Infection through the sacrament: is it true that religion is a means of spreading parasites?

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Infection through the sacrament: is it true that religion is a means of spreading parasites?
Infection through the sacrament: is it true that religion is a means of spreading parasites?

The first patients with the 2019-nCoV coronavirus in Russia made the old question popular: is it possible to get infected through the sacrament? The figures of the Russian Orthodox Church are categorical: this is impossible for religious reasons. If we turn to the scientific literature, we will see less unambiguous conclusions. Russian biologists even hypothesized that religion is a means of spreading parasites (which include viruses). Like, as toxoplasmosis can control the behavior of people, so microbes can "control" them, making them prone to religion. Western researchers, to put it mildly, doubt such ideas. Let's try to figure out why and who, in fact, is right.

People began to suspect involvement in the transmission of disease as early as the 1880s. However, the further development of medicine has shown that reality is not so unambiguous / © Wikimedia Commons

Not so long ago, RIA Novosti polled a number of priests about whether it is possible to contract the coronavirus through the sacrament. Of course, while in Russia only visiting Chinese are sick with it, but the situation may change, so the question makes sense. The verdict of the respondents was simple: “There is no danger of infection from communion from one cup. It cannot be, because in the bowl there is not just bread and wine, but Christ himself."

As we understand, such an answer does not make sense for the non-religious part of the population. Therefore, it is worth studying the issue based on the scientific data on the topic accumulated to date. Can a Christian ritual contribute to the transmission of the coronavirus?

Communion and infections

The essence of the sacrament is that the believer is given a small piece of bread and some wine from a common dish (the details differ for different denominations). In most branches of Christianity, they are taken from one bowl, offered to each participant in the process. Naturally, starting from the end of the 19th century, the scientific world began to wonder whether this procedure was dangerous. Could it be that disease-causing microorganisms can be transmitted from one person to another in this way?


In 1888, in one of the medical journals, the term "poisoned" (in terms of contamination) a sacrament bowl even appeared - any was considered such, since, as the doctors of that time assumed, all of them, logically, were supposed to create a risk of disease.

The situation was fueled by the fact that the center of the fight against the "poisoned sacrament" was the United States, where banal racism also spoke in favor of refusing a single cup for the sacrament: many were outraged that - due to the principles of the Christian religion about the equality of different groups of people - was used the same bowl.

In the scientific community, it is believed that the most likely to transfer infection through the chalice with the participle are viruses that cause the common cold. Contrary to its name, colds are not directly related to cold: 95% of colds are caused by viruses, 5% by bacteria.

Doubts about the danger of transmission of infection with the participle are extremely persistent in the mass consciousness, therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States (CDC, the most important state body in this area of ​​US life) was already in 1998, solidly tired of such public requests. To put an end to them once and for all, the American Journal of Infection Control published a short text summarizing everything known at that time about the possibilities of such a transfer. Its authors expressed themselves quite unambiguously:

"There is a consensus within the CDC that there is a theoretical risk of transmission of infectious diseases through the participle, but the risk is so small that it cannot be detected."

The CDC did not have any empirical data on cases of transmission of infections in this way, which was emphasized in the material. Its authors noted that the results of comparing the statistics of infectious diseases for 681 communeers did not show a higher frequency of infections in them than among those who did not go to church.

This is a rather cryptic conclusion. The fact is that other works that analyzed the presence of different types of microbes in the sacrament bowl more than once found potentially dangerous organisms there. The wine and silver in the bowl by themselves do not have sufficient antimicrobial properties to kill them. Therefore, the reason why the transmission of infections through the sacrament utensils has never been noted by anyone is intriguing.

The possible answer here lies in the fact that, in fact, there is no clear understanding of which risk factors contribute - or suppress - the spread of a number of infectious diseases. No one really knows why colds are more common in winter than in summer (especially since in the tropics this is often not the case at all), the same is true with pneumonia (such as those caused by the 2019nCoV coronavirus).

Another possible answer is related to the fact that many of the most "infectious" viruses and bacteria actually evolved to be transmitted by airborne droplets, and not at all by the "wine and bread" route. The environment of the sacrament bowl is not very similar to the micro-droplets of water in the air. Therefore, it is likely that, against the background of many hours of daily stay in public places (work, shops, etc.), an insignificant amount of contact with microbes in the sacrament simply does not create noticeable risks.

Recall: coronavirus has a "infectiousness" (basic reproduction number) below three, that is, the capsid of this virus is not easy to survive outside of a person: it is transmitted from one to another at the level of viruses that cause colds and flu, or even slightly worse.

If scientists have not been able to identify the difference in incidence for "common" viruses, then the coronavirus should behave the same way. In other words, do not pass on with the sacrament.

What about the fact that religion serves the spread of parasites?

In 2015, a group of Russian scientists, among whom was the famous biologist and popularizer of science Alexander Panchin, published an article “Midichlorians: a hypothesis of biomemes. Is there no microbial influence in religious rituals? " According to her, some organisms could gain an advantage if they forced people-carriers to perform certain rituals that promote the transfer of microbes, and the authors speak specifically of parasitic organisms - some "midichlorians". Those, hypothetically, live either in our brain or in the intestines.


According to this hypothesis, societies with improved sanitation should show less participation in religious rituals. In this scheme, religion acts as a "cultural meme", and it is its promotion among people, according to Panchin's hypothesis, that parasites are engaged in.

The logic, at first glance, is sound. It is known, for example, that a significant part of people are infected with the causative agent of toxoplasmosis: for example, in Moscow, there are one in every four. These people are prone to more risky decisions than others: among them, the percentage of businessmen is higher, almost twice as many people are involved in road accidents, and so on.

It is possible that there is a connection between toxoplasmosis and schizophrenia: it is diagnosed in every 300th in Russia, but toxoplasmosis among schizophrenics for the same Moscow is as much as 40%, that is, much more than in the population as a whole. There is also work showing that it is toxoplasmosis that can be the cause of some cases of schizophrenia.

Toxoplasmosis affects in a similar way not only humans, but also other non-felines: mice infected with it are insensitive to the smell of cats and are not afraid of it, lead a more risky lifestyle.Why shouldn't other microbes influence people's behavior to force them to gather in groups for prayers, increasing the risk of spreading the parasite microbe?


Unfortunately, it is difficult to test such a hypothesis in practice. First, there are few non-religious societies on the planet, so a “control group” where there would be no religions is simply difficult to find. Wherever European travelers sailed, they always came across people who already had religious beliefs and rituals, including those that forced them to come together. It turns out that if "midichlorians" do exist, then they are absolutely universal and characteristic of all human communities.

Second, societies where conventional religion has been supplanted have similar secular institutions, requiring regular meetings and collective pastime. That is, even if religious practices were interrupted there, the transfer of bacteria on its own would not end.


The question arises: then why do microbes promote religion in particular? Why not consider them as the goal of promoting, for example, agriculture or urban lifestyles? Fortunately, both sharply increase the efficiency of the spread of parasites (among hunter-gatherers, epidemics are practically unknown). Why do Panchin and co-authors believe that the "midichlorians" they propose are responsible only for our religion, and not for civilization as a whole?

The third point: the authors of the hypothesis believe that as the level of sanitation rises, religiosity in society should fall. However, this is clearly not the case: many sects in developed countries (for example, the Amish) show life expectancy (and the frequency of death from infections) the same as that of ordinary Americans. Moreover, the Amish sanitation level is noticeably lower: most do not even have a regular water closet, and many do not even have hot tap water.

Moreover, due to the peculiarities of modern lifestyles, the proportion of Amish among Americans doubles every 25 years. American demographers have already jokingly calculated when this religious minority will become the majority of the US population. All jokes, but so far this scenario is fully realized. It turns out, despite the victory of sanitation in modern society, the share of pure sectarians in it can grow, and not decrease.

Finally, the authors of the hypothesis believe that if they are right, then religiosity decreases in people after certain courses of treatment for infectious diseases. It is impossible even to criticize this thesis: not a single precedent of this kind is known.

But, as we know from objective reality, infectious diseases in the modern world often arise in China, the overwhelming majority of the population of which does not participate in religious meetings (thanks to the CCP) in principle and, among other things, is characterized by a fairly high level of hygiene.

What about the fact that churches are being closed in China?

Okay, the reader might say, everything is clear with Panchin. But what about the fact that not so many Christian churches in China suspend their activities during the epidemic?


The situation here is quite simple. An ordinary clergyman does not read the American Journal of Infection Control and has never heard of experiments with the sacrament (otherwise they would certainly have been used in sermons). Closing their temples, the ministers of various churches in China proceed from their universal ideas, which are not much different from the ideas of people from the street.

This is not the first time that scientific ideas, falsely perceived by the masses, lead to the rejection of some kind of harmless activity. For example, at the beginning of the 16th century, syphilis was brought to Europe, which killed millions of people. The local population, thanks to printing, quickly became familiar with the latest medical theories of the time ("the hypothesis of miasms"). According to them, the disease entered a person through the pores, which, according to the doctors of that time, expanded when washed.

Well, the Europeans of that time decided, it means that washing is harmful.Until the 19th century, Western Europeans did not wash themselves, and those who did it (for example, Russians) were mercilessly criticized by Western travelers, perceiving them as barbarians. The startling effect of this misconception is well documented in Western European literature.

From a practical point of view, there was no point in not washing. The situation is about the same with the closure of churches: modern people spend much more time in shopping centers than in churches, and there are no serious reasons to fear infection there.

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