November 26, 2021

Blog: Against Coercive Mandates: Power, People, and the Politics of Freedom

Joe Bloggs

[G]overnment may never stamp a particular medical opinion as orthodox and therefore binding. Moreover, compulsion can never be justified until the illness manifests itself and may therefore never be prescribed as a preventative. A third reason is that government should keep its hands off our bodies …The form of tyranny hidden in these vaccination certificates is just as real a threat to the nation’s spiritual resources as a smallpox epidemic itself.[1]  – Abraham Kuyper

The societal ambivalence around coercive measures emanating from Western states over the past two years, measures reaching into the family, church, vocations and sacrosanct communication of physician and patient, all in the name of safety, has been staggering.  Mandates, lockdowns, restrictions, compulsory vaccination in various sectors, threats of national mandatory vaccination (Austria and Germany), even rounding people up using the military and placing them and their close contacts in quarantine camps has started to look routine (Australia). 

The ironies here are very thick indeed.  As a culture we don’t want to coerce illegal migrants to have legitimate documents to enter the country, whether on the Mexican border or the shores of Kent, England.  People become apoplectic if someone dare suggest anybody be coerced to respect the life of unborn children in the womb.  And we steadfastly refuse to coerce known criminals or terrorists by incarcerating or deporting them till they drive through a crowd of families at a Christmas parade (Wisconsin) or blow themselves up outside of a women’s hospital (England). Yet we seem remarkably comfortable spying on and betraying our fellow citizens, roundly condemning them, applauding mainstream media’s drumhead trials of the non-compliant and cheering when they are fined, bullied, or imprisoned by the state for showing resistance to the status quo and ‘ministry of truth.’

For me, as a reformational thinker, accounting for this kind of social phenomenon seems important, especially since for Christians it is a major departure from the values of our forebears.  In my view, the current situation reflects disturbingly accurately the dialectic of our spiritually uprooted culture.  On the one hand the modern West believes in a deterministic world of nature, an order to be harnessed and controlled by modern ‘science.’  On the other we idolize a person’s ethical freedom to behave however they wish, unconstrained by the law of God.  Both poles (nature and freedom) are a part of the cult of human autonomy believing that man’s science liberates and frees us from God and His order.  The goal of this liberation is not a moral world of faith and obedience, but autonomous power and control by means of ‘science.’ 

The contradiction here is that in the planned scientific society – so much on display in our present medicalized technocracy – genuine human freedom for individuals, families or institutions like the church becomes increasingly irrelevant.  The new idea of freedom involves only the freedom of necessity, which is to say the human conquest of nature involves central organisation and planning to be truly scientific, bringing about freedom for the collective.  If modern science is to eradicate respiratory viruses, turn woman into man and man into woman, control the weather and climate and create wealth from nothing, it requires a controlled scientific environment to experiment, plan and organize the new freedom. In this case, some individuals will need to be coerced to be truly healed, enlightened and ‘free.’  In this social contract, one must surrender freedom under God for the freedom of the polis.

Freedom itself is not self-explanatory – we are freed from something to be something. In other words, freedom is always relative, either to God or to man.  If freedom is only relative to humans and our social contracts then there is no area of freedom beyond or outside the political order and there can be no appeal for freedom, truth or justice that transcends the political realm i.e., a freedom based in our creation in the image of God.  By contrast, if freedom is relative to God and His redemptive work in Christ, then only in relation to God and His Word can the individual or family, church or state be ministers of true freedom and justice. 

In Christ we are freed from the power of sin and death to serve God and His kingdom purposes and as such are delivered from the tyranny of man playing God.  We do live in a planned society, but that plan is in terms of the sovereign and predestinating purposes of God for history, not the ‘scientific’ manipulations of people.  It is the plan and law of God alone that liberates us as ethically free persons from the lawless planning of sinners and rebels. This gospel principle frees individuals and society from servitude.  As Herman Dooyeweerd wrote in opposition to compulsory vaccinations in the 1920s:

[T]he human body is inseparable from the ethical person of man… Why did the Christian mind revolt again and again against man-and-God-dishonoring slavery? Precisely because by this servitude of the body the ethical personhood was ignored, because the slave was regarded as “resâ€, as a thing, which the master could dispose of as a piece of cattle. The legal order, which sanctioned slavery, was guilty of a transgression of the divine ordinances, which placed man as an ethical person in the midst of society. Personhood should never be infringed by the government … the government may not, according to God’s ordinances, force the ethically free man to accept physical treatment in any form. The ethical person alone is appointed by God as the keeper and caretaker of the body…whoever accepts compulsory vaccination in principle has deprived himself of the moral ground for opposing usurpation by government of individual liberty.[2]

With direct and indirect compulsion multiplying around us in the name of health and safety, forcing fellow citizens to abandon their work and livelihoods, denying young people their places in college, preventing travel and segregating society into the jabbed and jabbed-nots, we urgently need to recover the Christian view of the human person and the God-given freedom that flows from it.

We undoubtedly live today in a dangerous culture where cadres of benevolent ‘experts’ go around as demi-gods trying to ‘free’ us of our created nature as persons made in God’s image.  But like a lemur freed of his tail, an elephant of its tusks or a man of his testicles, such ‘freedom’ merely destroys the very thing it claims to liberate. God spare us from such abuse in the name of health, for as C.S. Lewis warned, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.â€

[1] Kuyper, A. (2015). Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto (J. J. Ballor, M. Flikkema, & H. Van Dyke, Eds.; H. Van Dyke, Trans.; pp. 248–249). Lexham Press; Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

[2] Herman Dooyeweerd, ‘Report from the Dr Abraham Kuyper Foundation regarding Compulsory Vaccination,’ December 1923, trans. Ruben Alvarado.

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