Since we’re in the midst of a smaller holiday season (capitalistic societies can only get away with one major holiday season because the workers must work) many people are wondering whether they should go to church for Easter tomorrow. I’ll confess I woke up from a nightmare this morning where I accidentally forgot about COVID-19 and went to church. I stepped inside and the building was full. I tried to find an empty pew to socially distance myself from all but the Divine, and there was no room. I felt infected as others started to cough around me. In real life I’d just read from the World Health Organization’s situation report (number 80, located here, in case you want to see) that we’ve just reached day 100 since WHO received its first notification of this new disease. The report has guidance for those who feel compelled to gather for religious services. It makes for very interesting reading.
WHO, like certain political parties, knows that people will listen to their religious leaders rather than reason. (And still our universities cut positions in their religion departments since, apparently, it is best not to know about such things.) Recognizing that a secular, science-based organization simply can’t compete, WHO urges religious leaders to spread the word about evidence-based responses to the outbreak. Don’t gather large Easter-day crowds (they also mention Passover and Ramadan), but, interestingly, do keep the services going. WHO recognizes the psychological (you can’t say “spiritual”) value of religious belief. It gives people hope and comfort. It keeps them going in difficult times. Call it mental health, but the World Health Organization has wellbeing right there in its title.
Ironically, the same day I saw an email from the other acronym in my life, SBL (the Society of Biblical Literature). They were releasing their annual report showing the dismal job market figures for the discipline over the last year. These jobs are fading and although WHO recognizes billions of people are motivated by religion our smartest institutions are shifting their money away from understanding it. The COVID-19 outbreak puts us in this strange place where disjunctures become focal points. If you look at a field of uniform gray long enough you’ll stop seeing anything at all. You need contrast for vision to work. WHO recognizes that religious observance constitutes a major challenge for the effort to keep people isolated. Universities now in isolation, continue to see no reason to study this. I’m waiting to awake from this nightmare.