The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Abandonment of Truth and the Fall of Civilization

Exactly when Medieval times or the Middle Ages ended and the Modern Age began has long been a subject of discussion and debate.   It will continue to be so, since the transition was not instantaneous but took place over an extended period that included any number of events which, depending the criteria being taken into consideration, could be identified as the turning point.   The question must, therefore, remain open, and for several decades now has taken the backseat to the questions of whether the Modern Age has ended, if so when, and what comes next.      Despite the temptation created by so many of the events of the current year having been presented to us in an apocalyptic framework, it is not my intention to address the latter set of questions here, other than to refer my readers to the interesting and persuasive discussion of such matters by the late John Lukacs in The Passing of the Modern Age (1970), The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age (1993), and At The End of an Age (2002).    It is the transformation of Christendom into Western Civilization, a matter that touches on the questions pertaining to both the beginning and the end of the Modern Age that I shall be talking about here.    Or, to be more precise, I shall be discussing one aspect of that transformation.


Was the transformation of Christendom into Western Civilization the start of the Modern Age (one of the possible answers to the first question), the end of the Modern Age in both the sense of the purpose towards which that Age was directed and moving and in the sense that when it was accomplished the Age came to an end (if so this touches on the answer to all of the questions pertaining to the end of the Age), or was it simply one and the same with the Modern Age?


Christendom is a word that can be used in a narrower or a wider sense.   Let us take it here in its fullest sense of civilization that takes the Christian faith as its foundation and organizational principle.   It is essentially the generic version of what American Russian Orthodox hieromonk, Fr. Seraphim Rose, described in its Eastern Orthodox form when he wrote “that the principal form government took in union with Christian Truth was the Orthodox Christian Empire, wherein sovereignty was vested in a Monarch, and authority proceeded from him downwards through a hierarchical social structure” (Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, 1994, 2018, p. 28).    Obviously, by the end of the Second World War, one of the time-markers for possible ends of the Modern Age, this had been replaced by liberal, secular, democratic, Western Civilization, in all but the most outward, nominal, sense.   At the deepest level, of course, the transformation had been accomplished much earlier than this.


What this suggests, of course, is that, paradoxically, all three options in the complex question in our second paragraph can be answered in the affirmative.


While the question of when exactly the transformation of Christendom into Western Civilization began must remain open, like the related question of when the transition into the Modern Age began, it is certain that the radical epistemic revolution belongs to the earliest stages of the transformation.   By radical epistemic revolution, I mean the fundamental shift in how we conceive of what we know and how we know it that involved a repudiation of both tradition and divine revelation as evidentiary paths to knowledge and which introduced so drastic a change in the meaning of both reason and science as to constitute a break from what these things had been since classical antiquity.     The consequence of this revolution for Christian Truth was that it was removed from the realm of knowledge and reassigned to the realm of a “faith” which had itself been radically redefined so as to bear no resemblance to St. Paul’s “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) but to be almost the very opposite of this.   Clearly this was a most significant event in the breaking of the union between civilization and Christian Truth.


In my last essay, in which I talked about the increasing confusion with regards to basic logical concepts that has occurred in a period that has also seen dogmatic authority increasingly assigned to “science” despite this contradicting the non-authoritarian nature of science in both pre-Modern and Modern meanings, I mentioned the paradox of the fact that the removal of tradition and divine revelation from the realm of evidence which thus emptied that realm of all but the kind of evidence which historians and courts rely upon and the kind which scientists rely upon should have tipped the balance in favour of reason in the ancient debate about the priority of reason versus evidence but has seemingly had the opposite effect of elevating one particular form of evidence over reason and the other remaining form of evidence.   It also needs to be observed, with regards to the dogmatic, authoritative, voice now ascribed to “science”, that in the most obvious cases of this, actual empirical evidence has itself been trumped by something else.   In the anthropogenic global warming/climate change “crisis” of recent decades and the Wuhan bat flu “crisis” of this year, in both of which we have been told that we must accept a drastic reduction in human freedom and submit to totalitarian measures and group-think in order to avert a catastrophe, dissenters have been told to “shut up and listen to the science”, but the “science” in question has largely consisted of computer model projections, which have been granted a bizarre precedence not only over reason, such as the questioning which provokes the “shut up and listen to the science” response, and non-empirical evidence, such as the historical record on the world’s ever-changing climate which directly contradicts the entire alarmist narrative on this subject, but even empirical evidence as this has until recently been understood, observations and measurements made in either the real world or the laboratory.   Since plenty of this sort of empirical evidence joins non-empirical evidence in supporting reason against these narratives, we are in effect being told that we must set both reason and evidence aside and mindlessly obey orders backed only by the fictional speculations of an artificial “intelligence”.   Anyone still open to the evidence of tradition and divine revelation, will find in Scriptural descriptions of the effects of idolatry upon the minds of those who practice it, an ample explanation of this phenomenon.


That tradition and divine revelation became vulnerable to being forced out of the realm of evidence can in part by attributed to their having been set against each other in the period that produced the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.   Both sides share the blame here.   The papacy and its adherents at their worst placed such an emphasis on tradition that they sometimes gave the impression that they had elevated it over divine revelation and thus were inviting a response similar to that given to the scribes and Pharisees by the Lord in Matthew 15:1-2, emphasis on verses three and six, whereas the more radical elements of the Protestant Reformation went so far in the opposite direction as to contradict such New Testament affirmations of tradition as I Corinthians 11:2 and II Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:16.   It is beyond the scope of this essay, of course, to offer a full resolution of this conflict.   I shall simply point out that by divine revelation I mean what theologians call “special revelation”, which is distinct from “general revelation” such as that described by St. Paul in Romans  1:19-20.   General revelation or natural revelation, is God’s revelation of Himself in the natural order of His Creation, and is the source of such truth as can be found in all human tradition.   Special revelation, is God’s salvific revelation of Himself in His Covenants, His written Word, and ultimately in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.   When Christianity makes claims of exclusivity, such as “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man cometh to the Father but through Me”, these rest upon special revelation.   When Christianity acknowledges truth in other religions, this is on the basis of the general revelation that informs all traditions.    See the essays by C. S. Lewis in the first section of God in the Dock (1970), and the book Christianity and Pluralism (1998, 2019), by Ron Dart and J. I. Packer for a more extended discussion of these matters.   Special revelation, because of its role in the ordu salutis, comes with promises of divine protection against corruption (Matthew 5:17-18, for example) that are obviously not extended to general revelation (see the larger context of the Romans passage cited above), which would seem obviously to place the primacy on special divine revelation, without eliminating the epistemic value of either human tradition in general or the particular Apostolic tradition affirmed in Scripture in the aforementioned Pauline references.


The turning of divine (special) revelation and tradition against each other facilitated the rise of rationalism which attacked their now divided house and excluded them both from the realm of reason, evidence, and knowledge.   That this having ultimately led to evidence taking primacy over reason in an ongoing discussion/debate which began prior to Socrates seems counterintuitive is due to the reasons mentioned above, however, it seems more inevitable when we consider what is asserted about Jesus Christ in the first verse of the Gospel according to St. John.   “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”    The word rendered Word in the English of this verse is Logos, the word from which logic is derived.   It does indeed mean “word” in the sense of the unit of speech that is the basic building block of sentences, although it can also mean “sentence” in certain contexts, or even “speech” in general.   It also, however, can mean thought, in the sense of calculation, judgement, evaluation, and basically everything suggested by the word “reason”.   This personification of reason and ascription to it of divine status would have been familiar territory to the Greek thinkers of the day, as just such a thought had long been a dominant theme in Greek philosophy.   


Heraclitus of Ephesus, who is otherwise best known for his view that constant change is the defining characteristic of the world – “you never step in the same river twice” – introduced the concept of the Logos into Greek thought.  Logos, to Heraclitus, was a divine, rational principle that governs the world of flux and brings order and meaning to what otherwise would be chaos. In the first century, the Hellenizing Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, had famously equated the Logos of Greek thought with the personified Wisdom in Jewish Wisdom literature. The eighth chapter of the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is the canonical example of this personification of Wisdom, and the Wisdom of Solomon, one of the disputed books of the Septuagint, is a book long example of the same, possibly originally written as expansion of or commentary on the chapter in Proverbs.  Even prior to Philo there had been a tradition in Jewish thought somewhat parallel to the Greek Logos, represented primarily in the Targum (a translation, or more accurately number of translations, of the Old Testament into Aramaic, along with midrash or exegetical commentary on the same, also in Aramaic), in which the personified Memra acts as the messenger or agent of God.   


There was one huge difference between Philo’s synthesis of Greek and Hebrew thought on this matter and St. John’s.   For Philo the Logos was not God, per se, but a divine intermediary between God and Creation, roughly the equivalent of the Demiurge, albeit the benevolent Demiurge of Plato’s Timaeus not the malevolent Demiurge of the Gnostic heretics.   For St. John, the Logos was both with God, and was identical to God.    The lack of a definite article preceding Theos in the final clause of the first verse of the Gospel does not mean that a diminutive or lesser divinity is intended.   Since the clause joins two nouns of the same case (nominative) with the copula, and Theos is the noun that precedes the copula, its anarthrous condition indicates that it functions grammatically as the predicate rather than the subject (E. C. Colwell, “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament”, Journal of Biblical Literature 52, 1933).   Even if this were not a recognized grammatical rule, St. John’s intention could hardly be clearer, as his Logos, identified in the fourteenth verse as Jesus Christ, repeatedly makes statements employing the Greek equivalent of YHWH in such a way as to unmistakably identify Himself as God.   Indeed, this makes St. John’s use of the Greek philosophical term for the divine principle of reason that makes reality orderly in a way that evokes the first chapter of Genesis with its repeated “and God said…and it was so”, transforming what had been “without form and void” into that which “was very good”, a much more powerful embrace of reason than Philo’s.    See Calvinist philosopher Gordon H. Clark’s The Johannine Logos (1972) for a fuller discussion of this.  This is why the rejection of Christian epistemology, which affirms both special revelation and tradition, and embrace of a rationalist epistemology that removes both from the realm of evidence – although done in the name of reason and hence the term “rationalist” – must inevitably assign reason a much lower place than it had occupied in a worldview that acknowledges the Divine Logos.


The elevation of empirical evidence over historical evidence was also an inevitable consequence of the same epistemological revolution.   The reason for this is that the special revelation and tradition which were banished from the realm of evidence, each have a unique relationship with one of the two evidences allowed to remain.   When special revelation and tradition were sent into exile, the hierarchical relationship between the two was also rejected, leading to the inversion of this hierarchy for the corresponding two evidences.


Empirical evidence or science – real empirical evidence, mind you, not the computer generated, pseudoscientific, fiction masquerading under its name today – corresponds with tradition.   Here, I mean tradition in the generic sense of “that which has been passed down” (tradition comes from the passive perfect participle of the Latin trado, the verb for handing over or passing on) rather than the content of any particular tradition.   Tradition’s chief epistemic value is that it is the means whereby that which has been observed, deduced, and otherwise learned and known in the past is made available to those living in the present so that each generation does not have to re-invent the wheel so to speak and discover everything afresh for itself.   Apart from this, human knowledge could not significantly accumulate and grow.   As mentioned briefly above, with regards to Romans 1, the truths of general or natural revelation which are passed down in tradition are susceptible to corruption, but it is also the case that living traditions are flexible and self-correcting.   That this, and not the rigid inflexibility that rationalists falsely attribute to it, is the nature of tradition, was an insight that was well articulated by Michael Oakeshott (see the title essay and “The Tower of Babel”, in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, 1962).    While true science’s value is primarily utilitarian rather than epistemic – “science is always false, but it is often useful” as Gordon H. Clark put it – the merits of tradition as described in this paragraph overlap to a large degree those which scientists would ascribe to their vocation and methodology.   In the best sense of the word, science is itself a particular tradition, which has been accumulating natural knowledge and correcting itself since Thales of Miletus.


Special revelation, on the other hand, is connected to historical evidence.    This can clearly be seen in both Testaments.   The Old Testament is primarily the record of God’s revelation of Himself through a Covenant relationship established with a particular people, Israel, in a particular place, the Promised Land, over a specific era of time stretching from the period of the Patriarchs, from whom the people were descended, to the partial return from their exile in Babylon at the beginning of the Second Temple period.   Even the portions of it which are not strictly historical narrative in literary genre fit in to that history.   This is most obviously the case with the prophetic writings, which contain divine warnings given to Israel and sometimes the surrounding nations, in connection with events described in the historical record, but even in the case of the Psalms of David, many of these can be tied to specific events in that historical king’s life, as they collectively are tied to his life as a whole.


This is all the more the case with the New Testament.   The New Testament presents us with God’s ultimate revelation of Himself, both to the people with whom He had established the Old Covenant and promised a New, and to all the peoples of the world, in the Incarnation of His Son “and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”.    The story of God’s Incarnational revelation is told in the form of history – events about specific people, in identifiable places, at identifiable times, attested to by witnesses.   We are told that the Virgin Birth, the event shortly to be commemorated at Christmas, occurred in the reign of Augustus Caesar, when Herod the Great was king of Judea, and Cyrenius was governor of Syria, and that it took place in the city of David, Bethlehem.    The baptism of Jesus by His cousin John the Baptist is the event that signaled the beginning of His public ministry.   We are told that John the Baptist’s own ministry began in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judeau, Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee, and Annas and Caiaphas were high priests.   The locations of Jesus' most significant miracles are identified, and the events of the final week of His public ministry are related in great historical detail – His dramatic entry into Jerusalem, His teaching in the Second Temple, His betrayal by Judas for thirty pieces of silver, His Last Passover Supper with His Apostles, His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, His first, illegal, trial before the aforementioned high priests and the Sanhedrin, His second, official, trial before the aforementioned Roman governor, the mob turning against Him, His torture by the Roman soldiers, His crucifixion between two thieves at the hill of Calvary, and His burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.    Real places, real people, real events.   As St. Paul would say to Festus a few years later, “the king (Agrippa) knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely, for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.”   The same St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, would set forth the evidence for the crowning event of God’s Incarnational revelation of Himself in history, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, citing eyewitness after eyewitness.    The Resurrection is not something to which evidence of the empirical sort can speak, but the historical evidence for it is overwhelming. (1)  


In the Christian epistemic hierarchy special revelation which takes place in and through history ranks higher than tradition of which science at its best is a particular example.   The abandonment of Christian epistemology early in the transformation of Christendom into Western Civilization involved a repudiation of both special revelation and tradition as well as the ranking between the two.  Even though considered in themselves, a strong case could be made for the superiority of historical evidence over empirical evidence – the latter consists of observations made in artificially controlled situations to test hypotheses and so cannot be counted upon to have epistemic value, to speak truth about reality, things as they are in themselves, even when they have the utilitarian value of helping us to manipulate things to our own use, and so when it comes to determining truth about reality, the empirical must count as merely one form of testimony among the many that make up historical/legal evidence, as it is in standard courtroom practice, and is therefore logically subordinate to the larger whole of which it is a part – this has resulted in science being elevated over other forms of evidence, over tradition of which it is a particular example and thus logically subordinate to the general form, and over reason.    Science, which belongs at the bottom of the epistemic totem pole and is essentially magic that works (see C. S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man”, the third lecture/essay in the book of the same title), has been raised to the very top of the pole.  


This elevation of science over all other evidence, all other traditions, and reason itself goes a long way to explaining how people who are scientists only in the sense that they speak the technical language of some branch of science or another have managed to substitute baseless predictions spat out by some machine for actual empirical evidence and ascribe to these the kind of authority that properly belongs to special revelation.   They have put this false science to the use of frightening people into giving up their basic rights and freedoms in exchange for protection against one Bogeyman or another and are thus laying waste to what little remains of the civilization that was once Christendom.    This demonstrates just how fundamental to civilization is its account of reality and truth.

(1)  In his essay “Myth Became Fact”, C. S. Lewis spoke of this historicity of the Christian story as the distinguishing point between it and pagan myths with similar elements, and thus described the significance of the Incarnation in this way: 


Now as myth transcends thought, incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the dying god, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens ‐ at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed. To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other.


It was precisely this consideration, that the Christian message was a “true myth”, as put to him by J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, which had brought Lewis to Christian faith.  His interpretation here, of the Incarnation transcending myth by presenting us with a “myth which is also a fact” comes after, of course, his explanation of the meaning and value of myth qua myth, for which explanation I refer you to the essay as a whole which can be found in God in the Dock.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Logic and Science


Let us compare two different hypothetical exchanges.


Person A: The moon is made out of green cheese.


Person B: You dimwitted fool, you ignorant, know-nothing, moron, you addlepated twit.  Cheese is a man-made product, formed by the fermentation of milk solids, which is perishable.   It grows mold and goes bad over time.   The moon was not made by man and has been observed in the sky for thousands of years.   Parts of it have broken off and fallen to earth and these are clearly made of rock.   You would know this if you weren’t such a silly, brain-dead loser, who is as ugly as a monkey’s behind and smells like a cross between a garbage dump, a rendering factory and a sewer to boot, who comes from a long line of horse thieves and whose mother turned tricks.


That was the first exchange.   Now here is the second:


Person C: I don’t think anthropogenic climate change is something we should be alarmed about.   Climate has never been constant but is constantly going through cycles.   These are caused by factors that are almost entirely outside human influence.   Mankind has learned to adjust to the ever-changing climate and historically has done much better in warmer periods rather than cooler periods.   It makes no sense to treat carbon dioxide, the natural product of our own exhalation and the food which vegetation relies upon, as a pollutant.


Person D:  I am terribly sorry but I cannot accept that because you are not a climatologist.  


Which of the two, Person B or Person D, responded with an ad hominem argument?


If you answered “Person D”, then congratulations.   You understand the difference between an insult and the logical fallacy known as the ad hominem argument.   Either that or you reasoned that the abusive language of Person B was so over-the-top that it had to be the other guy.   Most people, I suspect, unless they used the latter reasoning, would have answered with “Person B.”


To insult somebody is to speak about him in a disparaging, contemptuous way.   Person B, in the first exchange, did this to Person A with spades.   He did not, however, rest upon his crass, offensive, name-calling to rebut Person A’s statement, but provided actual reasons for rejecting the suggestion that the moon is made out of cheese.    Person D, by contrast, was polite to the point of excess, even going so far as to apologize for not agreeing with Person C.   At no point, however, did he speak to the reasons Person C gave for opposing climate change alarmism.   Instead, he based his refusal to accept Person C’s position entirely upon Person C’s lack of credentials as a scientific expert in the area of climatology.   His answer, in other words, spoke entirely “to the man” (the literal translation of ad hominem), rather than to the man’s arguments.   This is the essence of the fallacy known as the argumentum ad hominem.    


The confusion of an insult (a defect in manners) with an ad hominem (a defect in logic) is a fairly common mistake, one that has been observed for years.   This year, however, I have noticed there has been a plethora of other mistakes in the usage of logical terminology, usually from people whom I would have expected to know better.     Take the argumentum ab auctoritate, for example, the argument from authority.    Whether this constitutes a valid argument or a logical fallacy depends upon a number of qualifying circumstances.    Its validity or fallaciousness aside, however, it is identified by the form “X says Y, therefore Y”.    An argument about authority, such as one that take the form “First X said Y, now X says non-Y, therefore X has contradicted himself”, is not an argument from authority.    In discussing the big mask controversy earlier this year, I found myself accused of making an argumentum ab auctoritate when I was in fact using the latter form of argument to call into question the medical authorities when they began demanding mask use of us.   I have also seen, in the same type of discussion, actual arguments from authority made, but confused with arguments from evidence.   This is precisely what citing an article in a medical journal amounts to when it is offered as the sole answer to reasoned arguments against mask wearing, regardless of whether or not the article itself even speaks to, let alone rebuts, the specific points that had been made against mask wearing. 


The last example, you will note, is the mirror image of the ad hominem used by Person D in our illustration above.    Person D’s argument could be expressed as “C has no scientific credentials, therefore C cannot be believed”.   The argument of the person who has no answer to a set of reasoned arguments but to cite an article in medical journal could be expressed as “E has scientific credentials, therefore E must be believed.”   The equation of scientific credentials with authority, either requiring belief when it is present, or negating belief when it is absent, not only defies the rules of logic, but contradicts the fundamental nature of science itself.   Science, properly understood, does not speak with this kind of authoritative voice.   It investigates, seeking answers to the questions “how does this work” and ultimately “how can I make this work for me”, but while it can rebut and say “this is not so”, it can never authoritatively pronounce “this is so.”   Anything that does make the latter kind of pronunciation, is not science.


One of the paradoxes of the Modern Age, is that while the advent of rationalism would seem to have stacked the ancient debate about which has epistemic priority, logic, the rules determining the validity of arguments, or evidence, in favour of logic simply by throwing out two whole branches of evidence, tradition and divine revelation, altogether, reducing what remains on the evidence side to the historical and the empirical (scientific), in the long run it has seemed to have had the opposite effect.    Science is now customarily awarded an authority it never claimed for itself, while the basic rules of logic have been neglected and discarded.   Michael Oakeshott noted almost a century ago, that rationalism had introduced a radical change in what reason itself was understood to be.   It had meant one thing from ancient times through St. Thomas on to Richard Hooker, but rationalism had redefined it into something else altogether.   Science also underwent a radical redefinition at the beginning of the Modern Age but evidently, if “science” is now speaking with the voice of authority, it has undergone a second one much more recently.


At the risk of committing the ultimate blasphemy of the age, might I suggest that neither reason nor science has been improved by any of these redefinitions, and that we ought to go back to the original meanings of both?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

It is Way Too Late for That Brian

Brian Pallister should have been an actor.   Judging from his performance last Thursday he would have been much better in that career than in his chosen profession of politics.   Granted, prior to this year, he did a fairly decent job as premier of the province of Manitoba.   He was certainly a major improvement over his predecessor, Greg Selinger of the NDP, although that is setting the bar of comparison extremely low.   This year however, faced with the true test of leadership, a crisis manufactured by the irresponsible news media and the even more irresponsible medical profession, he failed that test big time.   His tear-jerking, emotional-laden, speech on Thursday may very well indicate that he has missed his true calling, the stage.   His timing, however, needs some work, for the performance would have been much more convincing had it come in March.   Adjustments would have had to be made, of course, as it would have made little sense to talk about stealing Christmas in the middle of Lent.   An emotional appeal to Manitobans to follow public health guidelines would have been much better received if he had led with that, however, instead of tacking it on after nine months of arrogant posturing, threats, and bullying.


Pallister’s speech came a couple of days after the release of an Angus Reid Institute survey that indicated that his approval rating had dropped to the lowest of all premiers in the Dominion.   Although he had been asked to comment about this on the day the poll results were released and gave a brief answer it is generally understood that his remarks on Thursday were his real response.  


He claimed that he understood why do not like him.  “I understand that, I totally do” he said.   Certainly, he seemed to be aware of the reasons:


I’m the guy who has told you that you cannot shop…I am the person who has told you you can’t go to work.  I am the premier who has said you can’t run your business because we have the toughest restrictions in Canada, and it affects people who put their lives into their businesses.  I am the person who has come before you and said you can’t go to church, you can’t see your friends, you can’t travel. I’m that guy.


While some dispute this explanation for his drop in approval – Wab Kinew, the current NDP leader, and his butt-kissers in the media think it is due to his having re-opened the economy, which, except for the fact that he shouldn't have closed it in the first place, was the one thing he did right this year – these all seem to be fairly good reasons for disliking him.  It would appear that being aware of the reasons does not actually translate into understanding them, however, because from this starting point, Pallister launched into a bunch of self-justifying hocus pocus about the difference between being liked and respected, illustrated by a story from his school days about being disciplined by the principal for being late and told by the headmaster “You don’t like me right now, son, and that’s okay.  I want you to respect me in ten years.”


Does he seriously think that lesson applies here?


A teacher who disciplines a child for being late does so to prevent the bad habit of tardiness from forming.   Tardiness is a habit which hurts people both professionally, because employers don’t like to either hire or advance people who are tardy, and socially, because, formal occasions where it is fashionable to be late aside, people do not like to be kept waiting by their friends, dates, etc., all the time.   Like all bad habits, it is easier to break when it is just forming than when it is fully developed.   The principal who yells at a student for being late is, indeed, doing him a favour, and so the line from Pallister’s anecdote does indeed apply in that situation.


What Pallister is doing is completely different.


To tell people that they cannot go to work or run their business is to do the very opposite of what the teacher who tries to discipline tardiness out of his student does.   Rather than correcting behaviour that is bad and harmful it forbids behaviour that is both good and necessary.   Rather than helping people it is hurting them.   There is nothing in what Pallister is doing that deserves respect, either now or years down the road.


He, of course, justifies what he is doing on the grounds that it is “saving lives”.   He said:


I will do what I believe is right, and right now I need to save lives.


We have been hearing this from him for quite some time.   It is, however, utter nonsense.  


It is only ethically permissible to hurt Person A to save Person B under certain very limited circumstances.   If Person A pulls a knife on Person B with the intent to kill then we are justified in harming Person A to prevent Person B from being killed.   In this scenario, however, the action of Person A which threatens Person B will definitely have the effect of the death of Person B if not prevented and is done with malicious intent.   Neither of these things is true with regards to the lockdown scenario.    If Person A opens his store there is no certainty that anyone will die from the Wuhan bat flu as a result.   Indeed, when we consider the survival rate of the disease, who the people most likely to die from it are, and the circumstances pertaining to their contracting it, it is, in fact, extremely unlikely that anyone will die as a direct result of Person A opening his store.   Furthermore, there is no malicious intent, no mens rea, in Person A’s opening his store.   His intent is quite good and honourable, to earn a living for himself and his family, by selling people goods that they want or need rather than to be a burden on the public purse.   There is nothing wrong with what he is doing, unless, of course, he is selling nuclear waste to children or some such thing.   Finally, that forbidding Person A from opening his store will harm him is certain, the only uncertainty being the extent of the harm, whether it completely destroys his business and drives him into bankruptcy or not.   The lockdown scenario simply does not meet the standards of when it is ethnically permissible to hurt Person A to save Person B.


Immediately after that self-justifying prattle about saving lives Pallister said the following:


If you don’t think that Covid is real, right now you’re an idiot. 


What an interesting remark from someone who claims that he is doing the right thing and hopes we will eventually respect him for it.    In the same sentence he completely misrepresents the views of those who oppose him and insults them.   To say that someone does not think that Covid real is to say that he questions the existence of either the SARS-CoV-2 virus or the sickness it can produce with symptoms ranging from shortness of breath, fever, and cough to a life-threatening, organ-damaging, severely painful, pneumonia.   I think very few of those who oppose the lockdown question the existence of either of these things.   Opposition to the lockdown is based upon the fact that lockdowns do a lot of very real harm - they devastate the economy, load future generations with piles of debt, damage the fabric of society, dissolve communities, and create mental health problems that themselves result in many fatalities that would not have occurred sans lockdown - and only a small amount at best, of questionable good.   The most informed opposition to the lockdown is also based on the fact that the government imposing what amounts to a total suspension of our constitutional and prescriptive basic freedoms for the supposed sake of keeping us safe from a disease with a survival rate higher than the seasonal flu for otherwise healthy people under the age of 65 and with which the average age of those who die is higher than the average lifespan of Canadians is a giant leap away from civil freedom and towards totalitarianism.

If Mr. Pallister really wants to do the right thing and be respected for it then he had better learn to himself respect the Common Law, the constitution, and the limits these place on his powers as First Minister of the Crown in this province, for until he respects these he is a disgrace to his office.

His speech culminated in an emotional appeal to Manitobans to stay apart at Christmas, full of self-pity about having to be the Grinch that steals Christmas from us this year to keep us safe, so that we will have plenty to celebrate next year.

Well, it was a good performance, but to return to the point made at the beginning, it would have been a lot more persuasive if it had not followed ten months of ordering us around, telling us to snitch on neighbours who don't do as their told, threatening us with punishment, calling us names, setting obscenely high fines for breaking very petty rules, and wasting a million dollars that would have been put to better use hiring extra hospital staff and opening extra beds on contracting a private security organization to help enforce his draconian rules.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Romans 13 and State-Ordered Church Closures

 The thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's epistle to the Romans poses a problem for those who profess the Christian faith and also subscribe to either the doctrine of civil disobedience as taught by Henry David Thoreau in the nineteenth century and exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. in the twentieth or to any other version of Whiggism, for that matter, including the founding ideology of the American republic.    This dilemma has inspired a number of very creative attempts at interpreting the passage to  say other than what it says.   Perhaps my favourite of these is the one thing that says St. Paul was being sarcastic.

I do not have this difficulty myself.   I have always thought Thoreau to be an overrated nincompoop, am not part of the idolatrous cult that worships Gandhi and King, do not believe in civil disobedience, and wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Johnson that "the first Whig was the devil."    I therefore accept the New Testament passage at face value, as enjoining civil obedience upon Christians and teaching the "divine right of kings".  As you have probably deduced from the title of this essay it is the first of these two items that is our primary concern here.   Therefore, I shall discuss the second first to get it out of the way.

The divine right of kings is a doctrine that is widely misunderstood.    This is undoubtedly due to the fact that its opponents, the Whigs to whom we have already alluded and their myriad of ideological descendants, have written most of our history books since the late eighteenth century.   Although Herbert Butterfield  exposed the fundamental fallacies of their method of interpreting history , id est to take the progressive liberal values of the present and interpret the past as movement towards those values with people cast in the role of hero or villain according as they are perceived to have advanced or fought to retard the march of progress, in a short volume first published in 1931, with a few notable exceptions such as the dean of Canadian historians Donald G. Creighton and the Hungarian-American Catholic historian John Lukacs, the Whigs have continued to dominate the field.  Most people, therefore, first encounter the divine right of kings in the caricature of its foes.   The doctrine does not mean that God gives kings unlimited, autocratic, power to rule their subjects as they see fit.   It means precisely the opposite of this, that because the king's office is vested with authority the recognized ultimate source of which is God, the exercise of that authority is a sacred duty and vocation for which God holds him strictly accountable and he is therefore by no means free to abuse his authority by tyrannizing his subjects.   Should any of you have been reading my essays since the beginning you may recall that the first posted here, "The Divine Right of Kings versus the Tyranny of the People", made the case that contrary to the Modern belief that freedom and democracy go together, it is democracy and not divine-right kingship, the internal logic of which leads inevitably to tyranny and totalitarianism.   If government exists by the will of the people, whatever that nonsensical phrase which attributes to a collective something that only individuals possess is taken as meaning, and to serve that will, then it need not recognize any limits on what it does to the people it governs, provided that is what the people want.   That this is where the internal logic of democracy ultimately leads was recognized as a problem long ago.   Alexis de Tocqueville in his famous commentary on Democracy in America (1835, 1840), warned about the "tyranny of the majority" and the twentieth century attempt to get around this by redefining the principle of democracy from "whatever the majority wants" to "whatever we all agree upon" was no improvement in this regards for it ultimately means that everybody must be forced to agree and dissent not tolerated, tyranny in its most extreme, totalitarian, form.    The ancient wise men, such as Plato and Aristotle, knew that democracy is the mother of tyranny.   The Whiggish attempt to circumvent the destiny of democratic tyranny by moderating democracy with liberalism, the recognition of individual rights as a limitation on even democratic government , was doomed to failure.   The evidence of that failure now surrounds us.   All it took for elected politicians to shatter completely the fetters placed upon them by constitutional protections of rights and freedoms was for the public to be persuaded that it was "necessary" to "save lives".   Democracy, far from being held back from evolving into its tyrannical, totalitarian form, by liberalism, broke liberalism's bonds like they were made of straw.    Indeed, it broke not only liberalism but the older safeguards of freedom that predated the rise of Modern Whiggery.   Parliamentary control over government spending, a safeguard of freedom the roots of which go back to the Magna Carta, was attacked in both Parliament and our provincial legislatures as both levels of government sought to be released from this oversight in order to deal with the pandemic.   The distinction between public and private, another safeguard of freedom which goes back to the feudal recognition that "every man's home is his castle", was obliterated by the public health mandarins' demands for technology-enhanced total surveillance of everyone to facilitate "contact tracing" in the name of keeping us safe.   These and other examples of pre-Modern safeguards of liberty, belong to the ancient ideal of constitutional government, with which the divine right of kings is consistent and compatible, and which can be summed up as the idea that the civil authority itself is subject to and bound by the law.   Indeed, the divine right of kings properly understood, and not as the Whigs caricatured it, requires the ideal of constitutional government, which is why monarchs are required as part of their sacred coronation oath to vow to uphold and protect the law.   Democracy, as we have seen from the events of this year, is not consistent with this ancient ideal, and indeed, it could be said that democracy in Modern thought has usurped the place of constitutional government in pre-Modern thought (remember that tyranny and usurpation were originally one and the same concept).

When the divine right of kings is stated within the context of moral theology rather than political philosophy it is pretty much what you find in the thirteenth chapter of Romans.   St. Paul says that the civil authority, the "higher powers" in the Authorized Bible, are "ordained by God" and, switching to the singular, are "the minister of God to thee for good".   More specifically "he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."  Some might object that this is a generic "divine right of civil authority" that contains no endorsement with regards to specific constitutional forms.   I will grant that, but point out that the Scriptures as a whole are hardly silent on the latter subject.   If you turn to the passage that "Christian" republicans use as their chief proof-text, the eighth chapter of I Samuel, and read it through, note first that a democratic republic was not what Israel had prior to this chapter and second that every single negative thing Samuel is instructed to tell the Israelites about what the king they have asked for will be like, has historically also been true of republican and democratic governments, and, indeed, democracies and republics have been historically much harder on their people in the way of taxes than kings ever were.   You will find good kings and bad kings in the Bible, and God Himself is identified as the King of kings.   You will not find a good republic or democracy mentioned in the Bible and, indeed, in the numerous examples from Genesis to Revelation of the people getting together to demand something, either of their governors or of God, it far more often than not displeased God, Who not infrequently punished them by giving them exactly what they asked for.

Now, let us turn back to the civil obedience enjoined upon Christians in this passage.    Does this passage require that the Christian Church close its doors and cease meeting together when the state orders it to?   Is there any way I can answer that question with "no" that does not require a clever re-interpretation of the passage like the ones I referred to and rejected at the beginning of the essay?

The answer to the first question is "no" and the answer to the second question is "yes".

The reason the answer to the first question is no is because it involves a situation that is an obvious exception to the general rule.   It is an obvious exception for two reasons.

The first is that if the civil obedience St. Paul enjoined upon Christians involved shutting the Church down and not meeting if so ordered by the state, then Christianity would not have survived the first century.   Christianity began within the Roman Empire and while the Empire was for the most part quite tolerant when it came to religion in various locations the Roman authorities became hostile to the Christian faith, usually when enemies of the faith went to them and accused Christianity of being a subversive political movement.   That Christianity is nothing of the sort is evinced by the passage we are considering, whose author likely had the false accusations against the Church in mind when he penned it.   However, at various times the accusations against Christianity reached to the very highest level and a general persecution of the Christians was ordered by a Caesar.   If St. Paul did not mean meeting together as a Church to be an exception to civil obedience if forbidden, then all a hostile Caesar would have needed to do was forbid the Church to ever meet again and it would have had to have dissolved permanently.   The Roman authorities did, in fact, outlaw Christianity at various times, and the Church had to meet in secret.   This was not "civil disobedience" in the Thoreau/Gandhi/King sense of defiantly breaking the law to challenge injustice.   It was simply not obeying a civil order that would  have required them to disobey a command from the Highest Authority.

This brings us to the second reason, which is that this very type of scenario occurs in the Scriptures and the way the Scriptures deal with these scenarios makes it clear that an exception to civil obedience is to be found here.

These examples can be found in both Testaments.   The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament is set in the period of the Babylonian Captivity.   You might recall from the Book of Jeremiah that when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and carried everyone away captive, the Lord's instructions through the prophet were that they were to go away, be good subjects of the Babylonian king, and they would live and one day He would return them to the Promised Land.   Daniel and his three friends were among the youth of the Hebrew nobility who were taken captive.   Being devout, they set out to obey the Lord's command and be good Babylonian citizens.   At various points in the book, however, they were required to do something that would break the Law of God.   In the third chapter, for example, Nebuchadnezzar ordered a giant gold idol to be erected in the plain of Dura and commanded all of his high officials to fall down and worship it.   Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, Daniel's three friends who had been raised to such positions at the end of the second chapter as part of Daniel's reward for revealing and interpreting the king's dream (of a giant image with a gold head interpreted to be Nebuchadnezzar himself, presumably the inspiration for his misguided actions in this incident, and the reason, although the text doesn't spell it out, why the image is widely thought to have been of the king himself) were among those so commanded but, since this would be the idolatry forbidden by the Second Commandment, they did not worship the image, and were cast into a fiery furnace as punishment, from which they were miraculously delivered.   Later in the book, in the sixth chapter after the Persians have conquered Babylon, and Daniel is promoted to an even higher position, other officials envious of him persuade Darius to make a decree forbidding anyone to make a petition to any other God or man except himself for the period of a month.   When Daniel continues, despite the edict, to pray to the Lord three times a day, he is accused, and thrown into a den of lions.  Like his friends he is miraculously spared.

The second  example, you will note, is closer to the scenario we are contemplating because rather than requiring something wrong, idolatry, as was the case with the first example, it involves the forbidding of a duty owed to God.

In the New Testament, after the Ascension the disciples of Jesus wait in Jerusalem as commanded until the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost comes upon them and empowers them.   St. Peter preaches a bold sermon to the crowd and about three thousand are converted and baptized.  These continue to meet on a daily basis in the Jewish Temple and, for their specifically Christian fellowship, involving the Apostles' teaching, the Eucharist ("breaking of bread") and prayer, from house to house, as there were no buildings assigned to the purpose and consecrated for it as of yet.   Daily their numbers increased.   Evidently they did not believe in the Satanic lies of "social distancing" and "limiting gatherings" but this was because they put their faith in God, living two millennia before George Bernard Shaw could sadly but accurately say "We have not lost faith, but we have transferred it from God to the medical profession".   In the third chapter of Acts, SS Peter and John heal a man born lame at the gate of the Temple.  This leads to another sermon by St. Peter in Solomon's porch.   Five thousand are converted but the Apostles are arrested.   Brought before the chief priests the next day, they preach to them as well.   The Jewish authorities forbid them to preach and teach in the name of Jesus and their answer is "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard".  In the fifth chapter, after they have continued their ministry and the Church has continued to grow, the Apostles are imprisoned, miraculously set free, and, after they have resumed their teaching the next day, brought before the Sanhedrin.  Their answer to the council began with the words "We ought rather to obey God rather than men."

It is these words that express the response of the faithful when those in authority forbid the practice of the Christian religion.   

So clearly a command from the state not to meet as the Church is an exception to the civil obedience commanded of Christians by St. Paul in the epistle to the Romans.    This does not mean that when the state orders the Church to close, as it has done this year, that we ought to conduct sit-ins, or behave in any of the other ways that have come to be associated with civil disobedience.   When refusing to obey orders of this nature it must be with the attitude that this is an exception to a general rule that is necessary because to obey such orders would be to disobey the very Higher Authority that enjoined civil obedience upon us through St. Paul's words.

There is no Church if she does not meet.   This is something that those whose ecclesiology begins and ends with "the Church is the people not the building" overlook.   Yes, the Church is the people and not the building in which they meet.   The individualist spin so often put on this phrase has no warrant in Scripture.  The very name given to the Body of Christ in the New Testament, ekklesia, is the Greek word for "assembly".   It is people, but people joined together as an assembly or congregation, not people apart from each other doing their own thing on an individual basis.   When the state orders the  Church not to meet - and remember in the first days of the Church they met daily not once a week - it is commanding the Church not to be the Church.   When it tells the Church we can meet but only "virtually" not "in-person" it is commanding us to live a lie.   For that is what being apart, mutually watching an online video, and calling it "being together" is.   It is pretending that this artificial "virtual space" that exists only as an image on our computer screens is reality.   That is an incredibly dangerous road down which to go.

It has been very disappointing, therefore, that this year, the Churches have with few exceptions, chosen to obey man rather than God on this matter.   Medical doctors, who belong to the profession with the least respect for privacy, rights, and freedoms, and therefore ought never to be trusted with any sort of civil authority, have been handed dictatorial powers because of a virus that they have been allowed to blow completely out of proportion, and they have ordered Churches to close, to offer virtual services only, and, in the brief respite from this over the summer, to limit their numbers, forbid congregations from singing, require them to register in advance, sit in designated places, and muzzle their faces.   It is very sad that most Churches have followed these evil orders, despite their being a clear exception to the rule of civil obedience, while those following the Apostles in saying "we ought rather to obey God than men" have been mostly the separatist sects and outright heretics.

God save the Queen and may He punish the politicians who do evil in her name!

Friday, December 4, 2020

Following Christ in a Time of Plague

The following essay was inspired by a blog post written by a member of the leadership team in my parish.   Since this man has been a friend for about a decade and his post inspired me to write the exact opposite of what he had written, I shall do him the courtesy of leaving out his name.   


My parish, like all other Churches, sectarian congregations, and sacred communities of other religions for that matter, are presently forbidden to meet in person here in the province of Manitoba, in violation of three of what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms identify as “fundamental freedoms” and, indeed, in violation of the entire Common Law tradition of justice and liberty that has been the bedrock upon which the Dominion of Canada was built since Confederation.   This insane government overreach, which evokes memories of the persecution of religious communities in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Red China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba and North Vietnam, is called a “Code Red” lockdown, and has been ordered by the public health mandarin, because he and the premier don’t like the fact that the dishonest media concentration on rising numbers of people who test positive for the Wuhan bat flu, regardless of the facts that the tests used are not diagnostic tools and that the majority of the “cases” are people who are not sick in any conventional sense of the term, make them look bad.   Most people are incapable of distinguishing between what the media says and reality and therefore have been duped into thinking that the tearing apart of the fabric of society, dissolving of communities, eroding of social capital, and brainwashing us all into fearing ordinary human contact and distrusting our friends, relatives, and neighbours outside of an extremely small so-called “bubble” of contacts is somehow “necessary.”   The isolation this causes, is not merely an experience we don’t enjoy, something unpleasant, but is downright harmful to our social, moral, spiritual, psychological, and yes, as everyone who knows the meaning of mens sana in corpore sano is aware, physical wellbeing.   Anybody capable of distinguishing between the bare facts and the slant imposed upon them by alarmist adjectives in the news and drawing rational conclusions from the facts will know, regardless of what “most of us” may or may not agree upon, that these measures are by no means precautions necessitated by the spread of a virus which for the portion of the population under 70 and in good health is less dangerous than the seasonal flu and for the portion of the population that is most at risk, that is to say those over 70 and with two or more serious chronic health conditions, these measures are quite evidently not effective at protecting since that portion of the population has been under lockdown since spring.   Furthermore and more importantly, not only are the lockdown measures not necessary, they are not good.   (1)


It is not just disappointing, then, but actually rather disgusting, to see so many people, including professing Christians and even Church leaders, so determined to load the burden of these restrictions upon their family, friends, neighbours, strangers and countrymen in general, as if they were not familiar with our Lord’s warning to His disciples about imitating the Pharisees in loading burdens upon others.  


For much of the last nine months, but especially since the new lockdown was gradually introduced over October and November, I have struggled to reconcile how professing Christians could so callously disregard not only the civil rights and basic freedoms of their neighbours, but their needs as social and spiritual beings as well.  Jesus told us that to love our neighbours as ourselves was the Second Greatest Commandment after that which tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.   It is one thing to say that the voluntary sacrificing of our personal rights and freedoms in the name of keeping our neighbours “safe” is a fulfilment of this Commandment, it is quite another thing to say that sacrificing the rights and freedoms of our family, friends and neighbours is such a fulfilment.   Supporting public health orders that impose maximal restrictions on everybody’s freedom of association, assembly, and religion is doing the latter.   To mistake sacrificing the rights and freedoms of others, which is what support for these public health orders amounts to, for the voluntary sacrificing of your own rights and freedoms, and patting yourself on the back about how much you love your neighbour, is to give the text of the Second Greatest Commandment merely the most superficial of readings.


There is a popular but very wrong and misguided notion that says that to insist upon and stand up for our rights and freedoms is to act selfishly and that to blindly support and obey every rule and restriction that is enacted in the name of public health is to put the common good ahead of our own.   While it is true that at the experiential level rights and freedoms are things that we primarily enjoy on an individual basis it is entirely wrong to say that insisting upon them and standing up for them is selfish.   Once again, voluntarily agreeing to limit the expression of our rights and freedoms for the sake of others may very well be the loving thing to do, but supporting government action that limits those rights and freedoms, not just for us as individuals but for everyone in society, is the very opposite of a loving act.   Our Lord summarized the message of His Sermon on the Mount in the Golden Rule, which states “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you; do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”   That is the rule worded positively, in terms of what we are supposed to do.   It is a coin with a reverse side, which expresses the same thing negatively, in terms of what we are not supposed to do.   Rabbi Hillel the Elder famously gave the negative form of this as “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary” (Shabbat 31a in the Babylonian Talmud).   If supporting government measures that restrict to the point of taking away completely the rights and freedoms of all members of our society does not constitute doing to your fellows what is despicable to you, it is difficult to conceive of what would.


When, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the most famous student of the said Rabbi Hillel’s grandson Gamaliel who went on to become an Apostle of our Lord, St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Church in Corinth instructed them to be careful in how they exercised their Christian liberty so as not to be as stumbling block to those of weaker conscience and to put the good of others ahead of their own good, he clearly meant that they should voluntarily limit and restrict their freedom for the sake of others, not that they should write Caesar and ask him to do it for them and everybody else, nor that they should become Caesar’s cheering section if he did so of  his own accord.   When it came to limiting the freedom of others, St. Paul’s thoughts on that can be found in his epistle to the Galatians, in which the very first anathema sit (actually anathema esto since St. Paul wrote in Greek not Latin) was pronounced on those who presumed so to do.    It is worth pointing out that in I Corinthians the recommended voluntarily imposed limits on freedom involved eating meat of dubious origins and in Galatians the limitations on others that were condemned involved forcing people to cut off their foreskins and to stop eating bacon.   Locking people away in their own houses for months, even if they are healthy, without even the pretence of a criminal charge, let alone trial and conviction, forbidding them any sort of healthy social contact, ordering the businesses in which their life’s work, and possibly that of several generations of their family, is all tied up, and upon which they depend for their living to close and this sort of thing goes far beyond what St. Paul condemned in the legalists troubling the Galatians.    What would he have thought if he had foreseen that some would take his plea to the Corinthians to exercise their liberty prudently and wisely and seek the good of others as an argument for supporting imposed limitations of this nature?


I suspect the answer would be close to what St. Peter had to say about those who misused St. Paul’s epistles in his own day “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”  (II Peter 3:16)


That Jesus demonstrated by His own life what love looks like is most certainly true.   Indeed, His life was a demonstration of what a love that goes beyond the love spoken of in the Greatest and the Second Greatest Commandments looks like.   Remember, those Commandments He said, were the summary of the Law, i.e., that which God rightly requires of us.   A self-sacrificial love, such as Jesus demonstrated by allowing Himself to be unjustly condemned, tortured, and brutally killed for the sake of us all, goes far beyond that, and it is Jesus’ example that Christians are commanded to follow.   To suggest, however, that support and obedience for the lockdown measures is what that kind of love looks like today, is to say something that could only be true in some sort of parallel world where everything is the opposite of our own.


Think about it.   In the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry, the disease that everybody feared, for which everybody who contracted it was excluded from the community and forced to announce themselves as “unclean” lest any unwary traveler come too close, was leprosy.   Jesus encountered several lepers at various points in His ministry, each encounter ending with the healing of the leper.   One particular encounter stands out, however, which is related in all three of the Synoptic Gospels.   In St. Matthew’s Gospel it follows immediately after the Sermon on the Mount.   After He comes down from the mountain a great multitude follows Him and a leper comes to Him, worships Him, and says “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”   He answered, not just in word but in deed:


And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

He did not warn the leper to stay a safe distance away.   He did not warn His disciples to stay a safe distance away.   He did not stay a safe distance away Himself.   He “put forth His hand, and touched him.”


In 1832, the plague of cholera hit the city that is now called Toronto.   It killed a twelfth of the population.    It was, in other words, a plague that makes the one that has been generating an insane amount of panic this year, look small and pathetic in comparison.   While droves fled the city, John Stachan, the Anglican archdeacon of York who seven years later would become the first Bishop of the Diocese of Toronto, remained, personally attended to the sick, volunteered on the wagons that collected dead bodies, conducted the burials, and arranged for support for those orphaned and widowed by the plague.   He did precisely the same thing when the “second wave” of cholera hit two years later.


What does following Jesus’ example of self-sacrificing love for others look like in a time of plague?  Is it what soon-to-be Bishop Strachan did in 1832?   Or is it lecturing other Christians on how abiding by rules that destroy the economy, bankrupt small family businesses and enlarge the market share of big box chains and online corporations like Amazon, tear the fabric of society to pieces, dissolve communities, exhaust social capital, eliminate third places (2), keep families apart, close Churches, encourage distrust of neighbours, and accustom us to accepting severe government limitations on everyone’s basic rights and freedoms, all without accomplishing the stated purpose of saving lives, for the people most at risk and who have been under lockdown much longer are dying anyway and to their number are being added the underreported but rising numbers of suicides, murders, addiction-related deaths and other deaths caused by the lockdowns themselves, somehow serves the “common good”?


Go thou and do likewise.


(1)   For Christian insights drawn from Plato’s distinction in the Timaeus between “The Good” and “The Necessary” see the Notebooks of Simone Weil.

(2)   Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day, 1989.