As the Coronavirus disaster strikes the US, various evangelical Christian preachers made claims that the deadly virus is a punishment from God. Various human “sins” are cited — homosexuality, abortion, etc. It is a typical evangelical Christian response to natural disasters. One of President Trump’s favorite pastors, Robert Jeffress, said that “all natural disasters can ultimately be traced to sin.”
That is one explanation. The problem with such kind of explanation is that it has no scientific basis and the claim cannot be objectively verified. Anyone can make a claim. But unless the claim can be substantiated with empirical evidence, there is no scientific or rational content. In addition, even if we were to agree that it is some kind of “sin” that triggers the disaster, there is no consensus on the exact nature of that sin. Conservatives may say that the sin is homosexuality. Liberals may just as well say that the sin is racism, social injustice or corruption in our government at the highest level.
I am not a theist. For me, it makes much more sense to think about the new virus as a way that nature bites back. Scientists have warned us about the emergence of new diseases, primarily due to humans encroaching on where the wild animals used to be and the resulting deforestation and the loss of habitat for these animals. If we have sinned, then the sin is more of an environmental nature. The fact is that humans have done grave damages to nature, especially since the dawn of the modern age. Jim Robbins, in an article published in the New York Times in 2012, titled The Ecology of Disease, wrote the following warning:
If we fail to understand and take care of the natural world, it can cause a breakdown of these systems and come back to haunt us in ways we know little about. A critical example is a developing model of infectious disease that shows that most epidemics — AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and hundreds more that have occurred over the last several decades — don’t just happen. They are a result of things people do to nature.
Jim Robbins quoted a disease ecologist, Peter Daszak, who said, “Any emerging disease in the last 30 or 40 years has come about as a result of encroachment into wild lands and changes in demography.” That is an astounding statement! How many of us knew that?
Instead of calling the Coronavirus crisis a punishment from God, I would call it “karma.” Karma does work, and there is nothing mystical or supernatural about it. We do suffer the consequences of our bad actions. This is totally consistent with Buddha’s teaching of Dependent Origination, which states essentially that we live in an interconnected and interdependent world. We should treat the entire world, the entire planet and the entire universe as one “ecosystem.” Because everything in the world is connected with others, we must be very careful about the harming of other lives. In his speech to thousands of youths in a world peace conference in September 2006, the 14th Dalai Lama made the following remark:
There are no national boundaries. The whole globe is becoming one body. In these circumstances, I think war is outdated … Destruction of your neighbor is actually destruction of yourself.
The karmic results are very real, and they are totally scientific. We just don’t know when we have to pay back. Yes, the destruction of our neighbors (human neighbors, wild lives or plants) may bring our own demise. It is the same whether we are talking about nuclear wars or the destruction of nature and the environment.
The Coronavirus crisis is a wake-up call in so many ways.