Faith in the time of Corona

With apologies to Gabriel García Márquez.

I’ve just gotten off the phone with someone. I won’t mention names. They’ve asked me not to engage with them further on the topic of Covid-19 – the global pandemic that is killing thousands, destroying economies and forcing us all into self-isolation.

Well. Most of us.

See this particular person believes that, like much else in life, it all depends on your attitude. That you attract what the universe dishes out to you. That, with the right energy, you can be healthy, wealthy and free of the novel Coronavirus.

The idea that your lot in life is dependant on your attitude, and that the universe just wants good things for you if only you’d get the memo, isn’t unique to new age beliefs.

The pernicious idea has crept its way into every corner of every culture where the human heart exists with its stubborn susceptibility to quick fixes and easy answers.

An insult to structural poverty

This attitude has sometimes seen sharp slap downs when it’s raised its head on social media platforms, and rightly so. When someone insinuates that a beggar is where they are because of what their attitude has attracted, it’s repulsive.

It’s a denial of the reality of structural poverty and injustice and secondary victimisation of society’s most vulnerable that is almost too horrible to comprehend: the idea that they somehow deserve this.

Of course, it’s not this logical flipside of the principle that is most preached, but its fluffier, more cuddly side: that you deserve only nice things, and that you should have them.

Major faiths aren’t exempt from it. The prosperity gospel thrives on this idea: a faux-Christian take on the “principle of attraction” tells congregants that God only wants them to have good things. Good material things. The bits in the Bible that talk about the reality of suffering are glossed over with a Joel Osteen-like smile.

These beliefs are dangerous enough in our everyday life. It convinces people to live beyond their means. It led, in part, to the 2008 housing bubble in the United States and subsequent financial crash.

Subtle beliefs

it also convinces people that they’re invincible.

I’m not talking extreme cases here, like the type of boot-strapping, science-denial faith described in Tara Westover’s bestseller, Educated.

It’s the subtle beliefs that lodge themselves in our brains, fanatics and not. The human brain is notorious for its ability to hold on to contradicting ideas at the same time. (It’s the reason I’m a Meghan Markle AND Kate fan. Bite me, stans of both with your ridiculous Twitter umbrage. )

Seriously though, there are the extremists, like the person I just got off the phone with. They don’t “believe” in the novel Coronavirus, they tell me. Like it’s Father Christmas, or the Tooth Fairy.

The rest of us

But there’s the rest of us too:

Those who listen to the news, and then read scriptures that were forward to us on WhatsApp against a pretty background about FAITH, and take it out of context.

Who subconsciously think we’re a little invincible.

Who believe the virus is terrible, but also believe it’s harmless to head out and maybe see some friends because GOD is in CONTROL.

Look, it’s part of the human condition. Most of us don’t really think we’re going to die. It’s just not a reality.

So when there’s a threat this big, it’s difficult for our brains to take it in. It’s like climate change, or how all of the characters south of the wall in Game of Thrones felt about the Whitewalkers for most of the series. It’s just too much devastation to comprehend for humans given that we originally lived in communities of maybe a 100 or so.

God is in control. No, really.

So yes, God is in control, for me as a person of faith. And for all of us, we must be serious about our faith. Our scriptures and tenets are not to be used as a lucky packet of truisms to justify our desires or laziness. There is no justification for thumbing one’s nose at a public health crisis this huge based on faith. Part of faith – whether you subscribe to a formal religion or a looser spirituality/new age belief system – means understanding the physical laws of the universe we live in, and respecting them.

The physical laws of the universe don’t say you’ll get what you ask for if you pray/think about it really hard.

It says that you will infect someone more vulnerable than yourself if you insist on going out and ignoring the need to self-isolate.

It says that our hospitals will be overwhelmed if we don’t #flattenthecurve and try to stave off getting infected as long as possible. It says that people will die unnecessarily because there will just not be enough resources to go around. None of this will be their fault for not praying or wishing hard enough for only good things.

It will be ours for believing in supernatural protection with no grounds.

‘Pray at all times’

A final note: Faith in this time is incredibly important. Whether or not you believe in a higher power, the scientifically proven benefits of meditation and prayer are undeniable. Mental health for many of us, whether you have a history of it or not, is a real issue given the unknowns, the isolation and the threat we’re all facing. By all means, pray.

Pray Psalm 91, if you’re a Bible believer – that classic ode to divine protection and care. Hold it close to your heart, even as you hold your faith’s command to live at peace with others wherever possible, to obey your country’s authorities and to consider others better than yourself.

Image by J F from Pixabay.

Written by Verashni Pillay for Please do not republish without obtaining permission.