Rationalists question people who believe in God in these times. But pandemics, famines, wars have only reinforced religion. COVID-19 will too.
DILIP MANDAL 25 March, 2020
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God has survived wars, famines, tsunamis, genocides, and pandemics like plague, flu and cholera. And now, in all probability, He — God is still a man, unfortunately — will survive COVID-19 and India’s 21-day lockdown.
From the Vatican to the Mecca, from Tirupati to Siddhivinayak, places of worship are shutting their doors in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court Monday took up a PIL seeking closure of all places of worship in India, but the court said it can’t pass orders that cannot be implemented.Rationalists have been asking a pertinent question — why is God not mitigating the plight of His creations? Authors such as Taslima Nasreen say humankind has to look to scientists and not Gods to find solutions to COVID-19 pandemic, and want laboratories to invent and produce medicines and vaccines.
Nasreen argues: “Gods are saviours for many, the ones they pray to throughout the year for protection. But when humanity is in peril, it is usually the gods who flee first.”
Whenever a new drug or vaccine is invented, the rationalists hope for a day when the gullible masses will finally get rid of religion and superstitions. But that has never happened in the past. And it’s naive to think it will in the future.
God and poverty
After every calamity, religiosity rises and God emerges stronger and more potent. No scientific inventions or interventions have been strong and powerful enough to dent or damage the kingdom of God or the godmen. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, when the water receded, people returned to their broken homes and villages,repaired their religious places and some of the relief money also went into building new religious structures.
The same process may take place in the case of COVID-19. Faith in God will be renewed and rebuilt. And He will be given the credit for ‘defeating’ the novel coronavirus. So there is no need for God to fear that people will abandon Him.
In fact, misery and religiosity are directly proportionate to each other. The poorer the society, the larger the chances of it being more religious. Although there is not enough data to prove this empirically, but there is enough evidence to form a robust hypothesis. Europeans have abandoned churches in droves.
With the advancement of science, many societies are becoming irreligious, and secular/nonreligious/agnostic/atheist is the fastest-growing tribe in the world religion map.
At the same time, backward countries and societies are embracing God more tightly. Although, this is not a linear process. The USSR abandoned God almost six decades back and after the demise of the Communist regime, God was resurrected and the Russian Orthodox Church is now thriving there. It proves that God has capacity to rise even after hibernation.
Opium of the masses
The paradox is that the people who God has ‘endowed’ with all worldly things like money, education, nice homes, ample food, health care are the people who are abandoning God.
It proves that human miseries are not the anti-dote of religiosity.
The eternal atheist, Karl Marx had an explanation for this. If we read his ‘religion is opium of the masses‘ statement in totality, it reads like this: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”
Interestingly, Marx had prophesised the withering away of the state, but never religion.
Here’s why God will survive COVID-19
God has no KRAs
God is not there to solve the problems of humans. God’s existence for humans does not depend on His ability to avert calamities and human miseries. He is there to assist people living with their miseries.
Fear of the unknown and limitations of science
Even at the final frontiers of modern science, there are still many unknown things.
As then-Secretary of State of the US Donald Rumsfeld stated at a Defense Department briefing in 2002: “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns… But there are also unknown unknowns.” So, dear Taslima Nasreen, in the Rumsfeldian world of unknown unknowns, there are things we do not know we don’t know.
The latter two categories of this statement are testimonies that God has quite a fair chance of not only surviving COVID-19, but for much sticking around for much longer.
In fact, after the end of the pandemic, God may emerge more powerful because it will again prove the limitation of science to explain unknowns.
The concept of sin and karma
Many religions believe that misery is a form of repentance and atonement. Religion says whenever sin (or ‘paap’ in Hindu mythology) is on the rise, God strikes down on people with greater vengeance and anger. Pandemics, famines or wars are seen as manifestations of God’s anger.
In the aftermath of the devastating Bihar earthquake of 1934, Mahatma Gandhi declared that the earthquake was God’s punishment for the sin of untouchability.
Some Muslim cleric may argue that the coronavirus pandemic is a result of God being unhappy with Indians because they have brought misery to Muslims with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens. Or some Hindu godman may preach that the Hindus are becoming paapi and that is making God angry.
A God who is powerful, feared and unaccountable cannot be sacked easily
God has a functional role in social and personal life, and science is not in a position to replace God in that position. Other than a religious role, God is a tool to regulate human lives in many ways. This God is not expected to be either benevolent or merciful. The will of this god is manifested by man-made institutions and it has societal sanctions.
The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.