What Religion Can Teach You About Coping With a Crisis, Even if You’re Not Religious

Now more than ever, we need these lessons of compassion, resilience, and strength.

Kristina Kokhanova/Shutterstock
Kristina Kokhanova/Shutterstock

Whether you follow any form of religion or none, the pandemic we’re currently living through can seem apocalyptic.

Either way, as Elizabeth Dias writes in the The New York Times, there are profound lessons to be had from different faiths as we navigate a crisis of ostensibly biblical proportions. 

Over the centuries, religious beliefs have offered a way for human beings to make sense of apocalyptic moments, from famine to war to plagues. That makes sense because the word “apocalypse” itself (in Greek, “apokalypsis”) means an unveiling, a revelation, writes Dias — not “End Of Times,” as it is often interpreted. “It’s not just about the end of the world,” Jacqueline Hidalgo, Ph.D., chair of religion at Williams College, told the Times. “It helps us see something that was hidden before.”

For example, in Christianity, “One of the most well-known apocalyptic narratives is the ‘Book of Revelation,’ which tells the story of the defeat of an evil beast,” Dias notes. Many evangelical Christians believe it describes the rapture, Jesus’ return to save believers and provide a sense of safety and security amidst uncertainty.   

In Judaism, the annual celebration of  Passover (which begins next week) recalls the 10 plagues from the ‘Book of Exodus,’ as a reminder of God’s redemption, Dias reminds us. “The Passover Seder,” David Kraemer, Ph.D., head librarian and professor of Talmud and rabbinics at Jewish Theological Seminary, told The Times, “says we have been in difficult circumstances before and we will get beyond them.”

Buddhist scriptures share similar themes, yet “the apocalypse arrives as a result of collective karma — everyone’s actions toward one another and the world — which means its outcome can change,” Dias writes, if people are more compassionate with each other, and if social inequality is reduced. 

For people of any faith, or none at all, seeing this pandemic as a “divine reset,” rather than a plague, can help us examine how we can lead better, kinder lives, together and also through looking inwards. 

Without diminishing the devastation and destabilization of our current pandemic, writes Dias, it’s also “a reminder that across several traditions, the memory of serious challenges we’ve been through in the past can offer hope — that human beings have survived such moments before, and that the truths being revealed can become a call to action.”

There’s science behind that approach. Research shows recalling our resilience in a past crisis helps fuel our strength to face our current challenges. Adam Grant, Ph.D., professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, has delivered this advice: “Look back and say, ‘I’ve gone through something worse in the past. This is not the most horrible thing I have ever faced or will ever face. I know I can deal with it.’”

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