Humanity and faith on Trial

Humanity and faith on Trial

Monday, April 6, 2020 12:02 am

File: Treatment of Coronavirus victims. Photo credit: The Straits Times

Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

COVID-19 is a test on our humanity, our faith and the limits of science. It shows how limited our knowledge of the cosmos is, how weapons of war are vitiated by a little challenge posed by one of the vagaries of nature. Nature? Mutilated nature or pristine nature? Of course, there are conspiracy theories about Covid-19, details of which I don’t intend to inflict on the reader. Ever since I sat in a screening room in University of Louisville Kentucky to watch a movie centred on the military establishment killing JFK, I have learnt how to dismiss conspiracy theories.  Suffice it to say that the globe is at the mercy of a monster which if not promptly and methodically contained could wipe millions from earth’s surface. While it raged in China, it was a Chinese disease. And the rest of the world did not prepare for it. It was theirs; not ours. And the man who occupies the highest office in the world’s most powerful nation in the world virtually gloated over China’s adversity! Humanity was missing. As at press time, America has overtaken China in rates of infection. The scare is if it descends on Africa, what would the end be?      

Often adversity tests our humanity. It tests humanity on how humane or human humanity is or can be in extreme conditions. Codes of cultural and social engagements are tried when our humanity is stretched by circumstances beyond our control. And I remember Lord of the Flies by William Golding. It is a frightening novel of children caught in an island without adults that anyone who is interested in human behaviour should read. Man often ‘conquers’ (read destroys) himself, disregards the niceties of civilization in extreme situations. And he offers no apologies. In a queer manner I also remember The Plague by Albert Camus.

Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Our generation had not really witnessed a global test or trial of faith until COVID-19. Until Covid-19 I never really gave a thought to the Spanish influenza which was taught to us very early in church as we studied the return of the Saviour. At the religious level, that influenza was a marker of the end of times, when Jesus Christ took on the reins of ruler ship over the world and Satan threw the world in the First World War. So, it was a spiritual thing. I did not feel. The casualties were just statistics to me. Eighteen million people dying killed by a single influenza was and is incomprehensible till now! Now, if Covid-19 plans to annihilate half the victims of the Spanish influenza, then we have only just started a downhill slide that will alter humanity forever.

It is true that vicariously and individually there have been experiences, life altering experiences that have affected our way of thinking, our assumptions and beliefs. Some of these experiences are local. Yet the lessons are universal. But that which is felt, experienced is different from that which we see in a movie. Or which we read in books or watch on the news, especially cable news. We will never forget the planes that flew directly into the twin towers in New York. But the African too will never forget the trauma of slavery and how four hundred years of slavery altered the mentality and personality of the Black man. Yet, except we visit monuments or engage physical relics of the encounter slavery is a distant blur in our memory.

The current pandemic is real. In this period, virtues are on trial. Ironically, faith is on trial. Science is on trial too. So, there is a meeting point, an intersection of sorts that make us pause to reflect on the nature of things. That is, to ponder on how the fate of man is determined and how his faith is challenged in the current scheme of things. Has man forgotten God and His rules? Is God now an old man whose ways are no longer fashionable? Covid-19 therefore is a call to faith in a Creator, owner of the universe whose grand plan is to bring man back to Him. Covid-19 therefore is like a call to return to the ways of the Creator whose presence is scantily acknowledged in the developed world. God is a private experience. Not for the State to acknowledge. Secularity rules the day, even in the big established orthodox Christian groups.

Here in my homeland, ignorance is bliss. Not my portion. Social distancing is European. How can we social-distance in Mushin, Igbudu Market, Oshodi, Mile 12 market? Well-nigh impossible they assert. So we must search for an indigenous solution. Hunger threatens the mass of the people who live by the day. Hunger, they say, will kill us more than the virus. So, let us into the market place and consume our local brews and coronavirus will return to sender. These are practical issues confronted daily. Not theories. Not the beautiful pictures we see on TV.

Group meetings are banned. Collective worship in physical form is a threat to humans. So, we resort to virtual meetings, made possible by the very achievements of science. 

Therefore, science promotes our capacity to express and disseminate faith in a time of adversity. Yet the science we have promoted in place of faith which has produced tonnes of arms and ammunitions that can destroy the world several times over was not prepared for the menace of a tiny virus that started in China. Science has been humbled. Governments have been humbled. It is not the weapons of war that will guarantee safety. It is investment in our humanity, our faith and the meeting point between science and religion.

To bring the issues home, faith is stronger here in Africa perhaps due to the absence of the wonders of science. And poor leadership too! So, necessarily, the poor people of my continent rely on the supernatural, on God, blind faith that though the plague could come to the world (though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death), there is a shield of protection over the poor relations of the developed world whose faith is largely in science. Not in God. God is not mentioned in public. If the indices supplied by the advanced world are anything to go by, the African continent is doomed to a repeat of the Spanish influenza. But the abundance of faith and the tiny efforts of our determined doctors, the world might just be proved wrong. God is God. Science is science. In the final analysis God will triumph over science. My blind faith in action?

-Professor Eghagha who writes from the University of Lagos, can be reached on 0802 322 0393 or [email protected]

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