Religious Wisdom & Sacred Texts On Vaccination & Public Health
Public health crises and even plagues are not new for religious communities. The ongoing threat posed by Covid-19 has led religious leaders, scholars, and practitioners to continue to discuss, debate and articulate what their traditions have to say about this centuries-old challenge. Some articulations cut across traditions; for instance, majorities of most religious groups in the U.S. see getting vaccinated as an example of loving your neighbor (Figure 2.1, PRRI-IFYC March 2021 Survey). Many articulations speak from the language and scripture of a particular tradition; below is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic. These texts were drawn from public statements and IFYC’s alumni network.
(Listen in full to a rich discussion on the pandemic and expanding access to vaccination between Eboo Patel, Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core; Kameelah Rashad, co-founder of the National Black Muslim COVID Coalition; Rev. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ; Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; and Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners. Read more about the work of Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors, challenges around religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine and the effectiveness of faith-based outreach to encourage vaccination.)
Texts & Quotations
- “All are afraid of the stick, all hold their lives dear. Putting oneself in another's place, one should not beat or kill others”. - Sayings of the Buddha: Sermon at Benares. Dhammapada X:130
- “Health is the greatest gift, contentment is the greatest wealth, a trusted friend is the best relative, Nibbana is the greatest bliss.” - Sayings of the Buddha: Sermon at Benares. Dhammapada XV:204
- “Comparing oneself to others in such terms as "Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I," he should neither kill nor cause others to kill.” - Sutta Nipata 705
- "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” – Bible, Jeremiah 8:22
- “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” - Bible, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
- “But whoever has worldly goods and sees his brother or sister in need, and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God remain in him? Little children, let’s not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” - Bible, 1 John 3:17-18
- The Good Samaritan (Bible, Luke 10:25-37) - to get a vaccine is to be a good neighbor.
- "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law." - Bible, Romans 13:10
- "The Nation doesn't simply need what we have, it needs who we are" - St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein)
- "Show me your hands. Do they have scars from giving? Show me your feet. Are they wounded in service? Show me your heart. Have you left a place for divine love?" - Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
- “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” - St. Thérèse of Lisieux
- The principle of ahimsa is a call to do no harm and revere life.
- “All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rains. Rains are produced by performance of yajña [sacrifice], and yajña is born of prescribed duties.” - Bhagavad G¯ıta¯ 3.14.
- “25 The ignorant work for their own profit, Arjuna; the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves. 26 By abstaining from work you will confuse the ignorant, who are engrossed in their actions. Perform all work carefully, guided by compassion." - Lord Shri Krishna, Bhagavad G¯ıta
- “And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good” - Quran 2:195
- “Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah ] from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it” - Quran 3:92
- Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death" - Shu’ab al-Imān 9575
- "For this reason, We decreed for the children of Isrā’īl that whoever kills a person not in retaliation for a person killed, nor (as a punishment) for spreading disorder on the earth, is as if he has killed the whole of humankind, and whoever saves the life of a person is as if he has saved the life of the whole of humankind" - Quran 5:32
- "He has only prohibited for you carrion, blood, the flesh of swine and that upon which a name of someone other than ‘Allah’ has been invoked. Then, whoever is compelled by necessity, neither seeking pleasure nor transgressing, there is no sin on him. Verily, Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful" - Quran 2:173
- “In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.” - Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara
- “The function of souls is to help on another.” – Tattvartha Sutra 5.21
- “The primary source of the healing power is compassion. You must be concerned with loving a fellow being. When you bring to this charity, serenity of heart, and balance of mind, you are on your way to becoming a channel for healing. A feeling of sharing and caring flows out and from that flow comes healing. I call that force a blessing…” – Gurudev Chitabhanu
- "One who saves one life, it is accounted as if a world is saved," - Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9
- "God created food and water; we must use them in staving off hunger and thirst. God created drugs and compounds and gave us the intelligence necessary to discover their medicinal properties; we must use them in warding off illness and disease." - Maimonides's Commentary on Mishnah Pesachim 4:9
- "Seeing that the maintenance of the body in a healthy and sound condition is a God-chosen way, for, lo, it is impossible that one should understand or know aught of the divine knowledge concerning the Creator when he is sick, it is necessary for man to distance himself from things which destroy the body and accustom himself in things which are healthful and life-imparting." - Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Human Dispositions 4 – Sefaria
- And He said: "If you will diligently harken to the voice of the L-rd, your G-d, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon you which I put on the Egyptians; for I am the L-rd, your healer". - Exodus 15:26
- I am the L-rd, your healer, and I teach you the Torah and the commandments in order that you may be saved from these diseases - like a physician who says to a man: "Do not eat this thing lest it will bring you into danger from this illness". – Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 15:26
- "Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." - Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a)
- The principle of pikuach nefesh is that almost anything else should be set aside to save a life.
- “We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow.” – 15th affirmation within the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Manifesto III
- “Vaccines are the tugboats of preventive health.” William Foege, M.D.
- “One cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the community, from the health of the world.” - Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, M.D.
- “If we wait for the government, it will be too late; if we act as individuals, it will be too little; if we act as communities, it might just be enough.” - Rob Hopkins, environmentalist and activist
- The belief that people of all faiths worship one divine being (Waheguru) who created this world and lives within it. One does not fight for justice for themselves alone, but for all. Similarly, vaccines help to protect not just me but also the larger community. - Educator’s guide to Sikhism and interview with Sikh Coalition Community Development Director
- In our daily prayers, all Sikhs say a prayer called "Ardaas" (asking for blessing). This is a prayer lead by one person for the entire congregation or just for yourself, and the standardized version that all Sikhs say includes a line asking for the blessings of high spirits, health, and well-being for all of humanity. This is the line that concludes the prayer.
- "Nanak Naam Chardi Kala Tere Bhane Sarbat Da Bhala" - Nanak asks for 'Naam' (Blessing of God's Name) with which comes well-being, happiness and positive spirits. With your blessings, Lord, may everyone in the world prosper and be in peace.
How much do you know about the religious and secular traditions that make up our diverse nation? Some answers may surprise you! Take our Interfaith Literacy Quiz and find out!
Organizational Statements on Vaccines:
- Greek Orthodox Church: Statement Regarding Developments in Medicine: COVID-19 Vaccines & Immunizations
- National Association of Evangelicals: Conversation between Walter Kim, President of National Association of Evangelicals & Francis Collins, Director of National Institutes of Health
- Unitarian Universalist Association: “We Remain Committed to Public Health and Safety”
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Statement on Moral Considerations regarding the new COVID-19 Vaccines
- Black Muslim COVID Coalition: Joint statement on COVID vaccine – National Muslim Task Force and National Black Muslim COVID Coalition
- Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): No Statement but they are participating in a massive virtual webinar with Dr. Anthony Fauci along with more than 120 partner organizations to build vaccine support in the American-Muslim Community.
- Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC): No Statement but concerned about the discrepancies between state vaccine distribution. See here.
- Union of Reform Judaism: Resolution on Mandatory Immunization Laws
- Central Conference of American Rabbis: Statement on the Primacy of Saving Lives During the COVID-19 Crisis
- Rabbinical Assembly: Vaccination and Ethical Questions Posed by COVID-19 Vaccines
- United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism: Resources for synagogues
- Humanists International: Statement on Vaccines
- Sikh Coalition: Statement and how to get vaccinated
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.