(Dr RK Chadha)
Across the world the Covid19 pandemic affected people of all faiths and religions. The dreaded virus has infected more than 48 million people and claimed over 12 lakh lives, irrespective of gender, age, color or race in as many as 217 countries. The count of people succumbing to this virus is continuing. The virus spread is so effective that it has forced closure of all the renowned places of worship like the Masjid al-Haram, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Vatican and all other churches in Rome and the world’s richest Hindu temple of presiding deity Lord Srinivasa in Tirupati in India, besides others.
Vedic slokas chanting aloud, followed by harathis to presiding deities and blowing conch by Hindu priests or traditional namaz at Idgah’s or sermons of Fathers amidst ringing the Church bells, all turned out to be a wasteful exercise as they get no response whatsoever from their respective faiths.
Today, we are into 21st century belonging to the era of logic, rationality and scientific thinking. This has brought us closer to the understanding of our existence on this beautiful universe. Now we come to know how epidemics have ravaged humanity from time to time, often changing the course of history and at times, signaling the end of entire civilizations like Inca and Aztec in Americas. It is no more considered as wrath of God as propounded by religious preachers, who wanted to have their control and hold over many amongst our gullible people.
The Covid19 pandemic has indeed awakened the people from their doctored minds of these myths that Creator sitting on top floor of the sky watching out sins and showing mercy at times and punishing us or guiding us how we should live and behave on this planet earth. But, today there are reasonable doubts among rightful minds why the competing Gods are not listening to their worshippers or religious followers?
In such a scenario, “Is it worthwhile to cutoff the heads of people in the name of such a helpless God who is unable to protect their followers from a nanometer corona virus?”
Let us examine the fate of a few wise men closest to God and who have spent their entire life in his service. These close aides belong to the inner syndicate of the Almighty, in hierarchy.
In the hometown of Pope St. John XXIII in Bergamo, northern Italy, six Catholic priests died in March 2020 due to Covid19 and over 20 priests hospitalized. Another priest, Lulgi Trottner fell to this virus in Trentino. These deaths led to panic amongst regular Church-goers, who were advised to adhere to the Covid norms of social distancing suggested by the WHO and join remotely for Masses online or through radio and TV networks.
A prominent Richmond area Evangelical pastor in Virginia, USA, and Bishop Gerald Glenn died on the eve of Easter in April 2020 after contracting the corona virus. He was the founder and leader of the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church since 1995.
Glenn was preaching in a Church even after WHO declared Covid19 as a pandemic when it peaked in March 2020. On March 22, five days after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) has urged people to avoid non-essential gatherings of more than 10 people, Glenn told his congregation that “I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus”. Glenn died three weeks later due to this virus.
The US President Donald Trump declared on March 15, Sunday a National Day of Prayer and said “remember that no problem is too big for God to handle”. A month later, after the prayer the number of deaths shot up from 58 to 20,000 in April and a week later to 40,000 to the present tally of more than 229,000, counts still rising. Obviously the prayers gone unheard.
Ironically, a month later on May 7, the National Prayer Day in the USA celebrated annually by all Americans of many religions, including Christians of many denominations, Protestants and Catholics as well as Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Jews, they called it as “God’s glory across the earth”.
In Istanbul, Turkey, Osman Aslan, Muezzin and in charge of corona virus safety at Hagia Sophia, originally a Basilica and recently converted into a mosque died on August 2. His death was kept secret for days and later announced as a case of heart attack by the authorities.
In Iran, corona virus killed Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani two days after he tested positive. He was a member of the clerical body that appoints the supreme leader, according to Iranian state media. More than 12 Iranian politicians and officials, both sitting and former fell victim to the virus by March, 2020.
On April 18, 2020 The Hindu newspaper reported 4300 cases of Covid19 linked to the religious Markaz event of Tablighi Jamaat held in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area. Earlier, in a ToI report on April 3, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said Muslims attending Markaz event and died of Covid19 are “martyrs” and need no kafan or ghusl for burial. How and why they become martyrs still remain unanswered?
The Saudi Arabian government discouraged people to plan Haj in 2020 and announced on April 21 that there would be no public attendance at Taraweeh in Mecca or in Medina. A similar advisory was given by the Saudi government in September 2013 due to Middle East respiratory syndrome corona virus (MERS-CoV).
The first case of MERS was detected in 2012 in Middle East. As of January 2020 a total of 2519 cases were reported of which 2121 were from Saudi Arabia with 788 deaths. The MERS virus is zoonotic i.e., infection transmits from animals to humans and rarely from human to human. The most common route of infection was reported to be through direct or indirect contact with dromedary camels, camels with one hump, found in Arabia.
In India at Tirumala, the abode of presiding deity Lord Srinivasa, a former Head Priest of the temple died due to Covid19, within two days after testing virus positive. In fact, Srinivasa Murthy Deekshitulu, belonged to Archakam Peddinti family, one of the four families of hereditary priests associated with the Tirumala temple for centuries. He had served as the chief priest close to two decades.
Due to the lockdown effect, his last rites could not be performed as per the family traditions like sending sandalwood and other sacred items on an elephant to the residence of the deceased priest by the temple authorities. Out of the 50 priests at Tirumala temple, 15 tested positive for corona virus raising the tally to 140. Even other TTD employees too found to be infected after the reopening of temple for darshan on June 8, in spite of following Covid norms.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi clamped the first 21-day nation-wide lockdown from March 24 onwards with a little religious tinge to this clampdown. He said “battle of Mahabharata was won in 18 days; the war the whole country is fighting against corona virus will take 21 days”. The war still rages on. But he was rational when he stressed the need for “social distancing” and said that the virus will not spare anyone just because they perform yoga or exercise daily.
The recent violent incidents in France where a teacher and a women were beheaded and few others killed in the name of God requires an immediate debate in our civilized world to review and revisit the concept of God and blindly believed and followed, today. Such instances are acts of assertion of the supremacy of one God over other Gods without realizing that violent actions invite equally violent reactions and lead to nowhere except igniting violence and spread hatred amongst communities the world over.
Epidemics are not a new phenomenon and more than 20 cases of them are known to mankind since 5000 years ago. The first such evidence came to light from “Hamin Mangha”, one of the best preserved sites in NE China. Since then, major epidemics caused by plagues and smallpox from rodents and fleas in different parts of the world have claimed millions of human lives. This was followed by flue and influenza virus epidemics caused by mosquitoes in Europe and Russia.
In the 20th century the most severe challenge came from polio virus in America which led to the development of Salk vaccine in 1954 which almost eradicated this virus. During 1918-20, the world helplessly witnessed the death of more than 50 million people due to Spanish Flu which affected 1/3rd of the population. This flue was caused by cramped conditions of soldiers and poor wartime nutrition. It did not start in Spain but due to free press early accounts were reported from there, hence the name.
Later, the AIDS epidemic of 1920s, developed from chimpanzees in West Africa became a pandemic since 1981 and claimed 35 million lives, so far. The dreaded H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic of 2009-2010 originated in Mexico claiming 151,700 lives is still fresh in human memory. The recent Ebola and Zika viruses from West Africa and Latin American countries during 2014-16 also claimed hundreds of lives through mosquito’s bite.
The recent corona virus in the 21st century belongs to a large family of enveloped RNA viruses that mostly infect birds and mammals. In humans, they cause mild infection in upper respiratory tract, like common cold, but also more serious lower respiratory tract infections. These manifest as bronchitis, pneumonia or a severe respiratory illness such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Corona virus causing SARS is called SARS-CoV and originated in November 2002 in China from bats, civets and animals in wet markets and affected human beings. This was quickly controlled by July 2003. Then came MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), a variation of corona virus from dromedary camels from Arabia. The most dreaded variation of corona virus is the present novel corona virus which causes Covid19 disease.
The advances made in the medical sciences have always come to the rescue of mankind when affected by these pandemics and all faith healings in the name of God have failed. Psychologically, facing death concentrates the human mind towards God and religion. When people feel helpless in the face of adversities they tend to turn to a higher power in the hope to overcome their problems. Others wrestle with how God could allow innocents to suffer, but they still cling to God because of fear and hope.
Google searches for the word “prayer” spiked in March 2020 as Covid19 spread and again in April as the extent of the loss became clear.
Emissaries of different Gods like Popes and Pastors, Maulvis and Mullahs or Swamis and Babas give excuses and long sermons on how human sufferings are inexplicable and death inescapable. They say that all we can do is to respond with care and love for our fellow beings. These responses are built on the inherited trope that religion is the consolation.
One thing which comes out loud and clear is that humans have to help each other for their survival. There is no Creator or an Intelligent Designer sitting in heavens listening to us and will come to our rescue in times of calamities and catastrophes.
But it is not easy to convince the hardcore religious apologists who always come out with excuses like we, humans are sinners and cannot fathom the greatness of God and will ever be able to understand the “real” meaning of his actions. The incident of Lord Ganesha idols drinking milk few years back is one good example where religious apologists came out with the excuse that until and unless you have a clean heart full of devotion you cannot witness this miracle.
In these times of religious violence in the world there is an urgent need to make people aware about the origin of God around whom different religion were woven with narratives suiting the objectives of people 3000 years ago. Man created God around 1000 BCE.
During the process of evolution when the humans developed thinking faculties they were perplexed about the observable universe. They were trying to understand the nature of reality. They witnessed natural processes like day, night, rain, fire and the associated destructive forces like storms, cyclones, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and lightening. They thought if they can placate and please these destructive forces by praying them and offerings, their lives would be spared. That is why all major known civilizations, be it the Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley, Greek, Roman, Aztec, Inca, Iranian and Chinese they all had Gods related to natural forces like Sun, Moon, Rain, Fire, Sky and some variations like Love and Fertility.
In the beginning people were all polytheists and believed in several Gods and wrote hymns in praise of them and started offerings of animals sacrifices. Since, all natural forces were worshipped there was no singular God and thus there was no concept of a particular religion and hence no religious wars. Whatever local fights occurred was mostly related to acquiring of resources necessary for survival and increasing the area of influence of tribal heads or rulers.
The era of polytheism, believers of several Gods, changed 3000 years ago with the idea of a single God who created this universe originated in the Levant region adjoining eastern Mediterranean Sea in Arabia. This monotheism concept started with a God called YHWH around whom the religion of Judaism was built. The Jews from Israel were the followers of this religion which is also known as the God of Abraham and follow the Hebrew Bible called the Torah or the Old Testament revealed to their Prophet by God directly.
Later on, Christianity came into existence after the birth of Jesus who is considered by them as the God in human form. Christians believe in the concept of Trinity God that is, The Father, the unseen God, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The people belonging to Christian religion follow the Bible or the New Testament.
In the 7th century CE the religion of Islam woven around their God and prophet, Allah and Mohammad originated in the desert of Arabia. The followers of this religion are Muslims who follow the holy book of Quran containing the revelations to Mohammad by Allah through an angel called Jibreel.
All the three monotheistic religions claim the same Prophets from the Abraham lineage as their own. These religions are further divided into several sects and sub-sects based on the loyalty to certain initial followers of prophets who preached their own interpretations of their holy books.
The Hinduism is the last bastion of polytheism which continued its existence since 5000 BCE and is the oldest religion known today. The religion is based on the scriptures called the Vedas written by Rishis on various materials and compiled during 1500-500 BCE and contains the observations and experience of people at that time. To explain the Hindu philosophy of life, natural forces are personified for simplicity like Surya Devta, Indra, Varuna and others so that the philosophy behind the religion is understood easily by common man.
The basic difference between the monotheistic and polytheistic religions is that monotheistic religion divides the society because all the three Abrahamic religions vie for supremacy of their God over other Gods. Islamic scholars claim that the Old and New Testaments are corrupted and Quran is the only holy book which is preserved in its original form as revealed to Prophet Mohammad by Allah.
That is the reason that there had been constant fights between the followers of these three religions. Jews are the most hated community by Muslims and are fighting each other since long. History is full of atrocities of Christians over Muslims and the vice-a-versa where killings have been happening in the name of God. In Muslims, Sunnis, Shias and Ahmedias and their sub-sects are in constant fight with each other over differences in their views regarding their prophet. In Pakistan, first Sunnis and Shias hounded out Ahmedias and declared them as non-Muslims and now Sunnis are after Shias to assert their supremacy in the Islamic world.
Since, it is a race for supremacy of their religions, Christians and Muslims resort to conversions to increase their numbers so that they can dominate the world. This is leading to a lot of religious violence in the world.
Since, Hinduism is polytheistic in nature it accommodates pluralism and people believing in any deity amongst thousands of God’s depiction are welcome in their fold. Hinduism accommodates other Indic religions like Jainism, Buddhism and even Atheism. One can be an atheist and still can be a Hindu. Because of this pluralism Hinduism is never in competition with other religions and hence never resorted to conversions as in Christianity and Islam. To be a Hindu, one has to be born a Hindu.
We are living in a world where more than 20 religions and 100s of faiths are being followed. There is nothing wrong in being a religious person provided one has love, affection and respect for others irrespective of their belief systems. This is the religion of Humanity and exists at experiential level. Religion became visible on the earth because some brilliant individuals like Jesus, Mohammad, Adi Shankara, Buddha and hundreds of spiritual leaders had some marvelous spiritual experience which they wanted to transmit to others. What was their source? Not reading books but experiencing the nature of reality.
Every religion has a part materialism which is superficial and a part which is spiritual. If one follows the superficial part, he is lost and religion becomes counter-productive and all problems arise. That is what is happening today; every religion is claiming their superiority and is leading to so much bloodshed.
Different mind sets provide different expressions. But the problem comes when the clergy and theologians give a framework for following a particular religion with their narrow doctrinal ideas, this create division. The level of interpretation of doctrines and dogmas bring division in society and unity. To find a resolution to this problem, we have to dive deeper and discover ourselves what religion is all about by going to its heart, which is same for all religions.
Humanity neither teaches hatred nor supports killings of other human beings. One need not be a religious person to be a good human being.