Covid-19 Pandemic and A Matter of Faith!
It is often funny to see people
argue over political, religious matters and those related to science. I have this habit of observing people argue
in trains, in pubs, restaurants, public functions over umpteen issues. But be prepared for too much overload of pseudo-secularism, realpolitik, right wing
fundamentalism, colonialism, Marxist-Leninism, fascism, neo-liberalism,
globalisation and all. They never seem to run out with a dry throat after all this effort!
Recently I listened to a conversation between a priest, a believer, an atheist and a scientist in the context of 'Mahamari' or the pandemic. We were all waiting outside a grocery shop to await our turn to go inside as lockdown had put restrictions on gatherings and groups in public places.
The believer who was a Hindu said about the Attukal Pongala in Thiruvananthapuram which had entered the famed Guinness Book of World Records as the largest annual festival of women. Devotees offer divine rice prepared in earthern pots to Attukal Devi every year to invoke her blessings. It was held this year also despite the lockdown. But in several other places in Kerala, the temple authorities were arrested for violating the lockdown restrictions and social distancing. The believer was the of the view that it was unfair to impose restrictions on festivals as we would invite the ire of God (or daiva kopam in Malayalam). "Look at Attukal Pongala, did anyone contract Covid-19 after that?"
The scientist scoffed at it and said it is all nonsense. He said we were lucky it didn't turn out to be another Nizammudin. He cited the case of Virginia Bishop Gerald O Glenn, 66 who defied the warnings on religious gatherings during pandemic. He vowed that he would go on preaching unless he was in jail or hospital. He was subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 and died while his wife Mother Marcietia Glenn, 65 was also tested positive. Pope Francis in Vatican cancelled all public appearances and conducts his general audience via television and internet. Now all these religious institutions are shut and people are told that if you want to save yourself and others you have to remain at home!
As arguments and counter arguments got more intense, I was also observing the priest. He was gently listening but at the same time with a smile looking toward the supermarket entrance for his turn. But the believer, wanted his support for the arguments. The priest began, " all the ills in society are caused by lack of faith in God. There is so much of illness, crimes, crimes against children, women, anxiety, debt crisis, all sorts of natural calamities." But the scientist was not pleased, " how can you call it an act of God?" "The Viriginia Bishop had said that he firmly believed that God is larger than this dreaded virus but now what happened?" the scientist was adamant. Before the priest could think over it or reply, a police jeep halted before them and said no more crowding here. "Please keep a safe distance," the sub inspector said in a loud voice. He also shouted at the security guard standing outside to regulate the crowd and allow only those who wear face masks.
This caused the debate over 'faith and corona virus' to temporarily end but the believer was of the view that many diseases not cured by medical science was cured through visiting temples or churches. Jesus was believed to have cured people, performed miracles by touching, healing and transforming countless lives. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25, NIV).
He also looked at me crying for support. But I chose to remain an observer and just smile. However, as my turn to enter the grocery store came, I quickly went in as it was already 4.40 pm and nearing closing time. I was sad that the heated arguments had to be cut short due to the pandemic. The athiest was all the time looking for an opportunity with sufficient ammunition but couldn't.!
I was never a good story teller in school or college days. But marriage and birth of my son Darshan (now 21) and daughter Diyah (11) changed all that. Both songs and stories were required to make him sleep. But he quickly outlived my made-up silly stories as he began to read by age 3. But Diyah was different. Even now when she finds it difficult to sleep, she needs a song or my story. On this day, no good story came to my mind. Then I told about the entire episode in front of the grocery store in the evening. She was curious and listening intently and unable to close her eyes. Then she asked for my view on faith and science.
Then I told her another story. A Christian worshipper was ill for days but refused to go to hospital. He went every day to the Church and the priest prayed for him. One fine morning his condition worsened and he was forcibly taken to hospital where he breathed his last. In heaven, the man asked "Why is it that I prayed three times a day and made offerings but you didn't protect me?". "Your priest only said you should have faith in Me. I may come to you in many forms when you are in distress as a teacher, a saint, a doctor, a lawyer or a banker when in need of money. " "When you are sick you need to have faith in your doctor to survive." I don't know whether Diyah heard the last part of my story but very soon I found her in deep slumber!