June 1, 2020 by Kezia Khoo, Lisa Du Plessis, and Daniel Chen
In the midst of a pandemic that affects citizens worldwide regardless of race or religion, faith battles fear. Often, during times of crisis, religion gets a revival as humans come to realize their vulnerability in the large scheme of life. During trying times, many non-believers turn to prayer as a way of reaching out and receiving comfort, while others’ atheist views are strengthened due to unjustified suffering. Despite our differences, community overshadows division, and people of all faiths are coming together in a phenomenon of goodwill.
In past historical crises, as a natural reaction to uncertainty, populations have gravitated towards religion to maintain a sense of unity while others have lost faith. During WWII, Poland was invaded on multiple fronts and lost nearly 10 million citizens from 1939 to 1945. The Polish held on to the common faith of Catholicism, an important unifying symbol for the country. In the 20th century, Vietnamese Buddhists rose together to promote peace to a nation torn by Communism and outside forces. By contrast, in the aftermath of religious wars and national oppression, the majority of the Czech Republic turned to atheism as a form of independence declaration.
Today, all nations are faced with circumstances that will inevitably lead to increased doubt or devotion, skepticism or trust. Introspection and witness of present-day conflicts are strong factors that influence individuals’ decisions about religious belief. For many, witnessing a global lockdown and its economic and social consequences is enough to lose hope in the plan for mankind professed by religion. For others, such a radical change in the pace of life has opened the doors to exploring spirituality. Regardless of whether people choose faith during this time, many are thankful for the humanitarian role religion plays to aid those affected by the pandemic.
Religious groups impact their communities in both spiritual and material forms. In Victoria, Glad Tidings Church distributed over 300 bag lunches to people in need and donated protective gear to emergency workers in the Philippines. In China, religious believers from various religions “have offered prophecies and prayers, ceremonies and services, as well as donations totalling more than $30 million.”(NYTimes, 2020) As the Communist party has a long history of distrusting any religious organization, this level of faith-based giving and engagement was considered impossible ten years ago. Though many donations aren’t accepted, the Chinese government cannot reject spiritual support; many people take comfort in knowing believers of different religions are praying for the same cause.
Religion remains an unwavering constant for many amidst these uncertain times. Every week, religious communities around the world reconvene online and continue to cultivate faith and a sense of community among its members. For many of us, religion plays an integral part in reframing how we see ourselves in relation to mankind. Though we may feel disconnected on a planet of 7 billion, all our lives are intricately interwoven with one another. The bigger picture has come to light as a result of this pandemic. We are only human, and as much as we hate to admit, there is a limit to how much we can control. Whether through religion or other forms of community, a sense of unity can uproot the strongholds of fear and division.
Kezia Khoo ('20), Lisa Du Plessis ('20), and Daniel Chen ('21) are members of Teens Growing in Faith (T.G.I.F) at SMUS.