Here is another point about the issue of government bans on Church worship services that in my two previous posts I have taken for granted but which I evidently need to make explicit. Do these bans really accomplish much given how little time each week is devoted to corporate worship? And does the small reduction of risk achieved by such bans compensate for the loss of religious freedom they entail?

Consider the fact that during the pandemic hardware stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Menards are open every day of the week for 11-14 hours each day with thousands of customers coming and going throughout the week, while church services, which average just 75 people, are not permitted to meet for even one hour each week. When it comes to presenting a real danger to a community in terms of spreading the Covid-19 virus, the risks at a small church service are negligible compared to those at such large hardware stores. Yet the former are closed while the latter are bustling with activity all over the country.

One might argue that our society needs hardware stores to stay open far more than we need weekly worship services. First, such a response presupposes that corporate worship is not necessary for human flourishing, which begs the question of my original argument in my April 25 post. Secondly, even if one grants that corporate worship services are not as essential to human flourishing as home improvement supplies, then can we not at least grant that worship services are 1/60th as valuable as hardware stores? If so, then this would warrant permitting a 90-minute worship service once per week (to maintain the proper value ratio vis-à-vis a Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Menards, which are open 80+ hours per week).

So, fellow Christians, if you support the ban on church worship services while you’re supporting keeping open such hardware stores (and your shopping at one of these stores during the week is a tacit admission that you do), then this would seem to imply that you have a rather low view of the importance of corporate worship. For some of my critics, perhaps that is the real crux of our divergence on this issue, and that is fine. But for those who say they place a high value on corporate worship, something has to give here.

If you are really that concerned about human contact hours and the risk this presents regarding spreading the virus, then it would be far more efficient to create a stricter limit on the operating hours of retail stores. Therefore, I would suggest this modest compromise: Reduce the operating hours of large retail outlets by just one hour per day and lift the ban on corporate worship services. This would create a net reduction in the number of contact hours during which the virus can be spread while preserving the public good of corporate worship. Everybody okay with that?


3 Responses to “Covid-19, Churches, and Hardware Stores”


  1. Xan Bozzo

     

    Here are a few thoughts:

    1. Would less hours for hardware stores result in more congestion at these stores? (I have no idea.)

    2. Reducing hardware store hours *and* keeping churches closed would have a greater net benefit (ignoring possible issues related to [1]) than reducing hardware store hours and opening churches. So perhaps just reduce the hard ware stores hours? (I don’t intend these initial two points to come off as pedantic — I want worshipers to worship too! But I do think these are relevant points to consider.)

    But, in my view, the main problem with the suggested alternative is this:

    3. Why limit this to churches? First, it would presumably have to be extended to all religious services and not just Christian services. This would bring your average number of 75 up a bit. But secondly and more importantly, what about those in society who value other projects or activities? Consider those who will miss out on their college graduation, or who can no longer visit relatives in the hospital or nursing homes because of heightened restrictions, or who have to cancel or postpone their wedding, or something as idiosyncratic as wanting to watch Disney’s “Onward” with one’s children in the theatre. Are we really okay with the suggestion that churches could open once-a-week but a mother could not attend her child’s college graduation? Even if we grant that corporate worship is a very great good, would not public officials then be privileging this particular conception of the good life — the Christian conception (or a particular tradition in Christianity) — at the expense of others? No doubt religious freedom will be appealed to here. But, as I noted previously, the Establishment Clause is imprecise and religious freedom is not absolute. (There of course is the history surrounding the Lemon Test, but I don’t think we need to even appeal to this here.) The plausible circumstances in which one lacks a particular freedom, including a religious freedom, is when it has a certain chance of harming others. Now perhaps we want to make the argument that that likelihood of causing harm is not met; fine and well. My point here is merely to combat the suggestion that was made in the post: namely to reduce hardware store hours and open churches. It seems to me that this is untenable from a liberal democratic point of view, one concerned with the freedom of all in society. And, again, all this on the assumption that corporate worship is a very great good; but, in democratic societies that lack an established religion, per the Establishment Clause (what I have been calling the “liberal democratic” view), how could such a discrimination on what should be allowed to remain open or take place be justified?

    Disclaimer: None of this says we should be on lockdown *right now*. I also take it for granted, in the above, that views regarding the utility of hardware stores shares far more agreement among members of society — need to fix that water heater, leak in the roof, oven not working, etc. — than the value of corporate worship (and this still assuming for the sake of argument that the latter does have significant value).

    Such at least are my initial thoughts on the matter! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Xan Bozzo

     

    Ha! It is indeed as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Many have quarreled about religion, that never practiced it.”

    Reply

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