“Stab, smite, slay!” roared Luther. Such was his advice to the German aristocracy during the notorious Peasants’ Revolt. Some of the latter doubtless had it coming, and Luther could justify his advice theologically with his Two Kingdoms theory. Though God rules over all, temporal affairs, affairs of the body, belong to Caesar; spiritual affairs, affairs of the soul, belong to God.
It does not help the peasants, when they pretend that, according to Genesis 1 and 2, all things were created free and common, and that all of us alike have been baptized. For under the New Testament Moses does not count; for there stands our Master, Christ, and subjects us, with our bodies and our property, to the emperor and the law of this world, when he says, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’ Paul, too, says, in Romans XII, to all baptized Christians, ‘Let every man be subject to the power’, and Peter says, ‘Be subject to every ordinance of man.’
But that was then. Now, in the modern secularist State – the kind of State shaped by Rousseau, who took a page from Luther, and by the French Revolution – the soul belongs to Caesar as well, just as it did in the days of yore, before there was anything called Christendom, to which Luther helped bring an end. And even the pope seems to be in Luther’s corner these days. “Cooperate” is the watchword from Rome, whether to Chinese Catholics or to those in the West. Indeed, cooperative grace (a notion of which Luther was doubtful) seems to have taken on a wholly new meaning in Rome.
No greater proof that religion belongs to the State is required than the decree that Christmas is cancelled this year, just as Easter was. Indeed, depending on where you live, it may be cancelled in your home as well as in your parish. In some provincial and state jurisdictions you are not to open your banqueting table to guests of any description. Eight months on, and we’re still “flattening the curve,” don’t you know? Neither Moses nor Jesus count for much when you’re doing that.
The State, moreover, is insisting (or so I see in the land of my birth, where the local Felsenburgh, Dr. Bonnie Henry, reigns gloriously over both body and soul) that this cancellation is quite constitutional. “Freedom of religion? Freedom of assembly? What do you suppose we created the internet for? Meet online. Worship online. We’re not stopping you.” And so we do, even boasting how many more people we can reach that way. It saves time and money. It’s good for the environment. No one has to drive to church, or even get out of bed.
I don’t deny that good can be done and is being done through online outreach. God speed (even if the “servers” sometimes can’t) those who are putting the internet to good use. But the Catholic sleepy-heads, who are not watching and praying, don’t seem to have noticed that this idea of “freedom of religion” is extremely Protestant. Nor the Protestant sleepy-heads that it is in fact highly gnostic. For freedom of religion has become merely “freedom to worship,” and freedom to worship no longer entails freedom to assemble in the flesh, to worship in and with the body, whether with or without the real corporeal presence of the Lord. No, it means freedom to assemble online – a purely “spiritual” assembling. It does not mean freedom to assemble epi to auto (Acts 2:1), in one and the same place, as the temple of the Holy Spirit. It means freedom to gather in the ether, as the temple of Ethereal Man.
This new ethereal assembling takes place not in the house of God, but in the house of Big Tech, the house built by the denizens of Silicon Valley (a land populated, as everyone knows, by people of great piety). Just so, it takes place in the presence and under the watchful eye of the masters of manipulation who dwell in that valley, and of the State itself. Those who dare to hold it anywhere else may be met by squads of police and subjected to fines or arrest.
Now, I don’t wish to be hard on Protestant brethren, some of whom have been much braver than Catholics in confronting the State and in facing fines and arrests. I can’t help but wonder, however, whether there isn’t a connection between denying the real bodily presence of our Lord at his Supper and the political pickle so many of us are now in, where our own bodily presence at the Supper is denied. In any case I do wish to be hard on both Catholic and Protestant brethren who are so gullible as to think that flattening the curve, a year after the outbreak, is still just good prudential judgment and patient neighbor-love.
In truth, it is neither prudential nor loving, for it not only doesn’t work but is doing incalculable harm. It is based neither on science nor on religion, but on a stuporous medical and moral ineptitude that fails the vulnerable and the invulnerable alike. Our cooperation makes us complicit. It also shows a lamentable lack of foresight. What will our high-tech hosts require next of their ersatz communities of spirit? Do they not have numerous excuses for new restrictions, to be employed more or less at will? Is that not the pattern already established in the great international farce of 2020, the farce of the New Science of Viral Management, justified for political ends (as already in 2009) by a deceptive conflation of spread and severity factors?
We have faced in the past many viruses more severe than COVID-19 even in its first wave, never mind its modest second wave, which is taking very few lives and only lives that were already in grave danger or about to end, just as any seasonal flu would do. (This was largely true of the first wave, too, leaving aside mounting evidence of the deadly and quite predictable collateral damage of our anti-COVID policies. In Canada, where less than one percent of known cases are presently listed as serious or critical, these policies nonetheless persist.) We will face many more such viruses in the future. And viruses are not the only disruptions we must expect. There are power grid issues and “viruses” of the electronic sort that come and go. There are economic glitches and environmental crises. Above all, there is the need for Public Order, for there has been chaos and violence in the streets, and we are going to see more of that as well, unless of course people (some people, not others) are kept off the streets. We are even told, with a straight face, by those who wish to employ the great farce in service of their Great Reset, that we are in the midst of “the most severe crisis the world has experienced since World War II” – that we must prefer sofas to sidewalks and learn to make do with much less social gathering.
In service of Public Order, there are also broadcasting standards increasingly sensitive to “discrimination” and “hate speech” and “fake news.” These standards don’t even have to await public approval or constitutional vetting. They can be set quite arbitrarily by the people who own and operate the online platforms. They can be rigorously enforced, with unabashed bias, whether by private parties or state agents. (Cancellation and media mobbing, the Sturmabteilung tactics of our time, usually suffices, though old-style Brownshirting is making a technologically enhanced comeback.) And what, from their perspective, could be faker “fake news” than announcing the resurrection of Jesus? What could be more disturbing to Public Order than the pronouncement “Jesus is Lord” or the warning that he will come again to judge the living and the dead?
Stab, smite, slay? We’ve been hearing quite a lot of that lately, haven’t we? And not altogether metaphorically. Much of it is aimed by the new aristocracy at the new “deplorables,” who are still more deplorable than the marauding hordes of Luther’s day, with whose contemporary counterparts the aristocracy is now aligned. The reasons given are ideological and political reasons, rather than overtly religious ones, and a mask covers a multitude of sins. But the covertly religious reasons are rapidly emerging. And with religion itself herded into the house of Big Brother, as its default meeting place whenever there’s a spot of trouble, what do you suppose will happen next? A Don Henley lyric comes to mind, and a long mournful guitar solo:
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
‘Relax,’ said the night man
‘We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave!’
That’s alarmism, you say, and not at all helpful. Things will settle down, just wait and see. Well, perhaps they will, for a time. We may hope so. I myself hope and expect so. I don’t believe in salvation by vaccination, not at least in the present case, but like others, I am heartened by the recent rebukes from the U.S. Supreme Court directed at the despots in New York City and California. If we should be skeptical of alarmism, however – both coronavirus alarmism and dystopian alarmism – we should also be skeptical of our skepticism about the nature and scope of the problem. Putting up your feet at the Hotel California is a seductive experience. You can lose track of time. Is it Christmas already? Wasn’t it Easter just yesterday?
In The End of Time, Josef Pieper reminds us of the skepticism of the dissident church historian, Fr. Johan Döllinger, for whom an antichristic “world power which closes all churches in all parts of the earth and on every island simultaneously” was “something positively unthinkable” (Pieper 120f., quoting Hans Preuss). It doesn’t seem quite so unthinkable now, suggests Pieper, does it?
That was decades ago. Today it suddenly seems altogether plausible.
We do not at the moment live under a Hitler or Stalin or Mao or Xi, though Xi bids fair to make it that way, while the Bidenistas continue to fulminate about their imaginary Trump-Hitler. That, too, may settle down for a spell, with the apparent demise of the latter, though I wouldn’t count on it. It is not alarmist, in any case, to point out that very dangerous CCP-like precedents are being set, right here and right now in North America, particularly where religious freedom is concerned. It is not alarmist to speak of advancing tyranny. It is not alarmist to say that cancelling Christmas is just what we should expect, not merely from the ever-so-sympathetic and curiously free-spending Grinches, with their “unprecedented global pandemic,” but from the spirit of antichrist. And to the spirit of antichrist we ought never submit. Not in consumerism, not in abortion, not in euthanasia, not in denial of the sexes, not in the education of our young, not in the abolition of families and nations (the list grows ever longer) and certainly not in the cancellation of Mass and the public worship of God.
So what now? Are we to combine anarchism, you ask, with alarmism? Is it a rebellion we are after? No. Civil disobedience in recognition of the superiority of the law of God over the law of man is not rebellion. It is not another Peasants’ Revolt I am advocating, but rather a united and determined civil disobedience of the kind we know well from the days of Martin Luther King Jr., this time in defence of the libertas ecclesia and of religious freedom more broadly.
As for Martin Luther himself, it was a bit rich of that “rebel” to paint rebellion as the sin of sins. Here he is again, from the same treatise:
Any man against whom it can be proved that he is a maker of sedition is outside the law of God and Empire, so that the first who can slay him is doing right and well… For rebellion is not simple murder, but is like a great fire, which attacks and lays waste a whole land… Rebellion turns everything upside down…
It does indeed, as does the vigilantism he here espouses, which from America to Japan has its contemporary analogues. What a fire he lit, as Hegel already noticed, with his doctrine that the essence of the Eucharist lies in “faith and spiritual enjoyment”! But it is likewise rich of Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders to so prize civil law and order that the law of God is conflated once again with the law of empire, even to setting the law of empire above the law of God.
The Church has a divine mandate to offer sacrifice to God in every place. The State has no mandate, and can have no mandate, to refuse to allow the Church to exercise its mandate. Whenever the State claims such a mandate it violates the law of God. Where are the bishops who will insist that decisions about the Church’s assemblies belong solely to the Church, and act accordingly? We have far too few of them.
Back in British Columbia, Dr. Henry cites Pope Francis in support of her bonny reign as Provincial Health Officer and Saviour of the People. She also alludes to unidentified “high profile people,” reports The Globe and Mail, who are seeking to generate “consternation,” adding in patronizing fashion that “most faith leaders have been strong in their support for doing the right thing during a global pandemic.” The truth, however, is that it is high-profile people like herself who continue to stoke consternation about the coronavirus, a consternation foreign to the spirit of free peoples and especially to the people who have heard the Master say, “Fear not!”
Dr. Henry is not mistaken to observe that “faith leaders” (a lovely late-Protestant expression which, Abu Dhabi style, levels all religion in the fashion Solovyov and Benson warned us about) tend these days to do pretty much what they’re told, just like other people. Or that a few here and there, mainly in religions lacking Christianity’s once-intimate connection to our civic culture, behave irresponsibly. But that latter fact hardly explains, as Vancouver archbishop Michael Miller points out, why Dr. Henry herself is behaving irresponsibly towards him and his flock. Nor does it bear on my own claim that the the only right and responsible thing for the Church to do in such a situation is to refuse obedience, putting the health of the soul first and the health of the body second, while attending to both.
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