“Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven” (Luke 21: 10-12).
For many religious and non-religious people alike, the unprecedented times that we are currently facing may feel like the end of the world. Not only is there a global pandemic occurring, but climate change has led to drastic weather, natural disasters, and forest fires that have killed millions of animals and ecosystems. Additionally, millions of locusts have been attacking many parts of East Africa and the Middle East which coincides with the scripture in the book Exodus in the Bible. These events have had many impacts on millions such as job insecurity, mental health issues, feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevail and impact the lives of billions, people are searching for a way to seek comfort whether that be from religion, family, friends or support groups. The pandemic has caused a lot of businesses, social activities and buildings such as schools, restaurants, playgrounds and churches to close down. However, despite the closure and cancellation of many religious activities, very few people claim that their faith has weakened since the pandemic.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Genesis 1: 1 and 31).
For a while now, the world has seemed quite the opposite of the above mentioned quote. Everything good that God saw in the world is seemingly beginning to unravel through the destruction of nature and drastic changes and restrictions to social gatherings and events. For this reason, amongst many, a trend of moving away from religion had begun to prevail. It was expected that in the coming years religion would be a thing of the past and that societies would be more secular than ever. However, in the book, “The Triumph of Faith” by Rodney Stark, he asserts that the common notion of the world increasingly becoming non-religious is completely wrong. In fact, quite the opposite is occurring. Stark contends the widespread belief that as societies modernize, religion will decrease and eventually become a thing of the past. A recent report cited by The Guardian revealed that 84% of the world’s population identifies with a religious group— a misleading statistic as it implies that people are increasingly becoming more religious, which was not the case at the time of these studies. Rather, members who belong to religious faiths generally produce more children than those who do not have any religious affiliation. In reality, it was likely that the next generation of young people would be the least religiously affiliated in history.
“Going to church was and always has been the norm [for me], and I never would have thought that it suddenly wouldn’t be an option” – Simi Olapade
For Simi Olapade and millions of other Christians, church was a weekly routine that was ripped away once the pandemic hit. With these drastic changes to their daily lives, many Chrisitans wondered what spirituality would look like in the midst of a pandemic, whether the pandemic would change the way they viewed religion or how they practiced their faith. In Canada, approximately 13% of people claim that their faith in religion has increased since the pandemic. Church attendance has been on the decline in North America for several decades. A survey done by the Pew Research Center asserts that people under the age of 40 are the least likely to ascribe themselves to a particular faith. However, the pandemic may be reversing this trend. The study also says that over half of all North Americans have prayed to end the coronavirus and Google searches on prayer have surged since the pandemic.
In order to adjust to COVID-19 restrictions, many churches have gone from in-person to online services. While it may have been expected to decrease church attendance, online services made church more accessible to a larger number of people. The pandemic allowed a lot of time for people to explore old and new hobbies, passions and spirituality. Going to church can often be seen as an intimidating place especially when visiting for the first time. However, online services allowed for people to join from the comfort of their homes without the fear of judgment.
“These events prove to me that we are indeed in the end times that the Bible mentions, which is why a part of me is not surprised at the things that go on across the world” – Simi Olapade
The story of an apocalypse is not a new one. Several religions including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam assert that there will be a period of great social and religious unrest that will create great sufferring until a savior comes back to Earth. So for those belonging to these faiths and others, worldly events are unsurprising and even expected. There is no need to fear because many people belonging to these faiths believe they are prepared and are simply waiting for their Savior to return. With this in mind, the sudden surge in faith by those who were previously non-religious makes sense. When survival is uncertain and society seems unstable, religion offers support for people to cope with anxiety and stress. A study by the Guilford Press shows that religion can help to alleviate feelings of depression in times of difficulty. Another study based in Europe shows that religious people from all faiths suffer less psychologically from unemployment than the non-religious. This goes to show that even prior to the pandemic, religion has helped followers of various faiths with the uncertainties and inconveniences of everyday life.
“God is the… Beginning and the End and He also knows and is in control of everything in the middle. Knowing this has helped me be more assured of the future and circumstances of life because even if I don’t know, I know the One who does.” – Simi Olapade
The pandemic amidst other events are affirming religious faiths and their texts. These events are also driving people to seek support or control over the uncontrollable. There are many forms of suffering that cannot possibly be alleviated with logic or science. This is why many are turning to religion and we are seeing a reverse in a long trend towards widespread secularization. Many religious people see this as an opportunity to spread their word to as many who are willing to hear it. The Bible, amongst numerous other religious texts, allude to a time in which the world will experience plagues, disasters and misfortune. There is a quote in the Bible that says, “[God’s] word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” (Psalms 119:105). My interpretation of this scripture is that despite how dark life may get, you can always be led through God’s word. As unexpected things continue to happen, religious texts are one of the only things that seem to remain constant. Life throws us many tragedies and religion can often ground us when everything else seems to be spiraling. With this pandemic comes a new way of living and a new way of coping and finding support. Religion is slowly and unexpectedly becoming that support for millions of people around the world.