Pray for us all without endangering everyone at hand
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
The novel coronavirus has pulled the best and the worst out of humanity in the past few weeks. We’ve seen care and concern towards the elderly and medically vulnerable, we’ve seen an uptick in personal hygiene, and somehow, the same Republican party that many perceive to hate giving a dime to the needy is debating whether a $1,000 cheque to every American is too small. But, for all of these good things, we have seen an equal if not larger move towards bad-minded self-interest. Fights over toilet paper preceded sanitary wipe and hand sanitizer price gouging. The poor and elderly who could not make it to stores early enough were met with empty shelves and more bad news. It’s times like these that make people turn to the conciliation of their religions and extended spiritual families; for some, the reassurance of religious scripture and sacred ritual can help steady a frantic heart. But what happens when your religion works to defy sound reason in support of reckless rebellion?
The Jewish holiday of Purim passed this year in an uncharacteristically quiet and reserved somber. Not for fear of anti-Semitic terrorists or fomenting racial hatreds but for fear of spreading the same virus that squeezed Italy to a standstill. Some Christian churches were forced into the hard choice of abiding by governmental warnings and suspending services while still allowing much needed support services like AA and food deliveries to operate from their doors. Even Pope Francis cancelled this year’s Easter services for fear of spreading the sickness. Communions have been suspended and physical embraces have been curtailed to slow transmission.
Simultaneously an angry and strangely rebellious religious mindset has leapt into action. Evangelical pastor Rodney Howard-Browne declared that services will not be interrupted due to governmental hysteria, yet roughly 100 COVID-19 cases have been traced backed to a single religious gathering in Malaysia. It’s gone so far that imams around the world have decried the virus as god’s punishment to gays and their supporters. Not to be out done, a few Christian individuals and organizations have seen fit to remind us that all states of health and sickness come from god and that all of this is within God’s plan. Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs voted against a COVID relief bill because it allowed same-sex couples with or without children to receive aid. Clearly the word of god is still subject to interpretation during a global pandemic.
Religion and its leaders have once again succumbed to the temptation of political warfare and the hypnotic chant of faith-based healing above scientific precaution. We are not endangered because a few choose to pray together, but instead because a sect of people has elected to believe that god shall protect his beloved masses from the very same pestilence he has sent down on the unbelievers. Those who are convinced that they have been shielded by the blood of their long dead prophets and sanctified by the words of their pastors invite the fury of a preventable disease. Not just against themselves but against anyone within direct or indirect transmission distance.
It’s not ignorance that led an Arkansas pastor to declare his congregation is prepared to “lick the floor” to prove that COVID-19 is not real. There is a certain strength that, once fostered and shored by belief, leads the religious devotee to run headlong into any fire in order to “pass this test of faith.” Once one becomes convinced that any and every earthly situation is but an obstacle between themselves and the eternal promised land, no credible chance of death—their own or another’s—can slow their quest to turn all back to the “saving light.”
There is both beauty and a fearsome horror in religious conviction. It is beautiful to see the selflessness that scripture can inspire; the urge to make every life better through tangible action and sharing of the faith is moving. There is nothing quiet as tender as seeing one human care for a stranger in times of deep need and pain. Yet, there is a fearsome ugliness to be seen when the devoted are determined to prove that their god(s) stand above all reason and that they—and they alone—will be saved as judgement day rolls nearer. People who seek agreement in their churches that this is a “Democrat and Chinese hoax,” those who see this as another opportunity to target LGBTQ+ communities, the all too many who will flock together in supplication before a deity unseen have forgotten the earthly brotherhood that encircles all living humans.
Joseph Prince claims to have predicted the coronavirus in 2018, however, three years before that, Bill Gates said this during his TED talk: “Today, the greatest risk of global catastrophe… it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war—not missiles but microbes.” Whether foretold to us by religious or scientific means, a worldwide pandemic is at hand. Only prudent action can slow it from consuming large swaths of humanity. Education, cooperation, and intelligent action are all that can save us; for those who believe in a higher power, do not let prayer and worship send many to hospital beds or worse still—the great thereafter.