By Bola Bolawole
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Max Romeo sang “The more you look the less you see/The less you look the more you see” That appears to be a very apt description of COVID-19 and the shenanigans surrounding it. There have been more questions than answers and it has been controversial all the way; the latest being whether or not the places of worship should reopen now and on what conditions. While the government has said it is now ready to consider re-opening, the conditions it has attached are considered more stringent than IMF’s! Who can meet the conditions even after sweating it out?
The “IMF conditionalities” appear to have been so carefully constructed to ensure that anyone who attempts to scale it will breach it. They are such that if you pass one, you are bound to fail the other. I think the authorities, in places where re-opening is still an issue, in being very careful are being too careful as to become clever by half. It is like, honestly speaking; they do not want re-opening but cannot frontally say so. This is a very sensitive matter because faith and religion is involved. It is spiritual and a matter of the heart. Even in Communist states, it has been very difficult, if not impossible, to legislate faith out of the heart of men. That was one of the hurdles where the Marxists stumbled. Religion may be opium of the people, as Karl Marx rightly posited, but it is opium that the people themselves gobble with their eyes wide open.
Those who have graduated from eating by/at the altar to eating the very altar itself are very influential and powerful, the reason being that we are religious people even if our heart is far away from God. The days when men served God in spirit and in truth are far past; these days, men, in the main, employ the name of God to serve personal and selfish interests. Nothing demonstrates this more than the attitude of many places of worship to the needs of their congregation during this pandemic. How many were truly their brothers – and sisters – keepers?
Unsure of what will happen when the places of worship re-open; the authorities want to put the responsibility for any catastrophe on the religious leaders. It makes sense. If you are insisting that churches and mosques should open before the time the authorities think they should, then, take responsibility! Crying “open, open” but running away from responsibility tantamount to having your cake and eating it! The people cannot be left at the mercy of uncaring religious leaders who have not demonstrated enough care and empathy for their congregation during this pandemic. Let the religious leaders do a vox populi and behold themselves in the mirror!
How many places of religion took good care of their members? Was it not because of hunger that the lockdown was quickly undone by the government? The same government, which realised it could not meet the people’s need during lockdown, also saw how the religions failed woefully to fill the gap. At best, only tokenism was offered and that fell far short of the people’s expectations and needs. Now, the same people still need help. Many still cannot feed on their own without a helping hand; jobs are being lost; and there is virtually nothing for many to do out there. Let’s face it: Going to church becomes added pressure and responsibility. Is that what the government is stylishly trying to prevent? Are we re-opening the places of worship so we can better attend to the existential needs of our people or we are doing so with a view to improving the bottom line?
I wouldn’t know if we have also given consideration to the fact that many of our churches and mosques lack basic amenities such as mere toilet facilities and running water. Basic hygiene is lacking in many homes and public places. I support that the government compels everyone who caters to crowds to provide such facilities before they are allowed to re-open. These are facilities they should have provided in the first place anyway! Facilities that are anxious to reopen must provide adequate and appropriate Personal Protection Equipments like real, and not fake, face masks, quality hand sanitizers, and testing equipments which are not only scare to come by these days but whose prices keep skyrocketing by the day. This must not be left to individuals. The people of the world cut corners. The people of God also now likewise cut corners! You cannot but wonder whether or not/or how many of the places of worship got approval in the first place. Town planning is in shambles here. But if the people of the world are culprits, should the people of God also be accomplices?
There is no denying the fact that the conditions set by the government will terribly constrict the places of worship. Maintaining physical distancing, for instance, will drastically reduce the number of people who attend service. The age limits set for those who should stay away even after the places of worship are reopened – those below 15 and those above 55 or 65 – is also controversial. So also is the duration of service – just one hour! To some church leaders, it is like these conditions were deliberately crafted to make reopening impossible.
I beg to differ! There are plausible explanations for some of them. There may be exceptions, though. For instance, the virus has not been as virulent here as it has been in Europe and America. In the US, it has been more vicious on blacks than on whites. So, COVID-19 protocols and rules that applied in other places may not apply here hook-line-and-sinker. Therefore, some of the stringent rules such as the duration of service may be relaxed – but the places of worship must take responsibility, without the government itself abdicating from its duties! There is work to be done – a lot of it – and both the government and the places of worship must commit to doing so. The authorities and the places of worship must hold each other’s feet to the fire!
Importantly, since churches and mosques have re-opened in some places, why shouldn’t we use those as guinea pigs for the time being?