When one cannot come to terms with a somber reality, looking towards heaven is an instinctive reaction. In the US, half a million lives have been lost in the COVID-19 pandemic in a year since the outbreak of the virus. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that people from economically developed countries claim that the eruption of COVID-19 has boosted their religious beliefs, particularly in the US where nearly three out of ten American adults say the coronavirus plague has strengthened their faith.
The development of civilization has distanced us from nature; therefore, we are unaware of its conduct and feel more vulnerable to it. Thus, despite our tremendous technological capability, we stand helpless in the face of global epidemics, climate change, and other crises. We do not know where to flee, how to cope, and certainly do not see a bright future on the horizon.
The uncertainty of these times, the lack of clear answers, and the fading of hope sends people searching, as they have since time immemorial, for a higher power they hope might be guiding their fate. They begin to grope in the dark and ask: Where is this power that is creating this evil in the world that we see around us now, how can we survive the next blow, and in general, what is the meaning of this world? As we hear of more and more people dying from this plague, our sense of security is undermined, fear for our loved ones grows, and life takes on an unfamiliar, ambiguous gray tone. On the other hand, living conditions have drastically changed in the past year. Work has moved into home, children have become immersed in distance learning, and the framework of life has been reduced to within family boundaries. Our world has shrunk.
With reduced choices in the search for some ray of light that provides security now when people really do not know what to count on or where to pin their hopes, religion becomes an anchor, a source of stability. One may not necessarily find in it an answer to every question, but at least it gives some sense of relief from the frightening reality people face.
It is not a sign of a backward trend or a tendency to a more religious and conservative world. Instead, it is a sign of humanity seeking, in a time of turmoil and crumbling foundations, for the meaning of life, and a growing desire for a confident connection to the future in closeness with the Supreme Force that governs life.
But in this quest, those who find religion insufficient for providing lasting calm and fulfillment will keep searching for answers.
Even before the main religions expanded to the whole world, numerous beliefs, rituals, and idolatry practices existed. The human being has always needed a sense of security and answers for the inexplicable. This notion prompted the controversial Karl Marx to claim that “religion is the opium of the people,” while Voltaire said “if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” As a matter of fact, it is good for a person to seek a connection to a higher power. It manifests throughout our historical axis of development: tribes danced around bonfires to honor their goddesses, bowed to statues, and worshiped the power of nature in different ways until such practices evolved into structured religions and systems of belief.
The strengthening of religious belief in the recent days of the pandemic, as the latest survey shows, actually indicates a broader developmental process that humanity is going through. The global COVID-19 plague is teaching us that we are one small worldwide village, and we are all interdependent under a supreme force that controls every detail in reality.
We are all in a single harmonious natural system, connected in all its parts, and a person, as a result of one’s opposite egoistic nature, time and time again severs the threads of connection between himself and others, thus violating the laws of nature and tearing human society from the feeling of the supreme power surrounding us. The coronavirus is a reaction to humanity on the part of the harmonious nature, a sort of catalyst for re-bridging the gap that has been created between humanity and nature. Therefore, what we urgently need are positive connections between us—in other words, the religion of love.
There is nothing wrong with the temporary tendency to return to the embrace of traditional religion, it contributes to our progress. Firstly, it connects people and hints to them about the good found in unity. Although in the meantime it is an egoistic connection, later it will be corrected to become altruistic. Secondly, religion reveals to believers their weakness in relation to integral nature and brings about dependence on the Supreme Force.
Such a deep relationship does not conflict with any religious practice, custom, or tradition, but goes with them in one turn. Foremost kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, Baal HaSulam, wrote in The Writings of the Last Generation, “Apart from ‘loving your neighbor as yourself,’ each nation may pursue its own religion and traditions, and one must not interfere with the other.” Because when you love, there is a place for everyone, for each and every one. That is the biggest strength of every society.