Contamination of the Profane With the Sacred

What the Religious Fervor for Vaccination Reveals

In spite of the increasing numbers of Americans self-identifying as “religiously unaffiliated,” America remains a country awash with religious belief and dogma. The new religions Americans are embracing, however, have very little to do with pursuing justification or a righteous standing before a transcendent, holy deity. Rather, the streaming masses from the congregations of a burgeoning secular faith, are erecting idols born from what 16th century Reformer John Calvin would term the “idol factories” of the fallen human mind1.

Calvin was not alone in his cynical characterization of the human mind. Fellow thinker Francis Bacon similarly chimed in on man’s base proclivities for idol construction, appropriately designating them the “Idols of the Mind.”2 These idols, Bacon reasoned, did much to distort reality, which is why he advocated developing a system for acquiring objective knowledge that would bypass the specious delusions these idols proffered. This system became known as the “scientific method.” Neither Calvin nor Bacon saw man’s propensity for idol manufacture as the mere ability to hold errant beliefs; rather, they well understood that the idols of the mind and heart were like “a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.”2

To address these idols, Calvin advanced theology and Bacon proffered philosophy – both of which were informed by the events that unfolded in the Garden of Eden several thousand years before their time: namely, the Adamic Fall. Many have argued that it was this keen awareness of what humanity lost in the Fall that drove not just Calvin’s religious reformation of the 16th century, but Bacon’s natural science reformation of the 17th century as well.3

Fast forward to today. The 18th and 19th century secular enlightenment thinkers’ dreams of sweeping Western institutions clean of what they considered an anachronistic deity has been largely realized – but at a cost to the civilized society.

Enter 21st century psychologist, author, and philosopher in his own right, Jordan Peterson. In an interview with Steve Edginton, Peterson talked at length about the religious nature of today’s political activism, admonishing those who would boast of their areligious status:

Don’t be so sure that all those people who lived before us who insisted that you did have to worship something - and that you should be very careful about what it was . . . that they were bloody stupider than you.

Peterson underscores what Bacon and Calvin already knew – human hearts and minds are idol factories, and if one deity is removed, it will by necessity be replaced with another. If it was the prediction of the enlightenment thinkers that the removal of all vestiges of superstition would usher in a secular, objectively-thinking utopia – they were sorely mistaken. Peterson and Edginton pointed out that today’s political activism, or the social justice cause du jour, bears all the indicators of a religious fundamentalism.

Peterson laments that when political and cultural issues attain the status of religious ideation, what follows is a contamination of the profane with the sacred. According to Peterson, this contamination is evident whenever everyday matters and issues (the profane) take on sacred characteristics; we might encounter an example of this if we are inclined to share our vaccination status (or lack thereof) with the wrong person. For many vaccination activists, an unvaccinated person is anathema to all that is good, moral, and decent. If the activist is not content to merely disagree with you, but instead raises the issue of your vaccination status to the domain of the sacred (by foisting epithets of “sinner,” “immoral,” and “evil” on you), this is a pretty good indication that an idol has been erected.

This is not intended at all to be a hit-piece on the millions of Americans who dutifully received their vaccinations in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID, with the hope of protecting themselves, their families, friends, and co-workers. We were all led to believe early on by the political and medical elites that the vaccination promised a return to normalcy after endless months of mask-mandates, social-distancing edicts, and threat of lockdowns.

Rather this is an intended salvo on the thousands of Americans who make it their business to know everyone’s vaccination status around them, and who applaud the use of intimidation tactics to force those unwashed and unvaccinated masses to vaccinate. To the less cynical around us inclined to interpret their zeal as genuine altruism, a word of caution: in the same way the Pharisees were careful to display their piety publicly,4 so too the vaccine zealots are careful to carry out their campaigns in the open public space, so as to accumulate as much admiration, er, likes, as possible.

Those who dogmatically seek to publicly proselytize the unclean, who openly support their persecution, resemble the purity culture Robin Phillips discussed accordingly:

This outbreak of purity culture resembles the one described by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish, where physical contagion becomes conflated with moral contagion. Those who do not participate in cleanliness rituals are not just potential transmitters of COVID-19, but guilty of transmitting moral pollution, potentially spreading non-compliance to others.

Adherents to this type of left-wing purity culture see much more at stake than mere non-compliance to a de facto vaccine imperative. They see a loss of power and influence – after all, they serve a jealous god.

As a digression, it has been refreshing to encounter those few people who, upon learning of my own vaccination status, quietly and privately take me aside and out of genuine concern inquire, “why.” For most of these dear friends, my explanation is sufficient, and they are content to never bring this up again – as these are people who adhere to medical free “choice.” They do not get any jollies from the personal empowerment activists feel by telling others what to do, since the vaccination has not become a religious matter, but rather remains a mere medical prophylactic.

Lest any of the weary and harassed vaccine-hesitant make the mistake of the enlightenment thinkers – that of thinking if we could just rid the minds of the zealots of their idols we could live in a utopia of rational thinking – we would do well learn from history. The idol-factories that churn within the hearts of man will simply replace one idol with another. Of this we can be sure. Calvin presciently noted, “Man's mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.”

For a nation with record numbers of individuals abandoning the mainline denominations, America remains a land awash with religious dogma.

Notes:

  1. Calvin, J., DeVries, M., & Freeman, K. (1999). Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. B&H Publishing Group.
  2. Bacon, F. (2016). New Atlantis and the great instauration. John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Harrison, P. (2007). The fall of man and the foundations of science. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Matthew 6:5. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno, with a BS in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics - having published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and projects in scanning tunneling microscopy. Having recently completed an M.Ed. from University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, Emily is currently an instructional designer/content developer for Moody Bible Institute and teaches organic chemistry and physics. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily now regards the intelligent design arguments more credible than those proffered by Darwinists for explaining the origin of life.

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