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Corona Hermeneutics 2: Interpretive Frameworks

By Jens Zimmermann
Regent College

April 2, 2021


Pandemics and fundamentalists

By Jens Zimmermann
Regent College


Editor’s note: For Corona Hermeneutics Part 1, see article linked to the left.

The world is in the grip of a Coronavirus “pandemic.” Prominent political leaders describe our current situation as a “war,” and media reports routinely mention “millions of dead,” likening Corona to the Spanish Influenza or even to the medieval Black Death. Yet, even a cursory look at national or global statistics shows that these comparisons are unwarranted. After about 12 months of accumulative counting, we lament not “millions” of dead, but about 2 million who have perished from or with the Corona virus in a world population of 7.8 billion people. Compared to at least 20 million dead from the Spanish flu over two years, 50 million from the bubonic plague, and about 80 million dead from World War II, we are clearly not suffering from the kind of disastrous health threat portrayed in public media. In fact, given the WHO’s estimated Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of ca. 0,05% (1 person in 2000) for healthy people under 70 years of age, the popular comparisons of COVID to war and pestilence strike one as irresponsible sensationalism.[i]

Why then are these comparisons made to support a grossly exaggerated pandemic narrative? Moreover, why are well-credentialed, authoritative scientists who do not support this narrative sidelined or even ridiculed by the mainstream media? When first-rate epidemiologists, immunologists, and clinicians criticize the dominant pandemic story, along with the lockdowns that are now causing more damage than the virus, science alone obviously cannot explain what is going on. I propose that philosophy can help us to see more clearly.

Philosophical hermeneutics is a special field within philosophy dedicated to examining ways of seeing. Put more technically, hermeneutics analyzes the conditions for acquiring knowledge. Hermeneutics shines light on the framework of meaning by which we integrate bits of information or sense experiences into an intelligible whole that forms our world. Postmodern culture calls such integrative frameworks of meaning “narratives.” The world makes sense to us, and we live by the “story in which we intuitively participate. It is important to understand that the stories we live by are not abstract mental concepts, but rather inscribed in our very hearts, tied into our deepest emotions.  We feel things to be true. Therefore, changing the story we live by is like converting our whole being. Ideally, such a story is convincing because it ties together our experiences in a meaningful, sensible way. When too many elements in a story become odd and can no longer convincingly connect the various parts of our lives, we have to change the story to accommodate new or otherwise inexplicable occurrences.

To make these adjustments is the essence of truthful living, but many people dislike change and the existential effort to make such corrections.  They rather ignore, and eventually suppress, any elements incompatible with their preferred story. We call such people fundamentalists because they stick to their story no matter how violently it clashes with reality. Instead of adjusting to the complexity and messiness of reality, fundamentalists like to shoehorn reality into their narrow framework of meaning and purify it from any opposing contaminants. Consequently, fundamentalists tend to be dogmatic, afraid of dialogue, and hateful towards critics. Fundamentalism is therefore based on fear, and it attracts people who are afraid, including those who are tired of having to think critically. Conformity is so much easier than the freedom of critical thought!

This philosophical analysis helps us see how our current confusion about COVID stems from two opposing interpretive frameworks surrounding the word “pandemic.” Until recently, most would have agreed that a pandemic occurs “when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity, resulting in epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” Let’s call this definition P1. This is how the WHO defined pandemic until 2009: new virus, no immunity, and thus enormous deaths worldwide.[ii] However, in the same year, the WHO quietly changed their definition by dropping the “enormous deaths” worldwide.[iii]  Pandemic now simply means the rapid circulation of a new influenza virus variant, like SarsCov2, something we experience during the flu season every year. Yet, this new definition allowed the WHO to proclaim the coronavirus a pandemic. Let’s call that new definition P2. Our whole current confusion stems from the fact that the public has equated the two meanings: P1 and P2. We hear pandemic, and we assume the catastrophic interpretive framework of P1, when in fact, we are merely living the story of P2.

The WHO, in concert with politicians and the media, have done their utmost to convince us that we are experiencing P1, when statistics and the daily lives of most people indicate P2.  Now remember that once we have accepted a story, it becomes part of our being. After months of relentless, sensational media reporting, mask wearing, and locking down, people have internalized P1, and for a while nothing less than mass hysteria has gripped many nations. Once we inhabit the false pandemic story, we are more than willing to overlook evidence that challenges our version of reality. We choose to remain in the narrative for a number of complex and deeply unflattering reasons, primarily fear of freedom and fear of mortality. Many are currently bartering freedom of thought, movement, and association for personal safety.

No matter how much evidence emerges to invalidate the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test currently used to produce false positive “cases,”[iv] to discredit the effectiveness of lockdowns,[v] or to expose health officials’ refusal to present corona deaths in context, many are locked into the false interpretive framework P1, and loathe to adjust their story. In fact, they often start to hate those who present such evidence, because it threatens the story that lends meaning to their lives. Political leaders and public media certainly are showing clear evidence of fundamentalism, mercilessly punishing or discrediting anyone who points out that the interpretive framework of P1 does not comport with reality. In fact, politicians react to criticism increasingly like members of a fundamentalist religious cult: one either believes the official story or one is a threat to society, an impurity to be purged. He who has eyes to see, let him see.






Jens Zimmerman holds the J. I. Packer Chair of Theology, Regent College, and is an InStead Editor-at-Large