If you are interested in the way religious issues affect, and are affected by, current affairs and social movements, “Sunday” on BBC Radio 4, or its podcast, will give you plenty of food for thought.
Listening to the 15th November edition I was struck very powerfully by the contrast I heard in two responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in different faith contexts.
The first was evangelical pastor Regan King, who was committed to holding a church service in defiance of government restrictions. He talked about how the churches had “bent over backwards” to observe guidelines based on a “promise” that there would not be a second lockdown. He said “Our priority is fear of God,” and “We serve a greater law.”
When asked “What will you feel if, as a result of your decision, a member of your congregation gets ill, perhaps dies?” his response was this.
“It would be a tragedy, however, remember death is something that must come to everyone. We’ve developed a real idol of safety… We’re looking at hope beyond death…”
I’m sorry if I’ve misinterpreted this reaction. Only God knows anyone’s heart, and all I can do is talk about my human impression of what he said. And in all honesty I sensed a Pharisee spirit in both his words and his expression of them. The ritual of gathering on a Sunday was presented as more important than people’s lives. He tried to equate his rebellion against a temporary restriction with Jesus’s activism against engrained injustice. He was making a public demonstration of the goodness and value of his church’s ministry, rather than working quietly – preferably within the law – with vulnerable individuals, in the spirit of Matthew 6. And his callous remarks about death suggest he places little value on our Earthly lives. Why does he think we’re here?
The second interviewee was Priya Raja, whose mother recently died from Covid-19, and is now considering how to celebrate Diwali in the current circumstances.
After describing how her mother’s funeral could not take place in a normal way, but was adapted to respect Hindu rituals as fully as possible under the restrictions, she was asked “What’s your message to other people in the community who are preparing their Diwali celebrations?”
“I think Diwali is very important. It isn’t something that should be overlooked and if anything, with the year that we’ve had it is important to look at that time as hope and peace and reflection and celebrating the good times ahead. At the same point the one thing we’ve learned from this process is life is fragile. We weren’t expecting this, and this has happened, and it could happen to anybody, and that should be over and above getting together and celebrating. And we can celebrate, we can do mithais, we can get dressed up, we can have the diyas lit up, all within our own homes, without mixing, as per the government guidelines, and rightly so.”
Her humility, respect for law and life, and graceful, gentle spirit shine through her words. This is love. And this is someone who I would want to know and spend time with.
I don’t care what faith you claim to hold. If your religion is more important than your neighbour, there’s something you deeply misunderstand about your Creator.
(Image Source: The Indian Express, File Photo)