COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
Since COVID-19 went viral and the world descended into the madness of COVIDiocy, I’ve written a lot about fear and the role it has played in this global fiasco. I even wrote an entire blog post about it.
I’ve also written about how I watched phobias – unreasonable fears – take over my mother’s life and gradually suck the enjoyment of life out of her, and about how I avoided following in her footsteps letting my own fears control me because of my dad and his virtual fearlessness. So I’m not going to repeat those details here.
But today I do want to talk a little about the relationship between fear and faith, and my theory about the reasons (and there are multiple reasons) that so many today are so afraid of a virus that has a 99.5% recovery rate and for a vast number of people causes no symptoms at all.
I don’t often get into the topic of religious beliefs and most of the time I keep my own to myself. Politics, money, and God are the top three hot buttons that are sure to start an argument, hurt someone’s feelings, or make somebody uncomfortable every time.
If this topic makes you uncomfortable, feel free to stop reading right here.
These days, politics permeates every conversation, money makes the world go ’round (and even a global pandemic quickly turns into a money-making opportunity), and for many, God is little more than the third part of an acronymized Internet expletive preceded by “Oh, my.”
I have found it interesting, throughout this pandemic, that most of my friends and acquaintances who exhibit the most fear of the virus are relatively young (20s, 30s, 40s), while most of those I see opposing lockdowns and mask mandates and going about their own lives without fear tend to be older (50s and above).
I’ve noted before that in the stores where masks aren’t mandatory, my observation is that most of the unmasked tend to be either teenagers or old people. The teens can be explained by the natural risk-taking and illusion of immortality of youth, as well as the fact that statistically, the virus poses very little threat to them.
But what about the old folks? We’re the ones who, according to all the dire warnings from the “experts” and media, are most at risk of dying from COVID. Yet we as a whole seem to be a lot less fearful about it than our kids’ generation. Are we just senile and stupid? I don’t think so.
Of course this generality doesn’t apply to all individuals; there are plenty of old people who are terrified of the disease and 30somethings who aren’t. It’s just a trend. And there are a lot of different factors at work here, no doubt. Those who are adventurous by nature are less likely to succumb to the fear-mongering headlines. And those who are in poor health are more likely to be afraid, as they should be.
But I think when you look more deeply into the demographics, you just might find that a high percentage of the people (of all ages) who have strong religious beliefs are a bit less bothered about the slight possibility of dying from this (or anything else) than those who don’t. And that makes sense.
If you believe this life is all there is, and after that comes nothingness, then of course you want to take every precaution possible to preserve it, even if that means sacrificing quality of life for quantity. If you believe there is something more beyond the pale – whether that’s heaven or reincarnation – you’re going to be more inclined to “let go and let God,” and not worry so much about all the viruses and bacteria and other things lurking out there in the world that could kill you on any given day, but probably won’t.
We all know everything can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, and there are some whose religion leads them to refuse medical help even when they’re dying and could easily be saved by the proper treatment. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the role of faith in soothing unnecessary and unreasonable “what if” worries about things that haven’t happened and statistically aren’t really very likely to.
Just as religious extremism is harmful instead of helpful, so is the extreme quasi-religious fervor with which so many people have embraced the opinions of “experts” and political “leaders,” giving their advice and edicts a cloak of infallibility akin to worship of words handed down from on high.
And like religious extremists throughout time, they’re consumed by a special kind of hatred for anyone who denies the holiness of their deities. Those who question the Supreme Expert Beings or refuse to wear the mask of submission must be punished, rebuked, shamed, and death wished upon their houses.
Faith is a funny thing. It can be used as a vehicle of love, kindness, goodness, and light — or it can become a motivation for the most heinous of crimes and the most egregious violations of rights. That’s nothing new. It’s been going on since the beginning of time.
I think this clash of faiths – the spiritual one and the secular one – is the source of so much of the anger and hatred that we’re seeing as the population divides into two distinct camps in relation to the COVID virus and how to react to it.
But anger and hatred never won anyone over to a different point of view. If anything, it makes us (on both sides) dig in harder, close our minds, and justify our own beliefs.
There’s little doubt that there are people in positions of power and influence who are exploiting this epidemic for their own political and personal purposes. However, I think the major of the people with whom most of us are arguing are neither malevolent nor profiteers, but are driven by genuine fear.
Ridiculing those fears, even if we think they’re invalid, won’t change their minds or make them any less fearful. Trying to push our faith on them if they don’t want it likewise doesn’t help and can hurt our cause. So what should we do?
For me, the answer is forgiveness. When people say nasty things about me, I try to recognize that those words come from a place of fear and pain, and I forgive them. Remember that forgiving doesn’t mean you agree with them or condone what they say or do. It doesn’t mean you’re obligated to keep them in your life if they’re damaging to your peace of mind.
Forgiveness means you choose not to hate them for the hurt and harm they’ve caused you. It means you can let them go with love, untie the ties that brought and bound you together and watch them gently drift away from you and out of your realm of awareness instead of ending the friendship in a storm of animosity and attempting to sink their vessel that may already be barely staying afloat.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you or trusting them after they’ve betrayed you. It doesn’t mean you forego the right to protect yourself and your family from harm. Forgiveness isn’t the mark of a wimp; it takes courage and confidence — and yes, faith — to forgive.
My faith is all about forgiveness. And forgiveness is all about faith. Faith not in the person you’re forgiving, but faith in the future of humanity. Faith in the belief that in the end, goodness will prevail over evil and that as long as there’s life, it’s never too late for salvation.
Because I’m far from perfect, myself. I still get mad. I slip and I think things and say things I shouldn’t. Things that aren’t kind. Things that aren’t necessary. Things that are rooted in emotion rather than logic. Things that come from a desire for retaliation instead of a spirit of helpfulness.
I try to be pragmatic and objective and base my opinions on reason but I’m not an automaton. I’m a human being and so I sometimes let my feelings – including my fears -get in the way. And for that, I too need forgiveness.