Public Health and the Libertarian Lure

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As most of you well know, I do want to do whatever I can to encourage resistance to this overweening tyranny we all find ourselves dealing with. You know what the last year and a half has been like. I am referring to what it feels like when purblind bureaucrats soak about seventeen mattresses in hubris, incompetence, and contempt, and then throw them on top of you.

Just wait until they start in on climate change. Just wait until they start flexing on all the things, giving as their reasons the same kind of lame gestures that have worked on the general population and a compliant media thus far. When secular governments, filled with totalitarian lust, declare yet another “emergency,” in that climate change has made the Omicron Variant even WORSE, because three people in East Asia now have the sniffles, at what point do you believe that your Christian leaders have a responsibility before God to say, “No, enough of that”?

So when the Southwest pilots refused to fly, I was standing on a chair and waving my hat. When Texas and Florida and Idaho outlawed vaccine passports, I consider myself a fortunate son of one of those fine states. When numerous men in our special operations forces refused to take the vaccine, I considered that a fulfillment of their vow to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Good job, everybody.

In case you haven’t been scolded enough yet.

This mandatory vaccine business is the camel’s nose under the edge of the tent, and yet there are a host of Christian leaders who have not yet realized that the nose looks very different from the rest of the camel. They cannot be prevailed upon to see that to accommodate these imposed and nonsensical requirements is paving the way for the imposition of monstrous requirements later on. There are no brakes on this thing.

However, Comma

But with all that said, it is important not to import any false principles into our resistance because those false principles can always come back to bite us later. Martin Luther once compared humanity to a drunk who falls off one side of his donkey, and so the next time he falls off the other side in order to compensate and keep things even. I say this because I am concerned about the introduction of a libertarian principle into the resistance. I don’t mind a libertarian spirit, mind you, which we could use more of, but in fact one of the central problems with the basic libertarian principles is that they cannot sustain a healthy libertarian spirit.

This is a concern because the only true and effective resistance to the grasping attempts of our jitney overlords is going to come from the molecular bonds found in multiple loyalties, and cannot arise from atomistic individualism. It is also a concern because ultimately libertarian individualism will be ineffective against the demands of the collective. The demands of the swollen state must be answered by interlocking and rightly proportioned societies. We need principled Christian resistance, and we need it in the worst way. But principled Christian resistance will have to be based on Burkean localism, and not based on a libertarian individualism.

If we lose the sharp distinction between a Christian love of liberty and an antinomian license to rebel against all authority, we have lost something precious. Christians love liberty under law, form and freedom together. Liberty-loving Christians love authority. They hate the abuse of authority, not because they are clutching to their own imperious willfulness, but because they love true authority.

The Warrenton Declaration

Now I detected something of this libertarian principle operating in the Warrenton Declaration. Let me say at the outset that I really liked the Warrenton Declaration over all, and wished I could have signed it, as a number of my friends did. But the reason I couldn’t has to do with the issue I want to chase around for a little bit here.

WE DENY that the leprosy-related passages in Leviticus 13 & 14 can be construed to teach the general principle that civil government has unqualified and legitimate jurisdiction over managing “public health.”

Warrenton Declaration, XVII

Now I quite agree that Leviticus 13 and 14 do not give civil government unqualified jurisdiction over anything, because no human government can be given unqualified authority in any realm. This is fallen world, and so there must always be checks and balances. But I do want to argue that these chapters (and other related passages) do give the civil magistrate legitimate authority and jurisdiction in matters of public health and safety.

And so this means that the egregious behavior of our public health martinets, governmental bullies, media liars, and corporate honchos over the last year and a half has all been a swollen and monstrous abuse of a legitimate governmental function, and not the invention of a new despotism out of whole cloth.

I want to set out the argument for this because I believe that our only long term hope in resisting the encroachments of Leviathan will lie with Burke’s “little platoons.” I want Calvin’s lesser magistrates. I want Kuyperian sphere resistance, and not disconnected atomistic individuals trying to fight The Man.

So then, to the arguments.

Ceremonial Health Benefits?

Circumcision was a sacrament of the old covenant. It was a physical sign and seal, given as a spiritual legacy to Abraham and his seed. The circumcision of the flesh was meant to be paired with heart circumcision, which was heart regeneration (Dt. 10 ; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:28-29). Moreover, it signifies the coming of the new covenant sacrament of baptism, which carried the same sacramental meaning, that of true regeneration (Col. 2:11). Circumcision was therefore given to the people of God as a spiritual token, with spiritual meaning. It was not given to them as a public health measure.

This can be cheerfully granted, and should be, but it does not follow from this that there were no health benefits. A generation or so ago, researchers noticed an almost complete absence of cervical cancer in Jewish women, which was traced to the circumcision of Jewish men. In addition, the eighth day obviously has figurative and symbolic significance throughout the Scriptures, and this is no doubt related to the requirement that Jewish boys be circumcised on the eighth day. Again, cheerfully granted.

But because we worship and serve a God of infinite wisdom, who is therefore capable of doing more than one thing at a time, it is also worth noting that the assignment of the eighth day by God was particularly fortuitous. Vitamin K is an important element in blood clotting, and it does not begin to get to normal levels in an infant until the fifth to seventh day after birth. That would make the eighth day an optimum time to circumcise a boy. In addition, another element in blood clotting, prothrombin, is only at about thirty percent of normal on third day after birth, but on the eighth day shoots past the normal level to about 110%. Now keeping the baby from bleeding was not part of the signification of circumcision. The Bible doesn’t teach that anywhere.

But can God do more than one thing at a time?

Now that the spiritual significance of circumcision has been swallowed up by baptism, is it a sin to have your babies circumcised? Well, it would be if you were doing it as part of your pursuit of justification. That would be to fall from grace (Gal. 5:3-4). But is it out of line for Gentile Christian parents to have their boys circumcised because they think it is a good idea with practical health benefits? Not at all. Knock yourself out.

Quick side note: I am illustrating a general principle here, and will not be answering any letters tomorrow from anti-circumcision activists. I don’t have time, and life is too short.

The point is that something can be indisputably part of the ceremonial law and yet have health benefits.

The Promise and the Means

God gave the people of Israel a striking promise when it came to their observance of His laws for them.

“And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.”

Ex. 15:26; cf. Dt. 7:15 (KJV)

Now I believe that the cosmos does not run on impersonal natural laws, but is rather personally governed by a personal God. Notice the phrase above, “I will put . . .” But the question here is whether the personal God intervened directly and immediately to keep the Israelites from coming down with the common maladies of the other nations (i.e. through miracles), or whether obedience to His laws had anything to do with it—in that the giver of these laws knew about germs, even though the observers of these laws didn’t know about germs.

Here is a thought experiment for you. Suppose you had a very primitive society, living under conditions similar to what the Israelites had prior to Moses. Let us say that they had the same problems with diseases as everyone else would have in those conditions. Now suppose that you are given the authority to come in and impose all the external aspects of the Mosaic law. We wouldn’t ever do this, of course, but because we are keeping our thought experiment pure, we are doing this simply at the external level. We are not Moses establishing a worshiping community, a peculiar people set apart to Jehovah, but rather we are simply invaders and conquerors from the land of Thought Experiment, imposing a new set of apparently arbitrary taboos.

So the latrines are now outside the camp. People with running sores have to avoid contact with other people. If you touch a dead body you have to stay away from others. It is a tropical climate, and they can’t eat pork any more. They are not allowed to put road kill in the stew. Everybody in the camp is required to wash with soap and running water at stated intervals. Now would all this have any impact on the general health of that society? To ask the question is to answer it.

And it has nothing to do with whether the Mosaic law was ceremonial or not. Of course it was ceremonial. But can God do more than one thing at a time?

Some Specific Interaction

So with all that said, let me interact with a few specific things stated in the Warrenton Declaration.

WE AFFIRM that these leprosy passages are related not to the spread of biological contagion, but of ceremonial uncleanliness as is evidenced by numerous factors: First, even the man covered head-to-toe in white leprosy was declared “clean” (Lev. 13:12-13) and was permitted in the camp. Second, the stated reason for the general expulsion of lepers is the same reason given for the expulsion of those who touched a dead body or had a bodily discharge; not biological contagion, but ceremonial uncleanliness which “defiled the camp” before the Lord (Num. 5:1-4) . Third, nowhere in Scripture is leprosy described as being biologically contagious. This “leprosy” also afflicted houses (Lev. 14:34) and garments (Lev. 13:47). “Leprosy” was not the same as modern day “Hansen’s disease”.  Fourth, in order to prevent belongings in a “leprous” house from being declared “unclean” by the Priest, the owner was permitted to empty the house of his possessions before the Priest arrived for inspection (Lev. 14:33-36). Preventing biological contagion through sanitization (burning) of objects was not in view here. The ceremonial practices associated with the now defunct Levitical Priesthood have been made obsolete by Christ’s greater Priesthood (Heb. 7:12), and cannot be credibly invoked as providing civil government with jurisdiction over “public health.”

Warrenton Declaration, XVIII

I will address these points in order.

First, the person who was covered head-to-foot in white leprosy really was allowed back into the camp. But I don’t think this really establishes anything. We are all agreed that this leprosy was not our modern day Hansen’s disease. We don’t know what disease it was. I would simply surmise that it was a disease that, once it had reached that finalized stage, was no longer contagious. We all are aware of this with other sicknesses. You are contagious for different periods of time, depending on what bug it is. Right?

Second, the stated reasons for the Mosaic restrictions were ceremonial and liturgical, and the defilement of the camp that resulted was a ceremonial defilement. This is exactly true, but it also has nothing to do with it. The reasons given for requirement of burying your own feces outside the camp were also ceremonial (Dt. 23:13-14). There was an assigned latrine outside the camp also (Dt. 23:12), again for ceremonial reasons, which was to keep the camp holy. But who does not know and understand that medieval cities without an effective waste disposal system—afflicted as they were with rampant problems like diphtheria, tuberculosis, leprosy, typhus, Black Death, smallpox, salmonella and so on—could have been greatly helped with a Mosaic approach to waste management, not to mention a little Mosaic soap and water.

I have mention soap and water a couple of times, so I should at least touch on that. The New Testament tells us that the ashes of a heifer cleansed the Israelites so that they were outwardly clean (Heb. 9:13). This is a reference to the sacrifice mentioned in Numbers 19. The heifer had been sacrificed and was burned along with wood. Thus the two principal ingredients of soap were present, those being wood ash and animal fat. A man who was ceremonially clean had to transport the remains of the sacrifice to a designated place outside the camp, and he was made unclean by doing this. But the place where he took the remains was a place of cleansing where there was running water. And the Israelites would then go there to prepare themselves in a ceremonial cleansing that was a preparation for worship. Jehovah did not tell them that they were killing germs, but He did require them to kill germs in order to appear before Him. There are health benefits to this.

It is therefore lawful for us to kill germs.

Third, it is correct to say that the Bible never says that these practices were aimed at problems that were biologically contagious. But why does it have to? We know that a number of the things that were prohibited were biologically hazardous—running sores, human feces, animal carcasses, and so on. Can a modern society establish standards for such things, without any ceremonial basis, solely for the public good? And can they do this without tyranny? Sure.

Can they also, if they are snakes, use this kind of thing as an excuse for their tyrannies? Also sure. That’s where we are now, which is why I want to cheer on the general thrust of the Warrenton Declaration.

Fourth, it is absolutely correct to say that Christ’s greater priesthood has supplanted all the ceremonial aspects of the law. But again, if Gentile parents decide (say) to circumcise their newborn son in order to decrease the risk of cervical cancer in their future daughter-in-law, the fact that Christ set aside the sacramental significance of circumcision is nothing to the point.

Kings and Public Health

There is another aspect to all of this. Recall that I said earlier that the cosmos is personally governed, overseen and ruled by a personal Creator God.

Now a plague is a social and corporate event. It is the kind of thing that involves everybody, and this includes the king. For example, there was that time when David was foolish enough to number the people, and for his punishment God used the prophet Gad to give David three choices. He could endure 7 years of famine, he could flee before his enemies for 3 months, or he could opt for 3 days of pestilence (2 Sam. 24:13). David chose the pestilence, and in the course of those 3 days 70,000 people died. The plague about came because of the sin of the king, and the pestilence was stopped because of the intercession of the king (2 Sam. 24:25).

Rampant disease was also promised as the result of the people going after false gods as a people, as a nation (Dt. 28:14). This was a corporate sin, and the chastisement was a corporate chastisement. I grant that when such judgments were being levied by God, they could not be fixed through county health officials simply cordoning off pest houses. But neither could they be fixed through responsible libertarians taking responsibility for their own personal hygiene. The problem was political idolatry, and required a political solution, by which I mean repentance.

“The LORD shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it. The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.”

Deuteronomy 28:21–22 (KJV)

This is a place where I think I would agree with the drafters of the Warrenton Declaration. One of the gods we have gone lusting after is the god of Science, and I may have my stories confused, but Science once took the form of a swan and raped Leda, who then gave birth to the CDC. So medical science (as it is now conducted) is a big part of our problem, and I do not want my arguments above to be taken as an endorsement of any of their current fever dreams—like boys becoming girls, or abortion doctors selling baby parts, or genetic engineering that is yearning to create the kind of Übermensch that will then chase all the lab coats down the hall. None of that stuff. I am keeping things basic—like my appreciation of the germ theory of disease, vaccines rightly developed and used, and a willingness to remember Koch’s postulates.

But if we continue to worship our idols . . .

“The LORD will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed.”

Deuteronomy 28:27 (KJV)

One Last Thing

I have trespassed on your patience long enough. I just want to repeat a couple of things that I stated earlier. I want to do this because they bear repeating (Phil. 3:1).

The first is that (apart from this section) the Warrenton Declaration was superb. And I know and understand that there were folks who signed it who do not have any sympathy with the libertarian assumption that I saw there. But that assumption, for Christian libertarians, is that if the Mosaic code does not explicitly provide warrant for civil magistrates taking any responsibility for public health, then it is appropriate for them to default to post-social-contract individualism in their assumptions. And I think this is extremely hazardous for us in the long run.

Which leads to the second point. I am a Burkean conservative. The oppressive statism that is suffocating us is a social construct of man’s crooked devising. It must be answered with an interlocking network of social constructs of God’s devising. We must have the little platoons—families, churches, denominations, county commissioners, colleges, and so on. We must have social resistance.