Pastor John van Sloten of Marda Loop Church in Calgary had been thinking about, in his view, the theology behind wearing a mask.
His basic premise was that if Jesus, who was God, took on a human body to mask his Godness for the sake of others, then Christians too should cover up their faces with a mask amid the pandemic.
So, he penned a column for a local newspaper and made it the subject of one of his sermons.
“I thought it was a pretty convincing theological argument,” van Sloten says. “But people just went nuts with it.”
Soon, the Facebook page for Marda Loop Church was flooded with angry commenters. One told van Sloten that he couldn’t possibly be a pastor with such beliefs. Another said he should be ashamed for “posting such nonsense.”
One commenter even posted a meme of Jesus displaying his middle finger to the reader.
“I thought that was creative,” van Sloten said. “A lot of it was repeating of the conspiracy theories that the whole masking thing is made up, that you’re drinking the Kool-Aid like the rest of liberal society.”
Van Sloten said he’s received criticism, hate mail and even protests outside his church over the years, and has mostly ignored those instances that seemed like trolling.
But he said he’s also read about the advent of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon in American churches — and feels that churches in Canada should be carefully tracking its possible journey north.
“The Christian church has always been exposed to heresies and incorrect thinking historically from the get-go,” van Sloten said. “Heresies come and heresies go, and this is the heresy du jour. And I think we ought to treat it like that.”
An American conspiracy comes north
The QAnon conspiracy theory originated in 2017 on the imageboard 4chan after a user identified as “Q” claimed they had insider information on the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Through a series of anonymous posts, Q propagated the conspiracy that Trump was battling against a child-trafficking ring that included “deep state” government officials, prominent Democrats and members of Hollywood.
Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory include members from both secular and religious groups, and aren’t made up specifically of those people who participate in the Christian faith.
And though QAnon may have begun as a distinctly American conspiracy, its tentacles have since been attached to governments and notable individuals around the world.
“Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau] has been mentioned in Q drops since the start of QAnon,” said Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University who studies QAnon. “We have some significant influencers [based in Canada].
“Amazing Polly [a QAnon influencer based in Ontario] was at the root of the Wayfair conspiracy theory. It’s not like Canada is just taking the American aspect, but they’re adapting it to its own context.”
Typical QAnon conspiracies connected to Canada involve the belief that Trudeau is one of the “deep state elites” who need to be removed from office to “awaken and liberate” the country.
Growth among QAnon adherents within secular and religious communities is steady, and underpinned by different motivations, Argentino said.
But he said he expected there could be an easy path for the religious community to understand apocalyptic language in the political context, making it potentially easier for members to accept QAnon.
“[Religions and conspiracy theories] have this function where they permit the development of symbolic resources that enable people to define and address the problem of evil,” he said. “So whether you want to know why something is happening, whether you’re blessed or cursed — God or the devil — it’s the same thing with QAnon.
“This conspiracy theory is providing a mainstream narrative for things like a pandemic, or war, or child trafficking … It’s just a natural pathway for a lot of evangelicals in the U.S., especially considering how evangelicalism is closely linked to American politics.”
‘How could you believe this?’
When the pandemic started, Jessica DiSabatino, lead pastor at Calgary’s Journey Church, felt confident in keeping to one of her church’s “high values” — that not all members shared the same views, and that was OK.
But as lockdown dragged on and the church lost its face-to-face contact, she noticed some things that worried her.
On social media, DiSabatino watched as the debunked Plandemic video was retweeted and watched hundreds of times by people in her congregation.
Inevitably, DiSabatino began hearing of QAnon from people around her, and began to read more about it.
“There is like a religious fervour about it,” she said. “The more I read about it, it seems like a replacement religion, where everything has a reason.
“And I think people want to feel like they’re on the inner workings of something, particularly when we don’t have a lot of power.”
Seeing posts emerge on social media about QAnon from her congregation, DiSabatino soon felt herself struck by a new feeling — was this going to cause fractures within her church community? Was all the work she had done being undone by this conspiracy?
DiSabatino could even feel herself getting angry. As friends in her life began voicing their openness to QAnon, she thought to herself — “How could you believe this? What is wrong with you?”
“These are some of my friends who I love. And what I’ve had to say to them, in the end, is this cannot define our friendship,” she said.
Looking for ‘the big story’
DiSabatino soon realized her own anger toward what she viewed as someone’s irrational beliefs would drive a further wedge between them — and didn’t begin to uncover what might be motivating those beliefs.
“I don’t think I can say nothing,” she said. “But I also think it’s a very personal thing — so I’m not going to get up and preach a message about why I think QAnon is crazy.
“Partly, because I think different people come to conspiracy theories for different reasons. I think sometimes you’ve got hurt that is unimaginable in your life.”
People of faith are [looking] for a big story that explains why things are the way they are.– John van Sloten, pastor of Marda Loop Church in Calgary
Van Sloten said conspiracy theories and church can often fill the same void, because they’re trading on the same faith and desire for an authoritative voice — something exacerbated in a time rife with turmoil and anxiety.
“People of faith are also looking for a big story that explains why things are the way they are,” he said. “So again, these desires — these good desires, in all of us, I believe, as a theologian — they’re ultimately meant to be directed to a grand narrator who can be trusted, who is authoritative.
“They’re being co-opted by conspiracy theories, by people who want control by making cognitive shortcuts and just getting an answer because they’ve got to get an answer soon.”
Conspiracists functioning almost as prophets
Colin Toffelmire, associate professor of Old Testament at Ambrose University College in Calgary, says there has been a historical vulnerability to conspiracy thinking in some versions of evangelicalism or fundamentalist Christianity.
“I think that’s related to the history of how some Christians in North America have thought about history and science, especially,” Toffelmire said.
“For example, there’s this long-standing objection in evangelical subculture to really well-accepted scientific theories, like the theory of evolution by natural selection.”
Those objections — centred in versions of Christianity that believe that everything in the Bible is exactly historically and scientifically accurate — could make certain individuals suspicious of mainstream ideas in science and history, Toffelmire said.
“Some of that is kind of hard-baked into some versions of North American evangelical subculture,” he said. “And so that is, I think, almost like an entry point. That suspicion of authority becomes an entry point for very strange conspiracy theories, like the QAnon conspiracy theory.”
Joel Thiessen, professor of sociology at Ambrose, said though churches should be aware of the rise of QAnon, he wasn’t sure that it was yet a prominent concern in Canada.
But taking an example from the United States, he said it appears that more conservative Christian groups tend to gravitate toward conspiracy, potentially because they may feel they are becoming marginalized in secular society.
“[They feel] they are losing positions of power that conservative religious groups have historically had, particularly in the U.S., to a lesser extent in Canada,” Thiessen said.
“There’s an emerging sense among some conservative groups that they have lost power in governments, in education, in media and so forth.”
Thiessen said that those in conservative religious groups who gravitate toward conspiracy still represents a small minority of churchgoers.
But those who end up believing the conspiracy, Thiessen said, may typically be drawn to it for much of the same reasons others in society are.
“You have potentially charismatic or polarizing figures, who almost function like prophets within these sub-narratives within society,” Thiessen said. “I think because of physically distanced communities and congregations not gathering together as frequently, people are perhaps not even watching their own online religious services. That means they aren’t being socialized.
“It actually makes this a rife time for such groups to actually capitalize on those opportunities. No doubt we’re seeing those things unfold before our very eyes.”
It’s ‘unknown’ when Canada will reach herd immunity from coronavirus vaccine: Tam – Global News
The percentage of the Canadian population that needs to be vaccinated in order to reach widespread immunity against the coronavirus is unknown, according to Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam.
Speaking at a media conference Friday, Tam was asked what entails a “successful vaccine campaign,” in order to determine when the population reaches herd immunity.
“Nobody actually knows the level of vaccine coverage to achieve community immunity or herd immunity,” Tam explained. “We have an assumption that you will probably need 60 to 70 per cent of people to be vaccinated. But we don’t know that for sure … that’s modelling. Lots of these calculations are being done but bottom line is that we actually don’t know.”
The end goal, Tam added, is to vaccinate as many Canadian as quickly as possible.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), herd immunity is when a population can be protected from a certain virus, like COVID-19, if a threshold of vaccination is reached. It’s achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it, the WHO added.
However, the percentage of people needed to be vaccinated in order to create herd immunity depends on the disease.
For example, herd immunity against measles requires about 95 per cent of a population to be vaccinated and for polio, the threshold is about 80 per cent, the WHO stated.
Canada is nowhere near herd immunity to the coronavirus as second wave surges: Tam
Tam previously told Global News in November that Canada is still nowhere near herd immunity with the coronavirus.
“We’re only at a few percentage points in terms of the immunity in our population. That leaves over 90 per cent of the population, or 95 per cent of the population still vulnerable,” Tam said.
Canada is currently battling a severe second wave of COVID-19 cases. Officials are urging people to remain vigilant in stopping the spread of the virus, despite the promising vaccine news.
Canada expects the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to be administered in January, which will go to the country’s most vulnerable populations.
Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he hopes to see the “majority” of Canadians vaccinated by September, though he did not specify exactly what that means as far as a percentage of the population.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canada surpasses 400000 total COVID-19 cases – CTV News
Canada has now recorded more than 400,000 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the global pandemic.
Today’s bleak marker came after Saskatchewan reported 283 new cases of the virus today, bringing the national tally to 400,030.
The speed at which Canada reached the 400,000 mark is the latest sign of the accelerating pace of the pandemic across the country.
Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 18 days ago on Nov. 16.
It took six months for Canada to record its first 100,000 cases of COVID-19, four months to reach the 200,000 threshold and less than a month to arrive at 300,000.
Canada’s national death toll from the virus currently stands at 12,470.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020.
The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada – Richmond News
The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):
Saskatchewan is reporting 283 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death.
Health officials say the person who died was in their 80s and the province’s death toll from the pandemic sits at 55.
There are more than 4,000 active cases of the virus in the province, many of the infections concentrated in and around Regina and Saskatoon.
Hospitals are treating 126 COVID-19 patients, with 25 of them in intensive care.
The province’s seven-day average of daily cases is 262.
Premier Scott Moe hopes to see a dip in transmission of the virus so more visitation can be allowed in long-term care homes over the holidays.
Manitoba is announcing nine more deaths from COVID-19 and 320 new infections Friday as health officials released new modelling showing the impact of the pandemic on the province.
It shows that three people end up in hospital and one person dies for every 48 cases of COVID-19.
Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, says if no public health measures had been put in place, there would have been up to 1,055 new infections a day by this Sunday.
Daily cases have been tracking between 300 and 500 recently.
Nunavut will look to get the Moderna vaccine once it is available in Canada.
Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says Moderna is preferred because the cold storage and shipping of the Pfizer vaccine is too difficult in Nunavut.
Patterson also announced today fewer than five Nunavut residents with COVID-19 were flown to a Winnipeg hospital this week and are in stable condition.
Patterson would not comment on exactly how many people were in hospital or what communities they come from.
Ottawa is increasing its order of prospective COVID-19 vaccines.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand says Canada is exercising its option to obtain another 20 million doses of Moderna’s two-dose candidate, bringing its total order to 40 million in 2021.
That’s expected to be enough to vaccinate almost 20 million people.
Moderna is one of several manufacturers Ottawa has struck deals with for prospective COVID-19 vaccines, which will be delivered in batches.
In early 2021, Canada expects a combined total of six million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines, if authorized for distribution.
The group instructing provinces and territories about who should be first in line for COVID-19 vaccines has updated its advice.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization says the first doses of authorized vaccines should go to residents and staff of congregate living settings for seniors.
They should also go to older adults starting with people aged 80 and older, then decreasing the age limit to 70 as supply becomes available.
Health-care workers and adults in Indigenous communities where infection can have disproportionate consequences are also on the list.
Public Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador are reporting three new cases of COVID-19.
There are now 27 active cases in the province, for a total of 343 cases since the pandemic began.
Premier Andrew Fury says he will announce the province’s position on the Atlantic travel bubble Monday.
Newfoundland and Labrador withdrew from the arrangement on looser travel restrictions within the region last month.
Nova Scotia is reporting 15 new cases of COVID-19.
Health officials say 11 cases are in the Halifax area, including a case at Citadel High School in Halifax reported late Thursday.
Three cases in the northern health zone are close contacts of other cases, and one case in the western zone is related to travel.
A case has also been identified at Park West School, a primary to Grade 9 school in the health zone that includes Halifax.
Nunavut is reporting eight new cases of COVID-19.
The territory says all the new infections are in Arviat.
The community on the western edge of Hudson Bay now has 44 active cases.
Nunavut mostly lifted a two-week lockdown earlier this week but restrictions remain in Arviat where numbers are highest.
Public Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting eight new cases of COVID-19.
There is one new case in the Moncton region, two in the Saint John region, one in the Fredericton area and four in the Edmunston region.
All the individuals are self-isolating and their cases are under investigation.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick is 528 with 111 currently active.
There are 1,780 new cases of COVID-19 in Ontario today and 25 more deaths linked to the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 633 new cases in Toronto, 433 in Peel and 152 in York Region.
She says that the spread of COVID-19 has “hit a critical point.”
The minister is asking Ontarians to wear masks and remain physically distant from each other.
The Quebec government is reporting 1,345 new COVID-19 cases and 28 additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.
The Health Department says of the five of the deaths occurred in the past 24 hours.
The number of hospitalizations has increased by 24 for a total of 761 with 97 people in intensive care.
The province has reported a total of 147,877 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7,183 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020.
The Canadian Press
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