What meaning do religions give to the pandemic?

You have just edited a book on spiritualities in times of a pandemic. Why did you call on cult leaders and intellectuals of different faiths to take stock of the pandemic?

In the history of epidemics, religions have always played a major role in the care of the sick, the collection of orphans, but above all in trying to explain what was happening. As an agnostic anthropologist, I am fascinated by their ability to make sense of the world when nothing else makes sense. This is why, from the first confinement, in March 2020, I contacted the leaders of the major cults in France in order to constitute an informal think tank to talk about both concrete problems which concerned them – the impact of the confinement on rallies, for example – but also on the meaning of this ordeal. Thanks to this collective work, we launched an inter-cult spiritual hotline to allow people, depending on their confession, to speak to a priest, a rabbi, an imam, a pastor… Then, we set up sets up a telephone line for prison chaplains. This book now offers us the opportunity to share our group’s reflection on the question of religion in times of the Covid-19 pandemic in France.

The authors who speak in the book recognize that we cannot name the culprit in the Covid-19 epidemic… Is this new?

That the different religions say so, together, is new. In the past, they may have been tempted to identify culprits in the plagues; what i call “figures of blame”, for example homosexuals in the HIV-AIDS epidemic. Faced with the pandemic, religions insist on the need not to be accusatory figures. As Véronique Margron, the president of the Conference of Religious of France (Corref) says: “It is not at the border that we must stand guard, but inside so that the heart does not become hardened. » Mgr Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Conference of Bishops of France, also reminds us that nothing matters more than conversion of heart. It is a way of returning to the debates which took place during the first confinement on the subject of prohibited gatherings. Ultimately, religious leaders ask the question: what is essential in the relationship to God, to the other, to the State? During this pandemic, every devotee has faced the challenge “not to let God be extinguished” in him, as Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch Jew deported to Auschwitz (author ofA life turned upside downEditor’s note).

What is the second lesson learned by religions?

All evoke the“requirement of fraternity”, which is a religious requirement but also a republican one, as expressed by pastor François Clavairoly, president of the Protestant Federation of France. Chems-Eddine Hafiz, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, and Mohammed Moussaoui, former president of the French Council for Muslim Worship, go so far as to share a concern about their place in the Republic. They focus on the exemplarity of Muslims in respecting health instructions, especially during Ramadan. They thus recall that they are full citizens and they maintain the hope that this exemplarity will be recognized by the State. Their texts have a more political dimension. A specialist in modern philosophy and Jewish studies, Dan Arbib also shows that Jews were citizens assimilated to any French until the yellow star was brandished by opponents of the vaccine. “Why must every ordeal be doubled, for the Jews, by the ordeal of anti-Semitism? »he asks.

All the authors evoke the question of finitude because of the omnipresence of death…

At the very start of the pandemic, families could not see the faces of their deceased loved ones because body bags had to remain closed. Muslims faced a lack of places in the Muslim squares to bury their dead. The pandemic has reminded us that we have to learn to deal with the death of others, unjust death, our own death. A third lesson is that we must relearn how to accompany the dying. Can we hope “the confident reception of weakness and finitude”, as suggested by Denis Malvy, Orthodox priest, professor of medicine at the University Hospital of Bordeaux? I really like this sentence from Alain Cordier, former vice-president of the National Consultative Ethics Committee: “The lying man obliges the standing man. »


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