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SPOTLIGHT: A MODERN PLAGUE TESTS MODERN RELIGIONS
"As we gather here today …"
Taken from the Christian liturgy, the line rings true for believers around the world of nearly every religion. Some form of gathering, communing, sharing are a central part of the worshippers' relation to the divine, a materialization and anchoring of their faith within a congregation, in good and bad times alike.
What to do then, when COVID-19 and its quarantine restrictions make finding solace together impossible? How will the faith of solitary congregants hold up in the face of an almost biblical plague?
We've seen how coronavirus-led bans on large gatherings have derailed religious rites across creeds: from an eerily deserted Kaaba in Mecca to the Pope conducting his Easter mass in a near empty St. Peter's Basilica, closed synagogues and Hindu temples refusing entry to devotees. And though some stubborn Catholic priests in France and American evangelical pastors defied restrictions this past weekend for Easter, for the time being religion is something that must take place at home, away from fellow devotees.
Some might see the current confinement measures as an opportunity to focus on their personal relationship to the divine. Some may even, as French Protestant weekly Réforme suggests, try their hand at their own, homemade version of rites. Others will simply lose faith.
But the twist to this current historical moment is that many men and women of faith will in fact let reason and scientific facts lead the way. It reverses a time-honored dichotomy between science and religion, where contrary to previous comparable catastrophes — like say, the Plague in 14th-century Europe —we don't see the outbreak as some sort of divine retribution for our sins. Thus obeying government restrictions, be they an obstacle to the due practice of our rites and rituals, is not blasphemy. Scientific proof is no longer irreconcilable with the tenets of one's faith and the population's health is a bonafide case of force majeure.
Better, still — there may be something in it for both science and religion, notes a recent Foreign Policy article entitled "Thou Shalt Practice Social Distancing." Religious leaders opting for an enlightened approach to the pandemic can extol the virtues of "following all the rational requirements of science, while offering faith as a source of hope and inspiration — not as a substitute, but a supplement to reason." And let us say: Amen — and go wash our hands.
— Bertrand Hauger
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Toll: Global cases of coronavirus nears the milestone of 2 million.
• Lockdowns extended: French president Emmanuel Macron announces lockdown extension until 11 May. India extends its strict lockdown measures until May 3.
• Race for vaccine: World Health Organisation says there are 70 vaccines in development, with three set to launch trials on humans.
• Trump power play: U.S. president Donald Trump claimed "total" authority on reopening the economy. Governors from both parties were quick to note they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states.
• Markets rise: Asian shares hit one-month high on better-than-expected Chinese trade numbers and the first signs of European countries opening up after lockdowns.
• Time to vote: South Korea votes in first national election of coronavirus era, with President Moon Jae-in's party expected to get a boost for his handling of crisis.
• Scare tactic: Indonesian village hires a team of spooky "shroud ghosts' to scare people into staying at home.
"New lab should be able to test 10,000 everyday" — Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)