Across the world, certain religious leaders have insisted on keeping their churches open, despite understanding the need for physical distancing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their reasoning, of course? Because “God” expects them to.
I am not just a theist, but a Kemetic-based polytheist; so I not only believe in one god, I acknowledge several. In polytheism, our gods are not considered perfect. They are much greater than us, but even they have their limitations, and no one expects this to be otherwise. Sometimes the gods do not agree with each other; sometimes they make mistakes, and sometimes they are in the wrong. There are situations where human beings are entirely justified in turning their backs on a divinity, if they think the god or goddess in question is behaving like an asshole. This idea that we must always be “beholden” to the gods, that we are just their slaves or their playthings and must suffer every form of abuse they throw at us, is both foreign and revolting to someone of my spiritual persuasion. And one reason I love Set so much is because He enjoys reminding His fellow gods they are all fallible somehow, especially when they get too full of themselves.
So when I am presented with this idea of some all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Creator demanding that people risk a global pandemic just to prove their faith in him, I can only shake my head. If the monotheist god is as powerful as he is so often asserted to be, I’m pretty sure he can hear his worshipers’ prayers from the safety of their own homes, whether they’re praying alone, with their families, or with fellow believers on the phone or the internet. The idea that anyone must physically enter any particular building to reach such a god is ridiculous. For Duat’s sake, MY god can hear me wherever I am, and I’ve never claimed He is perfect. Even if there is some entity out there harassing people to risk infection just to appease its ego, that ego can’t belong to anything good. It must belong to either a deity who’s gotten too big for their britches (and who’s just ASKING for a reckoning from Set), or to a qlipha that wants people to endanger themselves so it can feed on their misery (in which case, it’s STILL begging for a bitch-slap from Big Red). Shaming people for prioritizing safety over ritual is wrong, regardless of whether it’s just human religious leaders or actual theological beings that are doing the shaming.
That being said, there is absolutely no good reason for most churches to remain open to the public right now, except for those that actually serve the homeless or high-poverty communities. I can see how those churches might still be essential if they are actually feeding people and providing them shelter (which must be a nightmare for their personnel right now; gods bless them). But all those megachurches with the slick pastors preaching their prosperity gospels? They are perfectly capable of serving their members remotely, even if some members can’t afford things like internet. Of course, this would require them to sacrifice their precious mansions and luxury jets so they can hire people to go to all their members’ homes and pray with them at least six feet away from their front doors (preferably while gloved and masked). Even the Roman Catholic Church could up its game by selling all that priceless art and real estate they have at the Vatican and using the revenue to provide technology for families who can’t already attend church from home. Yes, I understand such views are “radical” and would never fly; but you can always buy new mansions or commission new art when the crisis is over. Every effort should be made to bring church to people at home right now, not the other way around, and leaders who refuse to take this matter seriously are literally a menace to society.
If I had a physical temple (ha ha), the property would be closed to the public right now, and our space would be offered to any surrounding hospitals that desperately need room for patients. (I’m sure it would fill up very quickly.) Only doctors and patients and legal personnel would be allowed on the property, as needed. All church events would be transitioned to a remote setting, and members would be strongly encouraged to stay home as much as possible. No one would be told they must leave their home or come to temple just to make Set happy or whatever. Plus, most Setians already practice apart from each other as it is. I know people are sad about the Pope giving Palm Sunday services to an empty room, but spiritual practice in isolation has been the norm for people like me since the Roman Empire outlawed Paganism and forced all the polytheist temples to close (upon pain of death) in the fourth century CE. So forgive me if I find the claim that “people can’t church right from home” a little maudlin and overdramatic. It ain’t what I’d call optimal, but some of us already “church from home” all the time (whatever that might mean in context). In our current situation, people shouldn’t listen to ministers who insist that they must go to church; people should instead insist that the ministers bring church to THEM in ways that are responsible and safe. And if they can’t deliver this for any reason (understandable or not), it’s time to find another minister.