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Will religion lead Covid reform?

14 Apr 2020 / 19:02 H.

IN the war against Covid-19, is there anyone drawing up a strategy to restore peace with nature? This coronavirus is the seventh to attack humans. Four common ones usually trigger just a cold and the seasonal flu.

However, the fifth, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) in 2003, set a trend in severity. The sixth, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), hit in 2012 after a gap of nine years from SARS and it frequently led to deadly pneumonia. Now we have Covid 2019 after a gap of seven years from MERS.

What could ambush us five years later? All coronaviruses originate from animals. In destroying forest habitats of wildlife species while deploying assembly-line mass production methods to breed livestock herds and poultry flocks, we are forcing more coronaviruses to invade humans.

Unknown numbers of coronaviruses are circulating in different animal populations that have not yet infected humans. About 75% of disease agents originate in animals and the risk of coronaviruses jumping the species barrier to humans will continue increasing. Transmission of viruses from livestock to humans is possible, as shown in a 2009 epidemiological report.

Yet despite evidence that viral invasions are caused by human destructiveness towards nature, many influential religious preachers live in denial by insisting that Covid-19 is just a test from God to strengthen your faith in Him. Worse are those preachers who exploit fear by sending viral messages aimed at converting non-believers to their religion.

After we get past Covid-19, shall we scrap the movement control order and return to normalcy? The MCO resembles a lawn mower in a lallang patch. While the grass-cutter is busy at work, you stay at home as ordered. But after he’s gone and taken Covid with him, the lallang will grow again. Unless we impose a diet control order as well as put a stop to forest devastation, Covid will return in another strain.

It is the function of religion to lead social transformation. This was its nascent role, as all world religions sprouted in the soil of civilisation less than 7,000 years ago. Humanity itself is 320,000 years old. When hunter-gatherer tribes began amalgamating for survival, mass urban societies were eventually created and civilisation arose. With it came our civilisational religions functioning as superglue to bind all citizens of a civilisation together.

There was one problem though. The political and psychological distancing that separated one civilisation from another created a fatal consequence: spiritual distancing of your religion from my religion. A viral affliction, spiritual distancing has led to warfare between religions and between different branches of the same religion.

Not only did spiritual distancing bar connections between people with opposing religious affiliations, it also distanced civilised people from the original faith common to all hunter-gatherer tribes including the orang asli. The original faith is based on faith in nature as the manifestation of God.

This original belief that God and nature are dual modes of one whole reality did not get lost but was preserved in many scriptures. An integral part of this belief is compassion for animals. Folks in Wuhan may be surprised to learn that China’s major indigenous religion, Confucianism, has strong reservations about meat-eating.

The Works of Mencius contain these verses: “Beasts devour one another, and people hate them for doing so” (Book 1, Pt1, Ch4, v.5). “So is the superior person affected towards animals, that, having seen them alive, he cannot bear to see them die; having heard their dying cries, he cannot bear to eat their flesh” (Ch7, v.8).

If religions continue their spiritual distancing from one another and from the original faith in nature, they will lose their relevance to society. This is the moment of truth: Will religion lead Covid reform?

We need all 12 world religions to form a union and present a resolution to the UN General Assembly calling for global prohibition of forest destruction, ban on wildlife slaughter, and promotion of stem cell labgrown meat to replace the inhumane factory breeding of livestock for dinner.

The coronavirus thrives because it sees only one seamless world. Can our religions see with the eyes of nature? Can they see that God is a seamless reality pervading trees, animals and humanity?

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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