[OPINION] The need to reinterpret faith during the pandemic

Marc Gregory Medina
[OPINION] The need to reinterpret faith during the pandemic
'We wallow in a state of confusion. We ask whether or not we are here for a reason. We ask if we even matter. We question God.'

In the absence of clarity, we often quell our dread and confusion with a lift of the chin and a look to the skies, as though we can glean a sense of purpose from the sun — or in the supreme presence we believe resides in a kingdom beyond our reach.

But when even belief in an all-powerful force no longer becomes as compelling, how then do we make sense of things?

The belief in a supernatural power has never been more challenged than it is today. From the moment we wake to the moment we struggle to lull ourselves to sleep, thrust upon us are our gloomy realities.

Coronavirus infections are in the millions worldwide. Unemployment has a stranglehold on the populace. Close relatives perish from the disease — or worse, from starvation. And our leaders remedy these ills with beautification projects that do not address our most pressing needs.

Moreover, we labor with personal pain: derailed dreams, feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt, and the fear for our future. These anxieties often make existence feel like a burden, and in our attempt to rekindle any eagerness to live, we clasp our hands together in the hopes that the Divine can stem the tide.

When faith in the metaphysical is under constant siege of death, violence, and unrest, the burning question is whether or not faith is necessary. However, the problem with wording our dilemma this way is its lack of nuance — considering the thousands of belief systems around the world and how unique our lived experiences are. Maybe the better question we must ask ourselves is: where must we place our faith in a time of crisis?

Many of us abandon faith entirely. We consider blind belief in an imagined deity as the only interpretation of faith, and therefore think it unwise and self-destructive. If there is a god, why would a god allow all of this random suffering to happen, we often ask. Many of us might have been on the verge of pursuing a lifelong dream but were sidelined by the pandemic. Many of us might be scrambling to make ends meet for our families. Many of us might want to end things soon. We wallow in a state of confusion. We ask whether or not we are here for a reason. We ask if we even matter. We question God.

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Because get tired of these blows to our existence, our empathy for others may die out too; taking an active interest in the plight of others might just seem like excess baggage. In our farewell from faith and meaning, we lose hope that a better Philippines could emerge from the rubble soon.

As a defense mechanism, many of us develop a detachment from the world, unknowingly embracing Albert Camus’s absurdist description of the universe as a way of life. We sulk in our rooms, contemplating a meaningless existence, and often end up dismissing life (in the Philippines) as nothing but a burden.

However, this is self-defeating. It is in losing our attachment to people, relationships, virtues, or anything we used to value that more pain manifests – in the form of self-loathing and suicide. With absolute indifference comes a realization that there is no end-goal or purpose to it all.

To address our struggle, we should understand why we are disillusioned by our religious beliefs, and why we wrestle with the absurdity of existence. It is because we place too much premium on what lies ahead — so much so that it robs us of our freedom to live in the present.

Albert Camus’s second book, The Plague, shows us an eerily similar world ravaged by disease. The story follows the beer-chugging, business-minded denizens of the fictional town of Oran as they fall prey to a vicious contagion. Like the real world, the residents of Oran lose their livelihoods, their vices, and their most prized possession: their lives. Like us, they end up struggling to make sense of life. We and the townsfolk of Oran ask about life’s purpose, because it is only during a time of crisis that we actually value our lives. We have been so caught up in the everyday circus, running after the greatest material luxuries we think we deserve, and after an unknowable future, that we barely remember we are alive — presently, today, right now.

Instead of wishing for tomorrow to come sooner, we should derive pleasure from the things available to us. We ought to celebrate the ordinary. We ought to be silly. We ought to dance more. We should make good use of our time with our fellow damned humans — all while the world continues to burn.

In other words, we reinterpret faith not through the masochistic belief in a comfortable afterlife, or by abandoning belief entirely, but by dismantling our confidence in an unforeseeable future, and refocusing our belief to the present — the people, the relationships we have at this moment.

Accepting that we are vulnerable to random extinction breeds a renewed faith in existence.

As our world crumbles, many of us rankled by a lack of purpose are frustrated not because we realize God is fiction, or because we feel like we do not matter in the grand scheme of things, but because we rationalize our lives on a version of the future. And when that expected endpoint starts falling apart prematurely, we let our peace shatter to pieces as well, disregarding the thousand reasons that make life rich in meaning, which are oftentimes the things we take for granted or dismiss as trivial.

Perhaps in these trying times, we have to rediscover the hidden wonders of the mundane. In volatile situations, we ought to let go of what is yet to happen and relish in the comforts of the concrete, the noticeable, and the heartfelt. In moments that challenge our faith in the uncertain, we ought to redirect our faith to the certain — the now. –

Marc Gregory D. Medina finished his Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education, Major in English at Philippine Normal University. He is a freelance writer, a freelance online English teacher, and a former debate coach and member of the Philippine Debate Union.