Complete with its priests, its acolytes, its zealots, evangelists and pious worshipers. And its symbols and attire. Namely, the mask. Its rituals, namely social distancing. The clapping at one point of course, although that one seems to no longer have quite the urgency that it had a few months ago. The incessant hand washing.
But then other things as well. Magical objects. Such as the scrying mirror that all adherents are obliged to carry with them at all times. This photo is actually a screenfreeze from one of Lincoln Karim‘s amazing New York City videos. The man rides around an almost empty NYC on his bike and shows the state that that once oh-so-amazing city has fallen into. One of the very few crowded places he has found in his wanderings yesterday is the front of the Apple Store on Madison Avenue where people are standing in a long orderly line, properly social distanced and masked, waiting to get their scrying mirrors updated or fixed or whatever.
There are a lot of secular people in Turkey who are extremely allergic to Islam, incessantly worrying that somehow, through some sneaky means, the fundamentalists will take over and Sharia laws will be brought into effect. I am completely bewildered that many of these same people are now ardent adherents of this new religion that has effectively put the entire globe in hijab. I mean, wasn’t hijab one of the things about Islam that they were really scared of?
The complete loss of rationality, which is of course one of the hallmarks of a belief system. Feelings and tales as opposed to facts and figures. Group adherence as opposed to individual dignity. Autonomy – gone! Myths contributing to the holy book that is in the process of being written right now. Tales that fly in the face of all statistics, all evidence, all figures, but that nevertheless cannot be repudiated. It is so, because I feel it to be so. The believer gets some extra little kudos if they can actually share a sad story of someone they know having succumbed to that dreaded thing that the whole religion revolves around – death. And this absolutely cannot be questioned. A German I know tells me someone she knows died horribly. Are you sure it was covid, I ask. Of course she screams back. What else could it be? It was horrible, she wails. Well, I say, the death from covid percentage in Germany is 0.01%. Which makes you unbelievably unlucky to actually have known someone who died from it. Silence. Well, it wasn’t someone I knew personally. It is someone that someone I know knew. But it was still horrible!
And then she adds something that says it all: “But anyway, I don’t give a fuck about those stats! People are dying!” But people die everyday. Of all kinds of things, I say. Thousands of children from hunger everyday. She calls me heartless. We haven’t spoken since then.
Incidentally, she is an architect. Who no longer gives a fuck about stats or facts or figures. Her religion forbids it, you see. She believes. She feels. She belongs. And of course, as a religious person, as a believer, she is now virtuous; but virtuous in a special way – she is part of a collective virtue. And these are reassurances, validations that she did not have in her former secular, “heathen” existence where she was an autonomous being who had to forge her own way, formulate her own values. So much easier now, isn’t it?
I know that calling out what is now happening all around us, this mass conversion into a new belief system, makes a lot of its adherents very angry. But you don’t understand, I am told, people are genuinely afraid. That is why they are doing what they do.
Exactly! They are afraid! And not only afraid, but irrationally so at that. And isn’t irrational fear precisely the thing that all religions get their power from? The fear of the unknown? Of death? Some kind of panacea, some kind of solace which comes from unquestioning belief; no matter how irrational, how absurd, and indeed how ultimately self-destructive the fear itself or the belief system it brings forth may be. Like all religions this new one too is collectivist, crushing the individual who is all too ready to render all authority to the unified group. Contradictions abound in this new belief system. The priests and acolytes say one thing one day and another the next. Promises mean nothing, lies fall blithely from sanctimonious lips. Time and time again the pope himself is caught is smirking at his own atrocities. And yet…
But in a highly materialized global society, especially in Western cultures where huge chunks of populations had already divested themselves from their long-held traditional religions for many many decades, is it at all surprising that there was a huge void waiting to be filled by some kind of new belief system? Especially of a kind that may have some trans-humanist strings attached to it? As in, “maybe we can live forever in the Cloud.” As in, “Death is Unnatural! Can be avoided! We are entitled to infinite longevity if not indeed immortality!” Because isn’t that what it ultimately comes down to? A rejection of death? As a natural thing? Indeed as an ending that actually makes the limited experience here on this earth meaningful? But no, of course not. We want to live for ever. And if the Singularity can get us there – hey ho! And meanwhile we will ardently worship at this new altar of fear.
And so – no, I do not think that this will go away. As I already said, it fills a void that was just sitting there waiting to be filled. So, this new religion is here to stay, I very much fear. It may take hold in some places more than others. It will definitely take hold in some segments of societies more so than in others. But, no I do not think that it will go away. It may transmogrify. Covid may (and probably will) get replaced by something else, in all likelihood by something that will be even more terrifying to these desperate worshipers: This thing is here to stay.
I think I will call it the “stay safe” religion. Or, in Turkish the “kendine dikkat et” religion. The “I will enthusiastically kill my own sovereign being on the altar of infinite longevity!” religion.