Crisis and Faith: Rituals, Symbols, and the Humanist Response
The mass quarantine and self-isolation brought on by the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 have disrupted every corner of our lives. While health and economics dominate much of the news cycle, an equally-essential dimension of life goes largely unmentioned: spirituality.
Regardless of your discipline or denomination, some major aspect of that spirituality has likely been upended starting with Purim, moving into (the predominantly commercialized and secular) St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter — with Ramadan not far off. In some cases, groups have been able to adapt to the circumstances, but in many cases they’ve been altogether cancelled.
The cancellation of such high-priority celebrations raises several questions about the value of such traditions as well as the ethics involved in interfering with their observance.
Rituals and Identity
Our rituals form an integral relationship with our sense of identity — not only who we are as individuals, but as groups. Who are Chirstians if they don’t gather to celebrate the rebirth of the Messiah? Who are Lakers fans of they don’t gather to cheer for their team in the playoffs? Who are Republicans if they don’t gather to vote for their candidate? These rituals are visible markers that reinforce a feeling of community and distinguish us from them.
Furthermore, people have deep, emotional investments in these rituals and these aspects of their identity. When that sense of identity is threatened, reactions can vary from anger to fear to confusion and despair (especially in the absence of guidance from an authority). And when the cause of that threat is, itself, a dangerous situation like a pandemic, the reactions can be even more erratic.
So what are people doing when their rituals and senses of identity are being disrupted during lockdown?
The Nihilist Reaction
One of the more vocal reactions broadcast across social media (which is how most people currently voice their reactions) is of Nihilism. And these reactions make a…