The Black Plague led to a flowering of spiritual strangeness — a sea change in our spiritual lives.
Muslims believed that the Black Plague was not contagious because it was a gift sent directly from God that would transport them to paradise. The flagellants – a sect of Christian zealots who sought atonement for their sins by publicly flaying themselves – reached the height of their popularity during the Plague.
It was commonly believed that the Plague was a manifestation of God’s wrath. Jews were used as scapegoats and persecuted for this.
And when it seemed that God was not answering Europe’s prayers, the Roman Catholic Church lost its monopoly over souls. While some people waxed even more pious, the Church’s power actually declined – leading to a revival in mysticism and eventually contributing to the splintering of Christianity during the Protestant Reformation.
If there’s one thing we know about history, it’s that history repeats itself.
So, while responses to COVID-19 have not been so violent, we are witnessing another flowering of spirituality in response to a health crisis. Some responses have been strange (e.g., conspiratorial views involving reptile gods and aliens) but the grand majority inspire hope.
At the heart of IONS work is the belief that we’re all interconnected, and we seek to understand this through scientific inquiry. In other words, IONS straddles the worlds of spirituality and science; we seek to verify mystical and transcendent experiences through research and data…because science bends to data.
In fact, any logic-driven system bends to data. Which is why, when we look at some of the statistics around COVID, we can see that the pandemic has been a catalyst for spiritual seeking in our lives.
Let’s look at three ways that COVID has affected trends in religion and spirituality. As a result of the pandemic…
1. We contemplated our mortality
When faced with fear and a sense of powerlessness, people often turn to the divine. As with the Black Plague, COVID-19 has asked us to contemplate our mortality. Inevitably, people start to wonder if there is life after death (or, more aptly put, life after life). We can infer that this leads people to consider various religions, wisdom teachings, and even the research around surviving death.
According to Pew Research Center, 24% of adults in the U.S. feel that their faith has increased as a result of the pandemic. 47% feel their faith has remained the same, and only 2% say their faith has lessened.
Another interesting thing to consider is the internet search volume for the term “prayer” leading up to when the pandemic hit (March 2020):
Seeing death so publicized (and at such a large scale) has perhaps led us to greater levels of compassion.
2. We turned inwards
One silver lining of quarantine is that the world was forced to turn inwards. With no social outings to enjoy, group activities to join, or events to attend, people were forced to sit with themselves. According to data aggregated by Fitbit, meditation has increased by 2,900% since the start of the pandemic! Yoga and other stress-reducing activities have also grown in popularity.
As any long-time meditator will tell you, this leads not only to the contemplation of life’s fleeting nature – but also inquiry into bigger questions. Why am I here? What is the purpose of this? What would it look like to lead a meaningful life?
3. We rediscovered our intuition
Not only are meditation apps exploding in popularity, but more metaphysical interests are as well. Psychic reading apps have reached an all-time high, and the astrology industry saw a $2.2 billion boom. Search trends for “psychic,” “natal charts,” and “astrology” peaked in 2020. In fact, a number of metaphysical stores, card readers, and astrologists report an increase in business.
Regardless of how “real” any of these things are, the increased interest shows us that the world has become more receptive to the noetic – to the idea that information can be accessed beyond conventional notions of time and space, and that many of life’s mysteries remain unsolved.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed every area of human existence. When it comes to our spiritual lives, perhaps it has transformed us for the better.