Reflections

Hobbes by the Harbour

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced at a recent press conference that the government is working on a “proof of vaccination app”. This will supersede the current QR Code by supplementing it with an affirmation that the individual has also been vaccinated. Significantly Ms. Berejiklian said (you can watch the announcement here):

We are asking industry to dust off their COVID safety plans, get the QR Codes in check, and we’re also working on an App in NSW that will allow you to sign into a venue but also have proof of your vax all in one to make it as simple as possible, and we’ll have more to say on that in the coming weeks.

This is a massive development in the ever-expanding powers of the NSW government, something which over the past 18 months has been growing into something resembling a Hobbesian ‘Leviathan’. Glenn S. Sunshine explains the symbolism of the political imagery in his book Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition):

The title of Leviathan seems to have been chosen from what was believed to be its etymology: it was thought to come from the Hebrew lavah, meaning “to couple, connect, or join” and thannin, meaning “serpent or dragon”. The creature was called leviathan either because its size made it hard to believe it was a single creature or because its scales were tightly pressed together.

The image of the state on Hobbe’s frontispiece was of a giant man holding a crozier (for ecclesiastical power) and a sword (for civil power), with a body made up of three hundred smaller men, all facing inward except one face looking outward. The state is thus depicted as a single entity made up of individuals bound together in an omnipotent, immortal, and indivisible whole under its head, the king.

This is precisely the type of situation which has arisen in NSW. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has assumed more and more control. Shutting churches made the celebration of all but the smallest and modest weddings illegal. Construction sites and small businesses were closed. Nightly curfews in affected local government areas were imposed while police closed major roads and stopped all access to the CBD in order to foil a planned protest. All this in the name of public health and safety.

In a significant display of political and policing overreach, a church in western Sydney was not only fined approximately $50,000 for allowing its congregation to gather but also banned from operating for seven days, even online. What’s more, NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as revealing that online church services are being actively monitored:

I can reassure the community that there is every effort going into those particular church services that are coming up on streaming, and pieces of information that are saying other church services are going to occur.

Clearly, the Berejiklian government has surreptitiously assumed sovereign control of both the ecclesiastical and civil spheres. But how did this dystopian scenario arise? As James P. Pinkerton persuasively argues at The American Conservative “it’s the fear of chaos—including, but certainly not limited to, public health—that grew the state in the first place, and its continuing fear that keeps the State big …  as long as there’s fear, there will be … Leviathan”.

John Horvat goes even further, explaining how we have arrived at a Hobbesian vision of COVID-19 He writes:

The policies that deal with the coronavirus crisis are oriented to this toxic philosophy. Present measures are based on Hobbes’ irrational fear of death taken to an extreme. Today’s Hobbesians hold that the greatest good is life itself, and everything must be done to avoid dying.

Thus, when the coronavirus crisis struck, everything went into lockdown. The idea was to avoid all risks, no matter how remote or small. The minute a possible COVID case appears, for example, the whole area must be sanitized. Everyone contacted by a COVID patient must self-quarantine. A sense of panic prevails. No risk must be left unaddressed. The most absurd measures are taken to prevent the slightest possibility of a single death.

Thus, there were hundreds of counties across America in which no one died of COVID. However, they were locked down, and their commercial, social, and religious lives completely disrupted. Walmart’s megastores stayed open, but churches were shut down despite the lack of evidence that religious service spreads the virus any more than consumer shopping does. The fear of death created an atmosphere of paranoia. The enforcement of health regulations became rigid and uncompromising. The draconian rules excluded common sense and allowed for no exceptions.

This fear and response eventually and inevitably leads to conflict with those who question the wisdom of suppressing most activities. That is why this Hobbesian COVID-19 view requires Leviathan, the dictatorial state, enforcing by threat and coercion capricious rules. Leviathan understands little people need to be kept compliant.

The COVID crisis gave rise to socialistic government policies that seek to control lives in the name of saving lives. It threatens society with a cure that is far worse than the disease.

Sadly, churches have largely acquiesced to nearly everything that has been imposed by the NSW government. They have done this not only out of love for neighbour, but to rightly honour the governing authorities whom we believe God has placed over us for our good (i.e. Rom. 13:1-7). But for many, the implementation of a vaccine app (i.e. passport) is a bridge too far. Just note the following open letter from a range of senior Christian leaders in the UK arguing against the imposition of vaccine passports:

We draw your attention to the recent Judicial Review overturning the Scottish Government’s ban on public worship, which demonstrates that such disproportionate prevention of the right to worship is a clear infringement under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

We cannot see how any attempt to prevent people gathering for worship on the basis of either testing or non-vaccination would not similarly be ruled to be a breach. We agree with those members of Parliament who have already voiced opposition to this proposal: that it would be divisive, discriminatory and destructive to introduce any such mandatory health certification into British society.

We call on the government to assert strongly and clearly that it will not contemplate this illiberal and dangerous plan, not now and not ever.

It’s time Christian leaders in Australia called on governments to avoid making the same illiberal mistake. Not only must the issue of freedom of conscience be respected, but the state must not take on more power than it should. As such, it is completely inappropriate for the state to create a two-tiered society based upon what amounts to medical apartheid. The growing power of Leviathan must countered, lest a monstrous tyranny ensue.

Mark Powell is a Presbyterian pastor

12 comments
  • Tony Tea

    Milton Friedman: “There is nothing as permanent as a temporary government measure.” Expect the proof of vaccination app to merge with some other criteria into a something permanent.

  • STD

    Someone needs to shake a few branches. The media are so very medically politically compliant , hmm……….

  • Stephen Due

    The Prime Minister yesterday encouraged businesses in Australia to deny entry to the unvaccinated. His argument was that the unvaccinated put the rest of society at risk. This argument is a typical piece of pseudo-scientific intellectual incompetence such as we see daily from government. But it has a sinister side. The idea is to imply, with some statement that seems unarguable, something else altogether: that an unvaccinated person entering the business premises where everyone else is vaccinated puts those inside at risk. It cannot be the case, if vaccines work, that that the unvaccinated are putting the vaccinated at risk by coming into their presence. Furthermore it is never the case that an unvaccinated person per se puts others at risk. This is a scientific fact. It is the infected person who potentially puts others at risk. Whether that person is vaccinated (and they well might be with these vaccines) is irrelevant.

  • ianl

    @Stephen Due

    >” … if vaccines work, that that the unvaccinated are putting the vaccinated at risk by coming into their presence”

    I’d argued that well over 12 months ago. So then the goalposts are shifted: “Oh, but the vaccines aren’t perfect, yet they do reduce the risk of serious illness or death”. Ok, but how does an unvaccinated individual then increase that risk in vaccinated individuals ? “Oh, transmission is stronger in the unvaccinated …” Ok, but the vaccine, you said, reduces risk in the vaccinated so a vaccinated individual faces no higher risk from either. “Oh, hospital admissions will rise with unvaccinated groups and overwhelm the system.” Ok, but how does that increase the risk of C-19 to vaccinated individuals ? … and so on and on and on …

    The truly, staggeringly stupid “rule” that useless masks be worn outside the home actually came from a police request, not the Health Advice of the State CMO. Berejiklian, Miller and Chant all verified that in one of those interminable, yappy pressers. Why ? So that the police could more easily identify those who *might* be dissenters. This is just the inverse of sewing a yellow star on a coat sleeve, and is done for exactly the same reason. Those without masks outdoors are easily targeted.

    Berejiklian constantly yaps on about taking “freedoms” and then giving tiny bits back if we please her. Vomitous. She is as left as Stalin, only more sneaky at the moment. One can see in real time why the barbarians sacked Rome so often.

    [Sheridan, from The Aus, thinks that the longevity of the smallpox virus disproves the evolutionary pattern of viruses. He is unaware that the mutation rate of smallpox is quite low compared to the coronaviruses so death rates have varied slowly. This characteristic of smallpox also materially aided in the development of a stable vaccine; unlike, say, influenza, which requires an annual guess on mutation direction. Still, nothing much is expected of the meeja.]

  • brandee

    Stephen Due augments the fine analysis of Mark Powell and Stephen poses a non flattering word to describe our PM.
    I would just say that the PM has when challenged has openly declined to pursue the culture wars. This to me is an abrogation of a conservative’s duty. He is said to lack ‘steel’and seems to adhere to the Turnbull precedent. Hence no one will challenge the states Covid war,challenge the ABC, or universities, the climate wars, transgender wars, or factional war in his own Party. We need reform of Freedom of Speech law to ensure the Christian church can uphold it values without being pursued like Israel Folau. Surely we desperately need something better – leadership not just middle management.

  • Daffy

    Turnbull and Gladys: both bankers? Scotty from marketing? We’re in the hands of gadflys and opportunists. The Statesmen left long ago, and so does the greatest society (the British, despite its flaws, ever seen evaporate into tribal authoritarianism that seems to be the natural state of mankind.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    Mark Powell, Stephen Due, ianl–thank you.
    I seriously think that, should the threatened vaccine passport be brought in in any form (granted, it already exists for those who work in a growing list of businesses), we unvaccinated should start wearing yellow stars.
    After all, we may as well save our governments the trouble of issuing them.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    I want to publicly acknowledge one of my local papers, the Mandurah Mail. Two weeks ago, it carried a balanced article informing us of the beginning of a branch of Reignite Democracy Australia here in Mandurah, WA! It also told us that Rockingham (between us and Perth) already has a branch, and that one was supposed to be starting in Waroona (a very small town). I could hardly believe it!
    My sister and I went to the foreshore last Saturday afternoon (their next gathering). They were politely handing out information to those who would take them, talking to those of us who stayed longer.
    However, while I have not made a complete decision about my own involvement, most of the people hanging about were conspiracy theorists. Some of what they were saying may have been true; it’s hard to disbelieve anything anymore. But I find it extremely hard to believe that Australia is now a corporation registered in Washington (with Centrelink registered in Kansas City). And I DO NOT believe that the Queen is dead; Hillary Clinton was probably hanged in April (there was a definite date, but I forget it); and Bill Gates may or may not be dead or in “Gitmo,” as some of the people were discussing!
    I want to make it clear that much of the hard-to-believe stuff (and, certainly, the utter madness) was not coming from the RDA volunteers. I also know that much of the problem is that so few BESIDES troublemakers or nuts will do anything to resist. Should one get involved with such people to try to change that situation? Should one stay well away from such people? It’s very hard to know.
    The fact that it seems that their meetings are likely to be on Sundays makes it an easier decision for me, since I can’t justify getting involved in a political meeting on the Lord’s day. But I put the information out there for those who may have branches in their own towns but not know about it.

  • Stoneboat

    Rebekah, you should go, because more Biblically minded Christians on the beach would dilute the fruit loop element by sheer numbers, and that may be a good thing. But if they (the Christians, even on the Lord’s Day) were mindful of & obedient to the Great Commission they could sow or water, working with God who provides the increase. The resulting New Believers might then enforce the crown rights of Jesus in politics. which we surely need today.
    .
    One way to help justify “getting involved in a political meeting on the Lord’s day” could be to suggest your pastor and congregation have a series of studies about the who is Lord of this world, now, today. Part of that study should include a look at Two Kingdoms Theology, and what a scourge it is to Christianity.
    .
    Also, thank you for the info, I’ll be on the look out in my town.

  • Stoneboat

    Just to clarify, I mean preach the Gospel on the beach to the “conspiracy theorists” and everyone else you can find.

  • pgang

    So having bowed the knee to every demand of government in how and when to worship, the church now thinks it’s time to protest? And it protests a mere social injustice? What a joke. As if the government is going to listen now. Had they stood their ground in March last year as was their God-given mandate, we may have had no lock-downs at all. The government would have simply backed down.
    Instead the church deserted its flock to the wolves.
    As for this craven mis-use of Romans 13 to cover for their every act of cowardice, it makes me ill. Somebody had better let Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know that they were wrong in not worshipping an idol when told to do so by the government.
    What this covid experience has taught us is that the corporate churches are worthless and a thing of the past. Christians are on their own and without protection, and must find new ways of gathering.

  • Stoneboat

    prang, I get what you are saying.
    .
    having bowed the knee to every demand of government in how and when to worship…. that’s a product of Two Kingdoms Theology. So is…. this craven mis-use of Romans 13 to cover for their every act of cowardice. The idea that Jesus is somehow waiting in the wings to be Lord is also Two Kingdoms Theology and it leads to a defeatist eschatology where Christians assume and expect to be beaten and lose at every turn.
    .
    The truth is that Jesus Christ is Lord, now, today and in history. Psalm 110:1 refers to where King Jesus is seated today and the verse is often quoted in the New Testament. The church I attend needs to study this forgotten area of our faith, and embrace the truth. We have lost a lot of ground over generations and refused to earnestly contend for the faith or strive against sin unto blood. Kids now days, Church kids too, have been inoculated against straight thinking and argument by statist schooling (more TKT) which doesn’t help either.
    .
    Some parts of the church may be apostate, and the first three books of Revelation are a mirror for improvement, but God always keeps a faithful remnant.
    .
    Finally, Christians are never on their own, or without protection because Jesus said I will never leave you or forsake you.

    Stoneboat

    John 16:33
    .

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