I’m writing this note after reading a New York Times piece and reader’s thread about Trump’s suggestion to combat coronavirus by “injecting” a form of bleach as a sort of “cleansing” (which he has now walked back to supposedly being “sarcastic,” although that seems worse than sincerity).
I noticed on cable TV as the story was breaking, and again today in the Times, confusion about whether the idea was to “ingest” or “inject” bleach. That is, was he floating a vision of cleansing the bloodstream, the lungs, or the digestive tract?
Although we have already gone with Alice through the looking glass by pursuing this question at all, I think I have the answer!
The Guardian reported yesterday that this idea might be rooted in Trump listening to an obscure church called Genesis II. Or maybe I should say “church” in scare quotes, but at least this is a business that seems to be legally recognized as a church and presenting itself as such.
Since my career has been studying and teaching about US religion and culture, I naturally clicked over to Genesis II (which I had not heard of previously) to check it out. I must say I’m amazed that such a small number of reporters appear to have tried this (to me obvious) exploration, nor have followed up the Guardian report (at least based on a quick search today, although here is an exception). But perhaps that is just the sort of scholarly geek that I am.
In any case, what one finds on the Genesis II site is a lot about selling their cures—which center on a “sacrament” which involves drinking a small amount of special bleach mixed in water.
For other geeks who might flock with me, here is an impassioned and aggrieved sermon posted yesterday from the self-declared bishop of Genesis II, who insists on his absolute religious freedom to promote his sacrament. He seems to think there was only a minuscule gap between a Pilgrim quest for religious freedom and First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom. (Sorry, bishop, that was actually a gap between theocracy and witch trials in the early 1600s, versus Enlightenment Deists who didn’t believe in miracles in the late 1700s—in other words a gap comparable to starting now and going back to before Einstein and Darwin.)
It seems, also, that Genesis II folks are passionate anti-vaxxers — so as not to inject bad things into their blood — while at the same time they are bullish about their bleach sacraments.
Although I am no expert on Genesis II and don’t have time to become one today, I might know enough about US religion to be be like a doctor who (with all due disclaimers) can make a fairly sound snap diagnosis–pending confirmation by blood tests.
Is this an injection in the bloodstream? Might it be that Trump was clumsily leaking classified knowledge of some sort of advanced chemotherapy, as posited by conservative apologists in the New York Times? Might this be analogous to serpent handlers who deliberately show their faith by risking deadly snake bites and drinking strychnine because they think Mark 16:18 commands it?
All these are doubtful. Rather, the Guardian hypothesis leading to Genesis II passes the preliminary smell test with flying colors. By extension, we can safely hypothesize “ingest.”
This shows all the marks of positive thinking and/or prosperity gospel quackery—the tradition of selling either New Age or ultra-consumerist-neo-Pentecostal healing oils, blessed prayer fetishes, healing crystals, mantras, etc.
We know that, insofar as Trump has any credible claim to having any religious or moral orientation at all—although yesterday Lucinda Williams released a song denying this—it is rooted in the positive thinking and prosperity gospel tradition. Trump got there less through his current Pentecostal sidekicks or the New Age than from a famous New York preacher, Norman Vincent Peale, who self-identified as a mainstream Presbyterian. But all these are fingers on the same hand. Genesis II is like a strange experiment in decorating one of the fingernails.
Sadly, in this Alice through the looking glass world, this all does “make perfect sense” to me.
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