When you hear the word “despot” or “tyrant” what comes to your mind? Do you picture an angry king sitting upon a massive throne ordering the death of all who disobey him? What if you were asked to think of a specific despot from history? Who would you picture? Adolf Hitler? Joseph Stalin? Genghis Khan? Fair enough. But what if I asked you to think of a despot from a democratic nation? Perhaps you could, but I think it would take a bit more time.
I ask these questions to point that when we think of despotism or tyranny, we typically envision one person — someone who embodies the qualities of a tyrant. We do this because, quite frankly, it is easy to do. It is easy to gather up all of the world’s evil, give it a name and a face (e.g., Thanos), and direct our anger against it. That person is the bad guy who is destroying the world and needs to be stopped. Avengers, assemble!
But reality is much more complicated than the movies. Even in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, it was not just one man playing the part of a tyrant. It was a host of individuals, at all levels of society, who formed those monstrosities. This does not mean that individuals like Hitler and Stalin were insignificant. Not at all. But they did not arise out of a vacuum and they were not alone in their efforts.
With that in mind, how should those of us in strongly democratic nations understand tyranny and despotism? Are we immune to such things? Does having a constitutional republic or a democratic form of government protect us from despotism? If the past two years are any indication, the answer is, “No.” There have been plenty of examples of despotism, even if we cannot give it a name or a face.
The reason that it is difficult to point out tyrants in democracies is due to the nature of democracies. Since the structure of the government is more decentralized, with power shared among more people, despotism takes on a different form. It becomes more administrative and more bureaucratic. It becomes a nameless and faceless entity that takes on a life of its own.
Interestingly, in 1651 the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote a book on government titled Leviathan. In this work, Hobbes argued that the chaotic, selfish, and sinful masses of humanity are of such a state that only an absolute ruler, wielding near-unlimited power, could maintain order.
The image designed for the book depicted that ruler as a gigantic crowned figure whose body was made up of a mass of individual persons. In a sense, out of the masses of society is to come a despotic figure who is both comprised of the people and who wields unlimited power over them. As for the name Leviathan, Hobbes purposefully drew that from Job 41, where Leviathan, the great serpent, is described as having no equal to his power on earth. Ironically — whether Hobbes realized this or not — the Bible always depicts Leviathan as an object of evil. It is the serpent, or the great dragon (i.e., Satan), that wages war against God and his people.
Looking at the very origins of the word “Leviathan,” the name seems to be derived from the Hebrew root word lavah (“to join” or “to be joined”) and the word tannin (“serpent” or “sea monster”). We also see that the root lavah forms the basis of the Hebrew word livyah (“a garland” or “a wreath”). This then combines with tannin to form the Hebrew word livyathan from which we get Leviathan — “the coiling or twisting serpent.”
Hobbes’ use of the biblical Leviathan to describe a despotic human government is not to be overlooked. The Bible often uses pictures or images to describe key concepts. For instance, the sea is often associated with chaos and the mass of humanity (Revelation 13:1 and 17:15). Out of the sea arises ferocious and mighty beasts (Revelation 13:1), with beasts typically referring to powerful and vicious governments or rulers (Daniel 7:3–8, Daniel 8:1–8, and Proverbs 28:15).
Of course, the Leviathan of Hobbes and the beasts of the Bible tend to be persons with a face and a name (e.g., Nebuchadnezzar or Alexander the Great). But what about democracies? Can they have beasts and does Leviathan live among them?
If we fast forward about 180 years from Thomas Hobbes, we come to a man named Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville was a Frenchman who, after having lived through the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon, came to the United States in order to understand and assess our form of democracy. His book Democracy in America, written in 1835, is still considered to be one of the best analyses of our constitutional republic.
While Tocqueville had many positive things to say about democracy in general, and American democracy in particular, perhaps the most insightful part of his book is his description of democratic despotism found in Chapter 6 of the book’s second volume. He begins his inquiry into democratic despotism by highlighting how it would look different from despotism under a monarchy:
“It seems that, if despotism came to be established among the democratic nations of today, it would have other characteristics; it would be more extensive and milder, and it would degrade men without tormenting them…Democratic governments will be able to become violent and even cruel in certain moments of great agitation and great dangers; but these crises will be rare and passing.”
Tocqueville’s analysis is important to keep in mind, especially as we consider the nature of despotism. While we typically think of an absolute monarch ordering all dissidents to be beheaded, democratic despotism is both milder and broader in scope. Monarchs can rage intensely but can typically on harm those who are closest to them. Even then, the king’s anger might settle down after a short time. But in a democracy, despotism spreads out and creeps in, rarely exploding into bursts of anger. This is because the despot is not one person, but a mass of people:
“I want to imagine under what new features despotism could present itself to the world; I see an innumerable crowd of similar and equal men who spin around restlessly, in order to gain small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others; his children and his particular friends form for him the entire human species; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he is next to them, but he does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if he still has a family, you can say that at least he no longer has a country.”
This mass of citizens is described by Tocqueville as “an innumerable crowd.” Everyone is equal yet everyone is focused on gaining and maintaining earthly pleasures. And while the crowd of people communicate with one another and are interconnected, there is no community. The idea of a country is lost, since each person only seeks what is best for himself or, at most, for his family and friends. After describing the mass of humanity — a chaotic sea of individuals — Tocqueville then describes the beast that comes forth to reign over it:
“Above those men arises an immense and tutelary power that alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyment and of looking after their fate. It is absolute, detailed, regular, far-sighted and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like it, it had as a goal to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary it seeks only to fix them irrevocably in childhood; it likes the citizens to enjoy themselves, provided that they think only about enjoying themselves. It works willingly for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent for it and the sole arbiter; it attends to their security, provides for their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, settles their estates, divides their inheritances; how can it not remove entirely from them the trouble to think and the difficult of living?”
Notice that this beast is not full of rage and menace like one would expect from a typical despot. No, this one is paternal — acting the part of a father. Yet it does not want its citizens to grow into maturity. Rather, it wants citizens to stay focused on entertainment and pleasure. While the citizens seek pleasure, the beast not only tries to keep them pleased but happily takes over handling everything of importance. Ultimately, the people no longer need to think about anything serious, since all difficulties and troubles are handled for them by the paternalistic State. At first this might not seem like much of a problem, but Tocqueville points out just how powerful and dominating this beast becomes:
“After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; in certain moments of great passions and great dangers, the sovereign power becomes suddenly violent and arbitrary. Habitually it is moderate, benevolent, regular and humane, it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
What Tocqueville describes is the slow spread of democratic despotism. Rather than the raging beast that we typically imagine with tyranny, this beast slowly strangles and subdues the people. It is continually feeding, growing stronger as more people are swallowed up by it. As Tocqueville points out, its despotism is not seen in its sudden bursts of violence and wholesale executions. It is seen in its complicated and contradictory web of regulations that address every area of life. This is perhaps worse than traditional tyranny, since it drains people over the course of their lives, always opposing them but never destroying them.
The result is that the people become docile and fearful, like domesticated animals. The government does not need to become violent with them, so long as they stay in line and do not cause problems. And as long as the people are kept unthinking and continuously entertained, they will happily go along with what the State requires.
With this situation established, Tocqueville describes the final shape, or structure, of this new democratic despotism:
“I suppose that a democratic nation, after destroying within it all the secondary powers, establishes in its midst a very inquisitorial, very extensive, very centralized, very powerful executive power, that it confers on this power the right to conduct all the details of public affairs and to lead a part of private affairs, that it puts individuals in a strict and daily dependence on this power, but that it makes this executive power itself depend on an elected legislature which, without governing, traces the principal rules of the government.”
Here we see that the new despotic democracy harmonizes centralized power with democratic processes. As the people increasingly live as individuals focused only on their own pleasures, the central government accumulates greater power and responsibility to itself. This ends up destroying secondary, or intermediate, powers such as the family, church, local community, and even state governments. While the power of the new beast remains dependent upon the people through the legislature, its authority is all-encompassing and unlimited. At this point, Tocqueville highlights the inherent conflict that exists within this system:
“Our contemporaries are incessantly tormented by two hostile passions: they feel the need to be led and the desire to remain free. Unable to destroy either the one or the other of these opposite instincts, they work hard to satisfy both at the same time. They imagine a unique, tutelary, omnipotent power, but elected by the citizens. They combine centralization and sovereignty of the people. That gives them some relief. They console themselves about being in tutelage by thinking that they have chosen their tutors themselves. Each individual endures being bound, because he sees that it is not a man or a class, but the people itself that holds the end of the chain. In this system, the citizens emerge for a moment from dependency in order to indicate their master, and return to it.”
This description by Tocqueville is quite insightful. Humans always have and always will struggle with the need to be led and the desire to be free. But without a proper foundation, or grounding, those passions will become unbalanced. The desire to be led and controlled — to see all problems resolved — will result in the formation of an omnipotent human government. Yet the desire to be free and unbound — to have no one prohibit us from doing what we want — will result in us demanding some sort of accountability through the election process. In other words, we have no problem being enslaved as long as we occasionally get to choose the master. But since the master is not really just one person but a nameless, faceless entity (i.e. the will of the people), we end up tolerating being placed in a position of dependency.
But before we toy with the idea that such a situation might not be so bad, let us consider Tocqueville’s final words on the matter:
“It is, in fact, difficult to imagine how men who have entirely given up the habit of directing themselves, could succeed in choosing well those who should lead them; and it cannot be believed that a liberal, energetic and wise government can ever come out of the votes of a people of servants. A constitution that would be republican at the head, and ultra-monarchical in all the other parts has always seemed to me an ephemeral monster.”
The point Tocqueville makes is key. If the people are unable and unwilling to govern themselves and take responsibility for their own lives, how can they be expected to choose wise leaders to rule over them? If the people already function as slaves, and are essentially enslaved to their passions and pleasures, the leaders they select will be a reflection of that. They will be masters over a nation of servants. On the one hand, the head of the government will be republican and democratic, perhaps even having a constitution. On the other hand, the agencies and departments of that government will be unelected and increasingly powerful. The beast that ends up emerging from this chaotic sea of people will be, as Tocqueville puts it, “an ephemeral monster.”
And now, nearly 200 years since Tocqueville’s prediction, we have found ourselves in the exact situation that he warned about. While our government remains, at its head, democratic and theoretically constitutional, its departments and agencies have become ultra-monarchical. There is no longer any separation of powers, since these agencies can make their own rules, interpret their own rules, and enforce their own rules. The secondary powers of our nation, such as the family, church, and state governments, are being eroded while the central government increases the size and scope of its power. Finally, the web of contradictory and complicated rules and regulations now touches every aspect of human life, to the point that no one seems to be able to disentangle themselves from it. And all the while, we the people pursue pleasure and entertainment — even hoping and expecting that the government will provide it.
But if this is indeed the case — if Tocqueville’s ephemeral monster has emerged — what can be done about it? Well, the first step we must take is to repent. We must repent of our sins and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must repent of our obsession with earthly pleasures and of our abdication of our responsibilities. We must repent of demanding that the State solve our problems for us, since our hope is in the Lord, not Caesar.
People are slaves to sin before they become slaves to the State. Tocqueville said as much when he asked how a nation of servants could ever make a wise choice in its leaders. The key, therefore, in defeating the monster of despotism is to first be set free from sin. This is only possible in Christ, for if the son sets us free, we will be free indeed (John 8:36). So, if we desire at all to experience earthly, temporal, freedom, we must first experience spiritual freedom. From there, we can begin to take responsibility for ourselves, our families, and our communities, producing the spiritual fruit of self-control.
In the end, the only one who can defeat the ephemeral monster of despotism — that great beast arising from the sea of chaos — is Jesus Christ. It is the Lord alone who can slay Leviathan and redeem his people (Isaiah 27:1). And how does he do this? By the gospel. By the word of his mouth, which is a sword that is sharper than any man-made two-edged sword (Revelation 19:15 and Hebrews 4:12). So if you want to fight despotism, pick up your Bible and start reading.
Today we celebrate Memorial Day, a day where we both remember and honor those Americans who gave their lives in service to their country. Originally, Memorial Day was established to honor those who had died in the American Civil War, but later was expanded to include those who fought and died in any of America’s conflicts.
It is important to keep in mind that every culture in the world chooses to remember and honor those things that it values. This is something that we also do as individuals. We put pictures on the walls of our favorite memories, or we decorate certain areas of our homes to remember lost loved ones. The same is true for cultures. In the case of the United States, we have memorials for 9–11, Pearl Harbor, and the Civil War. We have these things because we want to remember what happened and we want to honor those Americans who were involved.
But sadly, the culture of the United States is beginning to shift, to the point that we no longer care to either remember or honor those who came before us. And why is that? Because, in our arrogance, we have deemed them all to be racist oppressors, whose positive contributions (if any) are completely outweighed by a system of exploitation that they either established or upheld.
We know that the United States is not, and has never been, sinless and perfect. But it is equally true that it is not to be compared to Mordor. Of course, in order to judge the merits of the United States (or any nation for that matter), one must determine the standard by which it is to be judged. Will it be the whims and feelings of the current generation or a more objective, universal, standard? That is a key question we must answer.
But before we do, we need to remember that the United States was founded upon Christian principles, even though we recognize that some of the founding fathers flirted with either Deism or Unitarianism. Just consider that American common law originated from English common law, which itself was built upon the standard of God’s law. This can be traced back to the 900s, where King Alfred the Great (the last Anglo-Saxon king) established the law of his kingdom based on the Bible, particularly the law of God as found in the Mosaic law-code. In doing so, he established a Christian system of law that eventually became the bedrock of American law.
Even those founding fathers who were not orthodox Christians recognized the importance of the Christian faith. John Adams, in a letter written to the Massachusetts militia in 1798, stated the following:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Over a century earlier, William Penn (a devout Christian) established the colony of Pennsylvania and structured its law upon Biblical principles. His recognition of the importance of the Christian faith upon society was such that he was known to declare that “men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.”
Even a century after the United States was founded, the influence of Christianity remained. Abraham Lincoln, perhaps one of the most famous presidents aside from George Washington, declared in the Gettysburg Address that our government was a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Now, at first glance such a statement does not seem to be Christian at all, let alone religious. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” can be traced back to the time of John Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards, during the late 1300s. Wycliffe worked to translate the Bible into English and pursued reform both within the Church and the greater society. In a way, Wycliffe set the stage for the later Protestant Reformation.
So, what does all of this have to do with Memorial Day? Well, every culture will remember and honor those things that it values. When it fails to do so, it loses its connection to those things and becomes attached to something else, whatever that may be. Quite simply, whatever is valued will be remembered and whatever is not valued will be forgotten.
This principle is seen most clearly with the people of Israel in the Old Testament, who were continually commanded by God not to forget who he was and what he had done for them. Sadly, Israel repeatedly forgot God, turning away from him and turning instead to idols. The result was slavery and oppression for Israel until they repented and turned back to God. This downward spiral of forgetfulness, idolatry, and slavery, was true not only for Israel but is true for all nations today. Any nation that forgets God and turns to idols is a nation heading toward tyranny and slavery.
And just as repentance was the answer for Israel, so repentance is the only answer today for the United States. That is, we cannot simply remember those American soldiers who sacrificed themselves for our nation, however noble their sacrifices were. This is because their sacrifices could only purchase a type of earthly, temporal freedom. But earthly freedom can only survive if there first exists spiritual freedom.
This is where the sacrifice of Christ comes into play. Christ himself declared that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Jesus demonstrated this love by making the ultimate sacrifice in order to purchase and secure the ultimate freedom. True freedom is freedom from sin, a freedom that only God can provide (John 8:34–36). It is upon that freedom that all other freedoms flow. Without freedom from sin there can be no lasting freedom of any other kind, whether economic, political, or cultural. This is because earthly sacrifices, however honorable, cannot conquer sin and death. Christ alone conquered death, rose again on the third day, and received all authority on heaven and on earth. And it is only because of Christ that others can be truly free.
Today, the United States is at a crossroads. If it continues to forget the past, failing to remember God’s blessings and to honor him as God, then it will continue down the steep hill of idolatry into the mire of tyranny. But if it turns to Christ in repentance and faith, not only will it experience freedom from sin but it will also continue to enjoy the freedom that previous Americans fought and died for.
Therefore, on this Memorial Day, I encourage you to remember and honor those Americans who gave their lives to defend the freedom of others. But also remember Christ, who gave his life to free humanity from the ultimate enemy, sin. Any house, or nation, that is not built upon the Lord will ultimately crumble (Matthew 7:24–27 and Psalm 127:1). This is true worldwide, for “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). In the case of the United States, our nation is a nation that was built upon Christian principles but has quickly forgotten where it came from. So let us pray for repentance and faith throughout our land, that we might remain free.
Robert Miller was anxious as he answered the phone. It was not that he was expecting bad news. No, he was worried about what might happen when news of his decision got out.
It was March of 2025, and Robert was now, for the first time ever, overdue for his COVID vaccine booster. As Bob (he preferred to go by Bob) reflected on this, he shook his head. If anyone had told him a few months ago that he would one day go overdue for his COVID vaccine, he would have laughed in that person’s face.
But things had changed since then. Bob had changed, or at least had changed his mind. It began when he had gotten sick, really sick, around Christmas of 2024. At first he thought he had the flu, which would not have surprised him. Yet when he tested negative for influenza and positive for COVID, he was completely caught off guard.
“But I’m current on all my vaccines,” he weakly told Dr. Mendas from his hospital bed. Although the doctor spoke to him from behind a mask, Bob could hear what seemed like sympathy in his voice.
“I know, Bob, but it looks like you have the Kansas variant, which is fairly new.”
“Sure…but shouldn’t I have some immunity to it? Why…am I getting so sick?” It took all of his strength to get those two sentences out.
“Bob, these vaccines are not one hundred percent effective, especially with the newest variants.” Dr. Mendas paused before continuing, “But we can treat COVID better now, so don’t worry. We will get you back on your feet in no time.”
No time turned into about three weeks after all was said and done. Bob had even overheard the nurses talking about how odd it was that he was taking so long to recover.
During those weeks, Bob had plenty of time to think and to scroll through the internet on his phone, especially when he began to regain energy. No one was allowed to visit him, so he just kept up with his friends and family either through social media or video chat.
On the days that he was particularly bored, he checked out various posts and websites that his more conspiracy-theorist-minded friends were talking about. Although Bob was not particularly impressed with what he found, he did take interest in what some were saying about the various COVID vaccines.
For instance, one article suggested that, “despite no conclusive evidence on the matter, antibody-dependent enhancement is one possible consequence of repeated COVID vaccinations and boosters.” This grabbed Bob’s attention, for the theory behind it did seem to fit what he was experiencing. Despite all of the COVID vaccines and boosters that he had received over the past four years, his body seemed less effective now at fighting COVID than what should be expected based on the available science. And that was what the article seemed to be saying. As people’s bodies became more and more dependent on COVID vaccines for defense, their immune systems became lazy and actually less effective at fighting new COVID variants.
There were other articles that Bob found interesting, particularly regarding the effectiveness of wearing masks. Masks had not really bothered him very much over the years, although he did find it weird that — despite doing everything that science suggested — he still had to wear a mask everywhere he went, even when outside. These articles made Bob think, not only about the effectiveness of masks but also of their real purpose. Was it really all about safety? Or was it about something else?
On the day that Bob was to be discharged, he asked Dr. Mendas about antibody-dependent enhancement. But as soon as the phrase came out of his mouth, Dr. Mendas gave him a stern look and said, “That is just a conspiracy theory completely ungrounded in science.”
The doctor then smiled at him, although it was not a warm smile. “Mr. Miller, while I admit that what happened to you was unexpected, it was certainly not impossible. Some of these variants are stronger and less predictable than previous strains. But that is exactly why you need to keep up with your vaccines and boosters. It is the only way we will stay ahead of everything.”
Bob responded as humbly and respectfully as he could, “But what if all of these vaccines and boosters are having a negative long-term effect on some people? What if it is not so much that the variants are stronger but that our immune systems are getting weaker?”
Dr. Mendas paused for a moment, as if in thought, and then shook his head. “Trust me, Bob, that is absolutely not possible. We have been at this for almost five years now, so I think we can trust the science.”
Before Bob could say anything else, Dr. Mendas moved to leave. “I’ll finish up the paperwork so that we can get you out of here. It will just be a few minutes or so.”
Dr. Mendas opened the door. “Oh, Mr. Miller, be sure to make an appointment at the front desk to come in to update your vaccinations against the new strains. It should be available for you next month. Have a good day!” Bob watched as the door shut in front of him, still unsure of how to respond.
For the next month or so, Bob went about his normal life as a husband, father, and real-estate agent. He listed houses, met clients, and showed properties — all while wearing a mask, of course. Yet his research into antibody-dependent enhancement, as well as his last conversation with Dr. Mendas, constantly ate at him.
He knew that COVID was real and that it wasn’t a hoax. But he just wasn’t sure if the scientists were as infallible as they made themselves out to be. What if they had overlooked something? What if they had made an accidental mistake?
Ironically, before COVID, Bob had been an all-natural, organic, grass-fed, non-GMO kind of guy. His lifestyle had been all about exercise, vitamins, and healthy eating. Yet when COVID first hit and the lockdowns began, Bob stopped going to the gym. With a lot more free time on his hands, especially before the first vaccines were released and people went back to work, Bob simply stayed home with his wife and kids. They baked sweets, watched movies, played games, and ordered takeout. As a result, Bob had gained a few pounds and found himself even forgetting to take his vitamins.
But today, Bob decided that things were going to change. He didn’t care if he was wrong and Dr. Mendas was right. He trusted in natural, God-given ways of being healthy before, and he planned to do it again. He would run his own experiment. He now knew what getting infected with a “new” variant of COVID was like after trusting in the man-made protection of vaccines and boosters. Now he was going to find out what getting COVID would be like using the all-natural method of diet, exercise, and vitamins. Bob smiled at the thought.
It was about a month after his hospitalization and subsequent decision to go all-natural that Bob received the dreaded phone call from the hospital. The nurse in charge of vaccine tracking and scheduling had called to inform him that he was now overdue on his vaccines.
“Mr. Miller,” she said, with urgency in her voice, “we need to schedule you right away to come in to get your shot. Or, if you prefer not to come to the hospital, we can have a member of one of our in-home vaccination teams stop by. And don’t worry, they’re very professional and will wear all of the appropriate PPE.”
“No, that’s not necessary,” Bob had replied. “But thank you.”
“OK then,” the nurse continued, “we can get you in tomorrow if you want to come in person. Would you prefer morning or afternoon?”
Bob paused before answering nervously. “No, I mean, I’m not interested in getting a shot right now.” He closed his eyes as he waited for her response.
“Oh…did you get your shot at a different location already?” The worry in her voice was unmistakable. “Just go ahead and have them forward their documentation to us and we can update your...”
Bob, now a little impatient, cut her off, “No, I didn’t get the shot anywhere. I’m just going to take a break for a bit. But thank you again for your concern.” He tried to sound genuinely grateful.
“Mr. Miller,” the nurse replied frantically, “I don’t think you understand…”
Bob hung up the phone. He did not feel like trying to explain himself to her for the next fifteen minutes. He had made his decision and now he needed to figure out how to live with it. Thankfully, the hospital did not try calling him back…yet.
As he reflected on his decision, Bob felt free, as if an oppressive weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. At the same time, his mind flooded with scenarios that he knew he would have to navigate and decisions that he would have to make. He did not know how to live as a nat. “Nat” was the slang term used these days to refer to those who wanted to be “natural” and not get vaccinated. Of course, nats were not against all vaccines, just the endless stream of COVID vaccinations and boosters. Opposite the nats were the vacs.
“Vac” was the name given to those who went along with all of the COVID vaccines requirements. Bob’s children had once told him that they were a family of vacs. He had not thought much of it at the time, although he had found it odd when he kids described playing a game at school called “vacs versus nats.” Although he had no idea what the game was about, he could not help feeling strange knowing that, today, he had just switched from being a vac to a nat with a single phone call. Now, he had to figure out how to tell his wife and kids.
Bob looked at his watch. “Damn, I’m late!” he said as he grabbed his coat, mask, and keys.
As he opened the door to the garage he shouted, “Bye hun! Bye kids! I gotta run to a showing! Be back later!” Before waiting for a reply he closed the door.
For the next hour or so, Bob completely forgot about his expired vaccinations. He hated being late to showings, because it showed a complete lack of professionalism. Thankfully, his clients were late too, so he was able to get into the house and make sure it was ready for them.
The showing went well, and Bob thought there was a good chance his clients would put in an offer within the next day or two. After they left, he checked his phone and saw that his wife had texted him, asking if he could stop by the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for one of the kids. He replied, “Sure,” before getting into the car.
As he pulled out of the driveway he realized that, in his rush to the showing, he had forgotten to get gas and was running close to empty.
“Of course,” he muttered to himself, pulling out his phone. As he began searching for the closest gas station he realized that he could not just use any gas station. Reality was beginning to get real.
You see, some of the newer COVID variants were allegedly able to survive on surfaces for a longer period of time than previous versions of COVID. This meant that, in order to use most gas stations, you had to be updated on your vaccines. For Bob to be able to unlock and access the pumps at most gas stations he would have to swipe his vaccine card first to prove that he was clean and clear.
Now that he was a nat, Bob had to search for gas stations that did not require current vaccinations. When he updated his Google Search filter accordingly, the results were depressing. The closest gas station that serviced nats was about thirty minutes away and not anywhere near either the pharmacy or Bob’s house.
Bob cursed under his breath. The car displayed that he had about eight miles left on his range. “Screw it,” he said, as he put the car in drive. He wasn’t driving thirty minutes out of his way because he was one day overdue on his vaccine.
About five minutes later, Bob pulled into a gas station and up to a vacant pump. He tried swiping his vaccine card to unlock it. Not surprisingly, the screen on the pump displayed the words, “Access Denied.”
Looking around, he saw an older gentleman at the pump next to him. Bob waved at him. “Sir, can you help me? My card is not working for some reason and I need to get gas. I’m almost empty.”
The man stared at Bob for a moment, not answering. Bob wasn’t sure if the guy was suspicious of him or not. Panicking, Bob spoke again, making sure to be as convincing as possible.
“Don’t worry, I’m vaccinated. It’s just that this card has been giving me trouble at certain pumps. I plan to get a new one this week.”
This seemed to work, as the guy came over. Bob stepped back in order to give the guy at least six feet of distance. Without saying a word, the man swiped his card and unlocked the pump for Bob.
“Thank you!” Bob said emphatically, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Umm-hmm,” the guy replied, walking back to his car.
Bob filled up his tank in awkward silence, trying not to look at the man he had just deceived. He felt guilty for what he did but immediately tried to justify himself. He wasn’t a particularly reflective person and almost always kept his mind busy in order to avoid thinking about things like guilt. But for the first time in a while, he thought about God and whether or not he was real. He did not know why he felt so bad about deceiving a stranger. Typically, Bob would have celebrated his own genius and his ability to get something to go his way. That’s how he had become so good at selling houses.
The stopping of the pump snapped Bob’s mind back to the moment. He quickly put the pump away and got into his car. As he drove off he glanced back at the man who had helped him. He was staring at Bob. For a moment, Bob was worried that the man knew the truth and that, perhaps, he was getting Bob’s license plate number. But when the man waved goodbye, Bob breathed a sigh of relief.
Although he had solved the problem of getting gas, he knew that the next problem of picking up a prescription would be harder. His wife did not know that he was overdue on his vaccination. He had not had the courage to tell her before today, because he was afraid of how much she would berate him for his stupidity and attempt to change his mind.
Bob knew that he would have to tell her right away. He had planned to do that tonight after the kids were in bed, but then he had forgotten about the house showing. And now she needed him to pickup a prescription. If he did not do it she would not be in a very good mood, especially not when he had to explain the reason for his failure.
He wondered if perhaps the pharmacy would deliver the prescription out to his car. That would enable him to avoid getting his vaccine card scanned. It seemed like it could work.
When Bob arrived at the pharmacy he pulled into the curbside pickup spot and dialed the number to the desk.
After providing all of the necessary information, the pharmacist informed him that someone would be out shortly to deliver the prescription. Bob was relieved.
A few minutes later, a masked individual wearing a pharmacist’s outfit and holding both a bag and a scanner, approached Bob’s car. Bob quickly put his mask back on and rolled down his window.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said the young man. “I need to see your ID and vaccine card.” He sounded as if he said this dozens of times each day.
Bob panicked. Trying to act normal, he handed his driver’s license to the man, who scanned it and handed it back. Bob hoped the man would forget about the vaccine card.
“Vaccine card, please, sir,” the young man said with a bit of annoyance in his voice.
Bob pulled out his card but did not hand it over. He waved it around as if it were a piece of garbage, “Oh, I’m sorry but my card has been giving me trouble today. I need to get a new one. So there is no point in scanning it.”
“Sir, store policy is that customers show proof of vaccination prior to purchase.” The young man now clearly was frustrated.
“Even for curbside pickup?” Bob sounded surprised (and he really was). “But I’m not even getting out of my car.”
“Sir, our store serves only vaccinated customers, whether it is in-store or curbside. That is the policy.”
Bob now was getting frustrated himself. “So it’s OK if I hand you my driver’s license and you hand it back to me, but it’s not OK for you to hand me a paper bag?”
For a moment the young man stood there blinking, seemingly unsure of how to respond. Bob decided to try taking advantage of the man’s confusion.
“So if you please would kindly hand me the bag, I would greatly appreciate it. It’s for my daughter.”
The man shook his head. “I’m sorry sir, but if you refuse to let me scan your vaccine card, I cannot serve you. If you want, we can schedule a time for a team-member to do a no-contact delivery at your home.”
Now Bob was angry. “Well why don’t you just put the bag on the ground, step six feet away from it, and then I will come grab it. That way, it will be no contact!”
Again, the young man just stood there, confused. But before Bob could say anything else, the man shook his head. “I’m sorry sir, that is not store policy. If you do not leave or show proof of vaccination, I will have to contact security.”
“Why don’t you just think for one second!” Bob shouted, instinctively pulling down his mask. He opened the car door and got out. Immediately, the young man ran inside the store. Bob could here him yelling, “Help! Security!”
While part of him wanted to stay, Bob knew that things would only get worse if he lingered. There was no way he was going to be able to get the prescription now. So he got back into his car and quickly drove off. As he was pulling out, he noticed the security guard appear in his rear view mirror.
“Damn it!” Bob muttered to himself. He had no doubt that the guard would try to get his license plate number. Of course, that didn’t matter anyway, since the young man had scanned Bob’s ID and knew his name and address.
“Oh well,” Bob said. “The worst they can do is fine me.” As he drove away from the store his thoughts turned toward how he was going to explain himself to his wife. He dreaded having that conversation.
But before he could work out all of the details, his phone rang through the car’s Bluetooth system. Bob saw that it was Jeff Sanders, his boss. He answered the phone.
“Hello?” Bob asked, trying not to sound nervous.
“Bob! It’s Jeff, How are ya?”
“Umm, I’m OK I guess,” Bob replied. “Just got done showing a property. It went well.”
“Great. Glad to hear.” Jeff’s tone turned more serious. “Listen, I’m calling because I recently was notified by the health department that you went overdue today on your vaccine. Is that true?”
Bob was shocked. How had they communicated that so quickly without his permission? What about all of the privacy laws?
“Well, yeah,” Bob replied, continuing to sound unalarmed. “But I don’t see how it’s their business to go around telling everyone. How do they even know I work for you?”
“I was surprised by that as well,” Jeff answered. “But apparently the health department tracks all of those who are up on their vaccines. If someone drops out of the system or goes out of date, they are mandated to report that to all employers and insurance carriers. And since your healthcare falls under the company health insurance policy, they notified us.”
“I see,” Bob said, annoyed.
“Bob, you know I enjoy having you on the team. And whether you get the vaccine or not is your business. But the company insurance policy is based on everyone being current on their vaccinations. It’s also what allows us to operate at full capacity with minimal restrictions.”
Jeff sighed before continuing. “Quite frankly, Bob, if you do not get your vaccine in two weeks, my business will be shutdown unless we recategorize ourselves as a non-vaccinated entity. And in the meantime, you cannot come to the office, show properties, or interact face-to-face with any of our clients.” He let out a nervous laugh, “Our clients expect to be working with vaccinated agents.”
“What the hell, Jeff!?” Bob shouted. “After all I have done for the company? I have been a good and loyal agent with you for over ten years! You can’t do this to me now!”
“Bob, I know this sucks, but my hands are tied. I don’t have a choice.”
“Yes you do!” Bob replied. “You can choose not to join the health department in bullying me! I’m not a freaking health risk. I mean…what the hell am I supposed to do?”
Jeff pleaded with him. “Why don’t you just get the shot, Bob? I mean, is it really worth the hassle? Once you do that, everything will go back to normal.”
“No, it’s not normal, Jeff!” Bob allowed all of his frustration and desperation to come out in his voice. “Four years of this is enough. And after keeping up with all of the shots and boosters, I still end up in the hospital with COVID. I don’t feel healthier…I feel weaker. And I just want to be left alone for a bit to make my own health decisions without getting fired!”
There was silence for a moment before Jeff replied. “I understand, man. But that’s just not the world we live in any more. This is the new normal now.”
Bob cut him off. “Screw the new normal. The new normal sucks the life out of people until they are nothing but caged animals wearing muzzles, getting swabbed, and standing in line for their next round of boosters. So if you want to go on living like a domesticated animal, go right ahead. But I’m tired of it.” Bob was surprised to hear himself say these things, as if they had been bottled up inside for years. But it felt good to let them out.
Bob continued, “And if you don’t want me as part of the team anymore, that’s fine. I will take my two weeks and be out of your hair after that, so you don’t have to worry about missing another government stimulus check.” Bob hung up the phone before Jeff could respond.
Despite the fact that he was soon going to be jobless, Bob actually felt pretty good. It felt good to speak his mind after almost five years of keeping his mouth shut. He laughed as he thought about the upcoming conversation with his wife and kids.
“What a day,” Bob said to himself, smiling and shaking his head.
As Bob pulled onto his street and approached his house, his smile slowly faded. Parked in front of his house were two vehicles, a police car and vehicle marked with the letters P. R. T.
“Oh no,” Bob said to himself. The PRTs, often mockingly called “parrots,” were the Pandemic Response Team. Each county had their own team that was organized and supervised by the state health departments. Their job was to work with law enforcement to ensure that the pandemic was contained whenever there was an outbreak or a violation of health regulations. In short, they were the hands and feet of the health department.
As Bob pulled up to the entrance of his driveway, two police officers waved for him to stop the car. At the same time, two parrots, wearing their state-issued PPE, exited their vehicle and turned to look at Bob.
Bob stopped his car and rolled down his window. “Can I help you officer?” he asked.
“Sir,” the first officer replied sternly, “I need you to put your mask on and step out of the vehicle.” Bob noticed that the second officer, who was a bit younger, had his hand on his taser.
“May I ask what this is about?” Bob replied.
“You are under arrest for making a terroristic threat against a healthcare worker.”
“What? The kid at the pharmacy? What did I do to him?”
The older officer reached his hand towards his taser. “As an unvaccinated individual you exited your vehicle without a mask and attempted to violate social distancing boundaries.”
The older officer didn’t wait for Bob to reply, “Now put your mask on and exit the vehicle now with your hands on your head!”
Bob decided that it was not worth arguing further. But he wasn’t going to give in completely. Holding his mask in his hands, he opened the door and stepped out with his hands raised.
“Sir, put on the mask!” the first officer shouted. Both officers stepped back as they drew their tasers and aimed them at Bob.
A moment of calm came upon Bob as he saw his wife and children come out of the front door of the house. He looked at them, smiled, and then turned back toward the officer.
“No,” Bob replied. And he dropped the mask onto the ground.
Immediately Bob felt a surge of electricity throughout his body. He collapsed to the ground, his muscles twitching uncontrollably.
As Bob tried to fight through the pain, he saw the officers and the parrots approach him. As the surge of electricity subsided, the younger officer pulled Bob’s hands behind his back and cuffed him. Then, one of the parrots kneeled down and forcibly put a mask over Bob’s face.
“There, he’s secure,” the parrot said to the officers.
“Alright, let’s get him to the car,” said the older officer. And they pulled Bob up off the ground.
As Bob tried to avoid stumbling, he heard the second parrot speak. “Another nat gone crazy. If they don’t want to get the vaccine, fine, but why put others at risk? It’s stupid. Just follow the rules and everyone will be safer. Right?”
The first parrot shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “Some people can’t be reasoned with. This is the new normal.”
With the recent passing of Sean Connery, I reflected on some of the roles he played throughout his acting career. Please keep in mind that I grew up as a big Connery fan, enjoying movies such as The Hunt for Red October, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Highlander. Yet one movie he starred in that is perhaps a little less well-known is First Knight.
First Knight is a 1995 film based on the story of King Arthur, with Sean Connery playing the role of Arthur himself. While the plot is centered on the romance between Lady Guinevere and the newest knight of the round table, Sir Lancelot, another key element is the struggle between the forces of good, led by King Arthur, against the forces of evil, led by Prince Malagant.
So, how does the story of First Knight relate at all to the title of this article — law, liberty, and license? Well, there are several key pieces of dialogue throughout the film that contrast the worldview of King Arthur with that of Prince Malagant. Arthur is a man who champions both law and liberty. He recognizes that not all laws are created equal but that “there are laws that enslave men, and laws that set them free.” For Arthur, an ordered liberty that is based on good, moral laws is the ideal environment for human flourishing. In the story, the city of Camelot is presented as that ideal city-state where genuine freedom, built upon the foundation of good law, thrives.
On the other hand, Prince Malagant envies the wealth, beauty, and glory of Camelot. He also envies the authority that King Arthur has, seeking constantly to find a way to seize the throne for himself.
In one of the final scenes, Malagant and his men infiltrate the city and hold it hostage, demanding that Arthur surrender his crown or else watch his city burn. Interestingly, Malagant makes an appeal to the citizens of Camelot in an attempt to turn them against Arthur. He does this by suggesting that Arthur is really a tyrant and that he, Malagant, has come to set them free:
“What I offer you is freedom; freedom from Arthur’s tyrannical dream; freedom from Arthur’s tyrannical law; freedom from Arthur’s tyrannical God!”
There are two aspects of Malagant’s statement that are particularly interesting. First, Malagant typifies the behavior and character of Satan. For it is Satan who, in his hatred of God, calls God a tyrant and succeeds in tempting humanity to agree with him. We see this clearly in Genesis 3, where Satan tells Eve that the reason for the prohibition against eating the forbidden fruit was not that God was concerned for Eve’s well-being but that he was holding her back from becoming god-like. Satan was presenting himself as having Eve’s best interests in mind. He portrayed God as the tyrant and himself as the liberator.
Second, Malagant’s statement demonstrates the organic relationship between each of the items he deemed as “tyrannical.” In other words, what does he attack first? Arthur’s dream, or vision, of human society. Malagant believes such a society to be tyrannical. Yet why would that dream be tyrannical? Because of its laws. Arthur’s dream society can only exist because it is built upon laws that “set men free.” Malagant believes those laws themselves to be tyrannical.
But what about God? Why does Malagant even mention him? Religion does not play much of a significant role in the film, although it is assumed that the society is Christian. So why would Malagant bring it up at all? Well, it is because all laws have a law-giver and every society and system has a god of that system. Arthur’s laws, the laws of Camelot, were based upon God and His word. That is why it was full of beauty, glory, and justice. Arthur’s dream of Camelot had become a reality because the city was built upon God’s law. Malagant recognized this and therefore declared that the dream was tyrannical because the laws were tyrannical. And the laws were tyrannical because God, the law-giver, was tyrannical.
As humans, we are naturally rebellious against God our creator. Following after the footsteps of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we believe God to be a tyrant and his laws to be tyrannical. We think that our lives would be better — and that we would experience true freedom — if we rejected his laws.
Yet there is always a law and there is always a law-giver. And if we are going to reject God’s law, we are going to replace it with some other law. Perhaps it will be our own law, with ourselves as our own god. Or perhaps it will be some other law given to us from some other god. Either way, it is not a matter of whether we will have a law but which one we will have.
This fact is something that Prince Malagant himself could not avoid. While he was calling Arthur’s law tyrannical, he ironically commanded all the citizens of Camelot to submit to his tyranny:
“I am the law now! You obeyed Arthur, and now you will obey me!”
Ultimately, the freedom that Malagant offered was nothing less than true tyranny. It was a lie, through and through. And this same lie is told to us time and again. Sin tempts us, offering us freedom. Yet in reality it gives us nothing but slavery. As Jesus himself tells us in John 8, “he who sins is a slave to sin.”
So, when we reject God’s law, we are ironically rejecting the very thing that leads to human flourishing. At the same time, when we proclaim our so-called freedom to engage in sin we are really proclaiming slavery. Slavery to our desires and passions.
Historically, even the ancient Greek pagans recognized the difference between virtue and vice, liberty and license. The ancient philosopher Aristotle described the happy life as a life of virtue. To pursue happiness was to pursue the virtuous life. And it is this very concept of happiness that we see mentioned in our own Declaration of Independence. The pursuit of happiness is neither the pursuit of passions nor the pursuit of pleasures. It is the pursuit of virtue.
Similarly, the ancient Greeks and Romans never saw liberty as the freedom to do whatever you like. Liberty was the freedom, or ability, to pursue a life of virtue. It was the freedom from vice and the freedom to virtuousness. To do whatever your passions desired was not liberty, but license (from where we derive the word licentiousness).
When we look to God’s word, we see that true freedom finds its ultimate meaning in freedom from sin. Just as Moses led the people of Israel out of physical slavery in Egypt, so too does Jesus lead his people out of spiritual slavery to sin. Biblical freedom is the freedom FROM sin (vice) and the freedom TO pursue righteousness (virtue). As Jesus himself declares, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
So, as you reflect on the current state of our society, consider the difference between liberty and license. Those who declare that they can be whatever gender they wish and can sleep with whoever they wish are not proclaiming freedom but are proclaiming slavery — slavery to sin and vice. Those who proclaim the right to murder their unborn children do not proclaim liberty but are proclaiming death to any who stand in the way of their passions. And those who advance the cause of socialism and economic justice are not defending justice at all but rather a law based on envy.
Our society has wholeheartedly adopted the mindset of Prince Malagant. We desire glory, beauty, and justice but want those things without God. We want to set ourselves up as god and to be our own law-giver. We look at Christ and His Kingdom and declare it to be tyrannical. Yet, ironically, the system we put in place tyrannizes and destroys. What we have done, therefore, is to buy into the lie of Satan. Satan has offered us freedom from a tyrannical dream, tyrannical law, and tyrannical God. We accepted his offer, wanting freedom but receiving slavery. Our only hope now is to accept Christ’s offer. He offers us true freedom but requires us to die to our sins. But if we die in Christ, we get life, true life. And if we become servants of Christ, we get liberty, true liberty.
While many in our culture celebrate this day as Halloween, there are some who would recognize it as Reformation Day — the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door (i.e. bulletin board) in Wittenberg, Germany.
When Luther penned his Theses, he had no intention of becoming an international celebrity. The document was written in Latin — the language of the universities and scholars — rather than in German, and his goal was to challenge someone to engage in an academic debate with him on each of the points. While there is no evidence to suggest that a debate ever took place, an unknown individual (or group of individuals) took the 95 Theses, translated them into German, and made thousands of copies for distribution. Within a matter of weeks, Luther was inadvertently thrust into the public spotlight.
But why did Luther make this challenge in the first place? It was because he was concerned for the parishioners under his care. They were being duped into paying money to have their time in purgatory reduced. This was made popular by John Tetzel, who advertised these services by stating “when the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
When we look at what Luther was trying to accomplish, he had no desire to destroy the Catholic Church or to separate from it. In fact, in the 95 Theses he makes several appeals to the Pope, even suggesting that the Pope would not approve of the corruption that was taking place if he were to know about it. Yet, as time went on, it became clear to Luther that not only was the Pope aware of what was happening but that he had even endorsed it. Tetzel had been acting with full Papal approval.
I bring up this story in order to highlight the importance of reformation. The term “reformation” simply refers to the idea of bringing something back to its original, or more correct, state. It involves re-forming something that had become de-formed.
Of course, any healthy organization or system will contain built-in methods for reformation, or correction. In aviation, every navigational system will decay over time if it does not find some way to re-align itself. The term for this is “drift.” As a navigational system drifts, it becomes less accurate in calculating an aircraft’s location. To correct this drift, the navigational system must communicate with something that is fixed and reliable. In the ancient world, seafarers would reference the North Star and other interstellar bodies. Later, the compass would provide an accurate reference to magnetic north. Today, navigational systems communicate regularly with GPS satellites and receive realignment updates.
A similar process occurs in industries and business. Standards are put in place in order to ensure that a product is of good quality and that both workers and consumers are not harmed. If production quality declines due to laziness or from cutting corners, a reformation, or re-alignment, needs to take place in order to get things back on track.
But any attempt at reformation implies that there is a fixed standard by which one can measure. If there is no standard, then we cannot know if we even need to reform. If there is no standard, we do not know what to change or how much to change. In other words, without an ultimate standard, there can be no reformation or realignment. There can be change, but there is no way to measure whether that change is good or bad.
Going back to Martin Luther, the ultimate standard for him was the word of God — Scripture. There was no other option. For any standard to be a standard it has to be true and trustworthy. If a standard is false or inaccurate, it cannot perform its function, since it will actually cause de-formation rather than re-formation. If a standard is untrustworthy and ever-changing, it cannot perform its function, since it will be too unstable to re-align anything. In other words, if the North Star is constantly changing location then it will do no good to try to navigate off of it.
Yet when it comes to matters of faith and practice, Scripture is the perfect standard. Being both true and trustworthy, it is the only thing that the Church can use in order to reform itself. And yes, the Church must always be reforming. For it will always be subject to drift. This is true for any organization that contains sinful human beings. If erroneous beliefs or behaviors creep in, realignment must take place. But there must always be some ultimate standard that one can reference. For the Church, that measuring stick — or canon — must be Scripture.
Scripture, being breathed out by God, provides a fixed foundation upon which realignment and reformation can take place. It is no coincidence that Jesus Christ, who described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life,” was also described as “the word made flesh.” Christ is the incarnate Word of God and is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built.
So, while we celebrate the 503rd anniversary of the Reformation this year, let us not neglect the fact that we must always be reforming. Yet the measuring stick that we use is neither our own personal whims nor what is considered to be popular opinion. If we use ourselves as the standard, we make God in our image and force the church to conform to our satisfaction. We go “church shopping” in the hopes of finding something that meets our needs and makes us happy. And when the church we choose fails to satisfy our personal preferences, we go find another.
Similarly, if we let the culture be our standard, we setup Demos — the people — as our god and cause the church to lose its saltiness. Instead of being a light to those around us we cover the lamp in order to join them in darkness. In trying to be “relevant” by “coming along side” the culture, we depart our firm foundation and find ourselves standing upon the same sinking sand as the rest of society.
To avoid both of these errors — personal preference or popular culture — we must look to Christ and His word as our firm foundation. Furthermore, we can look to those Christians who came before us in order to learn from them. This does not mean that they are equal to God’s word in authority. Far from it. They were navigators just as we are. We can appreciate the work that they did just like we can appreciate the discoveries that the first explorers made. But even the ancient navigators needed a firm and fixed point of reference. The same is true for the early Christians. That is why we can simultaneously affirm God’s word as our final authority while learning from those who came before us — for they too saw God’s word as the ultimate reference point.
So, in what ways do we need reformation today? In Luther’s time, the primary issue involved abuses and errors within the Catholic Church. While some of those errors (and some new ones) remain within Catholicism, the Protestant/Evangelical Church has begun embracing the errors of our secular culture. Critical race theory and socialism are two of the big ones, although there are some others as well. Yet if evangelicals are not careful to realign themselves to God’s word, they will quickly find themselves without saltiness in a decaying society that desperately needs some more salt.
The purpose of this article is to offer a response to the arguments set forth in White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. I wish to make it clear that I am approaching this book from a Christian perspective with the intent of fostering greater discernment within the Church. In other words, this is not so much a review of White Fragility as it is a response to it.
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): The ideas advocated in White Fragility are antithetical to the Christian faith and, in fact, constitute a false gospel.
I know that this claim I am making is quite bold. Yet I believe that the evidence will bear this out. As a Christian, I value truth and do not wish to bear false witness or to engage in slander. I intend, rather, to be careful in my criticisms and to analyze White Fragility as fairly as possible. There is nothing wrong with Christians reading books from non-Christians, or even books that advocate a non-Christian worldview. Yet Christians must use discernment and always measure man’s words against God’s words. This is true even when Christians read the writings of fellow Christians, for no Christian should be treated as infallible.
With that being said, Robin DiAngelo starts her book off by arguing that the concept race is a social construct, even admitting that, “under the skin, there is no true biological race.” She goes on to claim that the idea of race was developed to justify unequal treatment of certain people. On these two points I wholeheartedly agree with her. There is no Biblical concept of race and any attempt to create such a construct is contrary to God’s created order.
Yet the problem with DiAngelo’s argument comes when she offers a definition of the term racism. In her mind, racism is a broad category that involves BOTH overt acts of discrimination AND covert institutions and systems. In other words, DiAngelo argues that racism is not just an action of discrimination based on race, it is an entire system of ideas, institutions, and ideologies.
In the United States, since whites are the predominant race, whiteness is defined by DiAngelo as “all the aspects of being white.” She goes on to say that whiteness is based upon “the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm.”
What makes whiteness even more problematic for DiAngelo is that white people are, by nature, completely blind to it. Whiteness apparently includes cultural practices “that are not recognized by white people.” Whites simply “are unaware of, or do not acknowledge” their privilege and the racism that results from their worldview. This white worldview includes values such as individualism, meritocracy, and capitalism. Quite simply, whites have been corrupted by whiteness and are unaware of the damage that it has done and is continuing to do.
These definitions of racism and whiteness lay the foundation for the rest of DiAngelo’s book. Yet it is a foundation that is neither grounded upon the word of God nor revealed in God’s creation. Rather, DiAngelo (whether she realizes it or not) has taken the Biblical concept of sin and replaced it with the secular concept of whiteness.
For example, here are just a few ways in which DiAngelo’s understanding of whiteness/racism matches God’s description of sin:
This swapping of the Biblical concept of sin with a secular concept of whiteness leads to the creation of an entirely new theology and religion. For, since white people are slaves to their whiteness, they need to be set free and saved. But how does this work within a secular paradigm that denies the existence of either a creator or redeemer? Well, even though DiAngelo does not purposefully try to answer that question, the answers can be found throughout her book.
For instance, in the final chapter of White Fragility, DiAngelo suggests that “the antidote to guilt is action.” Yet, since there is no one to rescue white people from their whiteness, whites must essentially save themselves through their own works. Consider the following statement from DiAngelo:
“If my answer is that I was not educated about racism, I know that I will have to get educated. If my answer is that I don’t know people of color, I will need to build relationships. If it is because there are no people of color in my environment, I will need to get out of my comfort zone and change my environment; addressing racism is not without effort.”
The efforts of self-improvement on the part of white people must reach the point where they “internalize the above assumptions.” The assumptions that DiAngelo refers to is a list of short, doctrinal statements that she provides for her readers. Here are just a few of them:
Of course, since there is no regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and no atoning sacrifice for sins, the proverbial leopard must indeed change his own spots. The white person must become self-aware of his or her whiteness (i.e. woke) and must work so as to change his or her own worldview.
According to DiAngelo, as white people achieve freedom from whiteness, the larger institutions (e.g. laws and policies) would begin to change. This too is a characteristic of religion. For Christians also believe that changed hearts will result in a changed culture. Yet, in Christianity the catalyst for change is the good news of Jesus Christ. In DiAngelo’s religion of racism, the only hope for white people is to get on the treadmill in the hope that they will become “less white.”
Sadly, in DiAngelo’s religion of racism the process of sanctification is never complete. DiAngelo makes this clear when she says, “I will never be completely free of racism.” And while Christianity also teaches that we will never be completely free from the effects of sin in this earthly life, Christianity offers a hope that the religion of racism does not have. For, in Christ, God’s people are set free from the power and penalty of sin (John 8:34-36). They do not have to sin but can choose to practice righteousness. And even though they will continue to fight against sin in their lives, it is God who is working in them to achieve victory (Philippians 2:13). This victory WILL ultimately be achieved when Christ returns and God’s people live again in glorified, sinless bodies (1 Cor. 15:53-55).
Yet, in the religion of racism, there is no glorification because there is no savior. There is no end to the treadmill of cleansing oneself from whiteness. DiAngelo recognizes that this bleak situation is likely to result in outbursts of white fragility, such as depression, guilt, panic, fear, and anxiety. To combat this, DiAngelo offers a solution to our discomfort that, again, bears the mark of a religion:
The first three steps eerily parallel the Christian act of prayer and confession before the Lord. Step Four, which involves internalizing the key doctrines of racism/whiteness, parallels the Christian practice of reading and internalizing the word of God. Step Five is the act of being discipled, and held accountable, by a person who is more mature in the faith. And finally, Step Six involves repenting of one’s whiteness/racism and seeking reconciliation.
Yet the reconciliation described in the religion of racism is nothing like the reconciliation found in Jesus Christ. According to DiAngelo, white people are at the mercy of colored people. It is wholly upon white people to pursue reconciliation with people of color. And even then, people of color have no obligation to deal with white people with gentleness or mercy. Rather, it is the duty of white people to be less fragile and to humbly accept feedback regardless of how that feedback is delivered.
While white people must approach people of color to seek reconciliation, there is no requirement for the person of color to respond positively. In fact, DiAngelo argues that white people have to be willing to “accept no for an answer.” Yet even if the answer is yes, the standard is always determined by the offended person of color. In other words, the offended person of color decides whether or not the repentance is sufficient and what further steps need to be taken by the white person. This, in effect, sets the person of color in the place of high priest over the white person. And since there is no objective written law of God by which to guide reconciliation, the high priest gets to make up the rules on the way.
Ultimately, the reconciliation described in this religion of racism is a far cry from Biblical reconciliation. In Christianity, the offended party is equally responsible to go to the offending brother and show him his fault (Matthew 18:15). Furthermore, if the offender asks for forgiveness, the offended person is obligated to grant forgiveness, not just seven times but seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). This forgiveness is not to turn into extortion or personal vengeance. God, in Scripture, sets the limits for what true reconciliation and restitution looks like. This ensures that the offended person does not play the victim card and take advantage of the offender.
In the end, the teachings presented by DiAngelo are clearly the tenets of a new religion based on racism. And while this religion steals from certain aspects of Christianity, it twists the truth and sets up a wicked form of repentance and reconciliation. Worst of all, it offers a false gospel that suggests that white people can be saved by their own works. Yet since there is no atoning sacrifice, there is no justification. White people can never be declared “not guilty” in the eyes of the god of racism. And since there is no resurrection, there is no glorification. White people will never be free from racism and enter into true rest and peace. The god of racism - the god proclaimed by DiAngelo - is a cruel taskmaster that can neither save us from our sins nor grant us true reconciliation. Christians must not bow the knee to this god nor join him to the God of the Bible. We proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which is truly good news to the world. For it is Christ alone who can set people free from their sins by an objective standard that He has determined. And if the Son sets them free, they will be free indeed.
Given the current situation within America, I believe it to be an appropriate time to share a story about two different gospels. These gospels both claim to be able to solve the problem of racial reconciliation in America. That is good news indeed, right? Well, as I hope to show, only one of them actually has the power to do what it claims to be able to do.
But before we look at these competing narratives, we first need to highlight the problem that we face. The problem of racism (or to use a biblical phrase from James 2, the sin of partiality) does exist. It has always existed and will continue to exist until Judgment Day. People are sinners and, as such, will treat others differently for a variety of reasons. Whether it is because of age, handicap, language, intelligence, dress, attractiveness, gender, or ethnicity, some people will experience mistreatment by others. In fact, one could argue that all people will experience mistreatment at some point in their lives.
With that in mind, I acknowledge the difficulties faced by many in the black community in America today. There is no doubt that, historically, blacks have been treated poorly throughout much of American history. Furthermore, increasing fatherlessness and the breakdown of the family has only made things worse.
On top of it all, there does exist (and always will exist) examples of police brutality. Again, this is because police officers (like everyone else) are sinners and will at times abuse their power and authority. Some of them lack self-control and are prone to anger, while others might be too quick to use lethal force. And while it is likely that some police officers hold prejudicial views toward black men living in the inner city, I imagine that there are officers who are also prejudicial toward Hispanics or Asians (or other Whites). These sins of partiality will exist in a fallen world. Of course, this does not mean that we should simply accept our situation and stop talking about it. We need a solution. We need some good news.
Yet it is at this very point that the dividing line exists. For while Christians and non-Christians alike can recognize that a problem exists, the solutions that both sides present are incompatible.
Consider for a moment the narrative, or story, that is being proclaimed within our society at present. We are told that systemic racism exists throughout the nation and that it is perpetuated primarily by white Americans. In fact, these white Americans enjoy certain privileges that many of them either do not recognize or perhaps even openly deny. Blind to the advantages they received from an inherently racist system, white Americans today must recognize that their prosperity and privilege has come off the backs of slaves. Even those whites whose ancestors arrived after slavery was ended still benefited from the racist system that was established.
The answer to this problem, we are told, is simple. White Americans must listen to black voices and black experiences in order to become awakened to the truth. Once “woke,” whites must confess their racism and ask for forgiveness from the black community. They must then join the community as allies to people of color, advocating for things such as reparations and the defunding of law enforcement. Those who remain silent or who even disagree with this narrative, including blacks, are denounced and sent to the social media guillotine.
As we look at this proposed solution, I want to bring to your attention that this narrative is actually nothing more than an entirely new theological system (i.e. Woke Theology). In fact, I would say that the problem of racism and racial reconciliation in America is actually a SPIRITUAL problem that masquerades as a problem of ethnicity or skin color. Allow me to explain this by presenting some of the key doctrines of Woke Theology:
Doctrine of Man (Anthropology) — Not all men are born sinners. Some, namely whites, are born guilty of being racist oppressors either by action or by association. They are privileged from conception. People of color, particularly blacks, enter into the world as victims of this racial oppression.
Doctrine of Sin (Hamartiology) — The original sin of whites is both inherited and performed. White Americans inherit the guilt of their ancestors (either those who implemented systemic racism or those who perpetuated it). They also engage in their own sins of racism that take the form of undetected and unintentional micro-aggressions toward people of color.
Doctrine of Salvation (Soteriology) — People of color (particularly black Americans) are part of the Elect, justified in their behavior and innocent of the sin of racism/partiality. They are, therefore, not in need of “saving.” On the other hand, whites can be saved by a combination of grace and good works. Grace is needed for any white person to experience regeneration, or “wokeness.” Yet being woke is not enough to declare one to be justified or not guilty. One must perform various penances such as public confession of sin, public display of virtue, and public advocacy for policy changes.
Doctrine of the Church (Ecclesiology) — As mentioned above, people of color are the Elect and are therefore members in good standing within the Woke Church. Yet those people of color, including black Americans, who disagree with the woke narrative are guilty of heresy/blasphemy and are cast out of the covenant community. In a way, even people of colored can lose their salvation according to Woke Theology. As for whites, only those who repent of their whiteness and adopt the correct narrative can join the woke covenant community. Even then, they can never enjoy full membership but must remain in the outer court as quasi-Gentiles. Their penances are never done and their good works are never enough to earn them full justification. They are always guilty, or “unclean,” and therefore can never enjoy true peace.
Doctrine of Last Things (Eschatology) — As the woke covenant community grows, it expands to fill the entire society. This expansion and growth results in the toppling of any “racist” social structures (which is nearly all of them). In their place will be erected new structures based on vague concepts such as diversity, inclusivity, and equity. In this new society the woke covenant community will allegedly experience peace, prosperity, and genuine social justice. The Tower of Babel will finally have been rebuilt, this time to bring heaven on earth.
Along with the key doctrines listed above, Woke Theology offers a wholly unique concept of covenant and atonement. For example, white Americans are expected to repent of their white privilege and ask forgiveness from people of color, particularly blacks. In this way, whites serve in a sort of messianic role, atoning for the sins of others (their forefathers). Similarly, the black person that they ask forgiveness from apparently represents the entire colored covenant community. It is not as though that specific white American has sinned against that specific black American. Rather, that white person attempts to act as representative for all whites (dead or alive) by asking forgiveness from a person of color who also acts as representative for all people of color (dead or alive).
And what about the so-called “reconciliation” that this Woke Theology offers? It can never exist. Even if a white person becomes woke, he or she must perform a never-ending set of penances. Virtue signaling, public confession, and a contrite heart are all well and good, yet the expectations will always change. If you do not speak when commanded, your silence becomes violence. If you speak without being commanded, you are exerting your privilege. If you have no colored friends, you bear no fruit. If you pursue a colored friend, your love is not genuine. If you have wealth and power, you are holding onto your privilege. If you give away your wealth and power, you are patronizing. The target is always moving and the treadmill of penance is always running. And of course, for the woke white person, one misstep results in immediate church discipline (further resulting in the need for more penance).
In fact, Woke Theology even has its own catechism. You must say “black lives matter.” No, you may not say “all lives matter” or even “all black lives matter.” The correct verbiage is “black lives matter,” no more, no less.
This is the gospel of Woke Theology. It does not bring about reconciliation but rather enmity. And it is not really about race at all but about the narrative. While we need to listen to black voices, it can only be CERTAIN black voices. Those blacks who go against the narrative are considered anathema to the woke covenant community. What this shows is that, within Woke Theology, it is not your ethnicity or skin color that saves you but the narrative that you proclaim. It is the woke gospel that saves. Those who embrace it are accepted while those who deny it are rejected, regardless of the color of their skin.
If, at the end of the day, this issue is spiritual then our solution must also be spiritual. And the only solution — one that brings about genuine reconciliation — is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us just consider some of the main doctrines of Christianity and how greatly they differ from that of Woke Theology:
Doctrine of Man — All persons are made in the image of God and are descended from Adam (Genesis 1). There is only one “race,” the human race. Every clan, tribe, and nation are all of one blood despite the varieties in appearance.
Doctrine of Sin — Adam, who represented humanity, sinned against God and brought death and judgment upon all of mankind (Genesis 3). As a result, we are all born sinners, equally dead in our trespasses and sins, and equally unable to save ourselves (Romans 3).
Doctrine of Salvation — Christ, who is the second Adam, came into the world to save sinners (Romans 5). He fulfilled the requirements of God’s law perfectly, something that we could never do. He took the punishment we deserved upon the cross, paying a debt that we could never pay. He rose from the dead, conquering death and establishing his kingdom of righteousness and peace (1 Corinthians 15).
Doctrine of the Church — All those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ alone are members of the body of Christ, the Church. The Elect are those who have been chosen by God to be His people. This choice is according to God’s own good pleasure (Romans 9), and is not based on culture, language, or skin color. Those who are in Christ cannot and will not ever be lost, for they are his sheep and they hear his voice and follow him (John 10).
Doctrine of Last Things — God is drawing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to be His people. It is through Christ that every family and nation of the world will be blessed. When Christ returns, those who trusted in Him will enter into everlasting rest and peace. Those who have rejected him will receive what they both deserve and desire, everlasting separation from God.
Please note that, according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, ANYONE — regardless of ethnicity — who places their faith and trust in Christ will be saved from their sins and declared “not guilty” before the throne of God. This occurs not because of their own good efforts but because of the good work done by Christ on their behalf.
This reconciliation between God and man is the ONLY foundation for any reconciliation to take place between man and man. And what does this reconciliation look like? Well, those who are in Christ can and should repent of specific sins that they committed against specific people. In return, those who were sinned against can and should forgive those who specifically sinned against them. They are to forgive others just as God forgave them. And just as God removed their own sins as far as the east is from the west, so both parties are to treat each other’s sins as if they have been completely reconciled— because they have been!
But what about the social structures and our systems of law? Well, instead of being built upon the ever-changing standards of diversity, inclusivity, and equity, Christianity teaches that they should be built upon God’s prescribed standard of behavior. This is the only true foundation for justice. Justice determined by man is fluid, ebbing and flowing based on the whims and wishes of society. Justice determined by God is firm, applied equally to poor and rich, small and great. Furthermore, God’s justice recognizes the limits of mankind’s capabilities and the human tendency toward vengeance. Consider the following example:
Deuteronomy 24:16 (ESV)
“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin."
This simple law eliminates any claim made by one group to another for sins committed in the past. Was your great-grandfather enslaved by my great-grandfather? Maybe. Have I possibly benefited materially from the work that your great-grandfather did in service to my great-grandfather? Maybe. Am I guilty for what my great-grandfather did? Absolutely not. Are you entitled to my possessions because of the suffering your great-grandfather endured? Absolutely not.
So where does this leave you and I? Well, I will treat you as one made in the image of God and I ask that you treat me the same. I will hold you to the standard of God’s law and I ask that you do to me the same. I will love you as myself and I ask that you do the same.
But what about the injustice that my great-grandfather committed against your great-grandfather? Who will atone for that? Christ did. But what if they were not Christians? Then, at the final judgment, God will deal with it. For no one will escape God’s justice except for those who have been covered by the blood of Christ. Everyone will die and everyone will be punished for their sins. They will either die outside of Christ or die in Christ. So, the question is, are YOU going to die and be punished for your own sins or are you going to place your faith in Christ so that HIS death and punishment takes care of them for you? Apart from Christ there can be no reconciliation, either between you and God or you and others. It is only in Christ that we can have true and lasting peace (Romans 5).
I am a christian, military veteran, husband, father of three, author, and podcaster. As a student of history and the Bible, I enjoy writing articles related to theology, culture, and history.