Into our third year of the pandemic, we are realizing that COVID has brought about seismic cultural changes that we are only beginning to sort out and deal with. These changes include, for many, the shift to working at home, more online meetings (thank you, Zoom), and changes in people’s social and family habits, among other things.
Commerce has transformed, also. Many restaurants and entertainment establishments were forced out of business by lockdowns and ongoing restrictions, and those that weren’t are still recovering. COVID has also caused supply chain disruptions that have resulted in empty shelves and long waits for larger ticket items.
The changes are many and varied. However, what I’d like to briefly explore in this post are the ways COVID has changed, for many, personal spirituality as well as their connection to religious communities and groups.
Let’s explore these effects on spirituality in a bit more detail.
Three Cultural Side Effects of COVID
Tragically, COVID has killed millions and left thousands more debilitated to some degree. The toll of the virus shouldn’t be downplayed. But there have been residual cultural effects as well, as mentioned above. And I’d like to go deeper concerning some cultural and social side effects brought by the pandemic as they affect spirituality.
For many, one effect has been more time for reflection. Shutdowns and social distancing caused by COVID gave many people more free time than they had since childhood. People were working from home and socializing less. Many were temporarily unemployed. Social events, clubs, sports leagues — all canceled. Many people stayed at home most of the time with not much to do.
Not everyone reacted to this gift of time in the same way, but for many, it was an unexpected opportunity to reflect on life, relationships, meaning, and one’s commitments — including spiritual commitments and practices.
As a result, many people began to rethink their purpose in life and the related spiritual and existential issues. For some, this meant a deepening of previous commitments and a chance to read and practice more, whether it was meditation, yoga, personal prayer time, or some other spiritual routine. And for some, the shutdown offered space to realize that their current spiritual commitments and communities were not working for them.
This leads us to the next, overlapping, cultural-spiritual side effect: for many, there was a pause in communal ritual participation.
In 2020 and 2021, millions of people across the country stopped attending church, synagogue, meditation groups, and so on. Many spiritual communities shut down along with the rest of society during the worst of the pandemic. Some people honestly grieved the loss of contact, connection, and communal ties. However, for some, the pause in attendance gave them the space to realize they didn’t need or truly benefit from such participation.
Now that COVID is nearing the transition from pandemic to endemic, spiritual communities are beginning to meet again — and are finding that many members aren’t there. Many spiritual communities, particularly more traditional ones, are worried that some of their members are simply not coming back.
A third effect for many, has been the opportunity to sample new practices and groups via Zoom, or similar programs.
While many communities reopened to find previous members missing, many also encountered new members. During the pandemic, much of our world went virtual. Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meeting – all the various online meeting formats became almost indispensable.
And these virtual platforms allowed thousands of people to “visit” and “try out” new liturgies, groups, rituals, and communities. Many found new sources of support and spiritual expression, leaving behind old commitments. And when these newfound communities began to meet again in person, they too, showed up.
COVID From a Spiritual Naturalist Point of View
Refreshingly absent from these above conversations about the pandemic and spirituality are claims such as COVID being God’s punishment for a wayward world or some sort of divine wakeup call or correction. Many of us, I’m sure, were part of, or heard about, conversations with theistic friends or associates who pondered aloud concerning God’s role in the most recent plague.
Over the past three years, I’ve listened to some relate COVID to this or that biblical passage or prophecy, or as divine retribution, or even as predicted by our old friend Nostradamus. Several times in such conversations, I’ve been asked why I think COVID happened, and what was the “deeper reason” for this pandemic? My response? “RNA is a funny thing. Viruses mutate.”
Moving Forward into the Unknown
COVID and the related shutdowns pulled the rug out from underneath millions of people and upended our cultural cart. People all over the country and world are still putting things back together.
How will all of this play out in the long run in terms of spirituality? I think many skilled cultural observers will admit not knowing where spirituality and religious trends are headed.
The success of online services has led many religious leaders to ask — what’s next? So many people’s failure to return to previous communities and practices has many groups uncertain as well.
It’s been almost three years of COVID cultural shake-up. What will be the new normal? How things come back together is still to be seen.
So I ask, you, the reader — how did COVID affect your spirituality? Did you find new or deeper meanings? Probe new practices and traditions? Leave behind old ways and groups?
Comment below and let us know. Thanks!
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
SNS strives to include diverse voices within the spectrum of naturalistic spirituality. Authors will vary in their opinions, terms, and outlook. The views of no single author therefore necessarily reflect those of all Spiritual Naturalists or of SNS.