It is not uncommon that in a society such as ours and especially during a pandemic such as this the spread of rumours, conspiracy theories and end time prophecy is keeping us alert, engaged and awake like never before. However, the good news is that susceptibility to conspiracy and end time prophecy is not exclusively our weakness but is a worldwide phenomenon observed in humans across culture, religion and countries. Therefore it may not be entirely fair to think that my/our/your community is the most gullible of all but we can take solace in the universality of gullibility no matter how undesirable that may sound. Of course this calls for no celebration but to act responsibly so that we do not fall victim to panic rather than the virus- that would be a shame. Panic killed more people than radiation during the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011 attributed mostly to misinformation about radiation. No one is immune to misinformation and panic precipitated by misinformation during a pandemic would be a deadly force to reckon with.
The coronavirus, in this caseSARS-CoV-2, like other virus such as HIV, is a piece of microscopic genetic material whichhas no purpose and does not have a conscious desire to infect humans and end humanity. Humanity have been ravaged by pandemic throughout human history dating back as early as 430 BC while epidemic have threatened our very existence since humans evolved on earth. Sadly this pandemic won’t be the last one. We have been no less threatened by human imagined doomsday scenario with the latest one being the 2012 Nibiru phenomenon. Doomsday scenarios are nothing new in our society where believers are kept on their toes with our abundant end time prophecies and revelations; therefore it would be only surprising if people thought otherwise in the current pandemic. However, it does no good other than causing anxiety and panic.
Imagining the coronavirus pandemic as having an evil design and aagenda driven crisis has only put different groups of people in confrontation with one another. Moreover, reading biblical end time prophecy into the pandemic only fuels our anxiety and is unnecessary.Therefore it is not only unfortunate but reckless to read the pandemic from prophetic lens and it should be discouraged if not condemn by all. One thing we can be sure is that no one or nothing is testing our faith in God.
It gives a sense of relief that Nagaland is one of the only three states in India so far without a single confirmed case, however, how much of that is due to inadequate testing or successful prevention is yet to be known. Nonetheless time has not yet come to let our guard down but to orient our priorities straight in fighting the pandemic and to reduce suffering as much as possible to the most vulnerable section in our society.
Here I would like to draw ourattention to the churches in Nagaland. Church exists because of believers and believers make up our society. No private associations are well endowed financially as churches are in Nagaland though it varies from church to church. The financial and material resource that they possess and the resources that they can mobilize in times of need can be enormous. It is commendable to see Churches and other organizations in our state puttingthemselves in public service.Such initiative needs to be replicated, especially by churches, in villages and towns across Nagaland where food rations can be providedaccording to their capabilities to people in need such as farmers, daily wage labourers, elderly and people who lost their jobs.
Among the Nagas there is no lack of spirit of commitment towards the need of our society and religion and there is absolutely no reason that such spirit cannot be channelled during such dire time to help the people in need. With the lockdown many family saw their only source of income disappear while many are stranded away from home in different parts of Nagaland both Nagas and non-nagas. With no income and dwindling resource the uncertainty faced by these people cannot be overlooked, and Churches stepping in with better and efficient outreach capacity than even government agencies would be of enormous help. Certainly it does not mean freeing government of their responsibility but an extra kilogram of rice or dal could be all a person need in this time.
The pandemic we are facing now only exposes the vulnerability of people and brings out more vividly the challenges that people face in their day to day lives, that they live on the edge and any crisis could tip them off the cliff at any moment. While it is true that many people have always lived in the social and economic margin with or without pandemic, the effort of our religious pursuit heavily endowed by believers through the churches has been almost entirely directed towards purpose that has little to do with the upliftment of these people. Well, it may not be wrong to argue that churches exist for spiritual upliftment and not economic upliftment but the point that churches taking up such role does not go against the spiritual wellbeing of the believers could help repurpose our action and make such role a permanent feature of the churches across Nagaland.
There is a single minded focus on religiosity, spirituality, elegant church buildings and spectacular gatherings and sermons in our society.But there is not much point in having all of that when poor families in our villages and towns who also graciously contributed to such cause had to live in uncertainty without assurance of what to eat the next day and days after that. Many religious places around the world, such as Gurudwaras, are not only places of worship but also a place of refuge for those who need it. There is no reason churches in Nagaland cannot adopt such good practice.
Historically, institutions changes and adapt to the need of the age which not only keeps it meaningful and purposeful but also ensures its smooth existence. An institution that turns rigid and formulaic in its intend and purpose cannot effectively serve a dynamic society with growing and diverse needs.
Perhaps it is time we examine where our commitment should truly lie. Church buildings in Nagaland are constructed with unbridled dedication costing crores of rupees even in villages whilemission works and missionaries are religiously supported inside and outside Nagaland. Such unbridled dedication is what the situation demands now that could help hundreds if not thousands of people.It is not enough for Churches to commit just on successfully conducting chain-of-prayer or successfully transmitting sermon over the internet but making tangible contribution to the needs of our own shouldbe pursuit as a mission in itself. It was not said for no reason that “Service to humanity is service to God”.