Stella Dimoko Coronavirus And Religion


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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Coronavirus And Religion

Whenever man is confronted with a terrifying aspect of the world in which he lives, his natural instinct is to seek to understand the new phenomenon and bend it to his will.

 Pre-historic man opted for ritual as a means of mollifying and dominating his environment, but man soon moved from the age of rituals to the age of science, the advancement of which conferred on mankind enormous powers of manipulation and exploration, and the illusion of omnipotence. The paradox, however, is that the more man conquers his space, the more he is confronted with the realization that there is still a lot about the world that he is yet to know. Science has helped man, but it has also failed him, and each time man is confronted with yet another unknowable, he falls back on his primordial code of religious ritual.

Man also tries to tame nature, still, Nature continues to show him that there is something else that is beyond man. The limits of science that man has experienced is a reminder of the fact that man with all his intelligence cannot alter the Order of Things and of Nature. It is therefore instructive that the current Corona Virus pestilence has been traced to man’s tampering with animals: eating all kinds of animals, from snakes to bats, selling them in the markets, both clean and unclean animals, against the order of nature. When man engineers and suffers for his own vulnerability, he simply attributes the occurrence to a mysterious force, and at that moment, he remembers the superiority of the Cosmos and of an Original force that he refers to as God, and worships through the vehicle of religion.

This has been an aspect of COVID-19. Religion has played a prominent role in the spread and containment of the disease, as cause and effect, as explanation, as obstacle and as balm and risk, with clear indications of the conflict between religious freedom and public good. 

 It is noteworthy that shortly after the formal announcement of the incidence of COVID-19 in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China on December 31, 2019, the next major item on the Chinese calendar was a religious, cultural and traditional event, the Lunar New Year, the Festival of the Spring, preparations for which actually begins as early as December 23 or 24. Contemporary attitudes to religion in China are mixed and ambivalent, but even those who insist that the Chinese Lunar New Year is strictly cultural – a holiday period, a time to re-unite with family - do not overlook its religious overtones: the spirituality of it as evidenced by the “send off of the Kitchen God”, praying to the Jade Emperor God (the Bai Tian Gong), ancestral worship, visits to temples, the firing of loud firecrackers, and the staging of the Dragon Dance to scare off evil spirits. China may proclaim state atheism as an ideology, but the people are deeply religious at heart.

At the commencement of the COVID-19 pestilence, religion was the first victim. China promptly shut down many parts of the country. The Lunar New Year 2020 could not be celebrated. No temple was opened. No dance or festival could take place. Persons who had travelled from one part of the country to the other to observe the two-week Lunar New Year festivity were stranded either in transit or behind closed doors. For me, this was the first indication of the meeting point between COVID-19 and religion. Lunar Year 2020 – the Year of the Dog - is the dullest ever in more than 100 years. The people of China complied. They did not insist that the world will end if they did not send off “the Kitchen God.” Nobody protested that they must have “the Dragon Dance.” People moving beyond superstitions and obeying the call of science is important in the war against pandemics.

As the virus embarked on a trans-national journey, we encountered other scenarios elsewhere. South Korea was the next major stop for the virus after China. As COVID-19 sero-prevalence in that country jumped drastically, it was observed by the authorities that religion was a major obstacle. South Korea which had successfully combatted the SARS-Cov epidemic, with its highly sophisticated medical facilities, suddenly found itself unable to check COVID-19. The figures climbed daily and the highest numbers were reported from the Daegu region. Eventually, the explosion in numbers was traced to a Christian group known as the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious group that is regarded as a cult. Even the Catholic Church called for a dissolution of this occultic church where members refuse to obey rules of social distancing, and hence endanger themselves and others. The 88-year old leader of the group, Lee Man-Hee and 11 others are likely to be charged for homicide and violation of the Infectious Disease and Control Act. Angry South Koreans want the church disbanded. But it was not only in South Korea that religion presented itself as a risk.

In various parts of the world, believers have become slaves of the faiths that they profess, and ignored the warnings of health authorities and political leaders. On the Muslim side, believers, in search of COVID-19 protection, trooped to holy sites in Saudi Arabia to kiss the Kaaba and receive cure, protection and salvation. The Saudi government has since suspended pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, and is considering cancelling this year’s Hajj. Even the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem has been shut down. In Iran, an epicenter of outbreaks, home to major Shiite shrines, the authorities, after weeks of resistance and denial, have finally shut down shrines in Mashdad and Qum. Across the Middle East, Friday prayers have been cancelled. All major holy sites of the Islamic religion are on lockdown. In India, where the people love religious rites like Lollipop, the government cancelled the annual festival in honour of Lord Rama in Ayodha. In Iran and India, the people protested. They were not pleased at all. On the Christian side, churches across the Western world and elsewhere have been shut down. In Italy, another epicentre of the outbreak, and home of the Vatican, Catholic Mass has also since been cancelled. Even the Pope now conducts virtual Mass. In one church in Italy, members of the congregation were asked to send family pictures. Family portraits replaced human beings in church. Corona Virus has changed the mode of worship and everything else.

In Africa, the response of religious leaders to COVID-19 has been for the most part, ridiculous, if not absurd, with only a few voices of reason in-between. It is difficult to overlook the opportunism of these African religious leaders. The first pattern that emerged was that of many religious leaders, mostly Christian Pastors claiming that they had predicted the Corona Virus affliction or that they have an idea of what the cure would be. Nigerian clergymen – Prophet G.F. Adetuberu and Prophet T.B. Joshua were said to have predicted Corona Virus long before it happened, and their followers provided video evidence to that effect. The latter Prophet would later speak up when he predicted that COVID-19 will disappear after a heavy rainfall on March 27. Many Nigerians looked forward to that rainfall on March 27. People tend to believe pastors and astrologers in Africa. On March 27, there was no heavy rainfall, and the number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria has increased geometrically since then!

Other Pastors have also offered solutions. By February 5, a Ghanaian Pastor, Daniel Obinim, CEO of the International God’s Way Church launched a Corona Virus Anointing Oil which he claimed would cure the disease. A bottle of the oil costs 200 Ghanaian Cedis (about 37 US dollars) and according to him, it has been approved by the “heavenly department of the FDA”. Obinim would later deny the claim. But there has been no denial yet from a Kenyan colleague of his, Climate Irungu Wiseman, founder of the Bishop Climate Ministries in Camberwell, London who is also selling a protection oil called Plagues Divine Protection Oil, at the rate of 91 pounds per bottle. Bishop Climate claims that his oil works and he has since sold over 1, 000 bottles. In Nigeria, Pastor Elijah Ayodele also says he has found a Corona cure: holy water and anointing oil- the only difference is that he is willing to give out his solution free of charge. It is not only African pastors that are guilty. Pastor Kenneth Copeland says he can blow Corona Virus away. Pastor Jim Bakker, another US televangelist claims he can cure corona virus too.

The effect is that across the world, the religious right has been defying stay-at-home restrictions to hold vigils and prayer sessions in the belief that Corona Virus can be cured through supernatural means. They have in many countries received the support of political leaders. In the last month, the Presidents of the United States, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa have declared National Days of Prayer. The Vatican is not left out. On March 27, Pope Francis declared a Special Day of Prayer. He was joined by Catholics worldwide. Religious groups have also declared special days of fasting and prayers. This may be an expression of faith and social solidarity, but it has also prioritized superstition over science. It has also prompted many church-goers to reject the health guidelines on Corona virus and insist that they are covered by “the blood of Jesus”. But of all the claims by Pastors that I have read about, the most ridiculous would be that of a certain Nigerian Prophet, Dr. Goodheart Val Aloysius, the Metropolitan Senior Pastor of Father’s House International Church in Calabar. “My Father, My Father” as he is otherwise known, has called on the Nigerian government to gather all COVID-19 patients in the country together in one place and on Monday, April 13, he will pray for them and they will all be healed. He says if he fails, the government of Nigeria should ‘hang” him. It will be nice to see a rope around the neck of many of these Pastors who have been misleading people. The Federal Government should take him up on his offer, and get the hangman ready.

So far, security agents have had cause to disperse worshippers who fail to obey the rules of social distancing, but perhaps the time has come for religious leaders to be arrested and punished. In Lagos, Nigeria, two Pastors have generated even more disturbing controversies by claiming to know the source and nature of the Virus. On March 27, Pastor Johnson Suleman of the Omega Fire Ministries was reported as having said that the virus is a “chemical weapon” invented by the Chinese to embarrass US President Donald Trump. He added that the disease is spread through testing and hence, Christians should not go for testing or use any Corona vaccine, lest they are turned into slaves under a New World Order. The dust had hardly settled on Apostle Suleman’s conspiracy theory when another famous Pastor, Chris Oyakhilome stretched the New World Order Theory further by announcing that there is a connection between 5G technology and Corona Virus and that the Nigerian Government is laying 5G fibre cables in Abuja and Lagos to promote an anti-Christ agenda. Whatever may be the purpose of these Pastors making all kinds of claims, they have not been helpful at all. Corona Virus has turned pastors into scientists, herbalists and historians. They should be called to order!

The bigger problem may well be that political leaders are also buying into the spiritual narrative and after days of lock-down in Nigeria, many state Governors are beginning to lower their guards. Last week, the Katsina state government announced that it had lifted the ban on Friday Jumaat prayers. In Bauchi state, the state Governor Bala Mohammed who tested positive for COVID-19, and later tested negative, went straight to the mosque for Friday prayers. The pictures did not show him observing social distancing! Some other states in fact more or less suspended the stay-at-home order. In Abia, Ebonyi, Ondo, Ekiti, and Niger states, Christians were told they could go to church for Easter. Ondo state has since done a volte-face after recording a second Corona case. In Abia, the excuse is that the state has no reported case of COVID-19. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in fact boasted that there will be no COVID-19 in the state because it is the only state in Nigeria that is mentioned in the Bible! Ikpeazu has a Ph. D in Biochemical Pharmacology. Corona Virus is beginning to make ordinarily intelligent people sound strange. On Friday, mosques in the Middle East were empty. On Sunday, the Pope conducted Easter Mass in an empty Cathedral. Africans are busy carrying received religion on their heads! If they were making original and informed statements, we would understand, but most of them are merely imitating the ultra-religious right in Europe and North America without making an effort to think.

The duty of the religious community and its leaders is to support the people and lead them aright, not to use Holy Books to promote disease, murder and suicide. But let us reserve words of commendation for those religious leaders who have demonstrated leadership and commonsense. Some churches and mosques, in the face of it all, have contributed in cash and kind to the war against COVID-19, in addition to the direct distribution of relief materials to aid the poor. I also salute those Nigerian Pastors who have refused to join the 5G conspiracy theory and any such other theories.

 In Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike, on Thursday, April 9, held a state-wide broadcast in which he relaxed restrictions on religious gatherings for Muslims and Christians in the state. The Catholic Church in the State opposed the Governor’s directive and asked its congregation to stay home and stay safe. That is leadership.

 No political leader should politicize COVID-19. Wike eventually reversed himself. At the appropriate time, there will be need to look at the heroes and villains of the Corona Virus season, surely most of the villains will be political and religious leaders who opted for myth, conspiracy, superstition and witchcraft.

 Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has extended the lockdown order in Ogun, Lagos and the FCT. Ekiti state has also done so. Religious bodies must comply.
By Reuben Abati


  1. Replies
    1. Hmmmmm, just scrolled to the end to see who wrote before I decide to read and since it Reuben πŸ‘πŸΎ: can someone summarise please πŸ₯΄πŸ˜

  2. Rubbish. Just scroll down !

    1. Rubbish? Did you even "try" to read it? If you did, you can disagree without using the word "rubbish". I honestly don't understand how we all got here.

      Why can't we contribute without insults? Why can't we "make an effort to THINK" before we speak, write, act?. Aren't there decent words out there anymore?.

    2. Rubbish!! Kwa. Do you attempt to read few lines at all.

      He stated the truth. Alot of pastors and Imams were adamant initially and refused to adhere to the social distancing except RCCG..

    3. Intellectually lazy people often disagree with abusive expletives.

    4. I think its high time Nigerians start to read, and change the terrible impression others have of us. Remember, if you want to hide something from a black man..........

    5. I came across a poster which read as stated below:

      The spread of the corona virus is largely based on two factors-

      1) How dense the population is;
      2) How dense the population is;

      I agree πŸ’―%!!!!!

    6. Rubbish and yes I read it. Waste of my previous time. Not your fault, na Covikk one nine cause am

    7. "The spread of the corona virus is largely based on two factors-

      1) How dense the population is; = SIZE
      2) How dense the population is; = INTELLECT

      Very true.

  3. Nice read.
    Happy to know that you said "religion helped spread the disease" but not "faith in Christ". Faith in Christ is not a religion. Religion is man's attempt to define, delineate and find his ways to God. Christ is the way and faith in Christ is God's offer of salvation to mankind through Christ.
    To follow Christ does not mean to be foolish, but to imbibe God's standard of wisdom; faith expressing himself through love. Even Jesus lamented that
    he will reject the likes of that Ghanaian "pastor" you mentioned because he worked iniquity. (Matthew 7:23). He never acted in love (of God and mankind). He acted in love of his pockets.
    Hope you understand the difference.

  4. Nice read. I've missed your write ups Mr. Abati.

  5. Religion aside,corona one side too. I believe in God but don't tempt God. Listen and obey. Faith plus works is nothing. Common sense is needed and not God everytime

  6. Nice one Mr Abati.
    I thought a pastor from Naija once said he can cure covid 19.

    1. I remembered one shouting then, that he wanted to go to China to heal the sick, since the virus has been detected here, I no see him again.
      Yeye people calling themselves pastor.

  7. I always read Dr Reuben Abati's write ups. Some, I agree with.

    This however, is spot on. A number of points jumped at me.

    One statement that bothers me all the time from reading comments on social media platforms is that people seem not to be making any effort to think. Dr Abati could not have written this better.

    I worry, not because we have opposing views; as we should. But some arguements leave me dazed. I keep asking, are these the future leaders. Are we equipped? Is this what we have to offer when we eventually get to positions of authority?


    1. Correcting my error:

      Argument. Not arguement.

    2. Exactly the future seem dim with what we have in our society at the moment, foul language every where. No depth but claiming as if we know it all.very very sad and depressing situation.

  8. "People moving beyond superstitions and obeying the call of science is important in war against pandemics".This is a wake up call to all religious leaders especially in Africa.

  9. ‘Corona Virus is beginning to make ordinarily intelligent people sound strange.’

    This got me. But I guess that is how Apostle Paul would have sounded after his trip to Damascus. Not holding forth for all these politicizations and conspiracies flying up and down, but there is more than meets the eye in this pandemic, and whoever would attempt to explain it would sound ‘strange’.

    But before we attempt to explain, we have to first be safe.

  10. Religion is not faith in Christ... Safety first before service to humanity.

  11. I gave a fried looooong rope when she kept saying coronavirus will never see her and her family because they're covered with the blood of Jesus while refusing to get hand sanitizers, Obey that social distance rule, and was even shaking people up and down. We know you know Christ, you believe in him but that doesn't mean you should stupidly put your life and those around you in danger.

    I ran Abeg. Cannot come and die on top someone else's Ignorance.

    1. Hand sanitizer and social distancing won't save you. It is Christ who saves. I agree with her. A lot of us are so interested in how long we live on earth but less concerned about eternity.

      Yes, if you are covered with the blood of Jesus Coronavirus can to affect you. I repeat, if you are covered with the blood of Jesus Coronavirus virus cannot affect you. You could test positive and you won't feel sick. That's the power of the blood.

    2. Anon, 14:31,you are such a dolt,hand sanitizers wont save you?,only blood of jesus?,why are Africans so blind and stubborn.go to the isolation centre in lagos and scream the blood of jesus there,let's see how far,all these religious covidiots.dundee.

  12. I see the line he is trying to draw, "Religion" & politics, but he fail to mention the most alarming one which is HUNGER. I have observed that hunger has been one driving force why people are living their homes. I may not go to church for months or listen to any politicians for years but I am finding it difficult to endure hunger of one day not to talk of two weeks. He seems to write like a learned man but lake common sense.

  13. I love this write up. I am amazed when I see supposedly intelligent people sounding stupid because of religion. There are so many instances in the Bible, where quarantining, isolation and lockdown occurred. Yet the modern Christian is trying to be more religious than the Bible. Reducing churches to building. The people are the church not the building. Abi we claim Christ is the Groom of the church. Christ is not the groom of some church building, but the collective body of the people of God.

  14. Religion has messed up the mind of many Nigerians, they can't even think or do anything for themselves, whatever their pastors says is the final even if he or she is not making sense.

  15. Quintessential Ruben Abati.

  16. Dr. Reuben Abati is the man! Gosh, do you guys take judicial notice of his versatility, knowledge and craftsmanship.
    Abati is so current that his writing flows with ease and illuminates the minds of the readers.

    1. Da epic pen,

      Dr Abati's versatility isn't by accident.

      He is a seasoned writer with certification in journalism, a learned lawyer,PHD graduate of theatre arts specialising in dramatic literature, theory and criticism and the least of these achievements in my opinion is his most recent foray into the murky waters of politics. Dr Abati, you broke my heart. Lol.

      As I have always written in my responses to his love letters, I enjoy the way he spins his stories. Right from the days of the guardian newspaper.

      I disagree with a lot of his views but this does not take away from the brilliance in which he delivers his lines.

      Law+journalism+theatrics= a mentally stimulating read.

      Thanks Stella for doing your best to educate us directly or indirectly.

      Some BV's though! Kai!!!!

  17. @Don not only pastors but Iman too,once you hear Christianity your body will be doing you somehow ,try and be specific.thanks.

  18. The Governors are not lowering their guard because of their religious beliefs. They are playing politics with religion - submitting to their over religious constituents and the leaders of religious sects because of the next election.

  19. Reuben Abati please go back to Aso Rock. I have no intention of reading anything written by this bloody hypocrite.

  20. Dr Abati got me on this one, some opposition borrowing brains


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