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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.
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.