19 September 2021

My body, My Choice; Your Body, Your Choice

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience.

1 Corinthians 10:27-28

In every age, the challenge of the moral man has always been navigating the secular world while remaining true to his spiritual discipline. Even among sincere and devout Christians, differences of opinion invariably arise as to what is right and what is wrong, what hews to God's Law and what does not.

Nowhere has this conflict between the secular and spiritual been more intense than in the ongoing controversies over the inoculations developed against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which in several instances were developed and tested--and for a few even manufactured--using fetal cell lines, all of which are derived from aborted unborn children.

The Science

Vaccine development has relied on cultures of cells (animal as well as human) for decades. The use of such cultures is a seemingly obvious choice when one is seeking to study viral replication in a lab setting, and to then use that knowledge to devise ways to jumpstart the human body's immune system to ward off severe infectious diseases--e.g., measles, rubella, polio, and now SARS-CoV-2 infections.

Cell cultures involve growing cells in a culture vessel. A primary cell culture consists of cells taken directly from living tissue and never sub-cultivated, and may contain multiple types of cells such as fibroblasts, epithelial, and endothelial cells.

A cell strain is a cell culture that contains only one type of cell in which the cells are normal and have a finite capacity to replicate. Cell strains can be made by taking subcultures from an original, primary culture until only one type remains. Primary cultures can be manipulated in many different ways in order to isolate a single type of cell; spinning the culture in a centrifuge can separate large cells from small ones, for example. An immortalized cell line is a cell culture of a single type of cell that can reproduce indefinitely. Normally, cells are subject to the Hayflick Limit, a rule named for cell biologist Leonard Hayflick, PhD. Hayflick determined that a population of normal human cells will reproduce only a finite number of times before they cease to reproduce. However some cells in culture have undergone a mutation, or they have been manipulated in the laboratory, so that they reproduce indefinitely. One example of an immortalized cell line is the so-called HeLa cell line, started from cervical cancer cells taken in the 1950s from a woman named Henrietta Lacks. Cell lines are not used to produce vaccine viruses.

Researchers can grow human pathogens like viruses in cell strains to attenuate them – that is, to weaken them. One way viruses are adapted for use in vaccines is to alter them so that they are no longer able to grow well in the human body. This may be done, for example, by repeatedly growing the virus in a human cell strain kept at a lower temperature than normal body temperature. In order to keep replicating, the virus adapts to become better at growing at the lower temperature, thus losing its original ability to grow well and cause disease at normal body temperatures. Later, when it’s used in a vaccine and injected into a living human body at normal temperature, it still provokes an immune response but can’t replicate enough to cause illness.
The success of these techniques is self-evident in the number of efficacious vaccines developed using them. No one can plausibly claim that cell cultures are not effective tools for biomedical research and development.

The Ethics 

When animal cells are used, there are few ethical questions that arise, for the simple reason that God entrusted stewardship over all the earth to Man.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
However, this stewardship does conspicuously NOT extend to our fellow Man. God created Man in His image, and gave to each man the power of moral choice. We are called to rule over the animal kingdom, but each man is left free to make his own choices. This is the clear inference from the closing verse of Judges:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Moses conveyed God's Law to the Israelites--and thus to all Mankind--but he did not convey any king or authority save God alone. That this autonomy is to be respected is made plain by the second part of the Great Commandment as taught by Jesus:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We must love our neighbors as we are loving ourselves--and that leaves no room for any domination or imposition of one man upon any other. Thus we cannot--and God's Law makes plain that we should not--take from each other, or do violence to each other. The Ten Commandments are explicit on this point.

We cannot take, but we can give, and we can receive. Thus if a dying man wishes his body to be used for medical research after he has passed, or to have his organs donated that others might continue to live, no sin arises, because where there is consent, God's Law is not violated in such matters.

Yet we must never lose sight of the reality that the giving must be a free choice, and where there is not a free choice, we may never presuppose to use any part of a human being for any purpose, no matter how noble the intent.

Abortion is moral evil because the unborn child never consents to have life taken from him, and there can be no doubt that the unborn child is every bit the human being as a fully grown adult, from the moment of conception.

The unborn child cannot consent to his death, and likewise cannot consent to have his embryonic organs harvested and tissues used to create cell cultures, cell strains, and "immortalized" cell lines. Fetal cell cultures, strains, and lines can thus never be considered "good", because they proceed from unquestionable and undeniable evil. They are, without question, "innocent blood". All research involving the use of fetal cells is tainted by this innocent blood, and no rationalization of human lives saved can suffice to erase that taint. There is no moral calculus that justifies murder.

Fetal Cell Research Is Common

While the moral principle that we must not traffic in innocent blood is simple and straightforward, it has rarely been followed, and the popularity of fetal cell research in medicine and pharmaceutical development since the mid-20th century makes the principle seem almost quaint at first glance. The cynic might easily argue that, while abortion is evil, the research that has been done is fait accompli, and it would be foolish to therefore overlook the very real medical benefits it presents.

Far beyond the SARS-CoV-2 inoculations developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, even a cursory review of common medicines used today shows at least some fetal cell research. Some Catholic theologians even suggest that, if all fetal cell research is considered evil, nearly the whole of modern medicine must be discarded

If we were to disallow all remote cooperation, we would need to reject all of modern society more than contemplative nuns. Only hermitic subsistence farmers or hunter-gathers making their own clothes and tools could be completely free from very remote cooperation in evil. I've noted before that the most logical and moral Christian response is realizing that we can't avoid all really remote cooperation in evil. In general, we should try to avoid it. However, we should not get scrupulous about it: it is one factor in a decision but should not overwhelm every other factor or lead to excessive worry.

That is a cynical argument, and it is not a moral one. Wrong is not magically transformed into right either through the passage of time or by the number of people who stand to gain tangible benefit. Moreover, it is in direct contradiction to the Apostle Paul's teaching of 1 Corinthians which I quoted at the beginning. 

"Food sacrificed to idols" by another person is a demonstrable evil, and eating such food is a demonstrable remote cooperation in that evil. When we encounter such evil, we are counseled to not cooperate--to not eat--both for our own sake and for the sake of those who present such evil before us.

Wrong is wrong. Right is right. There is no overlap between the two. There can be no overlap between the two.

No matter how "remote" the evil, no matter how far removed the wrong, we are called to avoid it. We are called to be "scrupulous" about it.

Though fetal cell research may be common medical practice today, that commonality does not make it moral medical practice, not today, nor on any day.

Whither "Modern" Medicine?

Given the near ubiquity of fetal cell research, must the moral man eschew all modern medicines "for the sake of conscience"?

Certainly we must consider that possibility.  The ultimate flaw in the argument that opposing all fetal cell research means abandoning all modern medicine is the implication that we should not do exactly that--that such abandonment would be at the very least irrational and, given the loss of tangible medical benefits, potentially its own moral failing. That argument presupposes that modern medicine is somehow intrinsically moral, which is an impossibility. Only God's Law itself, as the foundation of morality, can be so considered.

Must we therefore empty out our medicine cabinets and endure life's little aches and pains without the amelioration of today's analgesics? Not necessarily.

One consideration that must be remembered is that not all fetal cell research occurs during the development of a new medicine. Nor are many of our common medicines exactly new, and several predate the isolation of fetal cells and their use in medical research:

Tylenol, also knows as Paracetamol or acetaminophen, was discovered in the 1870s and first marketed in the US in 1950.

Ibuprofen’s discovery was the result of research during the 1950s and 1960s to find a safer alternative to aspirin, with a patent application filed in 1961.

Pseudoephedrine was first characterized by German scientists in 1889.

Diphenhydramine was discovered in 1943 and first marketed in 1946.

Dextromethorphan was successfully tested in 1954 and marketed in 1958.

Guaifenesin was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1952.

Food sacrificed to idols is tainted, but food not sacrificed to idols of which a portion is subsequently defiled is not tainted. The one pearl cast before swine does not defile the remainder which are retained. Medicines developed without fetal cell research are not necessarily tainted by subsequent fetal cell research.

Additionally, Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians very specifically counsels us to refrain from the obsessive search for the taint of evil. We are counseled to not scrutinize everything we are given to determine if it is tainted by evil--but if that taint is revealed to us we are clearly counseled to reject the tainted gift. Whenever we encounter evil, no matter how remote, we are called to renounce that evil, no matter how discomfiting the renunciation, but not until we encounter that evil.

Thus we are never called to obsessively research every medicine and therapy in our medicine cabinet, or prescribed to us, to verify it is free from all taint. We are not called, as some would suggest, to reject everything modern and retreat to the hermitic life of cloistered nuns. We are called to address all that is placed before us with such knowledge as we possess at the time, and with such knowledge to reject all that is evil and violate's God's Law.

My body, My Choice; Your Body, Your Choice

The Apostle Paul also counsels in Romans that we should not be quick to judge the moral choices of another. We should not presume to know more than another, nor be quick to erect new challenges and difficulties in making good and moral choices--life already presents those in abundance!

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

We should listen to the concerns of others, be respectful of the reasoned choices of others, and never presume that our choices are inherently superior to theirs. We should not, for example, belittle someone who is immunocompromised and elects to receive a SARS-CoV-2 inoculation. Neither should we mock someone who, knowing the association between the inoculation and abortion, rejects such medicine even if medical evidences suggest he would benefit from it.

We should hope and pray that everyone chooses rightly and righteously, but we must all remember that only God can judge what is right and righteous. We must remember that each of us can only choose for ourselves alone, and never for anyone else, and that the only clear moral stance is to ensure that all of us are free to make their choices in the sanctity of their own mind and their own conscience.

The practical moral stance can be succinctly summarized thus: My body, my choice; your body, your choice.

Every other position is wrong.




12 September 2021

We Are One

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

God created Man in His image. Every man, every woman, every child, is a reflection of God.

Let that thought sink in....every man, woman, and child is a reflection of God.

We Are All God's Children

Without exception, we are all all God's creation. Without exception, we are all God's children.

Therefore, without exception, all the labels we use to separate, segregate, and subdivide ourselves from ourselves are superfluous. They have no real meaning, and serve no good purpose. 

It matters not if we are "black" or "white", "Jew" or "Gentile", "man" or "woman". It matters not if we hail from the United States or from China. It matters not if we are rich or if we are poor. Regardless of such distinctions, without exception, we are all God's children.

To Label Is To Separate, To Segregate--And To Sin

What purpose do labels serve? How does it build community or serve God to say this man is so-and-so and that man is such-and-such? 

In truth, it does not build community to make such arbitrary distinctions. In truth, it does not serve God to make such arbitrary distinctions. Quite the opposite.

A label is by definition a separation--and a segregation. When we say a man is so-and-so, we imply that he is not such-and-such. When we include a man in one group, we implicitly exclude him from another group. If we say he is "one of them", we imply that he is not "one of us."

It takes no detailed review of the history of the world to see that such separations and segregations are intrinsically evil, and that they lead to even greater evils. The bigotry, discrimination, racism, and anti-Semitism that have plagued civilization seemingly forever all begin with separation and segregation; they begin with arbitrary, capricious, and pointless labels.

We do well to recall what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pointed out about segregation in his "Letter From A Birmingham Jail":

Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?

When we separate--when we segregate--we sin. It really is that simple.

Consider the labels that get thrown around almost casually in the mainstream media: "anti-vaxxer", "Trump Supporter", "vaccinated", "homeless". Consider the many ethnic and racial slurs that are used to crudely define people. Can anyone seriously argue that beneath these labels is anything other than contempt, condescension, and even hatred for one group or another, for one person or another? Can anyone honestly say that using such labels serves any purpose other than dividing the world into an "us" and a "them"? 

I do not think they can.

Love Your Neighbor, Do Not Label Your Neighbor

God's Law is clear on this point: we are to love and not label our neighbors.

You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Moreover, as Jesus makes clear in the Parable of The Good Samaritan, we are all called to be neighbors to each other:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

We are called to love our neighbors. We are never called to hate our neighbors, look down on our neighbors, or dismiss our neighbors. All men are, in God's eyes, our neighbors.

We can never be called, therefore, to label our neighbors. When we label, we separate, we segregate--and we sin.

We Are One

Man is a social creature. We are constructed to come together in families and communities. We are made to seek out the company of our fellow humans. The entirety of human history stands as unequivocal proof of this proposition.

It is irrational in the extreme, therefore, to cut ourselves off from our fellow humans. It is illogical to separate man from man. It is irrational, it is illogical, it is wrong. 

Rather, we should seek to be as God created us--forming families, forming communities, building societies. That is how we love each other, love ourselves, and love God, as we are commanded to do.

Without exception, we are all all God's creation. Without exception, we are all God's children. Without exception, we are one.


10 September 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates: The Mark Of The Beast?

It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Revelation 13:16-17

In a speech on Thursday, 9 September 2021, President Joe Biden announced a sweeping--and disturbing--mandate for all Americans not yet "vaccinated" against the SARS-COV-2 virus, the pathogen which causes COVID-19. The mandate is sweeping because it potentially impacts 100 million Americans. The mandate is disturbing because it is an unprecedented government intrusion into what is traditionally a private and personal matter--one's own healthcare choices.

Many have claimed that such a mandate is immoral, and that the vaccines themselves are nothing less than the Mark Of The Beast starkly described in Revelation.

Is this really the case?

The COVID-19 Vaccines: Salvation Or Science Run Amok?

Even before we come to the question of government edicts to receive the vaccine, we must acknowledge the vaccines themselves are the subject of more than a little controversy.

In part this is because the Pfizer and Moderna shots are the first ever vaccines approved for use using a medical technology known as Messenger RNA, or mRNA. We should not be surprised that many express doubt and unease about them, simply because they are new.

However, the question is less whether they are new and more whether they are safe and effective--the standard used by the FDA to approve or reject new medicines and treatments. Presumably, the Pfizer shot in particular is safe and effective, as it has recently received full approval by the FDA.

In theory, FDA approval is meant to resolve the question of safety and efficacy. In the minds of many, that has not happened for the COVID-19 vaccines, owing largely to both the political hyping of the  vaccines themselves and a measure of real-world use-data that challenges at the very least the efficacy aspect of the shot, and potentially also the safety.

The efficacy of the Pfizer shot has been challenged by data coming out of Israel indicating the shot is only 39% effective against the SARS-COV-2 virus' "Delta" variant, currently the dominant strain within Israel. 

The safety challenges arrive on multiple fronts: There is data showing a risk of myocarditis (inflammation of the membranes of the heart), particularly in teen boys age 12-17. The Johnson and Johnson shot has been associated with cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare but dangerous neurological condition. Overall, all the COVID-19 vaccines used in the US have had a total of 650,075 adverse events reported, including 13,911 deaths and 56,912 hospitalizations

While we should not leap to conclusions based on what is quite clearly incomplete information, these data points serve to demonstrate there is at least some challenge to be made to the vaccines' safety and efficacy.

If the vaccines are not safe nor effective, then they are not mankind's salvation from a dangerous infectious respiratory disease, but merely an example of science run amok.

Efficacy The First Moral Challenge

The safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines--and indeed of any medicine--carries with it the moral challenge of self-care. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, the human body is God's Temple, and we are therefore called to take good care of it.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

If the vaccines are both safe and effective, we may reasonably presume to be taking good care of our physical selves by receiving them. If the vaccines are neither safe nor effective, we may reasonably presume to not be taking good care of our physical selves. In both scenarios, our duty of self-care is a moral duty we unquestionably owe to God.

Yet efficacy presents an even more subtle dilemma beyond the broad-brush statistics. Infectious respiratory disease rarely impacts people the same way, and COVID-19 is no exception. As early as last summer, the CDC acknowledged that young people and people in good health were at relatively low risk from the disease, but that people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, COPD, and asthma, as well as the elderly, were at elevated risk.

The CDC released new data that depicts how many Americans who have died from COVID-19 also had contributing conditions.

Only 6% of COVID-19 deaths have the virus as the only cause mentioned, according to the report, revealing that 94% who died from coronavirus also had other “health conditions and contributing causes.”

The report reads: (Under the “Comorbidities” section)

“For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVOD-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death.”

The healthier we are, the less practical effect the COVID-19 vaccines can have, simply because the likelihood of serious infection is reduced. If there is no or only minimal tangible benefit, the answer to the moral question of whether the vaccines are proper self-care becomes at best murky and uncertain--and in such cases the moral "balance of harms" test would lead one to not get the vaccine.

Fetal Cells The Second Moral Challenge

If one gets past the moral dimensions of safety and efficacy, however, a far greater moral challenge presents: the COVID-19 vaccines use fetal cells either in testing (Pfizer/Moderna) or production (Johnson and Johnson/AstraZeneca). These marvels of modern medicine exist because the remains of aborted unborn children are used in their creation. It is no exaggeration of fact that the pharmaceutical giants who have presented these vaccines to the world are profiting off the deliberate killing of unborn children.

The moral line that is crossed here is nothing less than the Sixth Commandment: You shall not kill. The taking of human life is an undeniable sin--on this there is no debate.

However, we must also remember that Jesus raises the stakes significantly in the Sermon on the Mount. Not only is killing wrong, but the mental states that lead us to take human life are wrong.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

It takes no great measure of sophistry to conclude that profiting off the murder of unborn children falls under Jesus' condemnation. Using human remains as product in this way can only be viewed as a gross disrespect to the deceased individual--it is in every regard saying to the unborn child "Raca" ("Raca" was an ancient Jewish epithet suggesting a person was "worthless" and contemptible). 

The prevailing opinion among most bioethicists is that the use of the particular fetal cell lines involved in COVID-19 vaccine development and production involves fetal cells from abortions far enough removed in time as to not pose a significant ethical hurdle to their use. However, this presumes that the passage of time carries relevance--which condition we do not get from either the Old or the New Testament. Killing is wrong, and so are anger, hatred, and contempt, no matter how much time has elapsed.

Unless one is able to honestly and in good conscience accept the rationale of bioethics that these fetal cell lines are not an ethical show-stopper, the only moral conclusion to be reached is that they are an ethical show-stopper. 

Why this must be is abundantly clear: we are God's children, and we are called to be holy in all things. Paul reminds of this at the beginning of Chapter 12 in Romans:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

The proper worship of God includes--even begins--with keeping our bodies clean and uncorrupted. We cannot do that if we allow anyone or any company to exploit our bodies to enrich themselves via human death and human misery.

Nor can one dismiss Paul's exhortation as mere opinion, for he is merely restating God's Law given to Moses:

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
How we care for our physical selves is a matter of great importance to God, and therefore it should be of great importance to us. Self care is always at its core a moral challenge.

Mandates The Final Challenge

Because of the unavoidable moral dimensions to deciding whether or not to receive these vaccines (or, indeed, to accept any particular therapy or health regimen), one principle is clear above all else: these choices must be personal. Only the individual is positioned to decide what to render to Caesar and what to render to God. No state, no employer, no outside agency can possibly make moral decisions regarding an individual's healthcare.

Mandates--and in particular government mandates, which are necessarily enforced via the police power of the State--seek to do exactly that: choose moral right and moral wrong for the individual. It is that imposition of moral authority over the individual that invites contemplation of the Mark of the Beast.

As I have opined before, an effective way to apprehend Biblical narratives is through an understanding of their mythic origins. Myths are, at their core, religious stories that present and illuminate a religious truth. Such is the nature of all mythologies, and it is certainly true of Biblical narratives. If we contemplate Revelation from a mythic standpoint, we are able to perceive the Mark of The Beast as metaphor.

If we view the Mark of The Beast as metaphor, the vaccine mandates do begin to take on a darker and more sinister aspect:

 Thus apprehended, what metaphor can we find in the Mark of the Beast?

The text gives us a few clues. It describes the mark as something on either the right hand or on the forehead--something that is visible and palpable. It describes the mark as an essential prerequisite to commerce--one cannot move through society without it.

Such a mark, however, carries ramifications and consequences that go far beyond the mere transaction of business. The mark's meaning goes far beyond simple commerce. Consider: if a man can neither buy nor sell, not only has he no way to make a living, but he has no way to procure the essentials of life itself.

If a man must wear a certain mark to buy, without the mark he cannot buy food, cannot eat in a restaurant, cannot rent a room or an apartment, cannot ride public transport, cannot buy private transport--in short, he cannot function in society at all.

If a man must wear a certain mark to sell, and must only sell to other wearers of that mark, without the mark he cannot sell goods, cannot operate a business, cannot hold a job or provide services of any kind--in short, he cannot function in society at all.

With such strictures, in wearing such a mark, in participating in such a society, a man surrenders his capacity to choose to whom he will sell and from whom he will buy. Such choices are made for him by the "beast" claiming to rule over all.

If we accept such a mark, we are not merely surrendering political and economic allegiance. We are not simply "bending the knee." We are surrendering our own moral agency, our capacity to choose right from wrong, and to act on that choice.
While the vaccine mandate may not be a physical mark, the attendant bureacratic requirement of vaccine documentation unquestionably identifies whether we have received the vaccine or not. And the mandates unquestionably aim to determine who may buy and who may sell,  who may work, and who may transact business within our society.

You Must Decide

To my mind and my reading of the Bible, President Biden's vaccine mandates are disturbingly close to what the Mark of The Beast would be. They are close enough to say they are morally wrong and absolutely evil. Haggling over whether the mandate is the Mark portrayed in Revelation is for me a distinction without a difference.

This much, however, I do concede. Each man and each woman must consider this matter and determine for themselves whether complying with these mandates is bending the knee to evil or not. As each man and each woman are called individually to be holy and consecrate themselves unto God, no one else can possibly make these decisions for them.

However people decide this matter, I pray that one and all will, in the clear conscience of their own minds, choose to always offer their bodies as the living sacrifice described by Paul--holy and pleasing to God.

09 September 2021

You Shall Not Hate

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Matthew 5:21-22

The Sixth Commandment is simple and straightforward: You shall not commit murder. We are not supposed to kill one another. 

It takes no great leap of logic to understand why killing is wrong. Life is, after all, God's most precious gift to us--it is unconscionable for any man to take away what God has given.

Still, in Jesus' Sermon On The Mount, He took the concept of killing to an extreme. Not only is the actual taking of life wrong, He teaches us, but the emotions and mental states that lead to killing--specifically, hatred, anger, and contempt--are just as wrong.

Hatred Is Sin

While Jesus' teaching is uncompromising, we should remember that it--like all of His teachings--is not without precedent. Even in the earliest chapters of Genesis we see the admonition against anger and hate, when God reproaches Cain for being angry with Abel (Genesis 4:6-7):

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

The teaching in Genesis is itself simple and straightforward: each of us must do what is right, without regard for what others do. If we become angry with our fellow man, we are allowing his conduct to influence our own--and that is contrary to God's will.

God's prohibition against acting in anger is so strong that He instructed the Israelites to establish "cities of refuge", to where a man who accidentally killed another might flee in order to avoid the angry retributions of men.

Then the Lord said to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly. These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge. These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.

Again, the teaching is clear: we are not to act in anger, but should allow reason and reflection to guide our judgments and set our choices--and when someone does hurt us, we should give suitable space for that reason and reflection to flourish.

When we hate--when we are angry with one another--and particularly when we speak or act on that hatred and anger, we are going against God's will. 

Hatred is a sin. Anger is a sin.

Hatred Is Rising

One only need browse a small sample of current news headlines to see that, in 2021, hatred is definitely on the rise.

One does not even need to read these articles to sense the disdain, contempt, and hatred conveyed by the just the headlines. "Anti-vaxxer" has become the modern-day equivalent of "Raca" ("Raca" was an ancient Jewish epithet suggesting a person was "worthless" and contemptible), a term of derision and hatred. When even our presumptively objective news media casually uses such language, there is no conclusion to be made but that hatred for others is being normalized in the world. The very thing God commands us to not do is becoming commonplace, ordinary, and habitual.

Hatred is rising--and hatred is a sin.

Hatred Is Separation

The brutal truth of hatred is that it, by its very nature, separates man from man. Hatred creates false divisions among men, divisions which were never placed there by God. God created Man in His own image--all men and all women are by definition cast in the image of the Almighty, and any distinction imposed by men is therefore by definition a desecration of that image. The separations among men created by hatred in all its forms, 

The Apostle Paul reminds us of this basic unity of Mankind in Galatians.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pointed out in his "Letter From A Birmingham Jail", separation is a fundamental denial of basic humanity.

Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?

Whenever we seek to divide man from man, we seek--to our eternal shame and damnation--to divide man from God. There can be no question but that this is unconscionable sacrilege.

Hatred Is "Othering"

The false divisions spawned by hatred leads to what sociologists call "othering": 

The use of other as a verb is rooted in sociology: to other a certain culture or individual is to treat that culture as fundamentally different from another class of individuals, often by emphasizing its apartness in traits that differ from one's own. The idea of othering, as sociologist Yiannis Gabriel describes it, is evident in the use of the term barbarian to refer to a foreign culture; Gabriel posits that "it may be initiated by an encounter between civilizations that have no previous tradition of contact or understanding."

Othering can be as simple as speaking of a group of people as "them" in relation to another's "us," or even putting the definite article the in front of a label, as linguist Lynne Murphy writes in Quartz:

“The” makes the group seem like it’s a large, uniform mass, rather than a diverse group of individuals. This is the key to “othering:” treating people from another group as less human than one’s own group. The Nazis did it when they talked about die Juden (“the Jews”). Homophobes do it when they talk about “the gays.” In my research on British and American cultural relations, I’ve found that British writers’ views on American English are a good predictor of whether they’ll write “Americans say it that way” or “The Americans say it that way.” Those who feel that American English threatens British English use “the” to hold Americans at arm’s length (possibly while holding their noses).

Othering is the creation of the false separation "us" and "them"--with "them" being a distinctly inferior group. Such falsehoods are noxious enough on their own, but here in 2021, they are being used against a particularly vulnerable assemblage of people: the sick. Blogger Daisy Luther, in describing her experience of COVID-19 infection while in Mexico, made this disheartening observation about how her sickness was received by others:

The media-propelled fear justifying the lockdowns are every bit as infectious as the virus. You’re like a pariah. A leper. People you know wouldn’t even consider coming near you. I have a kindly neighbor who has dropped off supplies at the door for me, but aside from that, people locally who have done work for me in the past are hesitant to pick up my groceries or handle small errands.

Even some people who are long-distance friends who I talk to online on a daily basis completely disappeared. Some of them were so adamant that Covid is a “scamdemic” they didn’t want to hear about my experience. I didn’t expect emotional fallout from having Covid, but it was present, particularly as it seemed to go on and on. Two weeks feels like a really long time to be sick.

How can anyone presume towards charitable mien and Christian conscience when the sick are treated thus? The answer, of course, is that they cannot. We cannot.

Regardless of how one views a particular bit of medical research or proposed therapy for any disease, without exception we are called to care for the sick, to pray for their healing, and to offer them whatever comforts lie within our power. Treating the sick as "lepers" and "pariahs" falls way short of this standard.

We are capable of better than this. We are called to be better than this. 

You Shall Not Hate

The Sixth Commandment is simple and straightforward: You shall not kill. The way to put the Sixth Commandment into practice taught by Jesus is equally simple and straightforward.

You shall not hate.