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A time like this, when the coronavirus challenges us to live differently, maybe it is time to ask ourselves: What is this "virus" trying to tell us? Is it perhaps a mirror for our humanity and the way we have interacted so far? This tiny, invisible monster literally challenges humankind with all its knowledge and technology! The virus has no borders, no ethnicity, race, position, and power. Not rich or poor, highly educated or not, status holder or refugee. Anyone can be knocked down by it.
The coronavirus challenges us on different levels: First of all, on an economic level — our economy is based on profit, money, and figures without taking into account the lives of people, nature, and animals. Then comes a virus that turns everything upside down. Thousands of companies and multinationals that produce their electronics, fashion products because of the cheap workforce in China or other Asian countries. They close their eyes to the minorities who often have to do this work as slaves. Consider, for example, the food industry, how we treat animals because of consumption. Perhaps very strange to us, but the food consumption of bats, rats, dogs, and cats has led to Corona in an Asian context. I see this as an affirmation of our human greed, which affects ordinary people, workers, nature, and animals. And that while a small group of rich is getting richer. Only, the virus does not know the difference!
Subsequently, politics is challenged by Corona on both an administrative and ideological level. The politics of populism that sees refugees as a potential danger to society cannot escape the fact that everyone on the streets can be a potential carrier of Corona. Everyone is then a potential danger! Initially, people who are already predisposed to racism began to mock the Chinese, after which the Italians fell victim. Now we are dealing with America closing the borders for the travelers of the EU countries: "You are not welcome for the time being." In short, in a world where politics are building high walls, and we are negotiating about refugees' lives with money, power, and violence - there is now a virus that cuts through all walls and confronts us with ourselves.
A political ideology that forbids religious people to cover their faces is powerless when citizens wear masks. Some politicians consider not shaking hands with others because of religious convictions as awkward,--are now requesting their citizens not to shake hands because of Corona. How ironic!
Finally, Corona challenges religion in general. I heard that in an Islamic country in the Middle East, some spiritual leaders in the towns and villages have given permission to drink alcohol because of Corona. Alcohol is produced at home to drink, rinse, and spread on the skin. Such a thing was unimaginable so far.
The church is also challenged by the coronavirus. In the coming weeks, in the Netherlands, we cannot go to church. Perhaps the coronavirus reminds us that being a church is not about buildings and numbers, but about people. That we may have been too preoccupied with religious laws and regulations that we have expelled people who do not fit into our theological alley! We have excluded people, and now we must all stay outside the walls of our church buildings. Now we are excluded ourselves! The coronavirus reminds us that we are the church, that we need each other. Above all, the coronavirus challenges us to return to God! Don't get me wrong: I don't mean to God in the sense of "converting people." By returning to God, I suggest returning to the soul of all that matters! The coronavirus challenges us to not lose the soul of our economy, politics, and religion, but to restore it, a call to come back to the core values: back to goodness, back to norms and values of mercy, justice, and humanity.
I hope and pray for protection, peace, and that in times like these, we comfort and encourage one another. This crisis will pass and hopefully soon. In doing so, let us pray for the people in health care, the public domain, and the researchers worldwide who are involved in inventing an appropriate vaccine. I also pray for everyone who is currently infected with Corona and for their loved ones. I empathize with them in prayer and in my heart.
Theologian of the Year in the Netherlands