Covid-19 and the Religious Revival to come

US life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, the largest single year decline since World War II. The decrease for both Black Americans and Hispanic Americans was even worse: three years.

The drop spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 7/21/21 was due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials said is responsible for close to 74 percent of the overall life expectancy decline. Drug overdoses also pushed life expectancy down, particularly for whites. White life expectancy fell by roughly 14 months to about 77 years, 7 months; the lowest life expectancy for whites since 2002.

In an article published December 26, 2020 by Islamicity, I predicted a coming religious revival in the USA based on three recent religious surveys. One was a Pew Research survey of 14 countries with advanced economies and large secular populations. According to the survey in the United States, 28% of Americans said the COVID-19 pandemic made their faith stronger.

Nearly half of white evangelicals in the US (49%) said their faith grew stronger due to the coronavirus outbreak. US Catholics came in second, with 35% saying their faith increased. Among mainline Protestants, 21% said the pandemic bolstered their faith. Even 5% of Americans who do not affiliate with any religion said their faith grew.

“Americans’ greater proclivity to turn to religion amid the pandemic is largely driven by the relatively high share of religious Americans,” the report said. But even in the UK 10% said the COVID-19 pandemic made their faith stronger

Another survey was the “State of Religion and Young People” study, which surveyed more than 10,000 Americans ages 13 to 25 about their involvement in and feelings about religion. Of teens and young adults who were not involved with an organized religion; 60% described themselves as at least slightly spiritual; 19% said they attend religious gatherings at least once a month, and 12% of unaffiliated young people have become more religious in the last five years.

Disaffiliating white Christians fueled the growth of the religiously unaffiliated in the last 15 years. Only 16% of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated in 2007; this proportion rose to 19% by 2012, and then gained roughly a percentage point each year from 2012 to 2017.

Reflecting the patterns above, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans hit a high point of 26% in 2018, but has since declined to 23% in 2020 as reported most recently (07.08.2021) in The 2020 Census of American Religion by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to independent research about religion, culture, and public policy.

This group of 12% of unaffiliated young people who have become more religious in the last five years will lead the next religious revival if the leaders of today’s religions will be open to the desire of young people for religions whose beliefs respect other faiths; and do not claim to be an exclusive we have the ‘only truth’ or ‘only approved by God’ religion.

This is especially important for America’s Islamic and Jewish leaders because non-Orthodox Judaism and moderate Islam are strong proponents of Religious Pluralism: “Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

Now the Jewish Chronicle in London reports an unprecedented surge in converts to Liberal and Reform Judaism during the pandemic. On-line classes appear to be a major factor. Students are based in Glasgow, Blackpool, Sheffield, the West Country, and Wales. Manchester Reform Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen reports they have been “inundated by with conversion inquires during the Covid period.”

Rabbi Sybil Sheridan who runs the Reform movement’s Beit Din said “many students on Reform programs had no Jewish background or marriage plans. It seems that most filed the thought away that someday they would explore Judaism further. The pandemic, ironically, provided that day. They had more time and Covid itself brought intimations of mortality and thoughts of things beyond their material life. I don’t think this trend will reverse and Judaism will be all the stronger for the many well-read individuals who first came to us during this terrible time.”

A survey of over 35,000 Americans in 2008 found that most Americans agree with the statement: many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those affiliated with some religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life.

This view is shared by most adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including 82% of Jews, 79% of Catholics, 57% of evangelical Protestants, and 56% of Muslims. (From the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008, Pew Research Center)

Thus, in the 21st century, in the United States, most Christians, Jews, and Muslims have rejected the ‘only one truth’ religious mindset and believe in the Qur’an’s pluralism teachings: “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had wanted, He could have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another and hasten to do virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah (for judgment), so He will let you know [about] that in which you differed.” [5:48]

Only those who reject God by disbelief or by unrepentant evil activities will be the losers when Judgement Day comes. Although many, perhaps most ‘only one truth’ religious mindset theologians will learn that they might not be as smart as they thought they were.

It is essential to understand that ‘religious pluralism is the will of God’ differs from religious, moral, or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgments.

Thus, issues of justice, truth, or human rights are, like beauty, just in the eye of the beholder. Most people, especially those who believe that One God created all of us, refuse to believe that ethics and human rights are simply a matter of taste. Religious pluralism as the will of God is the opposite of cultural or philosophical relativism.

The fundamental idea of supporting religious pluralism is that religious people need to embrace humility in many religious areas. All religions have always taught a traditional anti self-centered personal egoism type of humility.

Religious pluralism also opposes a religious, philosophical, and self-righteous intellectual egoism that promotes a tendency to turn our legitimate love for our prophet and Divine revelation into universal truths that we fully understand and know how to apply. Religious pluralism teaches that finite humans, even the most intelligent and pious of them, can not fully understand everything the way the infinite One does.

This is true, for every human being, even for God’s messengers themselves. When prophet Moses, “who God spoke with face to face, as a person speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) asks to see God face to face, he is told, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see My face and live.” (33:20)

And when Prophet Jesus was asked, in private, by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus warns his disciples about upheavals and false Messiahs that will come. Then Jesus concluded by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father.” (24:36)

A similar statement was made by Prophet Muhammad when he was asked, “Tell me about the Hour”. He said: “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” (Muslim Book 1 Hadith 1&4)

God taught the general principle of epistemological humility through Prophet Muhammad who taught his followers, “I am no novelty among the messengers. I do not know what will be done to me, or to you.” (Qur’an 46:9) In truth, the only universal truth should be the humility to admit: “Only God knows.”

Another sign of the coming religious revival is the National Catholic Educational Association announcement that nationwide US enrollment in Catholic schools increased by 62,000 to about 1.68 million students, marking the first increase in two decades and the largest jump it has recorded in at least five decades.

As the Jewish Prophet Joel (2:28-29) makes clear: “After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have prophetic dreams; and your young men will see visions. Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days”

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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