April 18, 2020


During coronavirus, even trusting in science feels like a form of faith: Whether we are religious or investing our hopes in scientific research, for many of us, this period of upheaval is changing our attitude to belief (Eve Willis, April 16, 2020, The Prospect)

We need badly to maintain our trust in the present strategy and coming cure, but terror loosens the senses, and sometimes it feels like we are fruitlessly blundering in the dark, with no end in sight. Our situation, we are told, is "unprecedented." There is no real timeline. Stay inside the house, half-blind, mad with hope.

In these circumstances, there is something seductive about organised religion. ONS statistics show that the overall number of people who identify as religious in the UK is declining, but if you've had a faith-based upbringing--and many have--flirting with the idea can feel reassuringly like a return to something. Those who grow up with faith comment on the ease of slipping back into its rituals, falling prey to its charms - you know the psalms, the songs, even a whiff of incense transports you back to a time when you weren't locked in the house, frantically googling 'what constitutes dry cough?' Now that many places of worship are live-streaming their masses I'm suddenly spoiled for choice, a sort of ecclesiastical Tinder: Durham Cathedral, St Mary of the Angels, maybe even the Papal mass, as a treat. If you are isolated there is something soothing in the notion that you sit and chant and kneel in unison with thousands of others, alone but together, bound by something huge and shared.

One of the biggest challenges people face in quarantine is the lack of structure--the sense that we're all drifting through an endless Wednesday. The devout don't have this problem. Heeding the salat, the five calls to prayer, will certainly break up the day. The shabbat marks the weekend. Regardless of creed, organised religion can provide comfort and structure in a time when people sorely need both. The National Secular Society recently rammed its foot into its mouth complaining that religious staff are recognised as key workers--failing to grasp that religion answers an emotional need, and that in a time of crisis that need will reach a fever pitch. Not to mention the rising demand for their services at lonely, socially distanced funerals, where the family will grieve via Zoom. This is one of the failings of aggressive atheism; in dismissing faith as 'illogical' or trivial, its adherents totally miss the point that everything that makes life living--friends and family, bad contemporary art, pastries, kissing--are all ultimately pointless and irrational but they sustain us, keep us charging forwards.

And it's all ultimately irrational.

Posted by at April 18, 2020 7:47 AM