Beyond all fanatical prejudices, the impact of COVID-19 on religion has been deep and thought-provoking. In Africa, where religious doctrines have always been taken to outrageous levels, COVID-19 is seen by some people as another version of the fulfilment of the apocalypse prophesied by the prophets of yore.
Some religious people, inspired the teachings of their leaders, believe the virus was engineered by God to wipe out the sinful and unrepentant people of the world. To some others, however, it does not exist; it is the figment of some scientists’ imagination to cause stampede and trepidation among the human race in order to exploit them economically. Some even hinted that it was the genesis of an economic war of attrition conceived by China and aimed at disrupting the supremacy of the United States of America in the global marketplace.
Even though the initial unrestrained spread of the virus led to international restrictions in terms of travel, economic activities and human interaction, most religious organisations which were directly affected still chose to hold on to their unfounded belief that the virus was more of a spiritual issue than a medical emergency.
It would be recalled that at the peak of the pandemic, most places of worship were either closed or operated partially and with reduced number of worshippers allowed to participate in church or mosque programmes. Many places of worship had to resort to online worship as a precautionary measure to ensure that not much of physical convergence took place. In fact, at that point, many clerics began to ascribe the emergence of the virus to Satan, saying it was a contagion from the pit of hell, aimed at frustrating soul-winning activities.
COVID-19 also had a very devastating effect on the finances of religious organisations as it reduced avenues for offerings and donations, due to social and physical distancing. Although there were religious bodies that provided their bank details to members and the general public for electronic transactions, inflows were not the way they were when there was no lockdown. This is understandable, bearing in mind the fact that almost everyone was under financial pressure during the lockdown and so, could not have been able to afford the pre-COVID luxury and abundance.
Many churches reported huge reductions in revenue and could not carry out much of the charity works they were used to. According to Wikipedia: “The 2020 fiscal report for the Vatican showed a decrease in revenue of about 50 percent, but the Institute for the Works of Religion contributed more income. Expenses were reduced by $3.88 million. The Vatican also planned to increase their liquid capital in response to market uncertainty in order to avoid selling Church assets in unfavourable market conditions.”
It is unfortunate that while some educated clergy see the virus as a global medical emergency and as one of those plagues that affect humanity from time to time, the brainwashed ones see it as a ploy by science to deceive the human race. That was why even when vaccines were eventually discovered for the virus and the vaccination process rolled out globally, some clerics objected to the idea, saying it was another way of inflicting the 666 mark of the beast on them. This school of thought posed a serious threat to the success of the vaccination process, thereby fuelling vaccine hesitancy and inequity among their followers.
However, in spite of the dogmatic excesses of certain religious fanatics which almost truncated the lofty ideals of the fight against the pandemic, it is worthy of note here that many religious organisations contributed in no small measure towards engendering a COVID-free world through their public enlightenment and charity efforts, which targeted the most vulnerable in the society.
Foremost Islamic humanitarian organisation, Islamic Relief, has been in the forefront of providing care and support for vulnerable people, especially Muslims all over the world. According to a statement on its website, islamic-relief.org: “The level of infection and death caused by COVID-19 is at varying stages in different regions of the world. We are working hard to provide preparation and response operations tailored to the challenges being experienced by different communities.”
How religion has responded to COVID-19 and vice-versa remains one of the most interesting yet always neglected issues in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) knows the importance of this issue as it relates to the fight against a virus that has come to stay with us. And it must take it more seriously.