People with mouth guards © Jae C. Hong
In some religious communities, not only Corona viruses spread rapidly, but also conspiracy theories and promises of salvation. Does praying help against infection with the virus?
For Man-Hee Lee, it was clear that the Corona virus is the "work of the devil" to prevent the expansion of the "Shincheonji Church". This is how he had announced it to his followers. Man-Hee Lee is founder of the Christian fundamentalist "Shincheonji Church of Jesus" in Daegu, South Korea. South Korea is with about 8.000 infected (as of 13. March 2020) the most affected country in Asia after China; More than one-third of all infections in South Korea took place around these communities, according to authorities. From there, Covid-19 then took hold.
Do religious practices encourage the spread of the virus? Several evangelical churches in Singapore are also linked to the spread of the virus. There, numerous people apparently infected themselves at meetings of the "Grace Assembly of God" and the "Life Church and Missions". But that cannot be generalized, says Oliver Koch, Weltanschauungsbeauftragter of the Protestant Church in Hessen and Nassau. The vast majority of religious communities and churches deal with the ie very responsibly.
Founder considers herself physically immortal
In the case of Shincheonji, however, it was different. In addition to the fact that people sit close together in church services, missionary tactics have been one of the main reasons for the rapid spread of the virus, explains the cult expert, because Shincheonji operates a kind of "undercover missionary work": "There are various 'facade congregations' and organizations where it is not at all clear that they belong to Shincheonji. Its members go to other churches to proselytize, further spreading the virus."In addition the 88-j?hrigen founder Man Hee Lee considers itself physically immortal. The same applies to members to a certain extent, says Koch. That's why they believe Corona can't harm them. "Many – I also experience this again and again in daily counseling – are religiously blinded: They are perpetrators and victims at the same time and lose sight of reality," he says.
He has long warned against the group, which also maintains centers in Berlin and Frankfurt and is estimated to have 1.500 members in Germany. Do these centers also pose a risk of infection? Health authorities are informed, Koch said, but control is difficult: there are no official communities, there are no addresses or phone numbers on the net. "Shinchenonji works with cover names, for example the 'Korean Zion Church' in Frankfurt or an 'International Bible Center,' says Oliver Koch. While members have been asked to rest mission and meetings, he said, whether they all comply is not transparent. Some centers are currently closed; officially for "fire protection measures" or "cleaning work".
Corona as punishment?
The Corona virus has also been used in other religious communities to reinforce their own world views. In the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, the "Catedral Global do EspIrito Santo" had advertised the "power of God against the corona virus" in an online brochure. She promised her faithful "an anointing with consecrated oil" that "makes them immune to epidemics, viruses or diseases". In the USA, an evangelical pastor castigated Corona as God's punishment for homosexuality.
"Behind this, of course, is the conviction that you are the only group that knows the truth," says Koch, the worldview representative. "And that the spread of the virus is classified as a satanic temptation. It becomes problematic where end-time mood is spread and Corona is interpreted eschatologically apocalyptic, perhaps even as punishment of God."
The devil does not have his fingers in the pie
The virus as "God's punishment" – Gunther Fleischer, the director of the Archbishop's Bible and Liturgy School in Cologne, takes a critical view: This is a reflex that already existed in biblical times. "It derives from the "do-become-context", which states that every human action also has consequences," he explained. "This is an observation from human interaction and then biblically it is added that this connection is not an automatism, but is held together by God". However, he said, it is a fallacy to interpret misfortune as the result of misconduct or sin. "This connection is not true, it has already been broken biblically: Job didn't go bad because he had done something wrong," says Fleischer.
Fleischer also finds it unconvincing to blame the devil for the Corona crisis: "Christians believe in one God, there's no room for an independent devil next to him," he says. "Ultimately, we have to accept: The corona virus is also somehow part of creation, even if we can't explain it to ourselves. Still, of course, it's tempting to blame the devil because it makes it easier to explain the world and divide it into good and evil."
The biblical scholar, on the other hand, believes that praying makes perfect sense in the current situation: "Of course, it doesn't make me immune to the diseases, but in prayer I can bring my worries to God; that can give me greater serenity and mobilize forces in the body that strengthen," Fleischer explains. And praying for others is always good anyway, he adds: "When you know you're being prayed for – I can say that from my own experience – that's a boost, too!"