Updated: Jan 25
Everyone's weighing in on the coronavirus, so I might as well, too. But this isn't about how to wash your hands or some conspiracy theory about the disease's origin. It's sparked by conversations I had yesterday with a neighbor couple and my partner, and it's got me thinking of how people respond spiritually to existential threats.
My partner and I bumped into some neighbors in the grocery store, and in our conversation, it came up that I'm starting work as a hospital chaplain. Right away, my neighbor's response was, "What do you think of the coronavirus?" I wasn't sure how to respond. Did he think I had some inside medical knowledge? Hello, I am NOT a doctor just because I walk around in a hospital. Or did he think I had some inside scoop from "the big man upstairs" as to why this coronavirus is doing what it's doing? There's a lot to unpack there, but let me just state right off that I don't know what the hell is going to happen any more than anyone else does. Also, the idea that God or whatever is somehow orchestrating the coronavirus is deeply offensive to me. But a lot of people think this way; it's been around ever since religion began. If you happen to believe that, you're certainly free to do so, but I wish people would think through the implications of this belief for how they see God or the Divine. It's quite chilling, in my opinion.
Anyway, I threw up my hands in response to my neighbor and simply said, "I don't know." But later that night, my partner turned to me and wondered out loud if the coronavirus was somehow nature's response to human overpopulation, pollution and our disconnect from the natural world. Unfortunately, something in his tone or delivery hit me the wrong way, and I snapped at him (I later apologized). But it got me to thinking how I view the coronavirus and what a specifically Pagan response or perspective might be.
After some reflection, it wasn't that I disagreed with my partner's overall observation but rather I disagree with the idea of agency behind it. Let me tease this out by first highlighting how some conservative Christians are responding. Some say it's because our world is fallen or sinful, and so things like the coronavirus are to be expected. Some Christians say it's God's judgment or, oddly, a weird form of mercy. Others are using it as yet another way to evangelize. Still other Christians say it's all tied to God's political goals for America and Israel. I reject all of this because I cannot accept the idea of a divine being using a disease to shape our behavior. If this is true, it also means God gives dogs cancer or otherwise wipes out a species because they somehow disappointed "the big man upstairs." Nonsense.
This idea is nothing new and is trotted out every time there's a new disease or outbreak. Could it be, rather, that natural evolution and the instinct of every living to survive is simply playing out? Viruses have that same survival instinct, but unfortunately, some of them use us as their hosts. We live in a very diverse and interconnected planet, and although we like to think we are somehow special or set apart from everything else, along comes a new virus to remind us otherwise. And I think my partner is partly right--maybe it is because we as a species are causing an imbalance with our overpopulation, resource depletion, etc.
However, I don't think any Pagan gods, the Goddess or anyone else is punishing us. That's just a Christian idea dressed up in Pagan drag. Of course, I don't speak for all Pagans, so if that's your perspective, fine. I'm more likely to ascribe to the Gaia hypothesis that, as I understand it, sees the world as one organism that constantly regulates itself. However, I don't see it as having agency in the way we think of an Old Testament God striking down people because he's angry at their actions. I see it simply as cause and effect, the basic laws of nature--of which we are a part--working themselves out. There isn't necessarily anything to understand about the virus's motive or reason for being--it simply is. The coronavirus is not the first viral or other biological danger we have faced, and it will not be the last.
So where does spirituality come in? Well, there are spiritual lessons to be learned here. How do we treat others during this outbreak? Or maybe an ethical response might be to reduce our pollution or resource use. There may be other lessons, too. I think we should look at other similar outbreaks such as HIV/AIDS, for example. What were the spiritual lessons learned then? Uncovering these lessons takes time, patience and self-control so that we don't take up whatever reason is being passed around. Why does everything have to have a reason?
I also searched around for any Pagan response to the coronavirus. I only found this one, which highlights a Hindu story in which--yet again--disease is doled out as a punishment. I'm not here to slander Hinduism or Christianity, but does this perspective do us any good? I don't think so. It just aims to control people and paint some as "good" and some as "bad." If you get a disease, you're "bad," and if not, you're "good." That is simply not true. And why aren't more Pagans writing about the coronavirus? I surely can't be the only one thinking about this. For me as a Pagan, this challenge is simply the latest we must confront as we live with the reality of our world as it is. It is neither good nor bad; the morality comes in how we respond to it.