[The following remarks come after several conversations with concerned persons of the parish around the issue of conscience rights, religious exemptions, etc. The Diocese of Hamilton (and her constituent parishes) does not provide letters of religious exemption for those mandated to receive vaccines.]
While a journalism student at the Carleton University School of Journalism & Communication, learning the trade of reporting I was unusually assigned as a teaching assistant in the School of Communication, the “academic” side of things. There I was thrown into the more theoretical consideration of just how a society, on a mass scale, communicates to itself information vital to its good operation as a community; how popular opinion is formed; how people can be manipulated by the media.
One of the starting points in that field of study is in reflecting on something known as “Plato’s Cave.” It’s a story from the philosopher Plato, a conversation between Socrates and one of his students about how it is that we know things about the world around us; how we know what we know.
The cave is a metaphor for this. Socrates says that we are like prisoners put in a cave since we were children, with our back to the entrance, chained and restrained so that we can only look at the interior walls of the cave. What we know about the world we get from the shadows made on the walls as things pass the cave mouth in daylight. Over time, we collectively come to interpret what we see and agree on what the shadows mean.
Socrates then says that one day one of the prisoners escapes and in reaching the cave entrance is absolutely dazzled by the real world that he sees with all its colour and detail; he races back to the others, but as you know if you’ve ever gone from a bright sunny day into a darkened house, your eyes don’t adjust quickly.
So, the escaped prisoner stumbles, and trips as he excitedly tries to share what he has seen. The other prisoners scoff at him, they say, “how can you have seen anything, you’re so clearly blind!” And they won’t believe him. So, he leaves despairing of his friends, and goes out into the real world very much alone.
One of the striking things about Plato’s parable is how the people in the cave completely depend on what they see to tell them about the world. The other senses are unengaged. And discussion is entirely about the shadows on the walls. Speech is constrained, and in the case of the escaped prisoner, it isn’t used for inquiry but rather to stop discussion of disturbing information.
And in the cave, as in a movie theatre today, people don’t talk – you get shushed by others; and if you do shout at the shadows, or at the figures on the screen, you learn they don’t react to you. So, speaking is pointless. And as in a sound-proofed cinema, seated deep inside a cave, you hear little or nothing of the outside world.
The awakening or restoration of the senses is a consistent theme in the scriptures, in the gospels – it is a metaphor for release from bondage, slavery to sin, but also oppression by one’s enemies. In today’s reading from Isaiah we heard about God opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf, setting the mute to sing. We know how Jesus gives sight to the blind, and here today he restores hearing; but also, speech – not a sense but a human faculty of communication that is very important for participating in the world. Less so now because of technology, but in the oral culture of the first century, really indispensable.
Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus says, “those who have ears, listen…”
The spirit of Christ allows us to hear, to see, to perceive the world more clearly, in large part because faith replaces fear, and that frees us; and then we can speak of the reality we experience. Our concern in using our senses and exercising our faculties should be for the truth of things, the upholding of an ethic of loving service, the maintenance of human dignity. By that we serve Christ.
I’ve spoken before about getting hooked on the news – watching obsessively the stream of what too generously called “news and information”. I’ve also warned against being too dependent upon one or two sources, because every story, every news item carries bias. One becomes like the prisoners in the cave who obsessively watch the shadows, chained in place; and because it is so difficult to figure out from them what is going on, one focusses so intensely that you ignore your other senses, in silent intent one stares.
That makes someone very reactive to whatever is the latest, the last thing seen. There is lack of perspective both in terms of the scope of vision, but also in time. We grow forgetful of what came before, we grow impatient for what is next, and so cannot calmly wait for more and better information.
When one gets caught up in such a situation, one tends to grow stressed, and to make bad decisions. To double down on them even as the evidence mounts against doing so.
Now I’ve spoken about this before and I don’t relish returning to the subject. Let me say at the outset that if you chose to receive the experimental vaccines, I know that was a decision that has been made. I am not looking to challenge that. A lot of things go into the consideration of that matter. For some, it was the only way to regain access to parents in nursing homes. For others, for real substantial health concerns, the risk versus benefit calculation came out in favour of the potential benefit. Good.
What worries me is how public institutions and private corporations, including the Church, are being pulled into a dangerous narrative that could lead us down a very dark road as they double down, and in frustration lash out and demonize those who are pointing out what is so obviously known.
The dominant narrative in the legacy media, and coming from our institutions is that the only solution to our problem is everyone gets vaccinated; and vaccinated with the emergency experimental vaccines. And if anyone refuses, we’ll make them. We will set aside conscience rights, our inherent human rights, to deal with this situation. And remember what the situation is: this is a disease with a survival rate in excess of 99 and half percent. Where according to the U.S. National Safety Council, the chances of a fully vaccinated person dying are only slightly less than getting struck by lightning. The average persons chance of dying from a heart attack is 1 in 6.
This would be a very worrying precedent that will put in place the principle that we no longer have control over our bodies, that we cannot effectively exercise our consciences. The argument that the government is only facilitating restrictions that private businesses want doesn’t wash – this fusion of government coercion and business cooperation is the kind of thing that should outrage groups like Antifa, if that group was really about fighting for our rights.
I know that the Vatican is encouraging people to take the RNA vaccines. This is presented as an act of charity to our neighbours; and so it is. However, and a great many dioceses have made this clear, Catholics also have conscience rights that allow them to make up their own minds on this matter. While some dioceses will provide letters of religious exemption to those who ask, others don’t, including our diocese. The Church nonetheless affirms your right of refusal if made in good conscience; and that you cannot be compelled to take any drug or undergo any medical procedure by the state – that was established in international law at the Nuremburg trials that followed the Second World War.
As I say, we are getting a very limited narrative. When I take the time to see what other intelligent conversations about this matter are going on in the world, when I talk to intelligent people about their misgivings, I’m not encountering conspiracy-minded lunatics, but people with good questions and real concerns, and a needed criticism of how our governments and health authorities have handled this; and it doesn’t mean being anti-vaxx, but that this is a complicated issue without a simple answer.
I know people who are quite willing to be vaccinated, but not with the emergency vaccines and wonder why the insistence on these drugs that would not be in use but for emergency authorization. At the outset of the pandemic several different vaccine initiatives were put into motion. What we have now were simply the first to reach a stage of completion where the government was willing to gamble on them. Other more conventional vaccines were going to take more time. For example, Novavax should be approved very soon. It is a protein-based vaccine from the U.S., that uses the same technology as that in most vaccines for hepatitis; and I’ve read it has some additional benefits over the emergency vaccines.
What about effective home treatment for those who develop symptoms once catching COVID? This isn’t part of the general conversation. It would go a long way to cutting down hospital numbers if people could be more effectively treated at home, and not by finding a cure-all drug, but by proper discussion of how known and safe drugs could be used in combination early on to prevent severe symptoms. Yet to admit there might be some effective treatments out there undercuts the narrative that there is just this one solution.
We should be looking at this more as the current vaccines are apparently declining in their effectiveness. Israel as the most highly vaccinated nation is an example of how this vaccine strategy doesn’t work. 84 percent are double-vaxxed, 86 percent of the new cases are in double-vaccinated people. Again, the story we’re hearing doesn’t make sense when we begin to hear others who point out such undisputed facts. These things indicate complexity.
H.L. Mencken, the 20th century writer and great wit, wrote, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
We are dealing with a complex problem. I don’t know the answers, but I listen. As people send me news of the latest study, point out the newest set of statistics, I try to listen and ask good questions, and listen some more, and to not to get thrown into a panic. I pray and meditate and listen for God’s voice, have Christ break the chains of fear that have me staring at shadows, let the spirit guide me to calm consideration of what can be reasonably known.
This situation requires of us all that we have ears to listen to others, and mouths to speak calmly and with thought to the things that are said.
Christ has opened our ears to his word, he has freed our tongues to speak his truth. And in that there is to be no hate, vilification, fearmongering – but rather confidence that in faithfulness to his teaching, in the respecting of others as we would respect Him, the answers lie.
Church calls for Common Good and respect for conscience (Catholic News Agency)
Dignitatis humanae (Church doctrine on religious and conscience rights)
Charles Lozier Institute: What you need to know about vaccines
Article on how difficult it is to find a successful strategy
Centers for Disease Control: VAERS (Vaccine adverse events reporting system)
Public Health Ontario report on adverse reactions to vaccines