Sanitizer and leadership shortages: an illustration of religious practices during the Coronavirus pandemic

Sanitizer and leadership shortages: an illustration of religious practices during the Coronavirus pandemic

By Tim Driessen


During one of the most hectic religious times of the year around the months of April and May, religions worldwide are facing immense struggles in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic [1]. Religious boards have struggled for weeks in their quest to find solutions to maintain a sense of community, as the creation of communities is essential to the survival and fortification of religions. Specifically, congregations directly defy anti-spread measures and as such, many religious boards have turned to ceremonial live-streaming. As analyzed by the Council on Foreign Relations, “religious gatherings have proven to be hotbeds for outbreaks.” [2]  As religious congregations were an extensive accelerator of the virus, it begs the question of whether religion is complicit to the spread of the Corona pandemic [3]. Previously, national and religious institutions mismatched their instructions, creating problematic situations and confusion amongst citizens. Specifically, in many instances the U.S national and local authorities deem houses of worship to be non-essential, contrary to the belief held by religious authorities that gatherings are essential [4]. Currently, both national and religious authorities have closed down religious sites around the globe, creating uncertainties amongst their respective religious followers.

One of these uncertainties surrounds the use of sanitizers. Many leaders, both national and religious, as a result of alcoholic sanitizer shortage, have opted for the utilization of alternative forms of sanitizers. E.g. “Jesus is my sanitizer” as described by Rev. Majdi Allawi or President Trump’s suggestion, later clarified as supposedly sarcastic, to ingest disinfectants that would provide immunity from the virus. In a time where solutions are scarce and vaccines have yet to be discovered, many turn to religion more than ever for guidance. However, suggestions such as “one lime and three palm seeds” are not only based on a non-scientific truth, but they also carry tremendous health implications for those who vigorously follow them as individuals put themselves and others at risk. The American Food and Drug Administration, F.D.A., has repetitively sent out specific instructions about the consequences of these so-called remedies. As such, religious remedies if executed in the previously mentioned manner, do more harm than good. A study conducted by Katherine Marshall, who researched the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, has identified gatherings as the main source of the problem. Specifically, around 60% of the outbreaks could be traced back to funerals, as African religious funerals are very physical, thus resulting in a spread of the virus. When public health officials cooperated with religious leaders and implemented protocols to conduct safe burials to prevent the spread of the virus, figures dropped. The bridge built between the public administrations and religious leaders was in part the key to tackling the outbreak. As Marshall suggests, “Any Covid-19 prevention program aimed at religious communities would have to work with faith-based organizations that know local leaders and have roots in the community.”[5] That way, proper information can be spread in a safe and knowledge-based approach. Admittedly, discovering who to work with, where to start and what to do about the problems we face might not be easy. However, there remains an unresolved question. Why would people trust their religious leaders when they give out such ludicrous advice? The answer might be more transparent than one might expect. As Abraham van de Beek put it, “it is easy to believe that happy days are a gift of a caring, divine Father, but believing that severe illness is also given by him is far more difficult. Nevertheless, it is precisely hardship that gives the confession of divine providence its power: when life runs out of our hands, we can trust that it does not run out of God’s hand.” 

Specifically, the religious community turns to religion for a sense of belonging, another uncertainty during our contemporary quarantine as physical gatherings are prohibited. A dear Muslim friend of mine once described that following Allah’s path was the most wonderful path she had ever walked. Logically, it was not a perfect path, yet the idea that someone would be watching over her, guiding her and the realisation of always having a friend backing her up was what inspired her in her everyday life. In times of the ongoing Corona crisis, it is thus highly comprehensible why my friend, and many fellow religious followers, take comfort in abiding by their religion and trust those who have earned their place at the top of their respective religion. However, how will religions continue to provide the so desperately needed communities with comfort and assist their people? Over the course of the past weeks many great initiatives have been established, of which the biggest one is the rise of the virtual religious community. Now more than ever, society is turning to live streamed ceremonies. On a personal note, I have attended a virtual Jewish congregation at the Central Synagogue, a Muslim congregation at the Masjid Muhammad Mosque, and a Christian ceremony at the Hillsong Church. The way these particular communities have arisen and taken their support to a virtual community after their rough patches in the first phases of the pandemic is truly admirable. The message of #stayhome, which is trending on social media, still needs to be spread, and ludicrous so-called ‘remedies’ are still to be countered by society, yet it is a big step in the right direction. Moreover, the virtual platform has allowed these religious communities to continue to provide support, assistance and guidance.

In short, religion has a profound impact on billions of lives across the globe and continues to provide support for those who turn to it. However, an important distinction needs to be made. Namely, religion should be used for assistance and guidance. Science should be used to garner objective truths, and in this case, remedies to the Corona pandemic. Society carries such a wide variety of experts, one would be obtuse not to follow their advice of experts in their respective areas. That is not to say religion is wrong, nor inaccurate, but merely a plea for using common sense when integrating advice surrounding remedies to corona into one’s daily life. Thus, if we combine the needs of the religious community with the discoveries of science, and vocalize them through leaders, we will take a big step into solving our leadership shortage. If we do, we might create immunity for ourselves faster than we would have ever imagined.


Source: 

[1] Coronavirus, Covid-19, Corona, and pandemic are used interchangeably throughout this text.

[2] Robinson, Kali. “How Are Major Religions Responding to the Coronavirus?” Published March 19, 2020, https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/how-are-major-religions-responding-coronavirus

[3] Wildman, Wesley J, Joseph Bulbulia, Richard Sosis, and Uffe Schjoedt. “Religion and the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Religion, Brain & Behavior 10, no. 2 (2020): 115-17.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2153599X.2020.1749339

[4] Schor, Elena. “New coronavirus limits bring new religious freedom tension.” Published April 5, 2020, https://apnews.com/2932726091de722fa3e4a5bf41c84d0c

[5] Marshall, Katherine. “Beating coronavirus requires faith leaders to bridge gap between religion and science.” Published April 22, 2020, https://theconversation.com/beating-coronavirus-requires-faith-leaders-to-bridge-gap-between-religion-and-science-135388

Image: David Peinado, Pacific Press, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/10/in-photos-religion-around-the-world-in-the-age-of-coronavirus.html