On Today’s Free Speech Crisis

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 Toby Young, British journalist and founder of the Free Speech Union, in conversation with Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute, with some insightfull comments about the new “woke” public morality (i.e. normalization of homosexuality and transgenderism, unrestricted abortion rights, etc.):

We have to try to understand why it has become harder and harder to disagree about essential values in the public square withhout falling out with each other, and why cancel culture has metastsized to become such an all-encompassing blight. I think it has something to do with the ebbing away of the Christian tide.

In the nineteenth century, and even in the first part of the twentieth century, we were a  Christian society, and the sacted values we were expected to observe were Christian values, and if someone comitted adultery, or got divorced, or was born out of wedlock, there was serious social stigma attached to that. We had a kind of public morality which people were expected to observe, and if they didn’t, they were sort of outcast, or they were in some kind of Bohemian sub-culture. There was some tolerance for people who didn’t believe, more tolerance, particular towards the end of the nineteenth century, in the higher education sector, towards people who challenged the prevailing orthodoxies, more tolerance than there is now.

So as the Christian tide ebbed away, so this morality faded, and particularly in the 1960s and 1970s all the taboos which had constrained people’s behavior, the moral taboos, fell away and there was a brief period where we enjoyed this intellectual, sexual freedom, and everyone thought that was what the future was going to be. But then, intererestingly, people seemingly found it quite difficult to cope with that degree of freedom, and they’ve embraced another, even more dogmatic morality, which in the past ten, fifteen years has become the public morality.

So after a brief interlude, one public morality has been replaced by another. And if you don’t sign up to the articles of faith of that political morality, you are now outcast, probably more outcast than you were if you didn’t sign up to the articles of the Christian faith in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

And I think that’s really what has happend: we have embraced this new, secular public morality which is actually, interestingly, much more puritanical, and censorious, and authoritarian, than the seemingly much more gentle Christian morality which at least allowed for forgiveness, a path back, redemption, but which this new public morality seemingly doesn’t allow for. And I think that’s why we live in an increasingly intoletant society, why, if you don’t sign up to the shibbolets of the “woke church”, you end up kind of cast out; and, curiously, lots of people who find themselves at odds with the articles of faith of that new public morality are orthodox Christians.

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An Unlikely Hero: Volodymyr Zelensky

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I am in full agreement with this assessment of Volodymyr Zelensky by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

When he was elected I, like many others, politicians, journalists, and others outside Ukraine, considered him a lightweight. Putin, too, counted on the Ukrainian president being a lightweight whom he could easily blow away – a fatal mistake as it turns out.

Whether we were right in that assessment or not, both the Ukrainian president and his wife grew into their roles in this crisis created by Putin. He compensated his lack of military and political experience by surrounding himself with competent advisers and actually heeding their advice; the decision to refuse a safe haven abroad harks back to the British Royals’ decision to sit out WW II in London instead of in safe exile in Canada. This decision, and his frequent video messages demonstrating that he was indeed in Kyiv, have boosted his popularity among Ukrainians: according to a March 2022 poll his approval rating is above 90%.

The screenshot at the top is taken from the Washington Post’s article by David Ignatius,  “How Ukraine’s offensive changes the equation for Putin and Zelensky” (September 13, 2022)

 

 

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Glory to Ukraine and victory to her defenders!

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Слава Україні та перемога її захисникам!

When I grew up it was in a family strongly opposed to war (reading books like E. M  Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”, set during WWI) but at the same time immensely grateful to the WWII Allies for defeating Hitler and his goons, liberating Austria from Nazi Germany, and then (at least the Americans) financing reconstruction.[1]

After I became a committed Christian I tended towards Just War theory but always with the niggling feeling that deciding if a particular war was just would be fraught with many thorny questions.

In recent years, turned off by the disastrous turns of the ostensibly just wars of the US and her allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, which could with some justification be considered just wars,[2] and through reading books from authors in the Anabaptist tradition, I was moving in the direction of an absolute pacifism.

However, after Vladimir Putin’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine[3] this absolute pacifism has become untenable for me. It is self-evident to me that a nation in Ukraine’s situation has every right, both before God and man, to defend herself, including with military means. I believe this is covered by Romans 13:4: The government “does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.” — in this case Vladimir Putin and his army. I pray for Ukraine’s victory over the cruel invader and the removal, by whichever means God chooses, of Putin and his cronies, including the shameful Patriarch Kiril[4] of the Russian Orthodox Church, and I hope that our Western governments in the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and others, will continue to support Ukraine as long as necessary and not give in to Putin’s threats. Putin must not be allowed to keep any of his ill-gotten gains.

And so I read with satisfaction (tempered by pain over the loss of lives) about the recent victories of the Ukrainian forces and the partial routing of the Russian forces. I am convinced that Russian soldiers taken prisoner by the Ukrainians will by and large fare better than Ukrainian soldiers captured by the Russians.

Glory to Ukraine, and victory to her defenders!

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  1. The house I grew up in was financed by an ERP mortgage (ERP: European Recovery Program, also known as Marshall-Plan) []
  2. unless one had an anti-American or anti-Western pre-disposition[]
  3. The notion advanced by some, that Putin’s attack was justified because he felt thst Ukraine’s attempts to join the EU and NATO threatened Russia, is nonsense. No rational person can assume that the USA, let alone her Eurupean partners in NATO, would start a war in Europe. This idea is plausible only to someone who considers such an attack an appropriate way of realizing his “Imperial Russia” pipe dreams.[]
  4. Like all Orthodox bishops Kiril is a monk; yet his personal wealth is estimated to be around $4-8 billion, which even apart from his support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine casts an unfavourable light on him.[]
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National Conservatism?

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In Against National Conservatism First Things has Peter Leithart writing about the Edmund Burke Foundation’s National Conservatism Statement of Principles.

He lists a number of laudable aspects of these Principles, including their opposition to universalist ideologies and corrosive globalization, and then zeroes in on two major — and fatal —flaws or weaknesses of the Statement:

  • its lack of recognition of the Church’s own, biblically-rooted universalism or globalism, and
  • its failure to recognize the Bible as the Word of God rather than merely a wellspring of national values, a source of shared culture or a ground of national tradition.

These are well-founded and valuable criticisms, and I am in full agreement with them.

Let me add a couple of observations of my own, light-weight though they may be compared to Peter Leithart’s.

Firstly, as a European, and more specifically Austrian, of the first post-WW II generation I am deeply suspicious of any ideology or philosophy that is prefixed with National. I was born ten years after the end of the war, and I grew up with post-war reconstruction well underway; but the tragic results of National Socialism were still evident in many areas of life. And recently we have seen the rise of leaders like Donald Trump, Lech and Jaroslav Kaczynski, Victor Orban, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, all of whom view themselves, as do their followers, as National Conservatives and true patriots, a label which they deny their political opponents. It would not have been fair to mention him in the same sentence as the others, but Vladimir Putin is of the same ilk, only more so. Hitler’s nazis sang, “Deutschland über alles”, Trump proclaimed “America First” and “Make America Great Again”, and Putin phantasizes about an ever-expanding Russkiy Mir, the Russian World, and is prepared to use military force to realize that dream. It sounds just all too familiar to me. And while the signatories of the statement would definitely disown Putin, especially after his illegal invasion of and war against Ukraine, Victor Orban’s Hungary is hailed by some conservatives in the US as a bulwark of Christendom surrounded by rampant secularism.

Secondly, it is all very well for “National Conservatives” in the United States championing the nation state and opposing the transferring of authority to international bodies, when their “nation” is almost the size of the entire continent of Europe or more than twice the size of the European Union[1]. No doubt the European Union, as a trans-national, international body has its flaws, and one can debate whether member states have ceded to much power to the EU institutions, and it is unfortunately also true that the EU has left the Christian values of it’s founders behind (but that is no more than a reflection of developments in the member states), but this is not too different from the discussions in the US about the respective powers of the individual states and the federal government. More importantly, the European Union, or something very much like it, is the only way the nations of Europe can have any hope of competing, economically and politically, with the United States.

Thirdly, when it comes to, «In nations with a Christian majority, Christianity should be at the root of public life and “honored by the state.”», I am very sure that train has already left the station, and it’s not coming back, in any of the Western nations. And when I think of the influence of Trump’s national conservatism on American Evangelicalism, or that of Putin’s national conservatism on the Orthodox Church and others in Russia, both of which are massively more corrosive than anything coming from the international organizations, then it seems to me that our primary concern at the moment should be not with globalization but with toxic, almost idolatrous, Christian nationalism.

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  1. Size in square kilometer: US–9.8 million, EU–4.2 million, European continent–10.2 million[]
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It is possible to be a Values Conservative

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Because of the effective take-over of the Republican Party by the Trumpians, and similar developments in several other countries, I find it necessary to state clearly:

It is possible to be a values conservative without becoming a right wing crazy.

It is possible to be a values conservative without supporting attempts to overturn election results, violent attacks on the institutions of government, or the fomenting of civil unrest.

It is possible to be a values conservative and a Christian without being a “Christian nationalist” of the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Trumpians in the US, or Victor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Europe.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not turn a blind eye to the suffering of refugees from war zones or famine-stricken countries.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not oppose government aid to the disadvantaged in our own countries.

It is possible to be a values conservative who rejects abortion as a birth control method but who recognizes that there are legitimate exceptions to a total ban and wants these enshrined in the relevant laws.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not oppose, but indeed supports, comprehensive universal healthcare with needs-based public financing.

It is possible to be a values conservative who supports reasonable gun control – at the very least a ban on private ownership of military grade weapons beginning with assault rifles.

It is possible to be a values conservative who believes churches and religious believers should be able to follow their understanding of human nature, sexuality, and marriage while at the same time respecting democratic decisions concerning broader definitions of civil marriage.

There are probably other aspects I can think of right now; but my main point is that it is possible to be a values conservative without being a right-wing nutter.

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Child Sacrifice: not just in Uvalde, etc.

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Venturing once again into territory where, according to some, even of my friends, I have no business to be, American politics:

It is very easy to be consumed by the horror and tragedy of the Uvalde school shooting (and the many before that), to call it, like Maureen Doed in the NYT, child sacrifice to the god of gun ownership, and to rage at the politicians, mostly of one party, who block all attempts at more effective gun control.

But this atrocious deed and the worship of gun ownership which enabled it should not make us forget the almost 64,000,000 children sacrificed to the gods of sex without consequences, bodily autonomy, and convenience, and the fact that it is mostly politicians of the other party who clamor against the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Now, I do not want to point the finger at the US alone; most Western nations have pretty liberal abortion laws as well, mostly permitting the killing of the unborn for any reason during the first trimester. And typically, as for example in my country of Austria, there is no political party which wants to touch this with a ten-foot pole; and if there is any chance that someone will make an issue of abortion, no party in Austria will put such a person forward as a candidate. At least American society still grapples with this issue while our societies are mostly just shrugging their shoulders.

So the gods of sex without consequences, bodily autonomy, and convenience hold sway pretty much everywhere, and as much as we are horrified by Uvalde and the many similar incidents, to criticize the US without recognizing our own guilt would be very hypocritical.

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Austria, Russia’s Tunnel Into the Heart of Europe?

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In an article in the “New Statesman” entitled “Austria is Russia’s tunnel into the heart of Europe Liam Hoare writes, “The country’s attachment to neutrality has led it to cultivate obsequious relations with Russian energy and espionage,” and elaborates further on the cozy relationship between Austria and first the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation.

Some folks asked me whether I considered this a fair assessment; here is my response.

Austria’s Neutrality Law of 1955 (which has the status of a constitutional amendment) specifically defines neutrality in military terms and only forbids (a) membership in military alliances and (b) the establishment of foreign military bases on Austrian territory.

Facsimile of the “Federal Constitutional Law of 26th October 1955 concerning Austria’s Neutrality”

But throughout the history of the “Second Republic”[1] Austria has stressed that she isn’t (and isn’t required to be) politically neutral but rather is clearly part of the “West“—when it suited her purposes, i.e. in talks with Western governments. And when it suited her purposes, she has stressed her neutrality, interpreting it much more broadly, when talking to the Soviet Union/Russia and East Bloc countries.

At the same time, Austrian governments of both persuasions (ÖVP and SPÖ)[2] represented to the Austrian people that of course we are not morally neutral, voicing criticism of such Russian actions as the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the threat of an invasion of Poland in 1988; and that our neutrality uniquely enabled us to act as broker and mediator between the blocs. However, at the same time as condemning Russian aggression Austria continued to maintain profitable business relationships with the Soviet Union and her client states, and then with the Russian Federation; and like all other Western countries, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union Austria welcomed Russian oligarchs and their money, even though it was obvious to every thinking person that so soon after the collapse of the Soviet economy such wealth could have been amassed only by the corrupt appropriation of the public wealth of the Soviet successor states.

In a situation where there was never any risk of hostile action by Western nations or NATO but very much a risk of hostile action by the Warsaw Pact, the official position conveyed to the citizenry was that each of the two blocs guaranteed our security vis-a-vis the other bloc, and that our military, small and ineffective as it well might be, only served to symbolically show of our willingness to defend our neutrality while leaving the heavy lifting to the signatory nations of the “State Treaty”.

In the Austrian population today the idea is widespread that criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by Austrian government figures violates our neutrality and is thus ill-advised; in the face of news that as a result of Russian aggression Finland and Sweden are prepared to abandon their neutral status and join NATO, the percentage of Austrians who believe that Austrian neutrality, perceived much more comprehensively than the text of the law, is essential to Austria’s existence and well-being, has risen to 91%. This seems to cut across the entire spectrum of political views and ideologies.

Austria’s opportunist attitude to her neutrality is cut from the same cloth as her official insistance that she was one of the first victims of Nazi Germany rather than an integral part of the Third Reich or a nation of largely willing collaborators and perpetrators of Nazi atrocities. I grew up with my father quipping, “In Austria, Hitler was a failed house painter; it took the Germans to turn him into Der Führer”, thus blaming the Germans for Hitler and Nazism while ignoring the fact that not only had Hitler’s ideology grown and thrived in the political and intellectual climate of the “First Republic”, but that a sizeable proportion of Austrians had welcomed the 1938 Anschluß.

It wasn’t until 1991 that then-Chancellor Franz Vranitzky acknowledged and apologized for Austrians’ role in the Nazi reign of terror both at home and abroad, thus abandoning the claim to have been Hitler’s first victim—and he was not universally praised for that admission and apology.

So in my view the New Statesman article describes reality as it is now and has been ever since 1955.

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  1. Austria became a republic in 1918 after the First World War and the demise of the Habsburg monarchy. That republic, which ended with Austria’s annexation by Germany in 1938 (the “Anschluß”), is typically referred to as the “First Republic“. At the end of the Second World War Austria regained her independence and became a republic once again; this is typically referred to as the “Second Republic” and continues to this day.[]
  2. During the Second Republic Austria has been governed by two parties, the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) which identifies itself as  “Christian social” and used to be characterized by alignment with the Roman Catholic Church and conservative values, and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (formerly Sozialistische Partei Österreichs) (SPÖ). These two parties either governed alone, or in coalition with each other, or one of them in a coalition with one of the smaller parties.[]
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The Sudden Moral Outrage at Russian Oligarchs

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The news recently has been full of reports of the “suffering” of Russian oligarchs in Western countries due to the sanctions imposed on them in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s illegal and unjustifyable attack on Ukraine. Most of these reports assume a stance of moral outrage and ridicule at the complaints of these folks who suddenly are not able to live in the “state to which they had become accustomed”.

An example is this piece in the UK’s Daily Mirror quoting an anonymous “personal assistant to Russian oligarchs” who expresses his outrage at his clients’ whining and lack of concern for the people dying in Ukraine.

It’s hard to know what to make of this “personal assistant’s” moral outrage which causes him to hang up on his clients when they come with various demands—how much of his unwillingness to do their bidding is in fact due to their inability to pay him, with their accounts frozen due to sanctions?

After all, it was never a secret to any thinking person that the only way these Russians could suddenly acquire great wealth after the collapse of the Soviet Union was by corruptly grabbing the most lucrative pieces of the formerly state-owned Soviet economy, while the likes of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin, etc. either looked the other way or actively assisted them. In other words, all of these oligarchs appropriated for themselves the most desirable pieces of Russia’s national wealth—they are simply thieves on a grand scale.

That did not seem to bother this “personal assistant” as long as his no doubt considerable salary was being paid; nor did it bother the many in the West, including individual politicians, political parties, and even governments, who made lots of good money doing business with these crooks, following the ancient motto, “pecunia non olet”.

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“The Russians” are not the enemy!

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On social media, in addition to many positive posts and comments of support for Ukraine, and the rather annoying comments from Putin’s defenders, there are unfortunately also comments which condemn and castigate “the Russians” and hold them responsible for the disaster happening in Ukraine.

Folks, please keep in mind that Russia is still not a true, functioning democratic country; that despite the fact that there seem to be relatively free elections, the operative word is “relatively” and information in the run-up to these elections is very much restricted, and candidates are randomly excluded or sent to prison camps on various pretexts.

And unlike in our western countries, once elected the Russian president is subject to hardly any checks of his power and he can pretty much do as he pleases.

The war in Ukraine was started and is controlled by Vladimir Putin and a relatively small inner circle of influential people; a wider circle including many of the well-known oligarchs supports this system because they have used it to accumulate their millions.

Ordinary Russian citizens, including most of the soldiers on the ground in Ukraine, have no influence at all on these decisions; if they speak out against them they risk their livelihood and a prison sentence.

For all these reasons we should be really careful not to blame “the Russians”. And the Ukrainians demonstrate this.

In this photo taken from a video clip circulated on Telegram and Twitter, a captured young Russian soldier is seen sipping tea and eating a snack as he tries to compose himself. A woman standing next to him is trying to connect a video call to his home. Soon the call connects and the soldier breaks into tears. He looks too stunned to speak but he blows kisses to the camera, as people pat him on his back to calm him down.  In the video a bystander can be heard saying in the video, “These young men, it’s not their fault. They don’t know why they are here.” Another person joins him and says, “They are using old maps, they are lost.”

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Some thoughts on Covid-19

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(This post is a work in progress; it is likely to get changed and updated whenever my opinions shift or I have had occasion to think more about different aspects of the subject. Last update: 2022-01-18 17:15:18)

We’re at the beginning of the third year of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and the widely differing opinons on the pandemic, and on the various measures taken by governments and businesses to deal with it increasingly divide society, affecting families, churches, workplaces, and of course politics. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

First a few words regarding my personal situation: I waited a long time to get vaccinated because it seemed a logistical nightmare, due to my health-related mobility problems. My GP does not vaccinate, and normally does not do house calls, either. The various vaccination stations either required long walks from the car park, or else (in the case of mobile stations) long waits outside, neither of which appealed to me. And in view of my living arrangements, in a remote village and again, due to my mobility problems, my largely house-bound state, I did not see the urgency.

In mid-December the opportunity arose, on the occasion of a visit with my daughter, to have her GP come to the house and give me a jab, and in a couple of weeks we will repeat this exercise for my second jab.

In my immediate family there are several people who are unvaccinated by conviction, and who wish to remain so, and I must and can live with that, and live well with that.

When it comes to the big discussion the first question is, of course, whether the pandemic is a thing or not, whether it isn’t simply a new variant of the flu, which we ought to treat just like the flu, with voluntary vaccinations, vitamins, and rest, and nothing more. Those who hold this opinion usually doubt official statistics on the higher mortality of Covid-19 or the strain on the healthcare system; they assume that the numbers have been manipulated by governments in order to justify those draconian restrictions of our civil rights which they impose for undefined but certainly malevolent reasons.

I find this hard to believe:

When I look at our politicians, both here in Europe, in America, and elsewhere on this earth, they do not strike me as intellectual giants, nor as the most knowledgable and able people (those typically occupy the much better paid positions in the business world). I don’t believe for one second that these basically second-rate people, across the entire political spectrum, manage to conduct a worldwide conspiracy which only a handful of cogniscenti have penetrated; that they manage to seduce the media, business (which, with the exception of vaccine and mask producers suffer from the restrictions), as well as the entire medical establishment to quietly go along with their conspiracy. After all, we are here talking about people who are surprised that their text and WhatsApp messages can be used to blow their corrupt deals wide open; we are talking about people who are surprised that the voters are not thrilled when they impose restrictions on us and then flout them, etc.

For such a conspiracy to work the majority of the world’s medical doctors would have to be corrupt and play along; business people whose companies are at risk because of lockdown etc. would have to be quiet; really all politicians would have to be corrupt.

It’s the adherents of such conspiracy theories who drive the divisions in society because they consider anyone who complies with the restrictions to be complicit and traitors who cannot be trusted.

There are others however, who do not believe in a worldwide conspiracy but have various doubts about the need for and the efficacy of the measures imposed by government, whether it is masks, social distancing, or vaccinations. Others consider the potential risks of vaccination to be greater than the risk of dying from Covid-19; or, among Christians, who do not see death as a huge tragedy and prefer it to potentially disabling permanent side effects of vaccination. I think that such considerations, such views deserve some respect even where we disagree; we should feel free, however, to restrict our contact with people who hold such views if we consider it necessary for our own safety.

So what do I think of the various measures imposed by government to deal with Covid-19?

I have absolutely no doubt that the measures are not always well thought through, and of course they are not either argued or communicated in an optimal manner. The reason for this is exactly that weakness and imperfection of our politicians which has me doubt the global conspiracy, as well as the tension between the need for measures and restricitions on the one hand, and the realization that implementing such restrictions could negatively affect a future election outcome: If government does not implement measures and restrictions to guard against the risks of the pandemic, and there is a sudden rise in the number of deaths, or a collapse of parts of the health care system, they will get blamed and may loose the next election. If, on the other hand, they implement all the measures recommended by the experts, when they, for example, require that masks be worn, or impose a lockdown, people may get so annoyed that they will vote for someone else next time around. This tension frequently causes politicians to do what is likely to result in the biggest number of votes, rather than what their conscience tells them is the right thing to do; this is one of the biggest weaknesses of democracy, however, the alternative systems of government have their own, even worse weaknesses.

Add to this the fact that politicians, both those in government and those in opposition, are typically neither medical nor economic experts but depend on expert advisers. Even when there is broad consensus on the necessary measures and restriction, there are also frequently very loud and vocal dissenters, and this makes it even more difficult to know what is the right course of action.

The other big question is how we as Christians should deal with the pandemic and with the “Covid Culture Wars”. I maintain a directory of evangelical churches in Austria, and have recently added a page summarizing the relevant government rules and regulations as they pertain to churches and church services. On this page I linked to two videos by two German Christian leaders, Johannes Reimer and Johannes Hartl, and I also linked to statements from the Evangelical Alliances in Austria and Germany (sorry, all of that is only in German).

 

Das andere große Thema ist die Frage, wie wir als Christen sowohl mit der Pandemie als auch mit dem großen Streit darüber umgehen. Auf der Covid-Infoseite auf dem Österreichischen Freikirchenatlas habe ich zwei Videos verlinkt, eines von Johannes Hartl, und eines von Johannes Reimer, sowie Stellungnahmen der Evangelischen Allianz in in Österreich und Deutschland.

I also wrote the following: “As Christians we are called to regard others higher than ourselves, and to obey the laws of the state as long as they do not contradict the commandments of God. And we are not to usurp God’s role as judge, and for this reason I would like to challenge us, as followers of Jesus, to be very careful in how we express our opinions. Much of what irritates us when it comes to government measures is most likely not the result of lies or an attempt to brazenly restrict our civil rights, but rather the result of politicians being overwhelmed by the situation and the tension between possibly necessary measures and the desire to win the next election and thus not to excessively annoy voters. I am expressly not saying that we should not criticize government — that is our constitutional right — but we should not be quick to attribute malevolent motives  to people, not to mention dealing in conspiracy theories.”

On January 18 German evangelist Ulrich Parzany posted on Facebook, “In view of the painful conflicts in Christian churches regarding vaccination and Corona restrictions I recommend reading Romans 14 and 15. However, there’s still plenty of conflict potential there: Who are the strong, and who are the weak? Those who advocate vaccination? Those who oppose it? In any case, it would be helpful if both sides stopped swinging their moral baseball bats.”

That was not a very successful appeal as the comments show: with a few exceptions, both sides continued to swing their “moral baseball bats”.

And actually, one can read Romans 14 in such a way as to defuse this situation. Let me paraphrase Romans 14:2 in two different ways:

One person believes he should be vaccinated, while one who is weak does not want to be vaccinated. One who is vaccinated must not judge one who is not vaccinated, because God has accepted him.

and—

One person believes vaccination to be unnecessary and dangerous, while one who is weak considers vaccination to be good and necessary. One who is not vaccinated must not judge one who is vaccinated, because God has accepted him.

 

The argument that opposition to vaccination is objectively wrong, or that it springs from a sinful ideology (as one of the commenters writes rather judgmentally) is as irrelevant here as the fact that Paul says that the Jewish food rules absolutely don’t apply to Christians. Accepting the other because God has accepted him (or her) has absolute priority here.

We should also remember that the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:5 that we should take every thought captive to obey Christ. And Christ tells us in Matthew 5:22f, «Everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister will be subject to the court. Whoever says “You fool!” will be subject to hellfire.» Therefore we would be well-advised, when we think of those we disagree with, even if we consider their views wrong and foolish, to discipline our thoughts to think “This man, or this brother, is wrong!”, rather than “This idiot is wrong.” I am convinced that if we disciplined our thoughts in this way, we would end up treating each other differently.

And let us not forget that we owe each other respect not because of our correct opinions, but because we are all created in the image of God, however distorted that image might be by sin or ignorance.

Then, when some argue that love of neighbor requires one to be vaccinated, keep in mind that every one of us is responsible for our own loving or unloving actions; pointing the finger at others has never been helpful.

Here are a few more thoughts on the notion that the pandemic and the restrictive measures implemented by government are some sort of conspiracy to restrict and take away our civil rights:

Especially here in Austria I would be very careful with such accusations. Unlike in some other countries, here in Austria churches and church services are explicitly excempted from the various Covid-related regulations; the public health orders explicitly excempt “venues for the practice of religion”, and every lockdown, including the lockdown for the unvaccinated which is still in force, had as one of the exceptions the “satisfaction of basic religious needs”, with government clearly stating that that his includes attendance at church services.

Basically Christian churches (and other religious organizations) are responsible to make their own rules as seems good and necessary to them; the most elaborate such rules are the Guidelines for Church Services (sorry, German only) by the Austrian Roman-Catholic Bishops’ Conference. It contains this remarkable sentence which evangelical churches would do well to adopt: “In order to not exclude anyone a priory from attending church services participation continues to be possible without proof or minimal epidemiological risk as defined by government regulations (i.e. tested, vaccinated or recovered).”

This situation concerning church services, as well as the fact that regular public demonstrations against the government’s measures continue unhindered, despite the fact that a majority of demonstrators ignore the distancing and mask requirements, is  sufficient evidence for me that the government is not simply trying to restrict or take away our civil rights — else this is where they would have started.

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