Plague and Faith

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Plague and Faith

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I began the Plague Year in the heartland of the United States: Rogers, Arkansas. I was towards the end of my two year term of service for my church, which was my full time job from 2018-2020. After spending nearly two years focusing wholeheartedly on Christian and spiritual concepts such as redemption, outreach, transcendence, faith, repentance, covenants, and endurance, my mindset going into the pandemic was admittedly a spiritual one. More specifically, I saw the pandemic as a growing opportunity for the whole world. The key, I thought, was that the coronavirus doesn't discriminate: It can infect you regardless of your race, socioeconomic status, social class, sexual preferences, or gender identity. It is a threat to everyone. Although we later learned that the disease, in fact, does affect people disproportionately, this one tenet of my philosophy- that it poses a threat to everyone- still stands. With this in mind, coupled with my heavily Christian, and moreover religious perspective, I viewed the advent of the coronavirus as a lesson that humanity had the opportunity to learn from. Whether they would take that opportunity, I couldn't say at the beginning, as I had recently seen examples that bolstered my faith in humanity, and also ones that degraded it. This was particularly interesting to consider immediately after exiting the 2010s, a period that many Americans and people of the world view as a tumultuous one. What I can say, however, is that I was optimistic. Even if a divisive political climate, humanitarian crises across the world, the longest war in American history, and a widespread mental health crisis couldn't jumpstart people's empathy for one another, hopefully a worldwide pandemic could.

Looking back after 18 months of plague, I would say that I have observed mixed results. In very visible ways, the world, and particularly the United States, has become considerably more divisive. I look at the rise of conspiracy groups, the charged conversations I've observed related to masks or vaccines, the storming of the capitol, or the events that led to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, and I think that the pandemic has only served to stress people beyond their breaking point. I am disappointed. Now that I am much more involved at a secular institution, in a state university, and much less involved in my church, I often fall into skeptical and even cynical thoughts lamenting humanity's inability to learn a lesson. I revile at the unchecked pride that rules the lives of so many. I look around and see many who would rather be "right" than be objectively correct. These people are my friends, family members, former mentors, and authority figures. Like the Coronavirus, these shortcomings of character have the ability to affect anybody.

I would like to say that I have seen the same results on the other side, that I have seen enough examples of individual acts of courtesy and kindness to offset the vitriol, but I don't know that I can. I also don't know if I can't in good conscience make that observation, the proverbial jury is still out on that one. That will take more time to see. True change is something that stands the test of time, which we haven't had the luxury of observing yet. While the hate, cynicism and conflict that I have previously mentioned are very visible, and immediately announce themselves, change in the perspectives and hearts of people is more of a slow and gradual process, especially considering that the pandemic is not over. I hope to observe in later years that this pandemic defined our generation in a positive way, the same way that our progenitors gained appreciation and humility and grit from the great depression. I know that I, for one, have made efforts to do the same. I suppose that this all comes back to faith- faith that I have that this will one day be worth it. Although my life is a lot more secular these days, I retain the same faithful perspective that I gained volunteering with my religious organization for 2 years, the one that I had at the beginning of the Plague. It has not broken me, and deep down, I don’t truly believe that it’s broken the collective “us”, either.

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This item was submitted on October 4, 2021 by Tristan Cox using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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