After just over a year of lockdown, a new study has found the coronavirus pandemic has raised a host of questions - particularly around belief in God, religious practice and death.
To mark the launch of Season 3 of The Big Conversation - a series of video debates featuring some of the biggest intellectual thinkers across the religious and atheistic spectrum - Savanta ComRes has released a new survey, commissioned by Premier Christian Radio, that shines a light on the impact the pandemic has had on people’s spiritual beliefs and behaviours.
It found 67 per cent of those who call themselves religious have questioned their belief during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 24 per cent are more fearful towards dying because of the pandemic, with the figure rising slightly among the religious at 27 per cent.
The survey of 2,092 UK adults also showed that a third of people say that the pandemic has had an effect on their prayer life. However, there is no consensus on whether it’s made us more or less likely to pray. Sixteen per cent have increased their prayer and 15 per cent have decreased.
Unbelievable? presenter, Justin Brierley, who hosts The Big Conversation said the pandemic has raised major issues for those with spiritual leanings and none:
“A year of living in the pandemic has caused many of us to re-evaluate life. The survey shows that whether we are religious or non-religious, we are all more aware of our own mortality. However, it was interesting to see just how many people of faith have been led to doubt the existence of a loving God. I believe that our opening Big Conversation on God, suffering and the pandemic will help people to find answers to their questions.”
In the first of the six-episode Big Conversation series Brierley welcomes Los Angeles-based Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire, along with Alex O’Connor who is a Philosophy & Theology student at Oxford University.
The programme, which was released on podcast and video on 2nd April examined the topic: Christianity or Atheism: Which makes best sense of who we are? and tackles the question of why a loving God would allow the Covid pandemic.
In the discussion atheist thinker O’Connor presses Bishop Barron on the problem of suffering in light of the pandemic saying,“100,000 people who have died of Covid [in the UK] have done so because God allowed it.”
Bishop Barron says that to blame God would itself require ‘a God like perspective on all of space and time’.
He responds: “Like anybody who's lived more than two years on planet earth I've suffered in my life and wondered ‘why?’ I totally get the emotional power of that.
“I think we hardly ever see the reason why, but we might get glimpses. As a pastoral minister, I’ve seen lots of examples of beautiful expressions of love that have occurred in the midst of this pandemic. Now is that the reason? No. I might get one little hint of one move on the chessboard of a good that has come from this. Yet in faith I can place suffering within the context of God's purposes.”
Justin Brierley said modelling good conversations about faith issues between people on both sides of the debate, will, he hopes, improve the quality and volume of discourse globally.
Past Big Conversation guests include renowned illusionist and mentalist, Derren Brown, popular public intellectual, Jordan B Peterson, Susan Blackmore, John Lennox and Nobel Prize winner, Roger Penrose.
Episode 2 of the 2021 series, to be broadcast on 23rd April, will feature leading AI specialists, Nick Bostrom (Oxford University Professor) and Rosalind Picard (MIT Professor) debating the topic: “God, AI and the Future of Humanity: is technology the key to immortality.”