I don’t think, the humans have seen a greater ‘revolutionary’ than Jesus Christ, who made ‘history’ at every step he made on earth, that too, in diverse ways. Through his birth he calendared the history of the world under two parts, ‘Before and After Christ’, patently so. He stands ‘singular’ as one, who inspired, touched, influenced and transformed human lives the most, individually and collectively. Further, Jesus holds the credit of having channeled the main stream of the ‘spiritual fibre and ethical culture’ of the human society, across the nations. What’s more, I suppose I won’t be considered wrong if I proceed to state that he performed the most theatrical ‘lock down’ of the Jerusalem temple, the epicentre of the then religious corruption, by whipping out the worldly and corrupt elements of religious rituals and related affairs. No wonder, the lock down, in good time, resulted in the out-and-out collapse of the temple, never to come back, and the ensuing symbolic cleansing of the God-made ‘human’ temple of God on earth!
Be that as it may, after twenty centuries since then, here comes a ruthless corona virus, with the pet name ‘Covid 19’, creating a different ‘history of lock down’, the world over, although with a very tragic tone. The corona virus has confined the humans, almost in the entire world, to their residences or houses, by a forcible lock down of all types of social gatherings. Markets have shrunk to the time-bound supply of basic necessities. Offices are compelled to function to the minimum, that too, from the houses. Most of all, believers of all levels of faiths, in place of making a mercy petition before God, are ‘locked out’ of their perceived holy places, pilgrim centres, places of worship and centres of charismatic get-togethers. Churches, masjids, temples, gurudwaras, and the like, of fixed and regular gatherings are the most affected, with heavy padlocks on their main doors, giving a terrible shock to the custodians, who are their political and economic beneficiaries, rather than the believers. It is a compulsory lock down of the centres with imposing rituals, which have freed believers of all ‘obligations’ of religious performances, though may be temporarily so. I believe, the corona phenomenon is nothing but a major repeat of the lock down of the Jerusalem temple, even though in a totally different manner altogether.
‘Covid 19’ has emerged as a world-wide epidemic, with symptoms of its own right, has not left any country on earth untouched. It has claimed tens of millions of human lives, by way of being afflicted, and far above half a million of them, by way of being dead. It has not made any difference among human beings belonging to high or low caste; upper, middle or lower classes; theists or non-theists; east or west; rulers or the ruled; men or women; and the like. It has not discriminated among ethnic, linguistic, religious, social, ideological, cultural and other affiliations, either. On the whole, it seems to have taken more senior citizens into its grip and spared fairly the younger ones, possibly due to immunity conditions in the body. For the most part, developed countries are more affected than less developed countries, posing a razor-sharp question to the very idea of modern development. At any rate, the wicked rate at which the virus has swallowed up the humans, so mercilessly, stands beyond easy grasp.
Thinking in terms of religious affiliation, in the world context as well, Christian community seems to be the most affected by the pandemic of corona virus. As a matter of fact, Christian community is the most organized and numerous population on earth, the second being Muslims. Besides, the ritual performances among Christians are more of an active mode, while the Muslim gathering is fairly passive and stereotype. In addition, the peak of ritual performances of Christians falls over the period of 40 to 50 days of lent, culminating in the ‘holy week’, that too, with the ‘triduum’ of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. In 2020, this period is spread over February, March and April. The binding of religious obligations in liturgical celebrations on Christian believers during this period is at its height, too. It is true that places of worship of all religions remain closed for believers, due to the administrative ruling of social isolation as well as lock down. The corona virus has curtailed people, irrespective of religious persuasions, from engaging in faith-related observances in a collective manner. But, corona virus, through its ‘lock down’ and social isolation has come upon the Christian community in an incomparably massive and decisive manner, especially because of the Lenten calendar of the year, very unfortunately so.
The consequence of the lock down, especially on the Christian community, is immense and diverse. Being a highly organized society, the custodians on the top, namely priests and bishops, extended up to the pope, profusely has been running the show of the community, obviously so. 99 plus of the lay community has only cosmetic space in the functioning of the churches. The clerical ego, by way of decision-making and managing the affairs as well as officiating at the liturgical services has shriveled into hardly any in the current scenario of lock down and social distancing. Secondly, considering the Lenten season in general and the holy week in particular, the worldwide church has incurred a colossal loss of perhaps billions and trillions of currency, which would have got collected as contribution from the people, several of them who visit the church only on a yearly basis. Thirdly, in the current context, the general public, who has been naively obsessed with pious observances, a high portion it even to silly extents, due to the domestication and stoppage of thinking it has been victim of since ages, is condemned to miss a lot of virtuous habits or just satiate their ritual thirst through visual media or through individual and family level observances.
In the wake of the ‘ritual lock out’ of the Christian community, of other religions also, the corona virus proposes a ‘conversion of heart’ towards radical alternatives of ‘being a good Christian or a believer’, abjectly so. In point of fact, Christianity has got very much derailed from the path of Jesus Christ, in very many deep-seated ways. Jesus did not found a religion, but only has initiated a natural ‘lifestyle’, which is a blend of human-divine qualities. He did not ask his disciples to ‘adore’ him, but ‘follow’ him, that too, in a radical way, along the lines of the values he lived for. But, the Christian tradition is sunk into goody-goody habits of engaging in self-made pious devotions. Saints and the related pilgrimages and novenas have hijacked most of the attention of Christians. Cultic priesthood, after the fashion of Melchizedek, has captured the core of clericalism. Believers are conditioned to play with symbols and rituals, like ‘children play with dolls’, and values that would construct real life are a lot passed over. Well, it is granted that some basic symbols are part of the human lives, positively so. Even so, 21st century in general, 2020 in particular, calls for a major ‘restart’ of the Christian faith, much less ritual-based and much more ‘value-based’. Christians, along with other believers, have to ‘incarnate’ themselves into ‘living the human and divine values Jesus lived’, anew and in a more intense way.
‘Covid 19’, however harsh or tragic it may appear, is a great opportunity for a Himalayan blessing in store for the Christian community, other communities too, to emerge out of clergy-centred rituals, towards building up a faith that is committed to living the values of Jesus, at all levels of life. ‘Covid 19’ is a ‘shock treatment’ to the custodians of the Church, who business with temple or church and with its affiliated believers, politically, economically and socially. Thanks to the recent centuries of reformative movements, the epoch-making second world council of Vatican in special, the Christian community has come up with reaching out to the larger human society, in quite a few realistic and gracious ways. In line with those brilliant ways, ‘living the values of Jesus’, ‘being good human beings’, ‘making good families, communities, nations and society’ and, to culminate with, ‘making the family of God the Father on earth’, I suppose, is what is the most creditable of a Christian, of any believer as well. When this happens, from the dire mess of ‘Covid 19’, I am sure, Jesus will rise again, along with the entire world, once and for all!
(The author is Founder Director, Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi. He can be contacted at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.)(Published on 13th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 16)