God and the Pandemic

Dec 23, 2020 by

by Joel Kotkin, Quillette:

During this most miserable of years, religion, like virtually every major social institution, has been profoundly disrupted. There have been church closures and the ranks of outdoor—or socially distanced—worshipers represent a mere fraction of those who engaged before. Yet the pandemic may also mark a critical breaking point, leading to profound changes in how spirituality is experienced and sustained. In some senses, we are witnessing a shift as important as that brought about by Guttenberg’s press and Luther’s vernacular Bible during the Reformation. As sociologist and historian Max Weber suggested, these developments overturned the notion that “magic and the supernatural quest for salvation” belonged to the Latin-speaking priesthood.1 The pandemic and the flood of new online spiritual offerings have combined to transform religious life in much the same way.

This will be a disruptive and painful transition for many established religious institutions; empty pews and church closures augur what Fordham’s David Gibson has called a “religious recession.” COVID-19 restrictions, some research suggests, could end up eliminating five percent of America’s churches this year, particularly smaller congregations, particularly in poor, rural, or remote areas. But Gibson points out that other commentators believe that the current disruption is more likely to usher in an era of religious reawakening and revival in which people reject organized faiths but maintain some spiritual values. Today, fewer people than ever attend church, but two-thirds of unaffiliated Americans polled by Pew still believe in God or some kind of “universal spirit.” Increasingly, these searchers address their spiritual needs online, at home, and through specific programs.

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