Vaccine Mandates and Crony Statism
Biblical law relating to protecting human life is preventive, not preemptive. Aside from preventing the reckless, direct threat to human life, civil law may not intrude on human liberty.
Dear friends and supporters:
I skipped writing last week since we were on the final leg of our month-long tour. Thank you for your patience, and it was great to see many of you.
I’ve already addressed “Mandatory Masks, ‘Shelter at Home,’ and (Anti-) Social Distancing,” impositions unfortunately surviving into late summer 2021, but the pressing cultural issue just now related to the seemingly endless Covid drama is vaccine mandates.
The Bible and Communicable Diseases
It’s wrong to suppose the Bible has nothing to say about the issue of serous communicable illnesses. The Bible speaks directly to many issues and indirectly to all other issues. “His [God’s] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (1 Pet. 1:3). All things pertaining to life and godliness. “All things” includes how to respond to viruses.
A notably pertinent passage addressing communicable diseases is Leviticus 13–14, cleanliness laws relating to leprosy and other such diseases, whose validity Jesus verified (Lk. 17:11–19). This case law is detailed and extensive (“case law” is a specific application of a more general law or principle).
Leprosy in the Bible is almost certainly not the same illness called by that name today (Hansen’s disease), but rather a broad category of ancient illnesses that presented as skin disorders, some of them potentially grotesque and severe. The concern of Leviticus is as much ritual uncleanliness as it is transmitted contagion. If untreated or unchecked, it often led to severe and bizarre and permanent physical deformation.
The basic biblical case law for tackling it in the premodern world is observation and seven-day-at-a-time quarantine. This obligation falls ultimately to what we today would call the state, though that unit was drastically smaller in biblical times, almost closer to what we’d today consider a neighborhood. The infected would be quarantined until he fully and observably healed.
Because we live in a society privileged by modern medicine (a gift, by the way, of Christian culture), we’re much more aware of the causes and cures of communicable diseases. We can detect them via blood tests, for example, and not mere external observation. Bacterial illnesses can be cured by antibiotics and many viruses prevented by vaccines. These medical advances build on, and do not negate, God’s law. While leprosy (however defined) might have largely disappeared due to the medical advances in harmony with God’s revelation, the principle underlying the case law has not.
As Walter C. Kaiser shows, even Old Testament writers in periods subsequent to the Mosaic wrote as though the principle underlying the Mosaic case laws was authoritative (Hos. 12:3–6). So did the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 9:10–11):
We conclude, therefore, that the specificity or particularity of the OT in either its narratives or its laws must be no impediment to our general use or a hindrance in the formation of universal injunctions.
Similarly, Greg L. Bahnsen writes:
The underlying principles of the Old Testament civil law are the abiding moral standards which should continue to guide civil magistrates in our day. This is why the Mosaic law is a “model” to be emulated, not a code to be simply quoted or read into modern statute books.
From this “general use” and “underlying principles” we learn that individuals demonstrably infected by a severe disease are quarantined, not potentially infected people, or people with merely minor infections such as today’s common colds or the flu (which were likely also existent in biblical times), and certainly not to quarantine an entire society on the rationale that comprehensive quarantine will preempt infection.
In short, pertaining to the Covid drama, the 2020 state-mandated comprehensive “lockdowns” are contra-biblical.
Preventive or Preemptive?
Biblical law with respect to protecting human life is preventive, not preemptive. Civil law must prevent the reckless, direct threat to human life (e.g., playing Russian roulette) but may not preempt every possible risky situation (motorcycles zooming through congested auto traffic).
We read in Deuteronomy 22:8,
“When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring guilt of bloodshed on your household if anyone falls from it.”
As Greg Bahnsen argues elsewhere, the general principle behind the case law requiring railings on the housetops of ancient Israel and thus protecting human life has as its modern application the requirement to fence in outdoor swimming pools. But the state may not outlaw swimming pools or swimming on the grounds that somebody might drown: preventive, but not preemptive.
It won’t suffice to argue that since viruses can now be detected by blood tests and not mere observation, any infected person must be quarantined. It’s quite true that if every infected person everywhere were quarantined, viruses could be temporarily halted, but this is no permanent solution to viruses, which end only when there are no more people to infect: so-called “herd immunity,” achieved naturally or artificially (via vaccines). The Bible never envisions a comprehensive quarantine that allegedly (though never actually) could eliminate a communicable illness, only the quarantine of obviously and empirically ill people.
To summarize: quarantine of demonstrably ill (and not merely infected) people is required. Quarantine of an entire healthy society is contra-biblical and in fact impossible to practice, as we observed in 2020. (We all need DoorDash and Wal Mart.)
This booklet shows that the grand political vision of our time, liberalism, is based on apostate theological presuppositions. Christians must overthrow those religious convictions to finally destroy political liberalism.
Order the book here.
But the immediate issue is vaccines, notably impending vaccine mandates, both by the state and by “private”* institutions.
* I place “private” in apologetic quotes to highlight the widespread semantic strategy of referring to politics as a “public” good and free markets as a “private” good, as though politics benefits everybody while the free market benefits only a few greedy people caring only for themselves. The opposite is more nearly true: free markets benefit everybody, while politics these days benefits the politically connected.
While there always seems to be a minority of individuals suspicious of vaccines as such, most people recognize the inestimable value of vaccines in human history, a boon to global health, and an aspect of God’s common grace. There is a reason no one in the West fears smallpox, polio, mumps, measles, and other once fearful illnesses: vaccines have virtually eliminated them. Early indications have been that Covid vaccines are, not surprisingly, quite effective. Recent developments show, also not surprisingly, that the effects deteriorate after exposure to new virus strains. One fact is surprising: the comparatively high number of “breakthrough infections,” Covid acquisition among those vaccinated, though the overall number is still low:
As of August 9, 7,608 people in the U.S. have been hospitalized with breakthrough infections and 1,587 have died, according to CDC data. However, the agency clarifies in a footnote that patients in 1,833 of those hospitalizations (or 25%) were asymptomatic or were hospitalized for reasons not related to COVID-19; 341 (or 21%) of those fatal cases were asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19.
The truth is that vaccines have historically been remarkably effective protections against deadly viruses, and thus far, they have been against Covid.
The urgent issue facing us, however, is not vaccines, but vaccine mandates — requirements by the state that citizens be vaccinated, or, a related but different category, requirements by employers that employees be vaccinated.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s full FDA approval a few days ago has emboldened statist politicians to press for mandates — meaning, you must get vaccinated or else. This move rests on a particular ideology, statism. A workable definition of statism is the notion that there is no social problem for which increased political control isn’t the best solution. Any social problem (poverty, drug addiction, uneducated youth, wealth disparities — or a viral epidemic) is really a political problem that just doesn’t know it yet. The idea that Covid could be a non-political problem requiring non-political solutions doesn’t enter statists’ calculations.
But this coercive imposition is not more biblically valid that comprehensive quarantine. Recall that biblical law relating to protecting human life is preventive, not preemptive. Even if the Covid vaccines were found to be 100% effective in 100% of the cases (an impossibility), vaccine mandates would be nothing more in their effect than politically coerced quarantine, which the Bible never envisions or would justify. Aside from preventing the reckless, direct threat to human life, civil law may not intrude on human liberty.
Senator Rand Paul captures the right balance:
In an interview last summer, Paul told CNN that he was not against vaccines. He's also recommended in several media interviews that people get the shot. But Paul has also made clear he wouldn't push people — particularly younger Americans — to get vaccinated, saying it was their choice.
"I'm not anti-vaccine," Paul said. "They paint me as anti-vaccine. ... I never said I was against vaccines. In fact, I'm a huge supporter and believer that we developed some medical miracles with a smallpox vaccine. The histories are just phenomenal — the polio vaccine."
Paul added: "At the same time, we shouldn't so believe in the state that you have to take it."
The state may not intrude on individual liberty by requiring vaccinations.
Businesses and Vaccine Mandates
But it might be argued that the state may not intrude on institutional liberty, either, including the choice of businesses to mandate vaccines for employees. After all, we are hardly consistent if we oppose the coerciveness of the state when it requires citizens be vaccinated but invite the coerciveness of the state to forbid businesses from requiring their employees to be vaccinated. Statism is statism. The business owner may legitimately ask, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” (Mt. 20:15). If we advocate economic liberty, we might assume that the case for business sector vaccine mandates is closed.
But the case is not closed, and conservatives themselves are divided on this issue. The rush of so many “private” sector institutions to impose mandates springs from political pressure: “Biden Urges Private Sector to Implement Vaccine Mandates.” The cultural climate is ripe for business mandates precisely because after 16+ months it has been habituated to political mandates. The expectation has been that social authorities will impose mandates, and just as a large number of businesses buckled under the lockdown and mask and anti-social distancing political mandates, so they dare not disrupt the pattern by resisting the state’s urging to implement vaccine mandates.
This isn’t the free market. This instead is the “politically guided” market.
We champions of economic liberty oppose collusion between the state and business. Usually this means large businesses convincing the state to give them monopolistic favors. We call this crony capitalism, and it is nothing more than veiled socialism: “Hey you politicians, it’ll be great for the country — and your re-election donations — if you regulate my competitors.” We acknowledge the criticisms of economic Leftists that if crony capitalism is simply good ole capitalism, capitalism is bad. State-business collusion isn’t a free market.
But the collusion can go in the opposite direction: the state bullying business, including the imposition of a particular health policy. Political pressure on businesses to enact political health policy is contra-biblical and unjust. This is not a free market. This is a coerced market.
Therefore, while businesses are free in the marketplace to impose even intrusive conditions of employment, and employees are free to take their talents where employers don’t impose such conditions, for the state to lean on business to impose those conditions isn’t economic liberty.
It’s crony statism.
A final ominous word: It would be a severe and self-serving miscalculation to assume the guilt for political mandates and crony statism rests solely on the shoulders of statists and their “private” sector collaborators. We read this past week that “Most Americans Support Vaccine Mandates in Certain Public Spaces, Survey Finds.”
We live in a society that increasingly values security, including health security, over liberty. The earlier taken-for-granted U. S. drumbeat for liberty (religious, political, and economic) is rarely heard even from conservative politicians. (See “The Liberty Movement.”) The last U. S. president to make liberty a centerpiece of his rhetoric and policies was Ronald Reagan. George H. W. Bush was a caretaker president. His son embodied a “compassionate conservatism.” Donald Trump vowed to Make America Great Again.
But none majored on liberty. This is first a social trend, and only consequently a political trend. As our nation has drifted (scampered?) away from Christian culture, it has grown anxious over thoughts of eternity, exalting personal peace and affluence above all else (the charge of Francis A. Schaeffer) — and willing to sacrifice anything to preserve it.
But there are some things in life worse than death, and one of them is an unfree society that chains man from his joyous and satisfying, God-appointed cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28–30), to take dominion in the earth for God’s glory, and that prevents him from displaying the glories of the only creature fashioned in God’s image.
This a cultural problem, not chiefly a political problem, and a political problem precisely because it is a cultural problem. Ours isn’t a case of “We the people” craving liberty but being suffocated by statism; instead, it’s a case of statist suffocation for a people that prefer the security of suffocation to the free air of liberty.
Until the populace as a whole again craves liberty and is willing to pay the price to get and keep it, statism will fill the anti-liberty, pro-security vacuum.
And the populace as a whole will never again crave liberty until it recovers Christian culture. “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).
We finally arrived home after a full month on the road. It’s the longest we’ve been on the road in our 39 years of marriage, so we’re relieved to be home. It was great to see so many of you.
I hope finally next Friday to address “Christian Spirituality: Earthy Versus Ethereal.”
Given the widespread collapse of the church over the last 18 months (a collapse simply evidencing an internal hollowing out many years in the making), CCL is soon publishing a significant essay collection tentatively titled Failed Church: Restoring a Vision of Ecclesial Victory. Contributors include David Bahnsen, Joe Boot, Uriesou Brito, Ardel Caneday, Gary DeMar, Doug Enick, John Frame, George Grant, Kevin Johnson, Brian Mattson, Dustin Messer, P. Andrew Sandlin, Richard A. Sandlin, Levi Secord, Jeffery J. Ventrella, and Roger Wagner.
There are plenty of other writing projects in the pipeline. Stay tuned.
I hope to see many of you at CCL’s early December symposium on “Un-Virtuous Economics: Political Interventionism, Woke Capitalism, and Church Pietism.” There’s no cost, but it’s by invitation only, and seats are filling up. Contact me if you wish to attend. Get more information here.
CCL needs your support. Please pray, and please donate. Thank you deeply.
Yours for the King of liberty,
Founder & President, Center for Cultural Leadership
Apostasy, Perseverance, and Assurance
All of those justified in Jesus Christ are eternally secure, but all who abandon the Faith are without hope and destined to eternal judgment.
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