RELIGION, POLITICS, AND SCIENCE IN THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ERA
Covid 19 Pandemic has evoked various responses to address the crucial issue of Life in his planet-earth. The scientific world, especially the medical scientists and the researchers in the area of public health has offered various studies and creative responses to make the public aware of the emerging challenges. The secular writers like Slavoj Zizek signify the need to have a dream of a community of common need. However, the responses from the religious circles are discouraging and disappointing. The religious responses address only the obstacles of having church meetings and sacraments in this crucial context of pandemic. It reminds me of the sharp criticism of Johann B. Metz and Jurgen Moltmann who responded to the German Church and the world Christianity in the post-World War era regarding the privatization of religion. The contemporary theologians of the church are not able to come out of this sin of privatization of religion and open Christianity and the church to 'face the reality of the world' (Metz).
The immediate provocation to write this note is the write-up of O.V. Jathanna regarding the issues connected with the celebration of the Eucharist under the conditions of the lock-down. I appreciate and acknowledge his sincerity, genuineness and the theological expertise to initiate such a discussion in this regard. However, I just want to register my contentions with those responses while I keep my respect and love towards him. My serious obsession is that this response does not go beyond the thought-pattern of a common believer; rather than a response of a theologian.
O.V. Jathanna offers three responses on the celebration of the Eucharist during the lock down period: 1. Postponing the Celebration until Normalcy Returns; 2. Utilizing Technology in the Celebration of the Eucharist; and 3. Strengthening the Family-Altar and Reviving the Home-Based worship service, including the celebration of the Eucharist.
All these three options are helpful for the church to plan the functions of its sacraments. However, what we expect from a theologian is something different, especially in the crucial context of pandemic. The concern of a theologian should not be just the unavailability of the sacraments; rather it should be about the efficacy of religion and its practices all-together in this particular context where people listen to science for more meaningful life in this planet. Theologians are expected to think about the issues of public health, global economy,and politics under the shadow of the pandemic that affect the people irrespective of caste, color, creed and religion. I think this is the time to discuss about the efficacy of liturgy and sacraments in the public ministry of church. The Italian philosopher and theologian Giorgio Agamben raises his obsessions whether our liturgy and sacraments perpetuate hierarchy and priestocracy. He contends that it is the liturgical and the sacramental practices that legitimizes hierarchy in the church in the name of the theology of a sovereign God. Thus, let this be a time of interrogation and investigation whether we need to deconstruct these practices in order to reclaim the legacy of Jesus movement in the early church period where the people found it as a public event of sharing and to de-imperialize the Constantine's legacy which shaped liturgy and sacrament as the celebration of power. Do we think that we need to democratize those practices in order to challenge the inherent dichotomy between priest and the believer, sacred and secular, man and women, touchable and untouchable, canonized and anarchical?
Don't we need to reformulate religion in the context where people listen to science rather than religion to find ways to confront the realities of life? The sanctity of the alter is not beyond the hygiene-protocol of the health workers. Thus, it is not to bring the sanctity of the church-alter into the homes and we create another theology of sanctity in homes which may in turn disturb the genuine secularity of our homes. What is trying to communicate here is to think about radical religiosity and spirituality even in our public engagement and service where we find the divine presence and comfort. I think Covid 19 pandemic era is the right time to overcome the dichotomy between work and worship, religion and politics, sacrament and diakonia, secular and sacred, church and society. Christian theology is invoked by the science to join hands for finding ways to redeem humanity and the planet-earth. Encountering the emerging 'corporate capitalism' or the 'disaster capitalism' should not be sidelined while we think about bringing sacraments into our 'highly commercialized' homes. I think this is the right time to reform our spiritualities, theologies, and christianites rather than reclaiming the hierarchical provisions of the established religion. I am afraid that the post-Covid era may be the era of the established religions to reclaim their practices and theologies through which they legitimize the hierarchy and power.