Non-Health Effects of the Pandemic
By Yasin Alkan
Until the COVID-19 outbreak, which has been profoundly affecting the world economy, human security, international affairs, social lives, etc., the world was in its normal yet complicated track. However, since then, almost every part of the world perceived the urgency of taking precautions against the virus. The governments, non-state actors, institutions, and individuals from every level of the societies have been reacting to the crisis from different perspectives. In this post, the main focus is to classify the responses of globally effective actors as either religious or secular; to be able to discuss what kind of secularism would best serve a society’ ability to prevent and fight pandemics.
As the domain of the virus increased, the world institutions and organizations gained even greater importance in terms of addressing the world about taking the necessary measures. For instance, UN Chief Antonio Gutteres recently made a call to the religious leaders of all faiths for cooperation in fighting the COVID-19 . Meanwhile, The World Health Organization, which has played a very crucial role since the beginning of the crisis, published an interim guidance on 7th April 2020, called “Practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faithbased communities in the context of COVID-19. While guiding the religious leaders and faithbased communities with health-based information, it also shows respect to and recognition of the importance of these religious actors to fight the COVID-19. On the other hand, Pope Francis of Vatican in his latest prayer showed his belief in political sphere of the world as well as in science, and announced that they should pray for governments, scientists and politicians who are trying to find a way to overcome the pandemic for the good of people .However, still, with a religious voice, he also pointed that the political leaders or scientists who do not engage in fighting the pandemic ‘for the good of people,’ are or will be the ones who do not serve the God, but money. Although this is a secular response from a religious actor, some religious actors have not given such answers. Many churches and mosques have been defying their states’ orders and holding religious services with numbers of people that would violate the social distancing rule, which is a must to fight the propagation of the virus.
How do we decide whether and how these responses are examples of ‘secularization’ or ‘sacralization’? As the pandemic continues to expand its domain, these non-state actors have shown examples of secularization and sacralization. Secularization, referring to a process of change, paves the way to adjust to certain political, institutional, and social modifications. In the case of Pope Francis’ prayer, one significant effect of secularization is the differentiation of secular spheres from religious norms and institutions. The cases of some churches and mosques, which have been defying their states’ orders and holding religious services, are examples of acting against states’ efforts, despite their level of intervention in religion in normal times, to take secular measures to prevent crowded gatherings. Lastly, the statement of the UN Chief Antonio Gutteres and the guidance published by the World Health Organization are examples of religious responses of secular actors, promoting sacralization by emphasizing the importance of religious actors during the pandemic days. Taking the examples above into consideration, what is the ultimate aim of these religious actors who are promoting secularization and secular actors who are promoting sacralization? How can these measures be explained from religious and secular perspectives? In these examples, the ultimate aim of all the positive measures taken, religious or secular, is to promote human security and health. States which order their churches/mosques or the churches/mosques who are separate from the states yet within their borders, aim to take these secular measures to prevent crowded religious gatherings. Therefore, the aim is not to create disenchantment to religion. On the other hand, in normal circumstances, neither United Nations nor World Health Organization are known for being religious. However, the great demoralization which the pandemic caused, has given these non-state actors the idea that religion is the source of faith, belief, and most importantly guidance for millions of people who believe in one religion or another. The guidance of religious actors plays a very crucial role to convince people about the urgency while taking precautions. Lastly, the words of Pope Francis aimed to encourage religious people to pray for the politicians, governments and scientists, which are all non-religious actors. This is an example a religious actor’s belief in secularization when the subject is human security and health.
As a result of these examples, the basic proposition is that ‘secularism needs religion, and religion needs secularism to prevent and fight pandemics’. In order to fight against a pandemic with a common understanding of ethic, secularities need religious actors to play their roles and religious actors need to let social sciences and positive sciences play their roles. A potential ethic can be established through the principle of Independent Political Ethic, which proposes that there should be certain fundamentals, for purposes of political morality and in order to leave the independent ethic challenged, religion should exist in private sphere, because ‘immune from all these warring beliefs, lies a common basis for living together”. To fight COVID-19 collectively, otherwise is unsustainable anyways, establishing an ethic based on the independent political ethic mode of secularism, in which the role of religion for the religious people is not neglected yet reduced to private sphere can be very effective to provide sense of security.
image credit : www.orfonline.org