The current corona pandemic worsens, claiming more victims and forcing countless millions to self-isolate. As of writing this, the World Health Organization reports just short of 2 million confirmed cases and over 123.000 deaths worldwide. The race is on to find a cure or a vaccine and governments the world over struggle to find ways to cope. Economies have ground to a halt and many people are out of a job and out of money. A global recession seems unavoidable. In the middle of all this calamity, people turn their eyes towards heaven in the hope of relief or a miracle. As an atheist though, I am forced to ask: has religion ever been less relevant?
It’s probably an unpopular question to ask at the best of times and many people may think I am trying to rob people of hope. But even to the deeply religious, there must be this tiny voice at the back of their minds that goes: all these prayers aren’t working.
For me, unanswered prayers were one of the things that caused me to doubt and finally drove me away from religion. Since the start of the pandemic, how many prayers do you estimate were said? By how many millions of people? And how many people became ill and died, regardless of those prayers?
- President Trump declared March 15 a national day of prayer to face the corona crisis. All over the US, Christians and probably those of other faiths too, tried to pray corona away. A month later, the United States is experiencing the worst growth of the disease in the world.
- Earlier, on March 3rd, Christians were already calling for a global day of prayer.
- March 22nd, the same thing happened in the UK.
- The pope himself, God’s stand-in here on Earth for Catholics, prayed to the virgin Mary on March 11.
- March 9, Messianic Jews tried too, throwing in a fast for good measure.
- And again a Jewish initiative on March 25.
- On March 26, a joint effort of the three Abrahamic religions took place.
I could go on listing initiatives but I think I have made my point. It should be painfully obvious that none of these initiatives, however well meant, made an iota of difference. The situation is worse than ever and corona is still here. A vaccine may be a 12 to 18 months away. If there’s a god listening, it is clear that it either doesn’t care or is unable to do anything for us.
Has religion ever been less relevant?
Which brings me to my original question: has religion ever been less relevant? Before we had a germ theory of disease, people could be forgiven to think that there were forces at work that they might beseech with prayer and ritual. But in these modern times, clinging to religion seems a false hope at best. How many more prayers do the heavens need before they do something? And how many more scam artists claiming to know the will of god must we suffer before we all see through the charade?
For better or for worse, we are alone in this crisis. While it doesn’t hurt to say individual prayers to a supreme being of your choice, gathering for worship and wasted effort to organize days of prayer isn’t helping, it’s making matters worse.
I think Jim Morrison said it best when he shouted: “You can not petition the Lord with prayer“. That’s because there’s either no one listening or no one willing or able to help.