Covid-19, Science & Religion
Science has a place in eternity, as it forms a necessary part of God's language.
Science has a place in eternity, as it forms a necessary part of God's language.
During the twentieth century, the relationship between theology and science had been debated in the Serbian public within three conceptual frameworks: (1) the founding of the University of Belgrade, (2) Serbian post-Second World War theological apologetics, and (3) Neo-patristic theology. The twenty-first century, especially in the last couple of years, saw three different instances in which scientific issues were a matter of theological debates that gained the attention of the wider public. These debates were on (1) the theory of evolution and creationism, (2) the means of distributing Holy Communion in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and (3) vaccines against the Coronavirus. This paper presents an overview of the three instances of theology and science debates in the Serbian Orthodox Church in the twenty-first century, as well as some key factors whose interplay shaped these debates to a great extent.
Recent years have somewhat unexpectedly seen a rise in interest in science within the Serbian Orthodox Church. For a quite long period of time, theology and science debates, especially within the context of the rise of neo-patristic theology, were seen as being an interest of those theologies that were both ‘un-patristic’ and somewhat outdated, i.e. Christian apologetics. However, in a short period of time, the theology and science relationship became a focus of much heated public debate and caused certain controversies within Church structures. These debates were on (1) the theory of evolution and creationism, (2) the means of distributing Holy Communion in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and (3) vaccines against coronavirus.
This paper discusses the religious dimension of the public debate concerning the public health measures adopted by the Romanian authorities during the pandemic and focuses on the role played by the Romanian Orthodox Church within this context. It delineates the different camps that were formed within the Church in this regard and traces their evolution throughout the pandemic. It contextualizes the position of the Church in order to better understand it, placing it within the broader context of the Romanian society during the pandemic and integrating it within the longer history of post-communist relations between the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Romanian state and the Romanian civil society. It analyses the political impact of the public health measures and the role of the Church in shaping this impact. Finally, starting from the Romanian experience of the pandemic and from the ideological, theological and political disputes that it has generated within the Romanian public sphere, it develops some general conclusions regarding the relation between faith, science and politics whose relevance, if proven valid, surpasses the Romanian context and thus contributes to a more ecumenical discussion regarding the theological, pastoral and political lessons that can be learned from an otherwise tragic experience.
Eastern Europe is the region of the world that was hardest hit by COVID-19. Nine out of ten countries with the highest number of deaths caused by COVID-19 per million inhabitants are located in Eastern Europe and four out of these nine countries are predominantly Orthodox.
COVID-19 was a great challenge for Orthodox Christians worldwide. As all natural disasters in modernity, the pandemic was explained and combatted on the basis of science. There could be no doubt that death, pain, suffering, despair, imprisonment (the quarantine can indeed be experienced as an imprisonment) are opportunities for the Church to bear witness to Christ. To be ashamed of one’s vulnerability and to neglect the communal aspect of suffering means to render oneself less capable of bearing witness. Hence, it is important to find the conceptual ground for calibrating the truthful reaction to the pandemic in terms of the Christian ethos. To achieve this, we need the proper interpretative lens through which to examine the disaster of the pandemic.
The present paper comments upon certain (mis)understandings concerning science and religion in Greece’s public discourse during 2020 and 2021. The first half consists of a theoret- ical commentary on what transpired in Greece, focusing on ‘science’ and ‘religion’ morphing into one another in the public square apropos the pandemic—with religion presenting itself as science, science presenting itself as religion, and an unwelcome ‘Reformation’ in science emerging out of dissent. The second half of the paper provides a report on Greece’s public square during the pandemic, on the basis of which the theoretical part was formed.
The years 2020 and 2021 will linger in memory as the anni horribilesof the COVID-19 pandemic—with 2022 passing the baton to global security concerns of war and peace while the pandemic is still ongoing. During those years, the meaning, power, method, efficacy, independence and politicisation, and capacities and limitations of ‘science’ as a generic term dominated global public discourse, both directly and indirectly—in discussions not only about the virus itself or the vaccines and medicines developed to counter its spread and effects, but also about social distancing, various restrictions and policies, lockdowns, ‘green passes’, vaccinations/testing certificates, and so on. ‘Religion’ featured heavily in the public square as well—less as a promise and a hope in times of collective distress, and more as a question concerning the safety of collective worship and of certain worship practices, as well as in the context of the unavoidable ‘perennial battle between science and religion’ trope.
This paper reflects on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on religious life in Bulgaria, especially in the Orthodox Church, and on the sphere of academic teaching. The picture that emerges against the background of the moderate COVID-19 measures and the non-closure of churches is rather disturbing, given the aggressive attacks by non-believers against ecclesial practice. It testifies to widespread superstition and deep theological ignorance even among those who designate themselves as ‘Orthodox Christians’. The compromise of university education during the COVID-19 panic and the radical changes to the social way of thinking go—as a basis of the perplexity of the social mind—hand in hand with the destruction of the democratic world order by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
During the preparation for our workshop, we have entered a new, much more dangerous situation, which is defined by Russia’s war against Ukraine. I ask myself whether the way of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding new ways of life in the world have engendered the background for the current and pernicious transformation of the world order, including the church order of Orthodoxy. My answer is ‘yes’, they have.
The brevity of my response to the issue of the COVID-19 crisis, the accompanying social panic, and religious life in Bulgaria is based on the simple fact that I have nothing extremely dramatic to report. In almost all points, it is rather about a fragile normal state in comparison with the situation before the crisis. ‘Normal’ is usually not attractive. However, the effects of crisis management, which indeed shape our future, look different.
The experience of this ongoing pandemic has not been a common and terrifying danger only. It has also been a sign of unity of our scattered post-secular humanity, as the question of our forgotten common nature seems to come to the fore again.
The experience of this ongoing pandemic has not been a common and terrifying danger only. It has also been a sign of unity of our scattered post-secular humanity, as the question of our forgotten common natureseems to come to the fore again. This now happens as an unexpected medical problem, against our narcissistic dreams of individual prosperity, that is, beyond what Charles Taylor termed an exclusive humanism,as the common post-secular self-authorization, in Isaiah Berlin’s terms, where the only transcendence accepted is Nussbaum’s transcendence of an internal and human sort.
That means that nature returns as a threat and an obstacle, unifying humanity not in the glory of its ‘aspiring minds’, according to Marlowe, but in the misery of its corruption. And now humanity remembers God, bringing him again to the court of theodicy; now God is, again, in the minds of many, the author of this lamentable burden of necessity, which prevents our detached thinking selfhood to fulfil its destiny of dominating the universe. The Greek-Western world has always had two temptations here, which both proved to be problematic: either to surpass or to enhance this nature. Let us start from the latter.