Many factors contributed to the spread of the Covid-19 conspiracy theories. While usually these theories are associated with political and ideological gain, most recently, religion has been used to construct and push up these theories, providing a non-scientific explanation of the phenomenon’s root causes and, in other cases, even casting doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Some religious leaders used their social status and authority to disinform the public about possible solutions to the pandemic; After the pandemic outbreak in Iran, some religious clerks started to give their followers instructions about how to deal with the virus. These instructions were nothing but the rhetoric of anti-science. In February 2020, the known Iranian religious figure Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian advised his infected followers to swab their anus’ with a piece of cotton dipped in violet oil. In the same country, one of Tabrizian’s followers proposed camel urine as a cure. In Mexico, a pastor named Oscar Gutierrez, with 220,000 followers on his Facebook page claimed that the miracle mineral solution” (MMS) was suppressed to allow for the microchips to be introduced via a vaccine to control people’s DNA. This unfounded claim was watched over two million times, tapping into the position of cows in Hinduism. Some proposed its urine as a cure for the covid-19. But in some cases, religion was even used to monetize conspiracy theories. For instance, in brazil, evangelical church preachers sell a magic solution to the virus.
While governments tried lockdown to prevent societies from the rising harm of the pandemic, some religious clerks in Iran challenged this step and told their followers that holy places are immunized against the virus. Indeed, this step was fully backed by the holiness of these places.
Religion was also used to increase vaccine hesitancy. A 2022 VCU study found that evangelical Christians who sought information and advice from their faith leaders were less likely to get vaccinated. A survey in six African countries signaled that religion was a significant catalyst of vaccine hesitancy.
Individuals who are part of faith communities place a high value on their leaders regarding information about Covid-19. For instance, a recent Pew Survey showed that most Americans trust their clergy’s advice on the Covid-19, and far more hear their religious leader, be they priest, rabbi, or imam, encouraging them to vaccinate. Still, those with a strong view about religion, such as religious fundamentalism, are more prone to fall prey to fake news than others.
Tech companies platforms such as Facebook started to remove faith-based content related to Covid-19 conspiracy theories. In May 2021, the company took down Life Site news, which usually shares faith content, for violating the company policy regarding Covid-19; Facebook mentioned the site repeatedly shared vaccine-discouraging information. Such a step is essential to counter the Covid-19 conspiracy theories within faith-based communities, as many of these communities rely on social media and physical and religious gatherings to share information and coordinate their efforts.
Religion will be used more and more in the future to disinform the public about the pandemic, but the ideal solution to counter these conspiracy theories should also stem from the bottom up, that’s from these faith-based communities themselves, by providing alternative religious views to the holy persons that challenge these theories and support the scientific findings and recommendations.