Source: Pew Research Center
When an event has as much impact as the coronavirus outbreak – disrupting billions of lives and leading to more than 1 million deaths around the world – it’s natural for people to ponder big questions. Is this just a random occurrence, or is there something more at play? Is it all part of God’s plan? Or, at a more worldly level, can this experience teach us any truths about humanity?
We sought to explore these questions in a recent Pew Research Center survey, conducted in mid-July on the Center’s American Trends Panel. First, we asked people: Do you believe there is a lesson or a set of lessons for humankind to learn from the coronavirus outbreak? And if so, do you think these lessons were sent by God, or not?
A large majority of U.S. adults (86%) say there is some kind of lesson or set of lessons for humankind to learn from the pandemic, and about a third of Americans (35%) say the lessons were sent by God. The remainder say the lessons were not sent by God (37%), they do not believe in God (13%), or there is no lesson to be learned (13%).
Then, we asked half the respondents who said yes to the first question to describe, in their own words, what lessons they think humankind should learn. This prompted more than 3,700 people to write their answers, which ranged from a few words to several sentences.
The rest of this essay looks at a sampling of responses – including many examples presented exactly as respondents wrote them. Some responses have been lightly edited for spelling and clarity. Due in part to the great variety of responses we received, we did not attempt to quantify what percentage of Americans believe there is a certain type of lesson to be learned.
There are, however, a few common themes. These include practical lessons, such as wearing a mask; personal lessons, like remembering the importance of spending time with family and loved ones; and societal lessons, such as the need for universal health care. Still other takeaways are political in nature, including criticisms of both political parties and concerns about the politicization of the pandemic.
Americans who say God is using the pandemic to send a lesson to humanity often highlight religious lessons. Those who do not think the lessons of the pandemic were sent by God mention a variety of topics – though rarely religious ones.