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The Faith-Based Challenge to Corona Virus Response
in the news: As Easter Sunday approached and corona virus related global deaths topped 100,000 with nearly two million infected, religious extremists worldwide challenged related government orders and existing law. In the USA, megachurch pastors in both Florida and Louisiana were arrested for hosting Sunday services attended by thousands of people in violation of social distancing guidelines. Rev. Tony Spell told the Reuters news agency, “God will shield us from all harm and sickness. We are not afraid." In Kansas, Democratic governor Laura Kelly charged Republican legislators with "jeopardizing health and safety of Kansans" and sued them over their rescinding her order limiting number of people at gatherings including at Church services and funerals to no more than ten people. The defiance was not limited to the USA. In Pakistan, thousands of Muslims attended Friday Prayer in defiance of the Pakistani government’s orders to stay at home to try to contain the spread of the corona virus. And in Israel, the country's otherwise success at fighting the virus was marred by ultra Orthodox Jews refusal to follow guidelines.
Elsewhere, religious extremists were using the pandemic to push their anti-abortion agenda. In Poland the conservative governing Law and Justice party plan (next week) to again bring legislation that would ban abortion ban and criminalize sex education to a vote in Parliament. Thousands marching in mass protests had previously forced these folks to back off from doing this. With mass gatherings banned in Poland, those advancing this draconian measure figure it will be impossible for public protest to disrupt their plans. Meanwhile in Texas, Republicans used the public health emergency to include abortion clinics in a ban on non-essential medical services and surgeries. Opponents pointed out that the extreme measure included even drug-induced abortions, and that women, prevented from getting abortions, giving birth, would use far more medical services!
commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): Regarding the above related news items, I'd say the cultural divide in terms of worldview theme preferences is a relatively common one. One can argue, in each case, that those pushing to attend religious services or ban abortion most likely generally prefer the worldview themes in the right hand column in the paired choices presented in the table below:
Generally speaking governments worldwide have responded to corona virus concerns in a way that respects what can be called evidence-based medical science. (Note first theme in the left hand column in the above table.) Societies with a good science-based understanding of the role of micro-organisms / viruses in disease and public health measures needed to combat infection are in far better shape to combat pandemics than they were centuries earlier. One recalls that--lacking this understanding--the heavily faith-based response to the Black Death of the fourteenth century resulted in the death of roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of all the people in hard hit areas like Europe and Asia Minor. While progress in the last few centuries is such that humanity is far better prepared to cope with pandemics than it once was, there's no doubt that many--perhaps even a majority?--of people worldwide have worldviews that value the themes in the right hand column more than those in the left!
Back to the 21st century...The last of these themes present a particular dilemma for those both pushing to attend prayer services, in defiance of government orders, and ban abortion. Seems the government rules they are defying (limiting size of gatherings) have been instigated precisely out of respect for the sanctity of human life--giving it precedence over short-term economic concerns for example.
Of course there is a broader way to look at "faith" than one narrowly confined to religious beliefs. As Princeton University Professor of Religion Elaine Pagels puts it in her book Beyond Belief, it also involves "the trust that enables us to commit ourselves to what we hope and love." Undoubtedly millions isolated indoors on Easter trust that their social distancing is serving the common good and hastening the day when life--especially the parts of it they love--will return to normal!
my own corona virus related news: After a wonderful ten days spent in first Israel, then Cyprus, I was able to successfully extract myself from Europe and return to the USA as travel restrictions tightened. What really drove home for me that travel was disrupted: I was one of only three passengers on a March 11 RyanAir flight from Tel Aviv to Paphos, Cyprus! Interestingly enough the other two passengers could not have been more different: one was a young, ultra Orthodox Jew who I helped keep his cell phone charged and text message his mother; the other an older secular ethnic Jewish man--Leon Perez, a truly amazing character! A couple of days after the flight we got together to discuss topics covered in his recently published book: Culture of Wealth...You can read my review of that book by clicking here.
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