At the end of November 2020, Croatia introduced more rigorous measures in response to the growing number of COVID-19 patients and the number of deaths. Among the measures, closing all cafes and restaurants stand out. The measures also apply to church gatherings to celebrate Holy Mass, allowing gatherings of up to 25 people.
Acknowledging how measures are for the good of all citizens, certain individuals in the media negatively criticised particular measures in that decision, wondering how it is that shopping centres can work, and Advent stands in open city squares are not allowed? Questions were also asked about how it is that cafes are closed so that people do not gather, but faithful are allowed to gather in churches?!
The first type of argument against the measures compares trade activities, and the comparison takes place at somewhat the same level. The second type of complaint also seems to work on the same level - for some, going to a coffee shop may be just as important as going to church; or, some cannot earn money for wages and existence, while others are allowed to gather in "religious temples" from which society has no benefit?
But is that really the case - are compared social activities at the same level and importance? In the next part of this blog, we would like to stress the argument that the religious life of citizens is not at the same level as the previously mentioned examples from everyday social life.
Human religiosity is recognized as an essential factor in human health and the overall well-being of the individual. Numerous scientific studies have shown that one of the greatest sources of stress for the human psyche is the feeling of insecurity, meaninglessness and disorder in the world. Religiosity and spirituality are recognized as an important factor in finding meaning in the life situation in which we find ourselves (be it a pandemic, economic insecurity, war…) and contributes to a sense of peace, order and meaning. In this way, religion contributes to the health of the individual, which is extremely important in the "new normal". Scientific research is also devoted to other benefits of human religiosity: in the fight against depression (an increasingly present phenomenon during a pandemic), anxiety, and suicidal thoughts; during the process of recovery from illness; it increases longevity; stability of family and marriage… An additional argument is that during this pandemic more and more people turn to and seek solace in religion. Religiosity gives people faith, hope, purpose, and develops trust and endurance. These are all moments that have a positive impact on the human psyche and body, and thus strengthen the overall human health.
When we look at all these scientific factors, then we recognize that in public discussions of pandemic measures, religious life cannot be observed on the same level and compared with some other, everyday moments of social life we also hold important or just so dear to us. Trying to take an objective view of religious practices, science very clearly points to the positive benefits of such activities and the importance they have for individuals. Therefore, in public debating about certain aspects of measures that are for the good of the whole society, we cannot compare all social activities in the same way. Through this conclusion, awareness of the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right is also re-emerging.
Certainly, this does not mean that we hold that religious gatherings should be completely excluded from measures combating the pandemics. It is extremely important that the government services take care of the safety of believers during religious ceremonies, meaning that experts who propose and adopt measures for the common good of the whole society carefully evaluate the measures related to religious life. On the other hand, believers have a civil and moral duty to take care of themselves, their loved ones and others – especially the older ones, and accordingly carefully assess the possibilities of participating in religious life if it is allowed at all by the active measures.
There is a biblically inspired old Croatian saying that reads: "Beware and God will protect you."
dr Saša Horvat
University of Zagreb
We invite you to comment on this post on our Facebook profile: