Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A Collection of Misinterpretations

August 11, 2021

A random assortment of interesting/frustrating news articles that caught my eye today.

First, as usual a great article from GetReligion.org (the Protestant jab aside). The press is insistent on characterizing the refusal of Sacraments to public and unrepentant members as ultimately a political ploy aimed at President Biden. That’s hardly the case. The press willingly and repeatedly ignores actually reporting on the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church (and many other Christian denominations) in favor of straw-man caricatures that suit their intentions of disparaging organized religion (particularly Christianity – you don’t see many similar articles about Judaism or Islam) or pressuring believers to view their historic and clearly articulated faith as no longer valid or binding in our more enlightened culture.

Second up in terms of allowing our implicit and explicit biases’ to affect our interpretation of things is this little article. The presence of gender-specific articles for both men and women in a single grave becomes an argument for historical evidence of a non-binary leader – someone 1000 years ago who didn’t neatly fit our allegedly cultural sex and gender classifications.

Because, you know, that’s the only possible explanation, which just so happens to justify the latest in cultural fads.

Because nobody is ever buried with items from someone else – possibly even someone of the opposite sex. A meaningful piece of jewelry from Mom or Dad, for example. How is it that objects can or should be used to argue for a sexual orientation (or lack thereof) in a burial from a thousand years ago? Is that good science? Good archaeology? Or just a convenient way of appealing to the apparent swing of the cultural pendulum, a swing that might mean a few bones thrown in terms of grants or donations?

Ugh.

And finally, I’ve been loathe to blog further regarding Covid and our responses to it (or responses imposed on us). I’m simply so tired of it all. The rhetoric on both sides is ridiculous. But this article I found somewhat darkly amusing. Apparently there have been posts online referencing I Am Legend, a mediocre but different zombie movie. People are referencing the movie claiming the zombies in it were the result of a vaccine.

That’s not literally true, as this article points out. But that’s rather splitting hairs, I’d argue. Yes, this is just a movie. A piece of fiction. And I’d hope that most of the people posting the memes are fully aware of that and aren’t presuming to claim the movie as any sort of evidence or justification of rejecting the Covid vaccine.

However it is fair game to remind us all that even the best-intentioned efforts can have unanticipated consequences, something the critics of such memes are quick to forget. The fact that the scientific method and scientific processes and individual and collective scientists did and continue to do their best in formulating Covid vaccines does not, in and of itself, preclude the possibility of unanticipated, negative side-effects. Rare but causal side effects have already been identified in many of the vaccines, and such observations are quickly drowned out by shouted insistence that the benefits are far greater to far more people than the infrequent side-effects. That may or may not be true – we won’t know for some time, as more and more unanticipated side-effects are identified, and as the overall effectiveness of the vaccines becomes better understood.

The role of good science fiction is to contemplate not just literal science but potential side-effects or abuses of science. Great heroes and villains populate the genre for their manipulation of various aspects of science and technology or their responses to it. The genre provides a ‘safe’ zone for contemplating real issues in the context of make-believe. The original Star Trek series utilized it for these purposes, as have great authors such as Ray Bradbury and Walter Miller Jr. Even The Lord of the Rings could be (and has been) interpreted as a commentary on science and technology and industry, noting that it isn’t these things in and of themselves that are evil, but only how they are used or misused or, just as validly, accidentally developed or implemented without enough information to accurately determine longer-range consequences.

Sacraments and Sacred Cows

June 25, 2021

First, here’s a great article to read from one of my favorite sites – GetReligion.org.

Now, first of all, this is not a weaponization of the sacrament. This is teaching the Christian church, based on the Bible (Genesis 9:5-7; Exodus 20:13). For those that question the applicability of the Genesis 9 text, consider particularly verse 7. The prohibition against the killing of human beings is framed by the original command to be fruitful and multiply.

The only reason this situation is a quandry for the Roman Catholic Church (and any other religious body that prohibits abortion) is they have been reluctant to treat this as seriously as it actually is. I’ll assume that for decades there has been the opinion within the Church that Roman Catholics involved in politics at the highest level are ultimately a good thing, even if they deny some of the Church’s core tenets. This leniency to facilitate the progress of Roman Catholic politicians up the pecking order has proven to be ineffective, at least in terms of challenging the wanton destruction of human life that is legalized abortion. Roman Catholic politicians have seemed – on the whole – more willing to sacrifice the doctrine of the Church they claim adherence to over sacred political cows.

This is not – or at least should not be – primarily about President Biden. This should be about men and women who profess faith in the doctrines and therefore good standing in the Roman Catholic Church being called to account for their support and defense of political positions that stand in complete and utter contradiction to the historic Christian faith. This is not a Roman Catholic issue, this is a Christian issue. The above verses from Genesis and Exodus make it clear human life is of paramount concern to God and therefore to his followers. This is not simply an Old Testament issue but a New Testament one as well, as our Lord makes clear in Matthew 5:21-26. That Christians (not just Roman Catholics) have understood this as protecting human life no matter how small or how aged is clear from one of our earliest surviving documents showing the teaching of the Christian church in the 1st century – the Didache. It makes clear that Christians reject not only infanticide but abortion. The killing of the newly born and the killing of the unborn – dealt with in two separate statements to show there was no confusion in their minds about what they meant, and we should have no confusion in ours.

I have nothing per se against President Biden as a person or a political figure. But if he professes to be a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church, he needs to recognize that his defense of or advocacy of legalized abortion is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Church body I hope he relies on to receive the Word of God and the Sacraments of God. And from 1 Corinthians on, it is clear that in response to resolute refusal to repent of open sin, the action of the Church is to say to the sinner, you are in such danger of eternal damnation that we will not pretend everything is all right. We will treat you as someone who has not received Jesus Christ as his/her Lord and Savior, because you are refusing to follow his clear and direct teaching. The intent is not punitive but salvific. The intent is that the person refused the Sacraments would recognize their error, repent, and change their ways.

This might prove problematic to their political career, but of immense value to their eternal salvation. President Biden, in some respects, has a unique opportunity to demonstrate this. His public repentance – as sitting President and highest representative of the Democratic Party – could signal to many other men and women far lower in pecking order that what matters is faithfulness to their Lord’s directives, rather than adherence to a party doctrine.

I pray the Roman Catholic Church has the strength to follow through on the threats it has made pointlessly for decades. I pray other parts of the Christian Church would have the strength and integrity to do the same. There is nothing to be gained in delaying doing so, and only more to be lost. Not just here and now in terms of election and political influence, but eternally in terms of souls lost in sin promoted by those who claimed to be followers of Jesus.

Hesitancy

June 15, 2021

Probably realizing that the term anti-vaxxer has a lot of problematic (and inaccurate) ramifications to it, the term I see being used a lot these days for folks who haven’t sought out a COVID vaccine is hesitant. I don’t think the frequent vitriol behind this term is any more muted than that behind the term anti-vaxxer. But it sounds nicer. Until you start listening to what is being said to and about those who are hesitant.

I fall into that hesitant camp. Even though I’ve had and recovered from COVID without issue (as the vast majority of those infected with COVID do), I’m being told in the media that I still need to get vaccinated. My question is why. The vaccine is intended to prompt and instruct the body on how to produce antibodies capable of fighting a COVID infection, either preventing full-blown infection or reducing the symptoms of such an infection (thereby decreasing the odds of winding up in the hospital on a ventilator). That’s how the vaccine has been explained to us. However, since I had COVID, my body already knows how to produce those antibodies. It had to learn that a harder way, some might say. But it learned. It produced the antibodies, and it now knows how to produce those antibodies again should it need them.

A study released late last month indicates as such. And the report asserts people who have recovered from even mild cases of COVID have exactly the same anti-body producing capabilities as those who receive the vaccine. Yet the CDC’s current recommendation is that relaxing of mask and social distancing rules – not to mention potential travel and other restrictions – be lifted only for those who are vaccinated, and not for those who have recovered from COVID (and would presumably be given the option of a paper or digital certification that the associated antibodies have been found in their bodies).

What is being created is a dangerous and, at least in my lifetime, unprecedented division based on health decisions. One set of rules for people who have received the vaccine, and another for those who have not. The lunacy of this goes beyond simply the logistical level, and I believe contributes a great deal to the hesitancy and skepticism of some people – the very people the CDC apparently wants desperately to convince to get vaccinated.

Why won’t I get the COVID vaccine until it is unavoidable? Why am I hesitant or skeptical?

  1. I’ve had COVID (as verified by a state-run COVID testing site administered by professionals). Therefore, I have the antibodies to fight it. I have seen no documentation that disputes this is the case.
  2. I have seen zero evidence that having the vaccine on top of having recovered from COVID gives me any demonstrable improvement in my odds of fighting off or minimizing symptoms if exposed to COVID in the future. While some want to argue the vaccine somehow provides better protection, I’ve seen no reports explaining why this would be the case (let alone documenting that it is the case, whether we can explain it or not). Arguments that you can get sick with COVID again after having been infected with it once are not surprising to me, but the same argument can be used for the vaccine. There are documented cases of people being fully vaccinated and still getting COVID. This doesn’t surprise me either.
  3. Unlike a vaccine, I do not have worries that the antibodies my body created are somehow going to cause other problems in my body in the short or long-term. This doesn’t mean such complications or problems might not occur, but then it is a biological issue rather than an issue of someone else’s manufactured solution being found to cause problems. Articles repeatedly assert that vaccines are safe. What this means is not that the vaccine is safe, but rather that no health or other issues have been found directly related to the vaccine. This is a very different thing than safe.
    1. No organization can reasonably be expected to be able (let alone willing!) to test for every conceivable form of interaction problem or health problem.
    2. Even if such were possible, we would not necessarily be able to properly spot and identify those problems.
    3. While some short-term testing for some easily detectable problems has been done, there are no long-term studies about possible side effects. This is not possible because the vaccines are less than a year old. Despite being assured about their safety, already there have been many questions raised about possible direct side effects (heart issues, stroke issues, etc.) as well as indirect side effects (fertility issues in women, how the vaccine affects younger people and children). It is insulting when someone condescendingly dismisses concerns about safety as though I’m stupid because the vaccines have been proven safe. They have not. They have proven to be free of short-term, easily diagnosed reactions (in most people). We won’t know for years whether they are safe, either in and of themselves or in conjunction with other vaccines and medications.
  4. Science is once again making assertions without any serious attempt to validate or demonstrate why those assertions should be followed. Vaccines stimulate the body to create antibodies to fight off COVID. When infected by COVID the body creates antibodies to fight off COVID. Both create the same antibodies within the body (or do they?). Therefore, to treat the 30 million (at least) Americans who have been diagnosed with COVID over the last year as a health risk makes no logical sense.
  5. Therefore, I am skeptical about other intentions that could be at play here, with science and the pandemic being coopted to serve those ends. Creating a vaccine ID in any form that might be required for access to services or opportunities is a dangerous first step towards a broader system that includes or excludes people not based on their citizenship status or other longstanding criteria but simply based on whether they’ve done something the government wants them to do or not. Anyone with an awareness of history and human nature should be deeply concerned about any such efforts, even when they’re offered under the guise of protecting public health (or perhaps especially when they’re offered as such!).
  6. When scientists tell me something has to happen when science itself would seem to suggest otherwise, I get skeptical. Such reasoning is quickly dismissed in many corners as conspiracy theory stuff, and therefore not necessary to provide an intelligent answer to, or to take seriously. For me (and I don’t knowingly read conspiracy theories), there are two major, very possible (as vetted by history) reasons why science might be employed to push for universal vaccinations even though the science doesn’t support this is necessary:
    1. The vaccines include or do something beyond what the natural antibody response does. In other words, there is more to the vaccine than just COVID antibody instructions, and the important thing is that everyone gets whatever that other element is. Perhaps this wasn’t intended in the vaccine design but discovered afterwards. Or perhaps it was part of the design. This would explain why people who have recovered from COVID and therefore have the antibodies are being ignored or told this doesn’t exempt them from the need for the vaccine.
    2. The government is using this as an opportunity to push not simply for COVID vaccinations but to set the groundwork for a rolling, ongoing system of mandatory vaccinations to whatever is deemed viable. Vaccine IDs would be used ultimately not just for COVID vaccine (or even for just vaccines or health-related issues) but also flu shots and all the other vaccinations currently considered de rigueur as well as any future ones we might develop. Failure to participate in “recommended” programs and actions would flag you, limiting access to services and goods or requiring onerous practices in order to access them. If this sounds far-fetched, consider that California passed mandatory immunization legislation several years ago that mandates immunizations but does not require recipients to be told what vaccines they are being given (note item 11 under Section 1) and allows a state board/committee to decide when to add additional immunizations to the required list.

I’ve yet to see an intelligent response to these concerns either in total or in part. What I typically find in either belligerent dismissals of hesitancy or attempts at empathy boil down to unsupported assertions or fear-mongering. Get the vaccine because it’s a lot safer than the actual virus. The vaccines are safe and questioning that for any reason is dangerous and/or stupid. These are not intelligent answers, no matter how empathetic they’d like to be. They ignore logic, common sense, history, and science itself. A much better response would be a balanced one that acknowledges both what we don’t know as well as all of what we do know. A better response would explain why natural antibodies are not as good as vaccine-induced antibodies. A better response would explain why, if vaccinated people are safe(r), those who choose not to get the vaccine for any reason are not entitled to that decision and the inherent personal risk associated with it, knowing that anyone else at serious risk has more than likely made a similar personal decision to take that risk.

Meaningful and intelligent answers to these concerns would help alleviate my hesitancy regarding the COVID vaccine. They won’t alleviate my concerns about setting up a situation where people are treated as second-class citizens because of a personal health decision. But I think a lot of other hesitant folks would like to see some good solid answers to these questions without being mocked, insulted, or condescended to. Particularly at this point when COVID is decreasing around the world overall (with some exceptions).

I’m fully aware that COVID could surge again. And as many have pointed out, it isn’t likely to ever go away completely. Then again, a year ago that wasn’t the goal of these restrictions and limitations. The goal was to make sure that medical systems and facilities and personnel were not overwhelmed by the small percentage (but large numbers when dealing with millions and millions of cases) of severe cases. Is this still the goal? Is the goal eliminating the COVID virus? Is that possible (hardly). Is it providing universal and complete immunity to everyone (doesn’t seem to be either possible or reasonable). Are there other goals further down the line that aren’t being discussed, and if so, what are they and why not lay them out?

The media could be a big help in this if they actually reported facts instead of distorting the larger reality to focus on worst-case scenarios and exceptions to the rule. All we hear about is deaths or long-term health problems brought on by COVID. We aren’t presented regularly with the overall figures and percentages that help put all of this into a proper perspective, and without that proper perspective people are vulnerable to any number of bad decisions both personally and communally. Ultimately (and long-term) the best protection we have in pandemics is good, solid information and not necessarily just a couple jabs in the arm.

A Fine How-Do-You-Do

June 9, 2021

Remember all those banners and window signs and chalk drawings over the past year thanking our first responders and medical personnel for their service during the pandemic? Remember all those commercials about how these men and women in medical scrubs are heroes fighting to save lives?

Yeah, forget all of that because now we have a vaccine and if you don’t want to take it we’re going to fire you. That’s what nearly 200 health care employees in a Texas hospital system have been told – as they’ve been placed on a two-week suspension. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked to save lives, how you risked your own health or the health of your loved ones. All of that was just expected of you. But now we are going to dictate to you how you’re going to deal with your own health.

And if you disagree with us we’re going to smear you as people who don’t care about their patients.

The same people who have been saving lives for over a year.

Shouldn’t we be outraged by the brazen, callous language of a hospital system about its own employees? Shouldn’t we be outraged that these men and women who have been lauded as heroes for laboring to save lives at their own personal risk when there wasn’t a vaccine are now being smeared as selfish and uncaring just because there is a vaccine? A vaccine, mind you, with no long-term studies and that is more than likely – based on available current data – going to require additional boosters. And a vaccine that is being pushed and shoved despite the fact COVID case rates in the US (and around the world) have dropped dramatically.

I pray there are law suits brought quickly to stop this dangerous precedent. Not that it’s going to save these people from losing their jobs, most likely. But perhaps it will ensure that heroes are spared this unnecessary and outrageous treatment.

Celebrating Life – Selectively

June 9, 2021

This article headline caught my eye – announcing scientific discoveries of the remarkable resilience of a very small creature. And while the longevity of these tiny creatures as another testimony to the creativity and imagination of our God is worthwhile in itself, it was one particular word in the headline that gave me pause.

Animal.

A living being. One definition of the word says a living organism that feeds on organic matter, typically having specialized sense organs and nervous system and able to respond rapidly to stimuli. Yet it’s tiny. Really tiny. Too small to be seen with the naked eye according to Wikipedia.

Yet there’s CBS declaring this critter alive and valuable while at the same time promoting news angles that attack the humanity – even the animalness – of unborn human babies. And it made me sad that such language – and the protections that language imply – would be extended so freely and joyfully to one creature, yet denied so vehemently to human babies in a mother’s womb. Science, the new religion of the West, depicted as fearlessly objective in pursuing truth, should be the first voice against abortion. But it isn’t. It’s curiously silent.

Unless you aren’t a threat to current cultural assumptions and assertions – or funding sources.

Mandatory Vaccinations

June 3, 2021

Interesting but pretty low-key coverage last week of an announcement from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that employers can mandate employees to get COVID vaccinations. Most news reports I read emphasized how employers could incentivize employees to get the vaccine, but the far more concerning aspect to me is that they can mandate the vaccine. No vaccine? No continued employment. How does that not qualify as “coercive”, something employers are supposed to avoid in their incentive programs? About the only part of the reports that make sense is that there will be a lot of lawsuits as employers and employees try to navigate whatever the EEOC is trying to accomplish but prefers to do so through the private sector rather than Federal decree.

What is the rationale for allowing employers this broad degree of control over the personal health choices of their employees? Will this be used in conjunction with future possible COVID-related shutdowns, so that companies that require their employees to be vaccinated will be allowed to continue operations while other similar companies with no such policy will be shut down if non-essential?

If an employer can mandate COVID vaccinations, what else can they mandate in the realm of personal choice regarding health care? Can they mandate flu vaccines? Under what conditions? The EEOC’s own website acknowledges that public health guidelines are subject to fluctuation, so what about companies that mandate the COVID vaccine (or any other vaccine) only to have public health guidelines alter or reverse? You can’t undo an injection.

Section K is the relevant section of the EEOC’s most recent COVID-related guidelines, and section K.1 stipulates that employers may require all employees to obtain vaccination as a condition for physically returning to a workplace. What this means is that in terms of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) there is no grounds as interpreted by the EEOC for claiming some sort of discrimination towards protected classes. It isn’t discriminatory of a company to mandate all employees be vaccinated. But that’s a rather narrow criteria for determining whether a company should be allowed to make such a requirement in the first place. All the EEOC is really focused on is whether such a mandate would be unfair to protected groups, and it’s pretty obvious that it wouldn’t be if it’s being applied evenly to all employees (instead of targeting certain groups) and accommodations are made for those who may have legally protected exceptions from such a mandate.

But shouldn’t all Americans be legally protected from being forced to get a vaccination (or any other specific health procedure) to keep their job? It might be easy to say from the outside that if you don’t like that particular policy, quit and go work someplace else. But anyone actually working (or who ever has actually worked for someone other than the government) understands that it’s hardly that simple. And if all employers decide to require such a vaccination, how does that impact personal liberties?

These are all questions unique to America. Many Americans don’t seem to understand this. It makes life as an American in America more complicated. But those complications are deemed warranted in order to protect something valuable – personal liberty. As we’ve learned after 9/11 and today in an age where fear is increasingly being promoted and used to drive people towards approving certain policies, personal liberty is difficult to obtain, easy to cede, and effectively impossible to take back once ceded. So these questions and issues are important to think through carefully, and to ensure that what is required of people either by the private sector or the government is as narrow and limited and carefully defined as possible. Precedents are being set in a time of panic, and once that panic is over the precedents will remain and will be used as justification for further erosions of personal liberty in the name of safety or convenience or whatever else seems effective.

“How Do You Spell Billiyuns?”

May 21, 2021

Shout out to my all-time favorite comic strip, Bloom County for the title and Carl Sagan for the inspiration beyond that.

Just a little side note to the whole discussion of making vaccines near mandatory, if not by government fiat then by the private market (insistence on proof of vaccinations in order to fly, etc.). There are nine new individual billionaires in the world, executives at major pharmaceutical companies who created and are selling COVID vaccines. The article doesn’t mention how many new millionaires there are related to vaccine production but it seems reasonable to assume there might be more than nine. The article also doesn’t indicate how close these nine people were to the billionaire mark prior to the COVID vaccine production, which I personally would have found relevant and interesting.

I’m not against companies and executives making a profit. I think this is a good incentive to innovate, create, etc. I don’t have definite thoughts on what sort of profit margins are reasonable (like the 30% profit margin the article cites for COVID vaccines). But it does make me itchy when there’s heavy public pressure and possibly even insistence to buy or use a particular product that someone is profiting off of. And I’m sure that 30% profit margin keeps some poorer nations from having access to the vaccines, something some of the companies try to address later in the article by promising 2 billion doses for poorer countries later this year.

I’m trying to think of another situation where people are pushed hard or required to purchase a product or service near universally. Car insurance is the first thing that comes to mind, though I suspect that market is somewhat regulated (does anyone know if this is true?). Still, I could opt not to drive and not have to pay for car insurance then. There are other transportation options available that make this realistic (depending on where you actually live).

Are there other examples that come to mind?

Beyond this, it makes me wonder what kind of pressure comes into play from lobbyists for these companies to keep the vaccine push on as long as possible, including the boosters they are now starting to talk about. Although some people like to talk about just following the science (at least until science says it’s OK to not wear masks if you’re fully vaccinated) reality is a lot more complicated than that.

And a lot more profitable.

Book Review: Live Not By Lies

February 2, 2021

Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher

I was looking forward to this book a great deal, remembering how I found Dreher’s earlier work, The Benedict Option thought provoking and important. Having finished his latest work I’m conflicted in my reactions.

First off, pay attention to the title. This book is primarily a political work. It has to do with resisting totalitarianism (soft totalitarianism, as Dreher describes what is gradually taking over in America and the West). This soft totalitarianism will likely (at least for the near future) rely on non-military, non-violent means to continue to shape public opinion and perspectives both through positive affirmation techniques as well as punitive efforts such as banning web sites, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds or Facebook accounts. Dreher sees in the history of Western Europe and Russia under both Stalinism and Naziism valuable lessons about how to endure this coming darkness in American culture. Granted, this darkness will hit the faithful Christian pastors, congregations, and families first and foremost, but it will affect all of American society and culture. Barring a miracle, Dreher doesn’t think this can be avoided, therefore we must learn and prepare now how to endure it and outlast it.

He writes to and for Christians, without a doubt, but this is a political book. The darkness of totalitarianism he rightly warns about are certainly nothing new in world history or Christian history. Christians have endured, outlasted and at times thrived amidst cultures that were directly opposed to them. And, also very true, countless Christians have and continue to lose their livelihoods, their health, their freedom, and their lives in such contexts. This is no small matter. But we must be clear that Dreher’s primary concern is political rather than religious.

Roughly the first third of the book is dedicated to supporting and illustrating Dreher’s assessment of our current situation in America and the rising tide of soft totalitarianism that will soon displace everything we’ve enjoyed in terms of freedoms and liberties. Much of this will be accomplished through socially active corporations and businesses rather than at the point of a government military bayonet. Americans already conditioned to value first and foremost personal achievement and comfort are increasingly unwilling and unable to endure even the thought of discomfort or adversity, and will willingly sacrifice more and more of their freedoms to ensure they maintain their comfort and are accepted as socially relevant and culturally admirable.

The next two thirds of the book cover the major points of Dreher’s outline for resistance – value the truth, cultivate cultural memory, create and maintain strong families, engage deeply in a faith, seek solidarity beyond faith boundaries, and embrace suffering as a necessary and sometimes valuable part of life. These are broad brushstrokes filled in not with specific how-tos but rather illustrative historical anecdotes gleaned firsthand from those who survived (or didn’t survive) the brutal repressions under Communist or Nazi governments.

The proof that this book is primarily political rather than religious struck me most fully on p.176 where, while emphasizing the importance of building and maintaining relationships and cooperative efforts with others who have not succumbed to the totalitarian state even if their beliefs differ markedly from your own, Dreher states “The Christian activist’s point: be kind to others, for you never know when you will need them, or they will need you.”

This might be a good activist motto, but it is patently unChristian and unBiblical. I’m not accusing Dreher of being either of those things, but it’s clear that his focus in this book is on resisting, enduring, surviving and ultimately triumphing over repressive political regimes that are hostile to Christians and others who do not accept their agendas. If I had thought more about the word Dissidents in the subtitle that might have surprised me less than it did.

My main disappointment in this book is that it is mainly ideological rather than practical. His many Eastern European and Russian anecdotes and interviews definitely support his major premises but do not provide anything close to a Manual. It is not a how to so much as you ought to do this. It is a manifesto rather than a manual, a call to awareness rather than instructive to those already seeing what Dreher sees or already convinced by his arguments.

This is not a bad book but it is mainly a political book. Christians should read this book as a means of recognizing just how bad things might get, whether by soft means or hard means. Prisons, torture, solitary confinement, economic marginalization and executions were all hard means by which Soviet and Nazi regimes attempted to force conformity to and acceptance of their ideologies and agendas. In the West it may never come to such harsh, crash measures when so many people are obsessed over their careers and maintaining a social media image dependent on continued purchases, extravagances, and travel. How many people in the US – Christians even – would be quick to accept whatever was told them in order to ensure their Twitter feed stayed up and their YouTube channel remained monetized and their Facebook account was never flagged as offensive or deleted as such. Additional pressures such as banks choosing not to do business with certain individuals or groups branded by the larger culture as offensive makes it even more complicated. In short order – and without the threat of violence or government interaction at any level someone could find their career ended and struggling to make ends meet. Does it sound far-fetched? Read the headlines more carefully. It’s already happening.

But there’s an element of truth in saying it has always happened. Or perhaps the roots just go back farther than we like to think. At one Dreher uses as support for his premise of the onslaught of soft totalitarianism a very practical litmus test – have you ever held your tongue and not said what you really thought because you were afraid of the consequences? It sounds like a water-proof demonstration of Dreher’s assertions. Surely most if not all of us at one point or another at some point in our lives has decided it was more prudent to remain silent.

Is this anything new? I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird to and with my family. I read it as a high school freshman but don’t remember the book at all beyond the character names. It’s fascinating to read it essentially for the first time and appreciate how good the book is on a variety of levels. It’s not easy to read, as some of the explicit language that was commonplace at the time has been judged never appropriate by anyone other than African Americans themselves. We have to check to make sure the windows are closed and the doors are closed so neighbors don’t overhear something and misinterpret it.

A side character we’re introduced to in the book is a white man who lives with a black woman and has children with her. His preference to live in the black community is a source of consternation to the white people in town, but they dismiss it because they believe him to be an alcoholic. However we’re told as the book unwinds that he actually isn’t an alcoholic – doesn’t even really like the taste of alcohol. But he maintains the appearance of a drunk – reeling when he walks and never to be seen without a brown paper bag that he drinks out of. His explanation for cultivating such a bizarre persona is that it allows him to live life the way he prefers without the outright ostracism or even violence of the white townspeople who, were it not for his alleged alcoholism, could never permit him to carry on his life with a black woman. Because he doesn’t hold the same prejudices as his white neighbors, he finds it more convenient that they dismiss him as a drunk rather than attempt to reform his unorthodox opinions, or punish him for them.

In other words, it’s undoubtedly true that in all times and in all places people have had to hold their tongues or curate a particular public persona that may not fully reflect their private beliefs. That this is the case has not always been indicative of a totalitarian agenda or regime, a fact others have noted. One might easily argue from the Bible that Christians should at all times feel as though they have to be careful about what they say and do because the world and popular culture will naturally be antagonistic to the full weight of the Gospel.

Dreher maintains the suggestion first voiced by Neil Postman that while Americans were busy vaccinating themselves against the evil external threat of Communism as articulated by George Orwell in 1984 and Animal Farm, we have actually fallen prey to the dystopia described by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, a situation where people don’t need to be imprisoned or threatened to behave a certain way because they’ve been conditioned to think the desired behavior is the behavior best for them and everyone else. I think this is a fair assessment. I think that people who continue to voluntarily sacrifice their rights and privacy for an illusory safety and convenience will ultimately be rudely disappointed with their choices. How long it takes them to wake up and realize that – if ever they do – is hard to say.

Finishing this book makes me want to go back and reread The Benedict Option (and I will), as I feel it was more specific to Christians and the life of faith not as a means to a political end but in and of itself.

Law and Religious Freedom

January 18, 2021

Religious freedom is a complicated thing. Efforts in the United States to redefine the First Amendment unofficially to mean freedom of worship instead of freedom of religion understand this. The practice of one’s faith intersects with many different aspects of larger culture and society, not always in ways either convenient or appreciated by the larger culture that doesn’t share the particular religious beliefs of the adherent.

As such, the temptation to pass laws ostensibly for one reason even when they directly impact religious freedom is ever present. And certainly as a society becomes less religious as a whole, such efforts are likely to increase both in frequency and scope, effectively limiting or curtailing religious freedom without officially declaring aspects of a religion unacceptable.

So it is that in Europe, laws restricting Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter methods have been passed – initially in Belgium last year and now upheld against legal challenges this year. Advocates maintain such restrictions are for the benefit of animals, ensuring they are slaughtered humanely. However ironically, advocates make no attempts to demand changes to how animals are raised and spend their lives, oftentimes in cramped, unsanitary and squalid environments. Critics of these laws interpret them as mainly efforts to eliminate religious practices of Jews and Muslims in Europe, and have little to do with whether kosher or halal slaughter rituals are actually inhumane or cause more stress or pain to animals than modern slaughter techniques.

Opponents to the legislation argue that ritual slaughter techniques are not necessarily less humane, and further protect animals not just at their moment of death but in their lives as well.

Specifically, the Belgian law requires animals to be stunned before being slaughtered, while both Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter requires the animal be fully conscious. Both religious traditions argue that done properly, their ritual slaughter techniques cause no stress or pain to the animal, while modern techniques of stunning can introduce great trauma and pain, briefly normally but for longer timeframes when done improperly. Critics also note the Nazi’s banned kosher slaughter in 1933.

Neither the Nazi law or the current law was religious in nature. The laws simply insisted that humane treatment of animals was the main issue. But without demonstrable research that ritual methodologies are unduly inhumane, that argument seems weak at best. Both Jewish and Muslim scholars insist that care for animals is of paramount importance to their traditions as well.

Such legislation is worth noting as similar techniques abridging religious practice are being rolled out in the US as well, such as efforts to eradicate long-standing religious practices and protections. Again, the legislation is not presented primarily as religious in nature, but rather claims to achieve ends that almost everyone would agree are good, while destroying freedom of religious practice – at least one aspect of it – in the process.

Losing rights and privileges can happen abruptly and brutally. But it can also happen slowly and piecemeal and under the guise of accomplishing important and good things.

Continuing the Squeeze

January 16, 2021

Political pressure to redefine what freedom of religion and the First Amendment mean in our country continues. Those who feel this can be easily defined and resisted in terms of political parties would do well to be more observant.

In North Dakota this week a bi-partisan bill was introduced which would eliminate protection for clergy regarding Confession, ostensibly, though the wording of the bill itself is disturbingly less specific. Senate Bill No. 2180 removes a clause exempting members of the clergy from mandatory reporter requirements regarding suspected child abuse or endangerment.

Traditionally our country as part of freedom of religion has respected particularly those sacramental aspects of religious practice. A long-standing aspect of Roman Catholicism as well as several other mainline Protestant denominations centers on the confession of sins and the declaration of absolution by a duly installed minister or priest, with or without penitential requirements. Those who are baptized followers of Jesus Christ are either required or encouraged to confess their sins privately and specifically to a priest or pastor, who may require the confessor to perform a penitential act, such as recitation of prayers or the rosary, as part of absolution – the wiping away of in the eyes of God of sin(s). Confession is Biblical (James 5:16, John 20:19-23), and the Church has long stood by the practice that whatever is shared in confession is private, exempt from reporting or other recriminations beyond the penance potentially imposed by the priest. The idea being that the forgiveness of God is separate from (and superior to) whatever other forms of justice we may rely on here. The Church should not be seen as part of a temporal system of power or justice but rather unique, an outpost of the Kingdom of Christ. A priest might encourage a parishioner to present themselves to the authorities, but the priest should not do so themselves, either of their own volition or under the compulsion of the law, else people refrain from being open and honest in their confession.

California attempted a similar measure last year ago that failed. The impetus in both situations was the alleged protection of children, the idea being that priests who might have been guilty of pedophilia and child abuse might have confessed their sins and received absolution, and had those confessions been subject to mandatory reporting laws (a relatively recent legal innovation) the abusers might have been stopped earlier. It sounds like a reasonable rationale, although I’m not aware of evidence indicating mandatory reporting would have been of much use – meaning nobody has proven that abusers were confessing their abuse.

As I noted a year ago, confession is a core element of historic Christian practice. A priest/pastor and parishioner might engage in any number of different conversations, any of which could lead to a guilty party turning themselves into authorities. Eliminating the protection of confidentiality from the practice of confession and absolution is a stark intrusion into the practice of the Christian religion. Under the assumed benefit of protecting children, Christian life and practice is severely disrupted. The fact that such a disruption would likely go unnoticed by the vast majority of confessing Christians is not the issue. Rather the basic issue is whether freedom of religion is maintained, or whether continuing political pressure to modify it and make it more compatible with contemporary (and transient) cultural preferences is advanced.

Tragically, I assume it will only be a matter of time before the protections of the confessional are stripped away. This will not be to the benefit of our society or culture as a whole, but rather another step (and hardly the last) in the denigration and eventual dismantling of religious freedom in our country.