Two weeks ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom — long a proponent of keeping California’s parks and beaches closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — began encouraging residents to enjoy the natural splendor.
The reason: It would help put their mind at ease.
“Mental health is physical health. Staying active & connected right now is so important,” Newsom said in a tweet.
“Get outdoors with your household safely. Explore your neighborhood & CA’s beauty! … We can get through this.”
Mental health is physical health. Staying active & connected right now is so important.
Get outdoors with your household safely. Explore your neighborhood & CA’s beauty!
•Go to a beach
•Take your kids to a playground
•Go on a hike
•Walk your dog
We can get through this.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) December 10, 2020
At this point, Newsom could be roundly attacked for tweeting a video of him reading Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” (“Try comparing me to a summer’s day and saying how I ‘art more lovely and more temperate’ after I sign your recall petition, you hack”), but this particular sentiment seemed to touch one of California’s many raw nerves, mostly because these mental-health-boosting venues were actively being shuttered by the governor early in the crisis.
Not to say I didn’t notice this clanging lack of self-awareness, too — but in more ways than one.
But let’s talk about mental health in 2020. The situation isn’t good. A survey from Gallup released on Dec. 7 shows how dire the picture really is.
“Each year since 2001, Gallup has asked Americans as part of its November Health and Healthcare survey to say whether their own mental or emotional wellbeing is excellent, good, only fair or poor. The reading for those rating their mental health as excellent or good ranged from 81% to 89% until this year’s 76%,” the polling organization said in a news release.
“Although the majority of U.S. adults continue to rate their mental health as excellent (34%) or good (42%), and far fewer say it is only fair (18%) or poor (5%), the latest excellent ratings are eight points lower than Gallup has measured in any prior year.”
The poll was conducted Nov. 5-19 using a panel of telephone respondents. Surveyed were 1,018 adults, ages 18 and older, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is + or – 4 percentage points.
The dates of the poll are significant: Not only do they coincide with the mainstream media calling the election for Joe Biden, they also came as the first word of highly efficacious COVID-19 vaccines hit the news.
And yet, almost every demographic category polled had lower mental health numbers than a year ago. When Democrats showed only a 1 percent drop — 30 percent excellent in 2019 vs. 29 percent in 2020 — you suspected it was because of the time frame during which the poll was taken.
In fact, only one demographic showed any gains in terms of the number of respondents who rated their mental health as excellent: Those who attended weekly religious services.
In 2019, 42 percent of respondents said their mental health was excellent. In 2020, 46 percent did — a gain of 4 percentage points.
Those who seldom or never attend weekly church services, meanwhile, dropped 13 points — from 42 percent saying their mental health was excellent to 29 percent.
Gallup noted that “those who seldom or never attend religious services have the lowest excellent ratings” and that those “demographic patterns have been mostly consistent over the past 20 years.”
California, meanwhile, is willing to expend every legal tool in its arsenal to ensure that religious congregations don’t meet in person.
Despite a Supreme Court case that struck down limits on in-person worship in New York state, California has continued to fight the bad fight.
As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, “For counties in high-risk areas, which covers most of the state, the governor is forbidding all indoor worship services … while allowing 25% indoor attendance in moderate-risk counties.”
Now they’re asking the Supreme Court to uphold these limits.
“California is experiencing an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases, creating an even greater public health need for restrictions on prolonged communal gatherings in indoor places,” the state’s court filing reads. “Scientific evidence demonstrates why those activities pose a particularly grave threat of virus transmission during the current pandemic.”
They’ve reopened the state’s film industry and deemed it essential, though, because they know what’s important.
It’s here where I normally would fulminate about states that don’t want to realize that the religious free exercise clause of the First Amendment even exists, but instead I wonder why — when Gov. Newsom suddenly has come to the realization mental health is a critical component of COVID-19 policy — he hasn’t tried to find a workable solution with religious congregations.
It’s not just because we get to see our coreligionists in a place of worship. It’s that, to quote Ephesians 6, weekly religious attendance is putting on the “armor of God.”
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes,” Ephesians 6:10-18 reads.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
But apparently, all this can be done in a Zoom service.
Heading into the holiday season, Virginia’s Democrat Governor Ralph Northam ramps up his attacks on faith communities during his press conference on new coronavirus restrictions.
“You don’t have to sit in the Church pew…” pic.twitter.com/U6Uwv4k971
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) December 10, 2020
Newsom isn’t alone.
“This year we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building? Virginia’s Democrat governor, Ralph Northam, said recently during a press conference. “For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers.”
Our politicians don’t seem to understand the depth of the looming mental health crisis — and when they do, it’s almost always too late. Opening houses of worship or finding a workable solution for weekly services isn’t a panacea. It’s one way for the faithful — the one group that’s seen its mental health become stronger in the past year — to avoid becoming another grim casualty in our existential war on the human spirit.
The beaches might be fine for mental health. Houses of worship are, too — and they’re protected by the First Amendment.
It’s time we started opening them.
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