just smears of mud passively moved around like pawns, we have agency. We can, even if it is only in small ways, perhaps just around the edges, create.

    A famous philosopher observed that if there was a God he wouldn’t want a passive partner as that would, in the long run, be uninteresting. Ultimately he would want a co-creator. Of course, if you assume God doesn’t exist, the story is one of a species learning and growing into its full potential as agent and creator. In essence young wobbly demi-Gods exploring their world, and themselves, and slowly, painfully, growing up.

    Of course, I’ve always much more enjoyed the stories of demi-Gods. The Greek Gods were more like demi-Gods. They didn’t know everything, and they certainly weren’t all-powerful. They could be deceived and had profound limitations on their powers and they were both more interesting and more noble for their weaknesses.

    Humans also are, in some ways, ennobled by our weaknesses. Despite being corruptible in mind and body we have come very far, very quickly. Of course, it is entirely predictable, that fundamentalist would object, take as heretical, any assertion that man might be co-creator, or, perish the thought, demi-God, and slowly maturing up as a species.

  20. lpetrich says

    This sort of argument reminds me of an argument against lightning rods by a certain Rev. Thomas Prince. When Boston suffered an earthquake in 1755, he stated that it was because of all the Bostonians who had put up lightning rods, which Benjamin Franklin had recently invented. God had gotten frustrated at lightning rods protecting people from being punished for their sins, so he caused an earthquake.

    In fairness, some of his colleagues, like Rev. John Winthrop, argued that protection against lightning was like protection against wind and rain and snow.

  21. Leon says

    @Who Cares, #19: I’m sorry, I misunderstood. You are right, the EO doesn’t exclusively represent the SGP constituency (but it does represent the ones who don’t think TV should be avoided completely — the majority of their members are creationists).

    My point though was that this small but vocal minority has been able to shape dutch society in a much more significant manner than their number would warrant. In small, perhaps symbolic, but nontheless meaningful ways.

    I also just realised that I haven’t really addressed the main point of Ophelia’s post. I think it’s because it’s not much different from saying that grass is green to a dutchman (which just emphasises just how entrenched fundamentalist christianity is in the netherlands). I would add that these are strict calivinists, who believe in predestination. I guess that free will doesn’t extend to “I’d prefer to avoid contracting a potentially lethal disease, or worse, infect someone who doesn’t have the option of vaccination.” If one accepts their logic, their god is a sadist. Oh, wait, that explains why they let girls wear skirts while riding their bikes to school in -15C.

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