Christianity's unseen help against Coronavirus

‘The risk of death involving COVID-19 is highly correlated with age. After adjusting for age males and females from the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh religious groups are at greater risk of a death involving COVID-19 compared with those identifying as Christian. Among Muslim males, the rate was 2.5 times greater than that for Christian males, while for females it was 1.9 times greater’. (Office for National Statistics ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) 'Related deaths by religious group England and Wales 2 March to 15 May 2020)'.

BAME people (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) are among those to have priority in the distribution of the first vaccine against Covid-19. This is because of their vulnerability and the disproportionate numbers of BAME people who have died due to Covid-19.

British Heart Foundation research concluded that ‘34% of confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 32% of deaths in intensive care are amongst people of black and ethnic minority background (BAME), according to statistics from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This compares with 14.5% of the total population who are of ethnic minority backgrounds (based on Office for National Statistics 2016 population estimates). Deaths from coronavirus are measured in different ways, so looking at death rates among people of ethnic minority background does vary according to which statistics you use’.

Office for National Statistics research recently concluded that black people are 1.9 times as likely to die as white people, Bangladeshi and Pakistanis are 1.8 times as likely to die and Indians are around 1.5 times as likely to die from Covid-19 (June 2020, BBC website). Analysis from Public Health England showed that once in hospital, people from BAME backgrounds are also more likely to require admission to an intensive care unit. BAME people accounted for 11% of those hospitalised with Covid-19 but over 36% of those admitted to critical care. Separate research has found that South Asian people were the most likely to die from Coronavirus after being admitted to hospital in Great Britain. The study, which looked at nearly 35,000 Covid-19 patients in 260 hospitals, said high levels of diabetes were partly to blame. Health issues, living conditions and occupation could all have played a role. Importantly it added that while there is no conclusive evidence that minority groups are more at risk from the disease, some are more likely to have certain underlying health conditions. Black people are more likely to be overweight than white people, for example, while both Asian and black populations have been found to have a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Of the National Health Service's 1.2 million employees 20% are from BAME backgrounds.

These analyses and conclusions have been conducted at the physiological level, understandably so. No-one can claim that white people are physically stronger than black people. The success of black Olympic athletes makes this clear. The fastest 100 metres runners have been Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin. All are black. Florence Griffith-Joyner, the fastest woman in the world over 100 metres is black. Strength and endurance events such as the marathon are dominated by black men Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, Birhanu Legese, Mosinet Geremew and Dennis Kimetto. Brigid Kosgei the fastest female marathon runner is black. The greatest boxer ever was Muhammad Ali. 35% of English Premier league footballers are black though black people represent only 3% of the overall population of the UK.

Could there possibly be another dimension to this problem? Could it lie in the area of the inner being, the soul, the spirit, the mind? Is there different resilience resulting from different belief systems? Has near 2000 years of Christianity built in greater resistance to disease? Has its teaching, practice and sacraments had a positive effect on the unconscious, sub-conscious collective depth soul of many people? Even if this is unacknowledged publicly may there still remain a residual capacity to overcome illness? Practising confessing Christians are certainly fewer now than before but the national departure from Christianity is only one or two generations old. Near 2000 years of effect takes longer to eradicate. Those in ‘non religious’ categories have therefore benefited from Christianity’s presence also.

How might this have happened? One working hypothesis can be based upon Jesus’ own descriptions of himself: ‘the Father and I are one’, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ and ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. Supposing these are true statements. Add the words of Holy Communion, celebrated from the very first days of the Christian Church and continuing to this day. ‘This is my body which is broken for you. This is my blood which is shed for you’. Then further consider the element of the Holy Spirit given to the world via the first Christian community. These have specific powerful dynamics connecting our origins with our existence in a positive, helpful and healing way through the centuries.

Now suppose that other religious claims and interpretations while containing merits do not approximate to Jesus Christ. Suppose the basic characteristics of Buddhism do not offer personal relationship with God. Suppose that Islam is a retrogression from Christianity and not its fulfilment, dispensing as it does with vicarious redemption and love in favour of divine distancing from incarnation requiring daily rituals and justifying violence in mission. Suppose that Hinduism with its multifarious gods and goddess is a luxuriant human indulgence rather than an objective expression of relationship with our Maker. Would adherents of these alternatives to Jesus Christ be vulnerable in their individual, family and collective soul being? Is the irrationality of behaviour seen often on our TV news bulletins from middle eastern peoples, the hysteria, the weeping and wailing, the daily outpouring of anger and calls for vengeance suggestive of a vulnerability to more than viruses? Would this all be a contribution to our understanding of the higher proportions of BAME folks who have died from Coronavirus? Some BAME people working in the NHS and in care homes are Christians. The preponderance of publicised cases of dying however has represented followers of other faiths.

This is an attempt to understand. In today’s ‘cancel culture’ some might describe these thoughts as racist. This is Christian apologetics, trying to articulate Jesus Christ and Christianity. It is trying to communicate the implications of the Good News. It is expressed with great humility and wonder, not with judgementalism. Christianity is in decline in this country and in the west generally. Christianity’s intellectual credibility requires advocacy. There is almost no Christian challenge to contemporary society. No Christian leaders have spoken out for Jesus Christ, fearful as they are of criticism and ridicule. Christianity is saving, healing, redemptive and joyful. It is much needed.

Psalm 103 begins with these positive words ‘Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’. This is a real offer with backup, credibility and history in the lives of many people for millennia throughout the world. Science will most likely find a vaccine. We pray for that and welcome it. But all the experts say that Coronavirus will remain in the human population. In any case disease as a phenomenon is unlikely to be eradicated from the human condition. It will simply take new forms.

Jesus operated at the level of the collective unconscious. Sub-atomic existence is the currency of contemporary physics and chemistry. Jesus healed diseases in individuals. This capacity has remained in the Christian community to be called upon. Though diluted it is still a factor in church collective life. Christian congregations pray daily and weekly for everyone, for the unwell, for those who look after them, for society, politics and government, for the entire fabric of society. These prayers must be beneficial. Holy Communion is a saving sacrament. Part of the liturgy states ‘This is the table of the bread that shall last and the wine that shall never hurt’. Jesus said ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’. St Matthew records this description of Jesus actual healing. ‘When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (53:4). The language of demon possession horrifies people today. But it refers to the unseen sub-atomic basis of our existence and consciousness. We use different words. Chemicals are our means of treating imperfections in our bodies and in our minds. These imperfections are endemic and will always be with us. A large area of human consciousness is as yet undiscovered.

There is nothing more healing and more powerful than Jesus’ resurrection and that is what all Christianity is based on. I invite the nation to advance towards Christianity as in Jesus Christ eschewing its cultural appropriation in our history while being assured of its power to lift, immobilise and energise us all. Our human purpose is to relate to our Maker and this is made possible in Jesus Christ. As Jesus put it definitively, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever who believes in Me, though they may die, they shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die’. More than the perfect antibody.

Robert Anderson 2017

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