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What role has prayer played in driving down COVID-19 deaths?

What role has prayer played in driving down COVID-19 deaths?

Back in April, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York excluded the possibility that God had anything to do with the dropping numbers of COVID-19 in New York State (emphasis mine):

During a press conference on April 13, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo contended that God has nothing to do with the notable decrease in COVID-19 cases across the state.

“The number is down because we brought the number down,” he told reporters. “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that.”

“A lot of pain and suffering did that,” Cuomo, a professing Catholic, continued. “That’s how it works. It’s math.”

… In recent days, the number of hospitalizations and fatalities from the virus have decreased significantly, suggesting that New York City has crested “the curve” and is now on the downhill path to recovery.

Cuomo credits the slowing of the spread to “our actions,” … “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus,” he said. “God did not stop the spread of the virus. And what we do, how we act, will dictate how that virus spreads.” [*]

The Governor, of course, does not consider the possibility that there is an intermediate view: that human decisions may have interacted with or have been aided by God’s grace. His protestations seem to show irritation with the notion that God could have anything at all to do with the results or with assisting our actions. “Nothing” is a strong and absolute word. In using it, he demonstrates the fierce secularism of our age, which seeks to exclude God/faith from any role or participation in public conversations or during times of crisis. This secularism bespeaks more of fear than it does of a rational, principled position. Why the need to exclude other views or to denounce them in such absolute terms?

Consider another story circulating recently, regarding the strong decline in Italy’s COVID-19 rates, as reported at ChurchPOP:

Recent data for COVID19 in Italy shows [sic] a drop in new daily cases and deaths after Pope Francis prayed for the world during his Urbi et Orbi Eucharistic blessing on March 27.

Italy took extreme measures throughout the past couple of months to prevent the spread of COVID19. The country enforced a two-month lockdown, which suspended public Masses, closed schools, restaurants, shops, etc. …

Along with these measures to slow the spread, Pope Francis prayed for the world in a special Eucharistic blessing in St. Peter’s Square. The live televised prayer and blessing aired on March 27.

Following that date, the rate of new daily deaths and cases dropped in Italy. [**]

ChurchPOP also supplied the following graph from Wikipedia:

What do you think? The graph shows a steady drop the day following Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi Eucharistic Blessing. Is it a coincidence? Is it the result of prayer? Surely the drop was also fostered by human activities such as staying at home, the shuttering of many businesses, and the cessation of certain activities. However, these mitigations were going on before the Pope’s blessing as well.

While we cannot know for certain whether prayer played any role in the drop, as a man of faith I choose to believe that the Pope, along with all of us who prayed, did contribute.I respect that some will reject this outright, but to those I would like address these questions:

    • What are your reasons for rejecting the possibility that God and prayer could have played a role?
    • What is your evidence that it is not possible?
    • Your view is that prayer and God had no impact; mine is that there might well have been. Consider that although I advance the possibility that prayer had an impact, I also point to human activity as critically important. I am also willing to admit the possibilitythat prayer played no role, even if I doubt it. Your view, however, categorically denies that God or prayer could have played a role. Which view do you think is more open-minded and why?
    • Religious people are often accused of being dogmatic, but in this case are you not in fact being dogmatic?

As I pointed out above, Governor Cuomo represents what I term the fierce or militant secularist viewpoint.This perspective does not simply proposesecular, material causes as the complete explanation for events; it does not simply reject religious interpretations of events or religious views on moral issues; it actively opposessuch views and seeks to remove them from any public consideration. Religious and spiritual truths as well as faith-based explanations are to have no place in public discourse. Some with this stance resort to ridicule rather than reasoned debate. Some also seek to erect legal barriers to keep such views contained within the walls of churches, synagogues, and mosques. We religious are not simply wrong or laughable; we are dangerous because our view is that there are limits to human power and freedom. In crediting God, we undermine their agenda and the programs they set forth. For example, if people think that prayer might help, maybe they won’t be as diligent in following the norms set forth by public health officials. In fact, my experience is that believers have overwhelmingly followed the guidelines/directives issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public officials.

The vast majority of believers do not think of prayer as “magic”that absolves us of the responsibility to act on our own and our neighbors’ behalf. St. Augustine once said, “God, who made you without you, will not save you without you.” We are not simpletons. We know that prayer and action go together.

I realize that correlation is not causation, but there is a long chain of anecdotal evidence in human history that collective public prayer can be correlated with the ending of plagues and famines. The graph above may be further evidence. Human experience over centuries and across civilizations confirms the common human sense that prayer and asking God to intervene and send grace helps.

To Governor Cuomo and others like him I ask:Why be so dismissive of prayer and of God’s role in history? What do you have to lose by allowing others to praise God and give Him the glory? The vast majority of us aren’t the snake handlers you seem to think we are.

Governor Cuomo, one day you will face God and—like all of us—be judged. I pray for you as I do for myself. I hope that you will then come to know what prayer actually did and what a danger it is to fail to pray and give to God the glory.

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