Spirituality and pandemic: “We must relearn to accept weakness and finitude”

The scientists have spoken. The politicians have spoken. But what do religions have to say about the pandemic that the planet has been facing for two years? Anthropologist specializing in political and health crises and member of the Covid-19 Scientific Council, Laëtitia Atlani-Duault met with 14 Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist representatives and intellectuals from France to understand the main lessons of this common ordeal. After an unprecedented intercultural reflection, she proposes in her book Spiritualities in times of pandemic (Albin Michel) a dialogue, 15 voices.

You asked, in March 2020, the representatives of the cults of France to give you their view of the pandemic. Can you explain your approach?

This book is above all the fruit of a collective adventure born just before the first confinement. At that time, the metaphor of the war against the virus imposed itself in the media. Science was often presented there as a strategic weapon making it possible to produce a supposedly unique explanatory model (we saw very quickly that it was not) to shed light on the fight that humanity was waging. However, for those who know the history of epidemics, men, faced with misfortune, will not draw from a single explanatory model but from several. They will also look for meaning in religious thought. It seemed obvious to me that it was necessary to listen to the strong sense of the religious representatives of France.

I therefore contacted the leaders of the major religious communities one by one: Éric de Moulins-Beaufort (president of the Conference of Bishops of France), François Clavairoly (president of the Protestant Federation of France), Mohammed Moussaoui (former president of the Conseil of the Muslim faith), Emmanuel Adamakis (President of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France), Haïm Korsia (Chief Rabbi of France) and Olivier Wang-Genh (President of the Buddhist Union of France). Together, we took silent and thoughtful action on what this pandemic was telling us. We then expanded the group to include, beyond all French religious leaders, intellectuals rooted in each religious community to contribute to this reflection.

You come back at length to the “figure of blame” that arises each time a pandemic strikes humanity. Can you explain?

In the history of epidemics, whether for example the Black Death, but also HIV or even Ebola, we have often seen the appearance of what I effectively call “figures of blame”, that is to say culprits, scapegoats who make it possible, at little cost, to give meaning to misfortune, to contamination and to the possible means of defending oneself against it.

For example, during the Black Death which ravaged almost a third of the European population between 1347 and 1351, similar accusations were noticed across Europe against the men, women and children of Jewish origin who were accused of poisoning wells or streams to spread disease. This gave rise to massacres, sometimes even before the populations were affected by the disease. Rumors spread faster than the virus.

One of the first lessons of this book is to show that in France, with this Covid-19 pandemic, there was no such temptation. On the contrary, we all show that, in order not to let God be extinguished in us, “It is not at the border that we must stand guard but inside so that the heart does not become hardened”, as written by Véronique Margron (president of the Conference of monks and nuns of France). “It is no longer a question of defense or contamination but of a holiness that must be contagious, open to all. This is what we are called to do today. »

So is this pandemic different from others?

It is still too early to know. The pandemic is not over and we will still have to compare our experience with that of other countries. This book, resulting from a humble journey wanted by all, testifies to what a cross-reference can bring from different religions, which often echo each other, wanting to be in touch with the epidemic, the dramas it means, the challenge it represents for living together in France today.

It offers a sharing of convictions and faith, which shows that religions, or rather the human communities that they constitute, are always likely to take responsibility for the event that afflicts them, by reinventing the bonds of brotherhood every day. It will certainly have to be put to the test of international comparison, but first we had to come back to what we experienced here.

What did it teach us about ourselves and our relationship to the Other?

For all authors, what François Clavairoly calls “a requirement of fraternity” imposed itself, whether towards the poorest, the bereaved, those who could not go to the funerals of their loved ones or, more broadly, all those who lived through this period in great solitude. As Eric de Moulins-Beaufort writes, “Courage is not the opposite of fear. Truly courageous are those who, beyond fear, choose to serve the lives of others”.

But it does seem, especially in minority religions, that this requirement of fraternity was perceived both as a requirement that was just as religious as it was republican. During the ordeal represented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Chems-Eddine Hafiz (rector of the Great Mosque of Paris) tells us, “the majority of Muslims have joined forces with France. They were, neither more nor less, Frenchmen like the others, reminding us of this essential maxim: it is in moments of truth that the Republic recognizes its own”. He also calls on this same Republic not to forget the Muslims.

Just like Chems-Eddine Hafiz, Haïm Korsia and Dan Arbib (a specialist in modern philosophy and Jewish studies) do not fail in their texts to specify that the fate of the Jewish community was, initially at least, common to that of the entire French population, before this experience became unique due to the emergence of a question on social networks, the famous: “Who? “. Perhaps a reminder of this temptation to blame?

What does Covid-19 tell us about our relationship to death?

This is one of the other lessons: we must relearn how to accept weakness and finitude, sickness and death, our own and that of others. And relearn how to accompany our dying so, as Bruno Cadoré so aptly puts it (former master of the Dominican order, who did not participate in the book, editor’s note), of “rebuilding together what a real goodbye means”.

What view do the great religious representatives have on our society shaken by the pandemic?

This is an opportunity to see what ordinarily goes unnoticed and, no doubt, to revise our personal and collective priorities. “We have relearned the long time and that nothing is safe from fate”, writes Olivier Abel (Protestant philosopher), “protected from what may just happen.” We will try not to forget it”.

To read : Spiritualities in times of pandemic, under the direction of Laëtitia Atlani-Duault, Albin Michel, €21.90.

Spirituality and pandemic: “We must relearn to accept weakness and finitude”