The most recent data released by one of the most reliable research institutes in the world, the Coronavirus Resource Center of the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, speaks of more than 162 million cases of Covid-19 infections and more than 3.5 million deaths in the world. If we add to this dramatic epidemiological description the social, financial, economic and political elements of distress and instability this virus has introduced, we easily understand that the true significance and reach of this pandemic still eludes us. The impact is tremendous and devastating in a more organic and not always visible and measurable way. There will be a “before” and an “after” the pandemic, for us all. Our life will not be the same; it can’t be the same. The existential, psychological, and anthropological effects are profiling a new way of being in the world. A new sense of what we are and who we are is emerging and this has to do with the discovery of a new sense of vulnerability.
The sense of vulnerability is not an ethical virtue, an exceptional anthropological trait. It is not given by the power of a shrewd and incisive introspection. It is essentially given by the presence of the other, by the opening to the other. It is the other that awakens in us the sense of our incompleteness and our vulnerability. But today this vulnerability revealed to us by a virus makes us feel uncomfortable and embarrassed because we fear it and we don’t know what to do with it. As the German sociologist Harmut Rosa says, we have built societies with “resources” but without real “relationships”. And the first thing that real “relationships” produce in us is a very beneficial sense of vulnerability. In both directions, vulnerability in our life that pushes us towards others in trust and vulnerability in the lives of others that pushes them to open up and trust themselves to us. Vulnerability creates reciprocity, affections that reach us from others and emotions that starting from us touch others.
What should religions say in this crisis? Anything. The less we say, maybe the better. Our zeal and diligence, the sense of our own mission and our obsession with a synthetic and all-encompassing vision of history and life, which often lead us to compulsively pronounce what we believe to be pearls of wisdom or decisive words, would be best curbed, contained, and suspended momentarily. This could even become a sign of wisdom recovered in extremis. This virus is teaching us, even as believers, many new and different things about the world, about ourselves, and about others that we thought we knew well. For example, the fact that we are like others, neither more nor less. We have no anthropological or medical privileges. We can be affected like others in the same way. Our doctrinal advantage, what does it give us in addition really? And the doctrinal ignorance of those who don’t believe, what does it actually take away from them? Isn’t the discovery of this unexpected human solidarity, revealed by a virus, like Balaam’s donkey, in essence, good news brought by an atypical messenger? It certainly is, because it reminds us once again of the transversality and indelible solidarity of the human condition that cannot be tampered nor deleted by any ideology or denominational belonging. Should not this belief be at the heart of every religious message?
This virus is teaching us that faith, if nourished by love, does not schematize either life or people – even less God or the Bible, and that the essence of love is expressed in the incompleteness of one’s own experience of faith which pushes us towards others with confidence. This is the essence of an atypical, vulnerable and empathetic religiosity, not muscular, not overbearing, not boasting, which we need urgently to make our own in this particular moment of our history.