The year 2020 was the deadliest year in U.S. history, with deaths topping 3 million for the first time in American history.
Most of this was due to the coronavirus pandemic which has affected over 110 million people globally, with a death toll of over 2.4 million; and in the USA more than 490,000 have died in the last 11 months.
Although vaccines will finally win out, the highly contagious B.1.1.7 strain, first detected in the UK and now spotted in at least American 33 states, will likely soon become dominant in the US.
Thus, COVID-19 has and will significantly affected American’s life expectancy.
Due to the pandemic deaths last year, life expectancy at birth for Americans will shorten by 1.13 years to 77.48 years, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That is the largest single-year decline in life expectancy in at least 40 years and is the lowest life expectancy estimated since 2003.
While Buddhists and Hindus can blame the Covid19 plague on bad Karma, members of the Abrahamic religions face a greater theological challenge. In the USA the coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives according to a poll conducted by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press which indicates many people are searching for deeper meaning in the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.
The poll found that 62% of Americans who believe in God feel strongly or somewhat strongly, that the virus is a sign from God telling humanity to change. Evangelical Protestants are more likely than others to believe that strongly, at 43%, compared with 28% of Catholics and mainline Protestants.
The declines in life expectancy are even starker among minority populations. For Blacks, the researchers project their life expectancy would shorten by 2.10 years to 72.78 years, and for Latinos, by 3.05 years to 78.77 years.
Whites are also impacted, but their projected decline is much smaller — 0.68 years — to a life expectancy of 77.84 years. Overall, the gap in life expectancy between Blacks and whites is projected to widen by 40%, from 3.6 to more than 5 years — further evidence of how racism affects the disease’s disparate impact on disadvantaged populations and of how important it is to eliminate social and economic un-equality.
As a Rabbi I think the poll should also have asked two more questions about God’s protection. Whether or not people get infected depends more on the other people; but whether infected people die depends more on one’s own belief in God and one’s own previous health.
The good news is that 26% of Americans polled say their sense of faith or spirituality has grown stronger as a result of the outbreak. Only 1% say their sense of faith or spirituality has weakened.
All of us are being tested personally as individuals; and as organic members of a nation, a society and even the whole of humanity.
We are tested as individuals as the Qur’an states: “Indeed We shall put you to test; some with fear and hunger, and some with loss of wealth, lives, and offspring. And (Muhammad) convey good tidings to those who are patient, who say, when inflicted by hardship, “Indeed we are of God and to Him shall we return;” upon them is the blessings of Allah and His mercy.” (2:155)
And the Hebrew Bible states: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
And we are tested as nation, community or a society as God states: “So that I may test them, whether they will follow My law or not” (Torah Exodus 16:4) and “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Torah Deuteronomy 8:2).
“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise before Allah tests those of you who fought and (also) tests those who are patient [believers who sufferer]? (Qur’an 3:142).
One good thing that has come out of the coronavirus pandemic in the USA is that national hospice organizations are reporting that facilities are seeing double-digit percentage increases in the number of near death patients being cared for at home.
And for people who believe that God’s tests help those of us who live through the challenges to become stronger: there are good reasons to look forward to a much healthier 2021.
Religious people should always remember that anxious atheists and unbelievers die a hundred deaths; while faith-filled optimistic believers die only once.