If you look very carefully at the underlying foundations of human faith, the reasons begin to show themselves.
Human faith, or “belief”, the notion that some higher power is behind things, has been part of the human psyche since we developed a psyche. What we resist above all else is the idea that we are an accident of mindless nature. At the moment, the human race is under attack from an accident of mindless nature, stirring up core anxieties that have haunted us since the Stone Age.
In this scenario, our medical response (science) is not enough. In addition to the fact that the sheer numbers affected are straining our medical resources, and there is no vaccine anywhere in site, the epidemic has also shut down the economic and social structures that were the framework and support for what we considered our “normal” lives. All of a sudden, we’re back where we started, huddling in a cave with a raging storm outside and no way to keep warm or forage for food. At least that’s the way it feels.
In any threat situation, our inner defenses are as important as our external ones. Biologically speaking, any medical professional objectively weighing his/her physical risks against whatever they’re getting paid would run for their lives. Any other species would leave the fallen behind and run for their lives. Our saving grace as a species is that we’re about more than mere survival. But it cuts both ways.
The ICU nurse fights the mindless virus by actively assisting its victims. The man without a face mask standing on top of a car in a packed crowd outside the Governor’s office is doing a variation on the same thing – finding a way to fight back against an invisible adversary. Since the virus isn’t listening, we need to argue with somebody. The statistics and projections the news keeps bombarding us with serve very much the same purpose. These numbers have no effect on a constantly mutating microscopic threat - but using them to make projections helps us feel more in control. The problem, of course, is that “Only 5% of deaths from the virus are in my age group” doesn’t count if it makes you careless. When it kills you, you’re 100% dead. But, once again, the numbers give us the illusion of control, much in the same way that thinking God will spare us if we all stop sinning does.
A few years back, I did a piece called “God is an Allegory, but so is the Number Six”. In short, some people say there’s no such thing as God, but it’s easy to forget that there’s really no such thing as "six" and God’s been around a lot longer. Some clever Arabs made 6 up - and not all that long ago in the scheme of things. The universe doesn’t care about six and neither does the virus. (Anyone interested in pursuing this idea further can scroll down my blog list to January 2014.)
The raw fact is that control, even in the best of times, is an illusion. Anything can happen at any time. No one is guaranteed their next breath. The human psyche developed faith as away to cope with knowing that. It is as essential to us as breathing. It got us out of the caves and it is the only thing that will get us through this. A certain amount of trial and error is part of the game - in mathematics, in medicine and in faith.
The trick is in not letting the faith that keeps you alive get you killed, a balancing act the human race has been doing with mixed success and failure for some time.
Hopefully, this will be one of our successes.