OP-ED Opinions 

COVID-19 And New World Religion: Crisis And Compromise By Leo Igwe

In an earlier article, I have noted the emergence of a new religion, a new global religion, the common-sense religion. I argued that the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic had yielded a religion that departed from the old. This new religion overrules the older religions because in an attempt to contain the virus, old religions capitulated and new rules and ways of living and behaving emerged. A religion of expediency holds sway. Older religions are expected to follow and observe these new religious dictates. I have drawn attention to the fact that this new religion would take over from the existing uncommon sense religions. Uncommon sense religions have been competing and seeking to conquer and dominate nations, and also the world. The pandemic presents a common threat and constitutes a common enemy which existing religions must defeat or go into extinction. Thus the pandemic has forced the warring religions into making compromises, difficult and unprecedented compromises. It has nudged old religions to momentarily shed their uncommon senses. Churches have been used as morgues. Stadia and convention centres have been turned into isolation centres and makeshift hospitals. Companies have been compelled to manufacture face masks and sanitisers not what they have been established to produce. People have been told to work, pray and learn from home.

The new religion has compelled older religions to observe a truce. This truce is a child of necessity that enables older religions to rally together, mobilize resources to defeat and neutralize the common threat. In the face of a pandemic such as the Covid-19, religions in their uncommon senses are endangered, at least that is what it seems. Older religions are momentarily compelled to become a part of a new dispensation, with new set of rituals- washing of hands, wearing face masks, social distancing etc. Being part of the new religious dispensation is a game of survival and renewal for the older religions

As expected the new religion threatens the power bases of the various older religious bodies as it covertly appropriates and chips away their powers, compelling them to shift positions, adjust and abide by the new dispensation. The facility of appropriation of powers does not go down well with the religious authorities, and sometimes the process elicits mixed reactions, resistance, oppositions, protests and defiance.

In a recent interview, Africa’s Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, drew attention to the ‘contraveners of common-sense’ referring to religious bodies that refused to observe the ban on religious gatherings in Nigeria. He blamed the government for negligence and for failing to bring the contravening religious agencies to book. In the new religious dispensation, there are complaints, the faithful who follow the rule, and the contraveners who go against the injunctions. The complaints are the virtuous, righteous ones. They are eulogized. The transgressors are the deviants, the sinners who are excoriated and condemned within the new religious order.

The rule of the new religion is not readily accepted. The injunctions are not automatically obeyed. This is because the new religions cause disequilibrium, and disruptions in religious observance and practice. The new religion overrules everyday observance, creating a new normal that unsettles and discomforts many who are used to the old religious dispensation. While some religious bodies obey and submit to the new religion; others do not. They insist on continuing with the old older, dismissing the imperatives that made the new religion possible as conspiracies.

It must be noted that older religions do not comply because they want to eschew their uncommon sense formations. No, not at all. They comply out of necessity as a temporary step to defeat and get rid of the common enemy. They abide by the new religion not because they have renounced their rigid uncommon elements. Compliance with the new religion is a transient measure, a strategy to survive and to ensure the death and disappearance of the common threat.

As I have noted, there are hardliners, those who refuse to bulge or shift positions. But these hardliners only refuse to shift until they are forced to do so especially when it becomes obvious that their uncompromising stance poses a mortal threat to the society. Any country caught up in this situation finds itself in a crisis, in a dilemma and on the path of self-destruction. This is usually the case in countries with weak governments. 

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country finds itself at a crossroads of old and new religions; of common-sense and uncommon sense. So will uncommon sense overwhelm common-sense as has been the case in Plateau and Katsina states? In Jos, the Izala sect convened to pray despite the ban on religious gatherings. And in Katsina state, an Islamic mob protested and burnt down a police station. Or will the government step forward and enforce the dictates of the new common-sense religion as has been the case in Kaduna and Lagos? In Kaduna, the government arrested two Islamic cleric for organizing public prayers in defiance of the ban and in Lagos the police have been enforcing the closure of bars and public restaurants. 

So which religion overrules at the end of the day? The old or the new? The uncommon or common sense? Only time will tell.

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