31 October 2021

Treasure On Earth, Treasure In Heaven

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

The other day I happened across two editorial pieces, one at "Quoth The Raven", an alternative media pseudonymous newsletter on Substack, the other a piece in the Washington Post. The Quoth The Raven article was more or less a rebuttal to the Washington Post piece calling for Americans to "lower their expectations" regarding the shortages and price hikes that are seemingly everywhere of late. The Quoth The Raven took the opportunity to address what the author called "the quality of life con."

While both are interesting reads, ultimately both are wrong.

Quoth The Raven And "The Quality Of Life Con"

The thrust of the Quoth The Raven piece was that by settling for less, by lowering our expectations, we allow our "quality of life" to be slowly, steadily, incrementally diminished.

Quality of life needs to be talked about loudly because it can (and will) be whittled away at without being noticed until, one day, you wake up and your quality of life is much poorer than it was years ago. This is akin to the “weighted blanket theory” case against the Federal Reserve I made on YouTube earlier this year: it falls on you slowly, and you don’t notice it until it’s too late.

On a day by day basis, quality of life can be washed away by things like shrinkflation, higher prices, and exactly what Maynard is arguing for in her op-ed: lowered expectations.

In other words, every day, in small increments, the material things that define our economic "quality of life" can be (and currently are being) washed away.  This is wrong, according to the author, and we should never accept it as inevitable. Rather, we should constantly insist our material desires be met to the greatest extent possible

Again, I think it is appropriate to always be thankful and humble about what we have, but we should stand firm in the expectation that we want our quality of life to continue to progress instead of regress.

Yet is it appropriate or at all wise to focus on material wants and wealth? Certainly the idea seems very much at odds with the teaching from Matthew 6:19-21, which is that we should not focus on material wants and wealth. 

Moreover, in 1 Timothy the Apostle Paul teaches that we should be very careful about the material world.

For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.

Standing firm on the expectation of material wealth does not seem very much in keeping with what the Bible teaches us about successful living.

Micheline Maynard And "Lowered Expectations"

Yet if the author of Quoth The Raven gets it wrong, so, too, does Micheline Maynard in her op-ed piece from The Washington Post.

Customers’ persistent whine, “Why don’t they just hire more people?,” sounds feeble in this era of the Great Resignation, especially in industries, such as food service, with reputations for being tough places to work.

Expecting prompt deliveries and good service is, according to Ms Maynard, "whining". Yet is it really? Even Jesus taught that we are not wrong to expect to get the things for which we ask (and frequently pay in advance), as we see in Matthew 7:9-10:

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

If I want to buy a purple mug, why should I simply settle for a blue one that is "just as nice", to borrow an example from Ms. Maynard's piece? Why should I not take my business to where I can get the purple mug, rather than purchasing the blue one from the vendor who does not have what I explicitly want?

There is no virtue in such settling. There is no righteousness found in blithely taking whatever compromise alternative good or service is put before us, irrespective of what we seek. Our wants are what they are; it is foolishness to pretend they are anything else, and even more foolishness to pretend that we can simply not have them. The human condition is, for better or worse, one of wanting and desire. Regardless of what we rationalize about them, we cannot change the fact that our wants and desires exist, and are going to continue to exist.

Expectations And Desires Are Always A Problem

The simple truth that must be remembered is that expectations and desires--and our indulgence of them--are themselves intrinsically a problem. Expectations, wants, and desires might be inevitable, but focusing our energies on them is simply not helpful to anything we might do. As Ecclesiastes teaches us:

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

If we base our notion of "quality of life" on material things, what ensues is vanity and a striving after wind. No good will come from this, and there is certainly nothing to be gained under the sun. It is not that there is a point where material desires become counterproductive, but rather that material desire itself is always counterproductive. I might want to buy the purple mug, but I am a fool if I think the purple mug is going to bring me any lasting happiness, and I am equally a fool if I think I can be made equally content with the blue one offered up as a substitute. 

Indeed, the very fact that I might be denied the opportunity to get the purple mug will itself detract from my happiness, as is always the case with a want left unfulfilled.

Treasure on earth gives precious little satisfaction or joy, and what it does give does not last. Even Jesus warns us about this, pointing out that treasures on earth deteriorate, rust, and fade away, and if we want lasting satisfaction and joy, we must not seek it in earthly desires.

As Ecclesiastes demonstrates, it is not a question of earthly desires being "wrong", but rather that we cannot get from earthly desires that which we seek from those earthly desires. Gratifying our wants and desires will bring us pleasure, but it will never bring us happiness. That is simply not the way of the world.

Say "No" To Puritanism

Yet while material want does not produce happiness, neither does the deliberate and intentional denial of want. Denouncing material desires or the pursuit of them as either wrong or even evil is also a form of vanity, an imposition of ego onto the world--a world that is never going to be impressed by ego. The Puritan ascetic is as mistaken in his approach as the profligate hedonist. Obsessive denial and piggish pleasure are merely opposite sides of the same extremist coin.

Looking again to Ecclesiastes, we find the teaching of the moderate approach, of taking each day in its turn, with whatever pain and pleasure it might hold.

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

The pains and the pleasures of this world both come from God, for He is the author of everything. He gives us both bounty and scarcity, healing and affliction. As God reminded Job:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

All that we have in this world comes from God. Whether it be good or ill, it comes from God, and in some fashion serves His will. Whatever is put before us, then, we are well advised to take up and use in service to God.

Treasure In Heaven

Thus we return to Jesus' teaching in Matthew, to lay up treasures in Heaven. 

His counsel is not to reject the bounty of this world, nor to greedily seek to possess the bounty of this world. His counsel is not to embrace a life of suffering, nor to flee from such a life. 

Rather, His counsel is to live this life with an eye to the next. His counsel is to seek that which is permanent and not that which is temporary. Be thankful for the good things that come our way in each day, but also be aware that tomorrow is another day, and those good things may or may not be there.

Yet in each day, regardless of what we are given, we are called to seek God, and to serve Him. We are called to cultivate a joyous and thankful heart towards Him. As Psalm 100:4 states:

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him, bless His name!

How do we do this? We do this simply by putting into practice the Great Commandments--by loving the Lord with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul, and also by loving our neighbor even as we love ourselves.

I do this by being appreciative of the vendor who can sell me the purple mug, and also respectful of the vendor who, having no purple mugs, offers to sell me a blue one instead. I do this by being courteous to the waitress who serves me at breakfast, and by being courteous to those whom I will serve in the course of an ordinary day. I do this by being thankful for the vendor who can sell me what I want, thankful for the vendor who seeks only to sell that which he has, and thankful both for those who attend upon me and upon whom I attend.

For each of us, there are days that will be bountiful and days that will be wanting. The call for each of us is to be thankful for all the days, both bountiful and wanting. It is through such thankfulness that we lay up treasure in Heaven, no matter what treasure we find here on Earth.

17 October 2021

Will We Be Sheep Or Goats This Christmas?

"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Matthew 25:31-46

Recently there have been a number of news articles highlighting a growing probability of a shortage of Christmas toys, decorations, and other goodies due to global supply chain dysfunction. Do your shopping extra early this year, we are being told, or else you may not be able to buy any Christmas stuff at all.

While the ability of global supply chains to quickly and efficiently deliver goods to market is a real economic concern and a serious economic problem, we still must pause to ponder if the Christmas holiday is the proper vehicle for calling attention to the issue.

Is Christmas just about toys under a tree?

Poverty Is Real--And Growing

Before people start worrying about how successful their Christmas shopping will or will not be this year, they are well advised to consider first the state of their neighbors. A fair number will not be doing any Christmas shopping at all regardless of how well global supply chains function. 

Here are a few summary facts about poverty in the United States, courtesy of the US Census.

  • The official poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4 percent, up 1.0 percentage point from 10.5 percent in 2019.  This is the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines (Figure 8 and Table B-4).
  •  In 2020, there were 37.2 million people in poverty, approximately 3.3 million more than in 2019 (Figure 8 and Table B-1).
  • Between 2019 and 2020, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanics. Among non-Hispanic Whites, 8.2 percent were in poverty in 2020, while Hispanics had a poverty rate of 17.0 percent. Among the major racial groups examined in this report, Blacks had the highest poverty rate (19.5 percent), but did not experience a significant change from 2019. The poverty rate for Asians (8.1 percent) in 2020 was not statistically different from 2019 (Figure 9 and Table B-1).
  • Poverty rates for people under the age of 18 increased from 14.4 percent in 2019 to 16.1 percent in 2020. Poverty rates also increased for people aged 18 to 64 from 9.4 percent in 2019 to 10.4 percent in 2020. The poverty rate for people aged 65 and older was 9.0 percent in 2020, not statistically different from 2019 (Figure 9 and Table B-1).
  • Between 2019 and 2020, poverty rates increased for married-couple families and families with a female householder. The poverty rate for married-couple families increased from 4.0 percent in 2019 to 4.7 percent in 2020. For families with a female householder, the poverty rate increased from 22.2 percent to 23.4 percent. The poverty rate for families with a male householder was 11.4 percent in 2020, not statistically different from 2019 (Figure 12 and Table B-2).

Simply put, an increasing number of our neighbors are ending up in poverty.

Moreover, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2020 at least 580,000 people in the US were homeless, and 40% of those were literally living on the streets or in abandoned buildings unsuitable for human habitation. The number of homeless in the US has been growing for the past four years. As with poverty, the problem is getting worse, not better.

Surely these issues ought to occupy a greater share of our attention than whether or not we will have a satisfactory number of presents under the Christmas tree com December 25.

Shortages Of More Than Just Toys

While politicians might be fretting about whether or not there will be Christmas presents, we should realize that the shortages being experienced worldwide include far more urgent priorities, such as food and adequate energy to heat homes this coming winter.

Shortages such as these invariably fall most heavily on the poor and less fortunate, for the simple reason they lack the resources to seek out and craft alternatives.

Long before we get to worrying about timely shipments of Christmas presents from China, we have pressing concerns of poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity all around us, concerns driven not by shortages of toys, but by shortages of gasoline and basic necessities.

Apathy Is A Sin

As the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew illustrates, we are not called to ignore the less fortunate around us. We are called to care about them, and in at least some regard, we are called to care for them.

When they are hungry, we are called to give them food.

When they are thirsty, we are called to give them drink.

When they are naked, we are called to give them clothing.

When they are sick, we are called to show compassion towards them.

The parable makes it clear that we cannot presume to be righteous or devoted to God if we ignore the very real needs of our fellow travelers on this road. Apathy is a sin, and the penalty for it is severe.

We Are Called To Act

The parable of the sheep and the goats makes clear also that the call to compassion is a call to each of us as individuals. We are not given the option to pawn the duty of care off on others, and certainly not on government programs. Wherever we see human want and human suffering, we are called to care.

This is reiterated in the oft-told parable of the Good Samaritan as well, in which Jesus explained what it really means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are not called to go on an endless crusade against all want and misery--as Jesus teaches, the poor are always going to be there--but when we see someone in need of a little compassion, we are called to show that compassion. We are called as individuals not to ignore someone in need.

Above all, we are called to act. There are no explicit rules in the Gospel on what actions we should take, but there is an unequivocal teaching that we should always take action.

The World Is Full Of Bad News. We Have The Power To Be Good News

One doesn't need to read the news articles mentioned here to know that there is an abundance of bad news in the world, and it certainly seems at times as if the bad news is getting steadily worse. Certainly being told that this year's Christmas presents are stuck on a slow boat from China qualifies as bad news!

Yet within every problem there lies an opportunity for a solution. Within every bad event there lies an opportunity for doing something good. Wherever there is bad news, there is a moment for us to create some good news.

Each of us has the power to be good news to someone. Even if it is something as simple as helping someone get safely across the street, or sharing some spare change from one's pocket, each of us has the power to do something to help someone else. We do not even have to go looking for opportunities to help one another; if we are out and about in our community we are certain to see at least some of the time people needing just a little bit of help to get through the day.

We do well to remind ourselves of this, particularly when we are faced with news of "Christmas shortages".  While we may be faced with shortages in the material world, in Jesus we only have abundance--abundance of love, abundance of care, abundance of compassion. While the world around us may lack a great many things, within each of us there never needs be any lack of love, or care, or compassion. Each of us has all of these in infinite abundance.

We do well to remind ourselves that, shortages in the material world or no, we are called daily to share that abundance of love, care, and compassion that is already within each of us.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the sheep are the ones who remembered this, and gave of their abundance. The goats are the ones who forgot this, and failed to give of their abundance.

This coming holiday season, what will you do? Will you worry more about the shortages of "stuff" in the world, or will you focus instead on sharing your abundance? 

This coming holiday season, what will you choose? Will you choose to be one of the sheep, or will you choose to be one of the goats?



10 October 2021

Good Leadership, Christian Leadership, Starts With Not Being Stupid

Bid the older men be temperate, serious, sensible, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

Titus 2:2

When I started this blog, I was resolved to keep political matters out. I wanted to focus on the Bible, on God, and on how to live in accordance with both.

Of late, political matters have intruded, perhaps inevitably so. Wherever there are men gathering together, there will be politics.

Yet in this moment I find myself thinking not about politics, but politicians--in particular, Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat from New York and Senate Majority Leader. I find myself thinking, and wondering, at how a man seemingly so accomplished can be so incomprehensibly stupid.

The Rant

The catalyst for Schumer's descent into inane idiocy was the recent debt limit debate in the US Senate, which had been stymied for quite some time until Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell brokered a temporary compromise to extend the federal debt limit until some time in December.

The merits and demerits of the debt limit, and the political positions staked out by Democrats and Republicans, are not at issue here, and I do not propose to discuss them. What is at issue was a bizarre speech delivered by Senator Schumer after the Senate successfully voted to end debate on the debt limit legislation, allowing the bill to proceed to a final vote. 

Courtesy of C-Span, Senator's Schumer's remarks can be watched below:

In the background, one can see another Senate Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, burying his head in his hands listening to Schumer's partisan rhetoric. Senator Manchin was later quoted as saying the speech was inappropriate.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate at this time,” Manchin later told reporters. “We have to de-weaponize. You can’t be playing politics. None of us can — on both sides,” Manchin said. “Civility is gone.”

Unsurprisingly, Senate Republicans agreed.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who voted to end the filibuster and pass the measure, said he confronted Schumer after his comments.

“I thought it was totally out of line,” Thune said. “I just thought it was an incredibly partisan speech after we had just helped him solve a problem.”

Neither Temperate, Nor Serious, Nor Sensible. Nor Necessary.

Regardless of political affiliations or ideology, there is no denying that Senator Schumer's remarks were neither temperate, nor serious, nor sensible. Rather, they were aggressive, even angry and accusatory, and calibrated to put the Senate Republicans on the defensive.

Paul's exhortation to Titus teaches us that the elders in any group--and, as Majority Leader, Senator Schumer is unquestionably one of that body's elders--are supposed to set an example of temperance, seriousness, and sensibility. Aggressive, angry, accusatory words do not conform to such an example. Senator Schumer failed to measure up to the example he is called to set.

Moreover, the example that should be set is that all men should love one another. Paul reminds us of this second of the two Great Commandments in Romans 13:8-10:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

The man who is intemperate in his words is, as a general rule, not showing love to his neighbor--and, by extension, failing to show love even to himself. Intemperate words demean us, as Jesus Himself teaches us in Mark 7:20-23:

And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”

Good leadership, Christian leadership, necessarily begins with temperance, seriousness, and sensibility. In every community, we look to our elders to exemplify these virtues, and our elders help strengthen our communities by exemplifying these virtues.

Leaders lead by setting the example described in Titus, of temperance, seriousness, and sensibility. Leaders lead by showing how we avoid giving rise to evil thoughts, to the wickedness, deceit, and pride that can contaminate everything we do if we are not careful. Leaders lead by putting the commandment to love our neighbors even as we love ourselves into daily practice.

Leaders are rational, not emotional. Leaders are deliberate, not impulsive.

Senator Schumer's words were very emotional and presumably very impulsive. They were also simply not necessary. Within the Senate rules, the Republicans had already given Schumer the critical vote he needed to move the debt limit legislation forward. They had done what was promised, and had even, to borrow Senator Schumer's words, "gotten out of the way." There was literally nothing left for Schumer to accomplish on that particular bill. The sober and deliberate thing--the smart thing--to do would have been to declare victory and move on to the next battle.

Senator Schumer did not do that. In that moment, Senator Schumer did not lead.  

Senator Schumer did not do the smart thing. Instead, Senator Schumer chose to do a very stupid thing.

Words Have Consequences Just As Do Actions

Already, Senator Schumer's speech is producing political fallout. The day after Schumer took to the floor of the Senate to deliver his remarks, Senate Minority Leader McConnell wrote a letter to President Biden telling him that the Senate Republicans would not provide Schumer with crucial "bipartisan" votes when the debt limit comes up for debate again in December.

McConnell and 10 other Senate Republicans on Oct. 7 joined Democrats in temporarily raising the ceiling through Dec. 3, enabling Democrats to avoid using a process called reconciliation.

That won’t happen again, McConnell warned Biden.

“Last night, Republicans filled the leadership vacuum that has troubled the Senate since January. I write to inform you that I will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis,” the Republican wrote in a letter to the president.

When a moment comes when Schumer needs Republican votes to pass a crucial piece of legislation (such as the next debt limit bill which will come up in just a couple months), Senator McConnell is pledging to not be there--and is that really so surprising, given Senator Schumer's urge to blame Republicans for the debt limit crisis? Who among us would help someone a second time, when after the first he immediately turns to blame us for all his particular ills?

There is no way to know if extending the proverbial olive branch to the Senate Republicans after moving the debt limit bill out of debate and putting it to a vote would have made much of a difference. Senator McConnell could easily use all the many Senate rules to keep future bills at bay even if Schumer was effusive in his praise of McConnell's bipartisianship. However, we already know from Senator McConnell's letter to President Biden is that future votes on the debt limit are will not be a showcase for bipartisan cooperation, and McConnell is pointing to Schumer's words as the very obvious--and foreseeable--justification.

It is no exaggeration to say that Senator Schumer may have quite possibly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Don't Go Around Making Enemies

In matters small as well as large, adherence to God's will conveys immediate practical benefits. God's Law is not merely the right thing to do, it is the practical thing to do as well. 

The practical benefit of temperance, seriousness, and sensibility, is they reduce the number of people in conflict with each other. Well chosen words are less likely to offend unintentionally. When a community's elders show temperance, seriousness, and sensibility, by that example they help guide people away from the toxic pattern of making enemies--a pattern that is far too prevalent today and that desperately needs to be broken.

When leaders and elders are temperate, serious, and sensible, they make it much easier for people within the community to come together even over contentious issues. Senator McConnnell does not write that letter, with those exact words, but for Senator Schumer's highly partisan rant. Senator Manchin does not publicly describe Senator Schumer's remarks as intemperate.

Senator Schumer turned more than a few of his fellow senators against him with his little rant. At a time when it is simply good tactics for him to be making friends, he decided to make enemies.

There is no apt description for such a choice but to call it stupid. 

Be Temperate, Serious, Sensible. Do Not Be Stupid

Leaders in every community are called to be the community example of temperance. Elders everywhere are called to be serious and sensible. All of us are called to public behaviors of sobriety, respect, and consideration.

The Bible calls us all to such behavior. So does simple common sense--something Senator Schumer completely lacked when he chose to give a partisan rant in a moment that called for gratitude and respect.

Ultimately, the Biblical teaching is simply this: Be temperate, serious, and sensible. Do not be stupid.


03 October 2021

Beware The Leaven of Priests, Popes, And Other Modern-Day Pharisees

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 16:5-12

As government edicts at all levels commanding Americans to receive the COVID-19 inoculations produced by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson increase, many Americans are asserting their religious freedoms and seeking religious exemptions to these mandates.

More and more employers are ordering workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 without the option of getting tested instead. Now workers are pushing back.

In Washington, D.C., more than 400 fire and emergency medical workers applied for religious exemptions to the city's vaccine mandate. In Los Angeles, roughly a quarter of the police department is expected to seek religious exemptions.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul Rejects The Premise

In response to the increase in New Yorkers seeking a religious exemption to the inoculation diktat, New York Governor Kathy Hochul advanced a startling argument to reject literally all religious exemptions:

“There are not legitimate religious exemptions because the leaders of all the organized religions have said there’s no legitimate reason,” the governor told reporters during a Monday morning briefing, “and we’re going to win that in court in a matter of days.”

In other words, it is not possible for anyone to invoke a religious belief against taking the COVID-19 inoculations because "the leaders of all the organized religions" have said "no".

Catholics Are Told The Inoculations Are Permissible

To be sure, Pope Francis has come out strongly in favor of the inoculations, calling getting them "an act of love." For Catholics here in the United States, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in December of 2020 asserting that receiving the Pfizer and Moderna inoculations was morally permissible:

With regard to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, they concluded:

“In view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines, the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use, despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines.

“Receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community.  In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.” 

Ms. Hochul is certainly accurate when she says leaders of organized religions have given the COVID-19 inoculations their stamp of approval. Alas for her, that is the sum of what she got right about religious exemptions. Merely because an acknowledged religious leader issues a statement articulating a particular moral position on the COVID-19 inoculations does not free those inoculations from moral consideration by each person contemplating getting inoculated. I have articulated my own moral reasoning both on the inoculations themselves and the various mandates commanding their use, and while some may use such thoughts to frame their own moral reasoning, none of my thoughts, nor those of Pope Francis, can replace the individual's moral reasoning. 

Humans Make Human Errors

Pope Francis, US Catholic bishops, and myself are all merely men. We are human. We are capable of error, and that includes misinterpreting God's Law. We are capable of misunderstanding God's will. It is very nearly certain that we have misunderstood and misinterpreted more than once, and equally certain that we will misunderstand and misinterpret many more times.

While religious leaders certainly speak with a certain credibility on moral issues, their native imperfection and state of sin precludes us from putting blind faith in their teachings. Our faith is to be given to God and God alone. No Pope, no bishop, no President, nor governor, stands to ever receive that faith. That can never happen; that is never the order of things.

In fact, as Jesus warned his disciples in Matthew 16, we should be extremely careful about what we make of the religious declarations by religious leaders. While they may be well reasoned and may draw upon scripture to provide foundational logic to their position, they may still be wrong and sinful.

Certainly the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of Jewish society during Jesus' time on Earth, got quite a bit wrong, as Jesus pointed out quite bluntly at the beginning of Matthew 15:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’ But you say, ‘If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.’ So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”

US Catholic Bishops Certainly Get It Wrong

In the case of American Bishops, they almost certainly got it wrong. We must be mindful that all three inoculations are tainted by the sin of abortion: Pfizer and Moderna both used fetal cells--the biological remains of a child ripped from his mother's womb, and Johnson & Johnson uses fetal cells to actually produce doses of their inoculation. If one believes, as I do, that accepting an inoculation when you know it is morally tainted is morally wrong, that is the deciding factor.

Moreover, the rationale used by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is predicated on an untrue statement: that there are no viable alternatives to the inoculations. As I discuss in my Substack newsletter "All Facts Matter", there are and have always been viable alternative therapies for COVID-19. The attempt by Catholic bishops to let American Catholics "off the hook" regarding getting inoculated necessarily fails because the essential predicate--lack of alternatives--may have been part of the larger media narrative, but it was never part of the reality.

The Leaven: Authority Pretending To Be Truth

What was true in the Gospels is true today: the appeal to authority is logical fallacy, not logical thought.

A fundamental reason why the Appeal to Authority can be a fallacy is that a proposition can be well supported only by facts and logically valid inferences. But by using an authority, the argument is relying upon testimony, not facts. A testimony is not an argument and it is not a fact. 

Neither Governor Hochul nor Pope Francis can, of themselves, deliver anything more than testimony. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops cannot, of themselves, deliver anything more than testimony. The positions and teachings of any religious leader, while potentially substantive and deserving of serious consideration, are fundamentally opinions and conclusions, not evidence and fact. This is the nature of testimony.

This is the leaven of the Pharisees, both then and now--the presumption that because an "authority" says it is so, it must necessarily be so. An act is not moral merely because it has been declared such by the Pope; an act is moral when it complies with God's Law and is in accordance with God's will. Acts which do not comply with God's Law are wrong and immoral no matter what any religious leader claims. Blindly trusting any authority is a dangerous invitation for sin (and a reckless disregard for all manner of unintended consequences even in a merely secular sense). 

Papal edicts do not matter. Government assertions of right and wrong do not matter. These things do not take the place of God's Law, and they are not a guarantee of fidelity to God's Law. Such statements may help guide us in choosing the good and righteous thing to do in any instance, but they are no substitute for our own moral reasoning and deliberation.

Fidelity Is Personal And Individual

What matters in everything is our individual faithfulness and fidelity to God's Law. Each of us, in the privacy of his own conscience, must decide for himself what is right and what is wrong. Each of us, in our hearts, must decide how to follow God's will. 

Our duty to God is an individual duty. While we can seek guidance from priests and pastors, while we can read the Pope's encyclicals and ponder their contents, our duty is always to make our own choices, and then follow through with them. We cannot delegate those choices to others, nor can we allow others to do our moral reasoning for us. Faith never works that way. Fidelity never works that way

Faithfulness and fidelity are always personal and individual concepts. They are not collective ideas and they are not driven by any form of consensus. They are not imposed from without, but arise from within each of us.

Beware The Leaven--Choose For Yourself

When a priest, a pastor, or a Pope presents a teaching that is in seeming contradiction to Biblical teaching, we err if we follow that teaching merely because it comes from a priest, a pastor, or a Pope. Not only is such appeal to authority a logical fallacy, but it is the very thing Jesus warned His disciples about in Matthew 16: beware the leaven; beware false teachings and bad reasoning. Beware teachings that compromise moral precept.

Ms Hochul was completely wrong to assert that there could be no religious objection to the COVID-19 inoculations simply because the leaders of the major Christian denominations gave the inoculations their imprimatur. That is not how religious objection works, nor has it ever been how religious objection works.

Moreover, she is wrong again to presume to present government edicts and mandates as intrinsically moral. Compliance with a government diktat may or may not be right, but that determination is something the individual must make individually. Legally, government may impose various sanctions for non-compliance, but such sanctions can never be equated with moral correctness (and all too often are indicative of the exact opposite!).

Beware the leaven of the Pope. Beware the leaven of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Beware the leaven of your local priest or pastor. Beware the leaven of doctors and government leaders. Where their moral reasoning is wide of the mark, set their reasoning aside. Use your intellect to do your own reasoning and draw your own conclusions. Choose for yourself which is the good and righteous path to take, not just as regards government inoculation mandates, but in everything.

Choose compliance where it is not wrong to comply, choose resistance where compliance is sinful. In all circumstances, however, beware the leaven of authority and choose for yourself. Never let others choose for you.