Reading Biases Back Into Scripture: COVID-19 and End-Times Propaganda

Last Thursday, I returned to the office after lunch and was handed a sheet of paper delivered for me. The deliverer wasn’t someone we knew and not a member of Glendale. On the paper was this person’s beliefs about the COVID-19 vaccine. They had broken down the word “Corona.” They attributed, falsely, I might add, numerology to each letter that resulted in the number 666. They, then, wrote what was in the vaccine, which, to them, was code for Lucifer and other such demonic associations. This person, then, cited 1 Corinthians 3:16; Revelation 13:16–17; Matthew 4:10 for their justification. If I had the opportunity, I would speak with them. Since I wasn’t here and they were unknown to the office staff, I can’t even contact them to discuss this. I wouldn’t attribute evil motives to the person. I believe that they genuinely believe this. However, as Jesus once said, “They do err not knowing the Scriptures.”

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter, he addressed divisions in the church and answered some questions. He urged unity in 1 Corinthians 3:16 to the church as a whole because they were the temple of God. This passage has nothing to do with what a person puts in their body. People, even in the churches of Christ, have often invoked 1 Corinthians 6:19 for that purpose. Even then, that passage has absolutely nothing to do with what a person puts in their body. Instead, it has to do with what a person does with their body—serve God holiness or engage in sexual immorality. Paul explicitly notes that sin is done “outside” the body and that sexual immorality is a sin “against” the body (1 Corinthians 6:18). He doesn’t, for one second, speak about what a person puts in their body. Jesus addressed that in Matthew 15:10–20.

The passage where John the Revelator wrote about 666 and the Mark of the Beast appears in Revelation 13:16–18. Since mandatory vaccination and passports are a topic of discussion, this person equated their belief in the conclusion of the numerology. If a person doesn’t have a passport, they cannot transact business with the Mark of the Beast from this passage. You may or may not remember that I preached through the entire book of Revelation a couple of years ago. I specifically addressed the Mark of the Beast, and if you click on the blue highlighted part, you’ll be redirected to those notes.

I am not a medical doctor or scientist, so I can’t speak authoritatively on the vaccine. I know many of you have taken it, and many have not. I don’t think we should judge one another either way for having received it or not. Let’s not let the Enemy divide us over this. If you’ve not taken it and are on the fence, I would encourage you to speak with your primary care physician about it. Don’t take a politician’s guilt-tripping, a bureaucratic medical doctor’s urging, or even a health department’s advice to take it. Your primary care physician knows your history and current state of health, and they can give you the absolute best advice. This is what I did months ago, and my decision was based on that advice, and not on those who do not know me or the state of my health.

Asserting Rights in the Age of COVID-19

If there’s one discussion that I’m proud to see happening in our country right now, it’s of different people and entities asserting their rights. When President Trump all but claimed that the office of the presidency had absolute power over the country, my mind quickly flickered to the tenth amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Eventually, Trump conceded that the states would determine their opening timelines and processes after giving guidelines.

Yesterday, Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, held a press conference reaffirming the first amendment rights of Kentuckians against Governor Andy Beshear’s restrictive policies, specifically against church assemblies and protests. People have lauded Beshear’s handling of the crisis for the state but have conveniently forgotten how as Attorney General himself, he would have sued the Bevin administration before lunch. While he’s mostly avoided making the issue political, he has walked the fine line of violating the rights of Kentuckians.

Then you have the Facebookers who vehemently claim, “Your rights end where my life begins,” anytime someone asserts their rights. While in theory, this is true, they misapply it to democratize the orthodox cult of “we’re all in this togetherness.” A person does have natural and inherent rights, but when those rights infringe upon another’s, they cease to be a right. However, for people to want to assemble in a church or to protest, they must be willing to assume that risk. Liberty comes with risks. For those who don’t want to gather, stay home. No one is forcing anyone to go to church or assemble peaceably in any other regard. Because people assert their first amendment rights does not automatically put others at risk, but those who want to stifle such privileges use poor logic in saying that it puts their life at risk. If those who are so concerned about their lives stayed home while the rest of us go about living our lives, they would have nothing to worry about.

When our country was established and the yoke of the British crown shattered, the defining ideal was liberty. Liberty from tyranny, freedom from excessive taxation without representation, right to worship God how we so choose, and on and on. People today exchange liberty for the illusion of safety, and by so doing, give the government leave to infringe upon the rights of her citizens. At the same time, those who want security are willing to make the deal. How did the Founders envision our liberties? Where did they come from? This is an answer Thomas Paine addressed, and had he not, the efforts of the Revolution might have been for naught.

Alongside Locke and Jefferson stood Thomas Paine for the advocacy of the natural rights of humanity in political and religious liberty. Robert Ingersoll wrote that Paine’s The Rights of Man “was the greatest contribution that literature had given to liberty.” [1] The sole thesis of Paine’s argument for humanity’s rights was an argument from nature—his natural philosophy having been influenced by Isaac Newton. Epistemologically, Paine believed that “He who takes nature for his guide is not easily beaten out of his argument.” [2] Therefore, the greater breadth of his writings utilized the argument from nature to support his conclusions.

Paine wrote that he had obtained a general knowledge of natural philosophy as a child, at which time he began to “confront” the evidence of Christianity.[3] He defined his natural philosophy as “the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his works.” [4] Therefore, Paine would retort, “Why then not trace the rights of man to the creation of man?” [5] Though he would later deconstruct the Bible as a whole, he borrowed from the Mosaic creation account for its “historical authority.” [6] Ingersoll wrote that despite Paine thinking that the Bible was “absurd and cruel,” he found that there were some excellent and useful things therein.[7] The particular passages that he found suited to his views were those of a natural philosophic “nature” (i.e., Psalm 19).

Paine pointed to the distinction of sexes as the only recorded distinction, and the Mosaic creation account of “the equality of man” was, to Paine, “the oldest upon record.” [8] Man’s natural rights were the foundation for his civil rights. The two were distinguished as thus:

Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others. Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society.[9]

What must be understood of Paine is that when he refers to man’s natural rights, he refers to “the natural dignity of man.” This dignity is “the honour and happiness of its character.” [10]

How these views, and the doctrine of natural rights, shaped the views of Paine is evident throughout his pamphlets. Governments “un-made” men by their activities, which denied the natural rights of man. Hereditary succession was one of the most disputed notions in his writings because the hereditary succession was unnatural. While the monarchs claimed that their authority came from God, the truth was that kings and kingdoms were actually not God’s will according to the biblical account that Paine referenced in Common Sense. Therein he argued that God reluctantly granted Israel a king. Before their history as a monarchical state, Israel was governed by judges and the elders of the tribes—a form of government that Paine identified as a “kind of republic.” Ergo, since the monarchs of Paine’s time argued for heavenly sanction, Paine went further into Heaven’s decrees to refute hereditary succession. He would also state that virtue is not genetic, so to claim that one man’s rule would be in tandem with another’s who was virtuous was to ignore the “natural” truth about human nature.

One of the strongest NATURAL proofs of the folly of hereditary rights in kings, is, that nature disproves it, otherwise, she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ASS FOR A LION.[11]

Another view for which Paine argued on nature’s basis was the freedom of a person’s mind. This argument was especially useful in dissolving the notion of an established church because one should practice their religion “according to the dictates of conscience.” [12] The natural rights of man’s intellect belonged to one’s religious choice as long as it did not impede the natural rights of another.[13]

With respect to what are called denominations of religion, if every one is left to judge of its own religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is wrong; but if they are to judge of each other’s religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is right; and therefore all the world is right, or all the world is wrong. But with respect to religion itself, without regard to names, and as directing itself from the universal family of mankind to the Divine object of all adoration, it is man bringing to his Maker the fruits of his heart; and though those fruits may differ from each other like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of every one is accepted.[14]

At the time that Paine argued for religious liberty, the country supported a state church. The result of dissenting groups such as Puritans, and from them Quakers, and later Baptists, was persecution. Paine believed that in man’s natural state to make up his own mind, he should choose that sort of devotion that he thought was his “conscientious” devotion to the Almighty as long as it did not obstruct or violate another’s choice.

Paine would argue that persecution was not an original feature of religion, but that it was always the feature of all law-religions, or beliefs established by law. If the lawfulness of faith was taken away, then every religion would assume its own “benignity.” As a testimony to the detriments of the union of the state and religion, Paine cited the effects that such association had on Spain.[15]

Eventually, as history records, liberty would be won both politically and religiously. The poet Joel Barlow reflected on Paine’s contribution to the Revolution. He wrote that “without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.” [16] While the actual fight took place on the battlefield with Washington, Paine’s battlefield was in mind. Barlow aptly noted this sentiment by realizing that thoughts had to change more than battles could win.

[1] Robert G. Ingersoll, “Thomas Paine,” The North American Review 155, no. 429 (Aug. 1892): 181–95.

[2] Common Sense  (Appendix).

[3] The Age of Reason 1.11.

[4] Ibid., 1.8. Cf. Thomas Paine, “A Discourse Delivered to the Society of Theophilanthropists, at Paris,”; and “The Existence of God: A Discourse at the Society of Theophilanthropists, Paris.”

[5]Thomas Paine,  The Rights of Man, in Thomas Paine Collection (Forgotten Books, 2007), 88.

[6] Ibid., 89.

[7] Ingersoll, “Thomas Paine,” 189–90.

[8] Paine, The Rights of Man, 89.

[9] Ibid., 90.

[10] Ibid., 92. Paine’s theories on happiness and being a member of society are reminiscent of Aristotle (cf. Ethics 1.13).

[11] Common Sense (Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession).

[12] Ibid. (Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs).

[13] Paine, The Rights of Man, 90.

[14] Ibid., 107.

[15] Ibid., 108.

[16] Harvey J. Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005), 5.

A COVID-19 Leadership Lesson from an Ancient Roman

The year is 19 BCE, and the poet, Virgil is traveling with the Emperor Augustus. For the last ten years, Virgil has been working on an epic poem akin to Homer’s two infamous works, Iliad and Odyssey. The only difference being that Virgil is writing one not for Greece, but for the Roman Empire and its current leader, Augustus. While on this trip to Greece with the Emperor, Virgil has a heat stroke and is unwell. Not seeming to recover, he tells his companions to destroy his manuscript because he isn’t pleased with it in the least. Do they heed his words? No. After the statesman passes away, they present the unfinished work to the Emperor, who then orders it to be published throughout the Empire. Such is done, and even to this day, Virgil’s work remains with us. It is studied in the humanities by those in various disciplines. Luckily for us, they didn’t destroy it as the poet wanted, because we’d be bereft of a marvelous tome that gives us tremendous insight into the first centuries BCE and CE.

It hadn’t been much longer before Virgil began working on his poem that Augustus ended the civil war that ravaged the Empire. Augustus’ great-uncle, Julius Caesar, had crossed the Rubicon—an illegal act to bring an army beyond that point into the holy city—and consolidated power. Rome ceased to be a Republic and became an Empire. Caesar would eventually be assassinated in the Senate by many of his peers. This was only a continuation of the civil war that he’d began with Pompey. Now, various factions were vying for control of Rome. Caesar, himself having fathered no sons, had only his great-nephew, Augustus, to name as his heir, which he had done in his will. Augustus rode the popularity of his uncle and eventually quelled the rivals and, in a triumph, marched their corpses through the streets of Rome and was universally recognized as Emperor. Virgil’s work was to honor not only Augustus but the history of the Roman people.

Virgil picked up where Homer left off, but he picked up with the losers of the Trojan War, the Trojans themselves. He chose Aeneas, a high-ranking soldier, to be his hero and that of Rome. Aeneas and those with him who fled Troy did so in the shadow of a once-thought impregnable city burning in ashes. Flames and smoke filled the sky. Cries could be heard. Aeneas was the surviving officer to lead what Trojans he could to safety, and ultimately to fulfill the gods’ will of sailing to Latium (Italy) where they would establish themselves. Aeneas would be the father of the Roman people. Thrust into this position of sole leadership of the Trojans, Aeneas is portrayed as very much human, but a stalwart chap.

Virgil’s very much concerned with portraying him as human but as dutiful to the will of the gods. The word used in the text of him and his mission is pietas. This is a term we would translate as “duty.” If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey and The Crown, you will understand a bit about duty. Particularly the latter, Queen Elizabeth is both a person and a monarch, and the crown must always win, as her grandmother tells her in the show. What does this entail? It entails subjugating one’s personal feelings, ties, and desires for the sake of their duty. Aeneas does this, and he is particularly shown to do so when he forsakes the Carthaginian Queen, Dido, to fulfill his mission.

So, you might now be asking, what has all this to do with COVID-19 and leadership? Now I will begin to answer this question, but only after you have an understanding of the context in which this occurred. In the first lines of this epic, Aeneid, the hero, is nearly shipwrecked as he and his compatriots flee the burning city of Troy. In that instance, Aeneas cries aloud to the heavens and gods about his miseries. However, not too much later in the first book of this work, Aeneas addresses those with him thus:

Companions mine, we have not failed to feel
calamity till now. O, ye have borne
far heavier sorrow: Jove will make an end
also of this. Ye sailed a course hard by
infuriate Scylla’s howling cliffs and caves.
Ye knew the Cyclops’ crags. Lift up your hearts!
No more complaint and fear! It well may be
some happier hour will find this memory fair.
Through chance and change and hazard without end,
our goal is Latium; where our destinies
beckon to blest abodes, and have ordained
that Troy shall rise new-born! Have patience all!
And bide expectantly that golden day. (Aeneid, 1.198–207)

He begins by acknowledging not only their loss in battle but the tumultuous journey in fleeing Troy and all the travails that have befallen them since. He, then, instructs them to no longer be afraid and, thus, complain. He points to the future and how they may even look back on this occasion with somewhat of a fondness. That sounds improbable, but he’s leading terrified, demoralized people. He invokes the gods’ will of them reaching Latium (Italy) and rising again. In the meantime, he urges them to be patient and to look forward to their bright future, for it is the will of the gods. After this, we read the following.

Such was his word, but vexed with grief and care,
feigned hopes upon his forehead firm he wore,
and locked within his heart a hero’s pain. (Aeneid, 1.208–210)

Virgil, next, informs us that while saying what he had said, the hero himself was terrified.

Leaders often must portray confidence even in the face of fear and uncertainty. No matter where we find ourselves, we’re all leaders in one way or another. As entrepreneurs, we’ve made tough decisions over the past month. People have had to be furloughed or laid off. Maybe even our inventory has had to be discarded or drastically reduced in price to keep afloat. As elected officials, we want to consider so many points that making the right decision seems like a no-win scenario. No matter what we decided, it won’t be popular with everyone, but we will make the decision based on the best available data. As parents, we want our children to be healthy and well, and we don’t want them to fear. We may grapple with our own fears, but we know if we let them know that we’re afraid, it could bring about the anxiety we aren’t equipped to manage. 

In my own position as a minister, I have found that the balancing act of doing what’s in the best interest of the congregation I serve and love as well as expressing my personal views is a tough road to travel. I’ve found it necessary to halt voicing my own opinions only because it garners more animosity than it’s worth. Though I’m no economist or epidemiologist, as a man of letters, I can read, research, decipher, and form what I believe to be an intelligent opinion. However, when people are afraid, no amount of reason is well-received and often subject to misinterpretation. I care for people: their health, their economy, and their rights. I’ve subjected my personal feelings to the backburner on all that is taking place for the sake of a greater good—bringing peace and calm in an unprecedented time. Virgil has been my instructor in this venture as of late. If I had it to do over again, I would have withheld my own views for fear that it may alienate someone from Christ by my role as a minister. The Gospel is exceedingly more important than being right. My opinion isn’t that important if it would create a chasm between myself and a potential convert to Jesus. Virgil taught me this through his own leadership of people, and he can show us all how to best lead during this period.

Vergil. Aeneid. Theodore C. Williams. trans. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1910.

%d bloggers like this: