Vaccinations vs Politics, God & Conspiracy

"I don’t have to give you a reason and I am not going to give you a reason."


I’m gonna level with you — it’s been kinda a tough week. There are two very different reasons for the tough week, and they both stem from the pieces I wrote calling out white megachurches.

For one thing, the pushback has been kinda bonkers. It hit a nerve. It’s been fine here on Webworm, but I’ve never seen my emails and DMs turn into such a forest fire of “f**k you”. That stuff I can deal with. What I’ve found really difficult is reading through the experiences some of you have had in certain church settings. It’s harrowing reading, but I’m also deeply glad the stories are being shared with me. Some further Webworms are brewing. To anyone who emailed me your personal stories and tips: Thankyou.

It’s also been tough talking to friends and family back in New Zealand as the Delta variant starts to ripple out. For the last year, New Zealand has been like The Lost World — an island removed from time. But time has caught up and it’s not fun. People are scared.

And for some, getting vaccinated (New Zealand still has a way to go) isn’t a question of science, it’s a question of Politics and God and Conspiracy. And it’s tough to watch elected leaders down under drink the conspiracy Kool-Aid, one mayor uttering the nightmare phrase “I do my own research”.

Radio New Zealand talked to mayor Sandra Goudie to ask what her beef was with the Pfizer vaccine. This conversation happened as the New Zealand government made Covid vaccines mandatory for teachers and doctors. The mayor wasn’t very forthcoming:

SANDRA GOUDIE: My choice is wait for the Nova vaccine
REPORTER: Why is that?
That’s my personal choice.
What is it you prefer about the Nova vaccine?
I am not debating or discussing my personal choices with you.
In the meantime how are you going to keep yourself safe?
That’s up to me to make sure I do according to how I decide to do it.
Right, so what are you going to do if it becomes mandated for local government staff and elected officials?
[Laughter] Again, it is personal choice and my understanding is that the Covid legislation is not inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, and so that everyone has that personal choice and I think it’s absolutely abhorrent people should lose their jobs through their personal choice not to get vaccinated.
So do you oppose the mandate the government as bought in this week?
I don’t support it, no.
Do you think your position will have an influence on your community members?
So this is my personal decision.
But because you’re a person of influence in your community — you are the mayor — that will sway some people?
So I could have elected as an individual to keep silent, but when I was asked the question I answered honestly, and I am not going to debate it with anyone.
Do you feel unsafe being unvaccinated?
No, I don’t.
And why is that?
[Through gritted teeth] Because I don’t.
But for what reasons?
[Angry] I don’t have to give you a reason and I am not going to give you a reason.
Do you think your community members need to know why you have taken this stance publicly?
If someone felt it was —
This is my personal choice. I am not going to interfere in the personal choices other people are going to make in their lives.

And here’s the thing that people still don’t seem to get: It’s not all about you. Your personal choice will impact other living human beings.

Because while people continue to argue about viral loads between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, one point remains: If you’re vaccinated, you’re far less likely to get infected with Covid, and therefore you’re far less likely to pass it on.

It’s not all about you. It’s about other people.

This point continues to be missed, and it’s fascinating seeing the various characters up in arms. Remember the guy I wrote about last year who wore a MAGA hat to a Black Lives Matter protest?

Well, he’s a teacher at Manukau Christian School. It’s mandated he’s to get the vaccine, and I don’t think he’ll be too happy about. Because I keep a curious eye on a blog he writes for, and yesterday this guest column appeared. It was very dramatic:

“I am not an emotional person. In the last 20 years of life, I believe I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I have wept. Not that I think this is a virtue, it just seems part of my temperament. But twice in the last week, I have been so upset — distraught even — that I have wept.”

The guest columnist was Scott Kennedy, the Deputy Principal at Manukau Christian School, where the MAGA-hat wearing teacher teaches. Scott goes on:

“Let me endeavour to explain. I am not an anti-vax person. In fact, in the case of this vaccine, my wife had been working away at me and encouraging me to get it. My thinking was: I’m not high risk, there’s no hurry for me to get it, I’m happy to bide my time and see if anything nefarious comes out about the vaccine. To be honest, it doesn’t seem like much of a vaccine to me, but I’m not convinced it’s dangerous.”

Okay — so he’s not anti-vax but he’s “happy to bide my time and see if anything nefarious comes out about the vaccine”. In all fairness, let’s call him vaccine hesitant. Sigh.

But again, he’s suffering from the same problem mayor Sandra Goudie has: Selfishness. A severe lack of being unable to uncenter themselves from their own narrative: “I’m not high risk, there’s no hurry for me to get it.”

Then we get to the God stuff:

“The mandate changes everything. This is my line in the sand, and I pray that it is the line in the sand for many Christians and indeed all citizens, vaccinated or not. As a Christian, my theology of government is derived from the Bible and not from pragmatics or social convention.

The Bible teaches that the state is responsible for the sword — for maintaining justice and protecting the innocent from the evildoer.

It does not teach that the government has the right before God to forcibly put something into a citizen’s body with the threat of losing their livelihoods if they don’t. Each person is created in the image of God, and they are responsible for their own bodies before God.

They need to be able to decide before God whether or not to get a vaccine.”

There it is again: “Each person is created in the image of God, and they are responsible for their own bodies before God.”

This isn’t just about your body, Scott. Sometimes I think the phrase “created in the image of God” is one of the most misunderstood things in Christianity. It seems that people take it to mean they are God — in that they are the centre of their own universe. All that matters.

I am not going to keep quoting from the blog — it rambles on and on — but it reflects that vibe we saw in Peter Mortlock and City Impact. Like I said earlier: For many, getting vaccinated isn’t a question of science, it’s become a question of Politics and God and Conspiracy. It’s why there’s pushback against other things “forced” on us during the pandemic, like masks.

Webworm reader Michael pointed me towards You Are Not That Smart, a podcast explaining how a tribal mindset works for those stuck in a certain worldview. This episode points out the reason some people refuse to wear masks during a pandemic has little to do with the masks themselves:

“With masks, like many modern wedge issues, we only disagree because the issue has become political, which means feeling one way or the other carries social rewards and social costs. Masks have unfortunately entered that domain, moving out of the realm of facts and scientific evidence and into the realm of tribal signalling. They have become an overt symbol of who you trust, and so wearing one or not has become a badge of loyalty or a symbol of shame, depending on who you consider US and who you consider THEM.”

And of course the “Us vs Them” space we’re now in with vaccines and masks and all things Covid sucks. Because we’ve lost the science and reason for something else entirely.

And while most of us will be swanning around just fine — in large part because we’re vaccinated — talk to those who are elderly or have additional health issues, who’ll end up stuck in hospital because they were infected by some pious soul who refused to get the vaccination because personal choice. I think of the overloaded hospitals in America and all over the planet, and I think of New Zealand and how so much of this is avoidable.


PS: There was so much spirited talk under this week’s column about death and the quest for immortality, and I wanted to share this comment from Jessica that I really liked:

“I find that being an atheist has some upsides: I’m not running around try to figure out HOW and WHY we are, nor am I destitute at the idea of not being here. The idea of returning to the batter from which things are made sounds good — much more peaceful than just getting moved to heaven or carrying on forever and ever.

The way I’ve been phrasing it for about a decade is that I want to have a ‘slow life’, like the slow food movement — local, meaningful connections to where I am, those sharing the space with me, and what we do.

Fame will not stave off death. Fabulous intellect has not managed to either. But being kind and decent makes a difference on the daily, so I'll keep to that. Also, years ago someone asked what I'd put on a t-shirt and I still love my answer: Death is the cure.”

Returning to the batter from which things are made. Death is the cure. I love that. Resident unofficial Webworm therapist Paul Wilson jumped in with this:

“What you’re describing sounds a lot like something the Greek philosophers called Ataraxia, roughly translated as a state of inner tranquility.

One of main ways to achieve this state of modest sustainable pleasure per the philosopher Epicurus was through a balance of spending time with good friends sharing good food, meaningful work to engage in, and time spent in deep contemplation. Maybe not that surprising since he was a Greek philosopher living around 300 B.C.

He’s also who we get the term Epicurean from, sometimes framed as the hedonistic focus on the pursuit of pleasure in food, sex and so on, when it’s also about the absence of pain.

His arguments about the pursuit of happiness are more soulful and less superficial than that. He argues against a focus in fame and fortune and more about the pleasure that comes from the creation and enjoyment of a soulful community.

I think he was onto something and Webworm echoes that spirit.”

Fuckin’ A to that.

PPS: I was going to send out the second edition of Totally Normal today, where the wonderful Tony Stamp catches you up on the last month of the internet. But I got sidetracked talking about the vaccine thing, so will send that out on Sunday, for a fun weekend read. As always, thanks for being here.