No Holds Barred: Coronavirus exposes our moral corruption

But wouldn’t God instead reward a president who has done more for Israel than any of his predecessors?

Medical staff with protective clothing are seen inside a ward specialised in receiving any person who may have been infected with coronavirus, at the Rajiv Ghandhi Government General hospital in Chennai (photo credit: REUTERS)
Medical staff with protective clothing are seen inside a ward specialised in receiving any person who may have been infected with coronavirus, at the Rajiv Ghandhi Government General hospital in Chennai
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’ve heard a number of people tell me recently that the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus is a divine punishment – for any number of reasons. I heard from one that it’s God punishing US President Donald Trump for proposing a peace plan where Israel would give away land. And how is that a punishment for the president? Because, they argued, only a tanking economy can stop the president from being reelected, and the coronavirus has cratered the economy.
But wouldn’t God instead reward a president who has done more for Israel than any of his predecessors?
Another person told me that coronavirus is punishment from God for abusing the environment and pillaging the earth. Now that the world is aflame with coronavirus, people are not taking cruises, not flying on planes, and have greatly reduced carbon emissions.
But in that case, why are the elderly the ones most likely to die from this horrible virus? Are they more guilty of a carbon footprint than the young, when precisely the opposite is likely the case?
Yet another person told me that the coronavirus is God punishing the Chinese for being one of the only countries that does business with Iran. Most other countries abided by the US imposed sanctions, but not China, which continued to trade with Iran. But if that were true, while it might explain why Iran and its leadership have now received the coronavirus directly from its ties to China, it would not explain why a country like Italy is being afflicted so? What, pray tell, did the Italians do?
Finally, you have the disgusting, vile and abominable remarks by Meir Mazuz, the influential Israeli Sephardi rabbi and former spiritual leader of the now defunct ultranationalist Yahad Party, who said that the coronavirus is punishment from God to the Jewish state for allowing gay pride parades in Tel Aviv and Israel.
“A parade [is] against nature, and when someone goes against nature, the one who created nature takes revenge on him,” he said. He added that proof to his argument is the fact that “the Arab countries don’t have this evil inclination,” that is, they persecute homosexuals, and therefore are not afflicted with the virus.
But if that were true, then Iran, with its murderous government which slaughters homosexuals wholesale, would have no cases, when in fact it has one of the highest rates of infection.
Of course, all of this is not only silly but deeply offensive, not to mention blasphemous. None of us knows the mind of God. From a celestial perspective, we have no way of knowing why earthquakes wipe cities off the map, why cancer kills children, and why illnesses spread. Rather, we only know that God commands us to use every means of knowledge at our disposal – science and medicine – to stop the virus’s spread and save lives.
When religion becomes the rationalization for people dying, it has become polluted and corrupt. And let’s not forget that if it were true that God was punishing, say, the governments of China and Iran, then why would it be with a virus so contagious that it kills all the innocent people afflicted both there and throughout the world?
So let’s stop making religion into an ugly form of superstition and retribution.
BUT THAT does not mean that there aren’t important moral and values lessons that can be derived from the plague of coronavirus. And by this I mean how the virus has exposed the moral decay afflicting our society, as the lust for money and greed for material consumption has come to corrupt our values.
When China was a place free from coronavirus but riddled with dictatorship, human rights abuses and political oppression, no one had any problem visiting and doing business with China, without demanding that it improve its human rights record.
In other words, when visiting or doing business with China could damage our morals and our souls, nobody gave a damn. It was cheaper to have things made in China. So what if they brutalize political dissidents? I get to have a lower-cost iPhone. But the moment China became a danger to our bodies, the moment it imperiled not our souls but our very lives, we stopped all travel and shut down all flights to China.
The same thing is true of Iran. When Iran was threatening to annihilate the Jews, was mowing down its citizens by the thousands on its streets, and was hanging gays from cranes in town squares, every European foreign minister was rushing to Tehran to sign oil and trade deals. They didn’t give a damn how such deals endangered the moral standing of their nations. But let’s see how many of those same Europeans are visiting Tehran now? Allowing the morality of their souls going to hell never bothered them. But risking their bodies – that they would never do. It took the coronavirus to shut down business with Tehran.
Don’t misunderstand me. I hate the coronavirus and wish we could obliterate it from the earth immediately. And that includes rescuing even the wickedest people who have it, because they will spread it to the innocent. I see nothing positive in coronavirus whatsoever. Our job is to summon medical science to stop its spread and vaccinate against it, so it can no longer claim a single life. I pray for all the people of the world – from China to Iran to Italy to Israel to the United States – afflicted by this terrible scourge to recover from it and resume their lives.
To the extent that some truly evil people have contracted it – like Masoumeh Ebtekar, the Iranian vice president who is better known as the vile “Screaming Mary,” who during the 1979 US hostage crisis tormented our innocent hostages and served as the terrorists’ spokeswoman – I pray that they recover from the virus and let God settle with them in some other way that does not endanger or expose a single innocent life.
Yet still, I see in our response to the coronavirus significant moral hypocrisy.
The truth is America should have censured China long ago for its brutal oppression of its own citizens, including Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace laureate and political prisoner who actually died at 61 still in Chinese custody. When he won the Nobel Peace Prize, his wife was also imprisoned. Yet America did next to nothing.
The truth is also that the Obama administration disgraced American morals and values when it tried to normalize Iran among the nations of the world, even as it promised a second holocaust and worked incessantly to build the nuclear arsenal by which to carry it out, all while sponsoring and promoting terrorism around the world.
It took the outbreak of a physical malady, a virus, to awaken the conscience of the world as to whether we ought to treat these two countries the same as law-abiding democracies.
I pray for the people of China and I pray for the people of Iran. I hope that God heals their populations and all the world’s inhabitants from the terrible scourge of this deadly virus. But I likewise pray that once coronavirus is neutralized – and it will be – these nations will be pressured by the rest of the world to behave morally and begin respecting human rights, failing which they will continue to be ostracized.

The writer is the author of Judaism for Everyone and Renewal: The Seven Central Values of the Jewish Faith. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.