Religion Expects, but Lives Matter More

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The SARS-Cov-2 pandemic has changed how we live our lives. We’re being physically distant from one another, virtually working, checking in on relatives and friends more often; doing a thousand little things differently in order to not do the hundreds of big things we can’t do right now. One of the biggest things for many is ways in which we can live our faiths. As we approach some of the holiest days of both the Christian and Jewish calendars; many are concerned that they will not be able to attend Passover Seder and Easter Mass. As a lapsed Catholic, and the child of both Christian and Jewish parents, I know how critical and important these very social gatherings are to members of the faithful. For most of us, we’ll celebrate while remaining distant from each other because we want to ensure that we can do everything we can each do to make sure this deadly virus doesn’t spread further and faster than it already is.

What is disheartening is that many in the United States (and elsewhere in the world, the US is not alone) are defying the public and government recommendations and even outright orders to not gather in large numbers to celebrate mass and attend Seder and other religious celebrations. Beyond disheartening, this is outright terrifying to many of us, as dozens and even hundreds of people gathering in close proximity can create an outbreak situation if any one of them is infected – even if they’re not yet showing any symptoms of COVID-19 at all.

I can speak to the Christian message on this topic, and it is very clear. Stay home, socially distance, and protect yourself and others. I was raised Catholic, but have even now retained a strong sense of Christian identity, and I can find nothing that demands we risk the lives of others in order to attend formal worship. Yes, there are many verses that talk about us worshiping no matter the personal cost to ourselves, but they specifically speak to political ramifications of celebrating mass when governments and armies might arrest us for doing so. On the contrary – Matthew 6 verses 5-6 even clearly state that going to worship because we believe we must be seen to be doing it is explicitly not important:

“5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The idea of a Eucharistic Fast – a period of time where one does not celebrate by the taking of communion – isn’t unknown to the Christian faith, and is called for during the pandemic. Celebrate with the congregation by live-streamed services, pray and seek wisdom, but do not attend communal events. Even if you believe (and there is biblical wisdom on both sides of this one) that you should not be concerned with your own safety in order to take the eucharist, you must be concerned for the safety and well-being of everyone else as per Matthew 22, 35-40 which speaks to us of Jesus’ own words:

“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The second highest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself – and risking their health if you are infected but not showing any symptoms goes against this in every possible sense.

While I was shown some of the faith of Judaism over the years from that half of my family, I feel significantly less able to give advice on missing the Seder for SARS-CoV-2. Thankfully, I do have many friends who are practicing and religious Jews, and a couple who are even Rabbis. Their thoughts about what the Torah has to say on the subject were even more direct than the Christians’ were.

Simply put, life is more important than anything else.

The idea of “Pikuach Nefesh” – saving a life – outweighs all other obligations of the faith. This is true to the point that otherwise outright outlawed actions and even failure to properly celebrate Shabbat are acceptable if a life will be saved. Celebration of Passover is one of the most important occurrences of the Jewish calendar, but even an occasion as critical and important as Passover and the Seder must come second to the preservation of life. Gathering with others when you may be infected (even when not symptomatic), endangers the lives of others in direct opposition to Jewish law.

And there you have it. Celebrations of faith – in both Christian and Jewish families – are critical to our understanding and practice of that faith. That being said, both religions are quite clear that endangering the lives of others in order to celebrate your faith is simply unacceptable at best – and a defiance of the tenants of that faith at worst.

Please, stay home. Celebrate in your heart, live your faith in your deeds.


A note on comments: I have allowed comments on all of my blog posts, and will do so with this one as well, but will allow no intolerance or attacks.  Please do comment, but remember that you are speaking to a community of many people, many faiths, and many countries.  Remain respectful in your comments and they will be posted – even if they are not in agreement with me.

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