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On Religious Exemptions From Vaccinations, Building Codes, Etc

In yesterday’s post I hit hard at a certain British politician who has been agitating for compulsory vaccination, giving special attention to his distinction between the “State” and individuals.  He made many other points, I think all of them anticipated and refuted in yet another post of mine, here.  One topic he brings up is one I haven’t spoken on before, which I’d like to address specifically.  My point will be that the carving out of exemptions for ‘religious’ reasons misses the point, and the ‘point’ is not limited to the issue of vaccinations.

Here was his bit in the original article:

He added: “You’ve got to make sure the system would work, because some children can’t be vaccinated and some may hold very strong religious convictions that you’d want to take into account, but frankly, the proportion of people in either of these categories is tiny, compared to the 7% or 8% now who don’t get vaccinated.”

I suppose we should be thankful that Hancock has graciously, from his high, esteemed place as the Expert Manager of the Human Race, has seen fit to allow for religious exemptions.  This is more than many such Chief Population Controllers are willing to allow.  But it is probably just a feint; if the others are any indication, in fact he has no desire whatsoever to allow for exemptions, either, but is counting on a slippery slope whereby exemptions are granted at the beginning to win political acceptance, and then slowly eroded over time while people aren’t watching.

I don’t know if Mr. Hancock is like many of his ilk who spout off about “the science is settled!”, but if he is, he’s the same sort of person who views religion with contempt.  These are the folks that say things like, “Religion is believing things you know aren’t true.”   You can’t visit the blogs of Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers without tripping over such people; Myers, in particular, with his ‘progressive’ outlook, is likely to be the sort of person who has such an elevated view of SCIENCE! as applied to the public sphere that he would turn his nose up at the idea of even a religious exemption.  (But I don’t know this for a fact, its an intuition based on his past conduct.)

At any rate, the idea that you would let people put…. how did Hancock put it… “other children at risk” because of their belief in fairy tales and Flying Spaghetti Monsters seems a bit out of joint with the whole mindset.

This is the guy who is quoted as saying:

“Those who have promoted the anti-vaccination myth are morally reprehensible, deeply irresponsible and have blood on their hands.”

So, if you didn’t believe in miracles already, here appears to be one right before your eyes.  The same man who believes “promoters” of “the anti-vaccination myth” (whatever that is) “have blood on their hands” miraculously allows folks to have ‘religious exemptions.’

Well, I can tell you what I think of that… but not in language I have used yet on this blog.

So, let’s see if we can parse this out.   Hancock would allow people who believe in a Fairy Cloud Father to be exempted from compulsory vaccination, but not those who have taken the time and energy to thoroughly research the issue in an attempt to determine if its the right choice for their families?   People who are not particularly religious at all but have done the legwork to form their own conclusions based on the ‘science’ but don’t agree with Hancock are not going to be able to get exemptions?  Let’s get this straight:  if you meet him on his own terms, you can’t get an exemption, but if you are a raving lunatic who believes the earth is flat and that an undetectable being who lives on the far side of the moon can hear your secret thoughts, you can?

Is it because he believes that there is no other conclusion to be drawn from his own ‘terms’?  He says, “the science is absolutely clear and settled on the importance of vaccination.”   Perhaps he believes it more reasonable to believe in a Magical Sky Daddy than it is reasonable to look at ‘the science’ and differ with his strident assertion.

I think readers of my blog already know that I have a much higher view of ‘religion’ than these folks; certainly, a much higher view of Christianity.  They also know that I don’t have much regard for the so-called supreme intelligence of progressives and the ‘new atheists.’  To say that I am not very impressed by them would be an understatement.  Nonetheless, while I believe ‘religious’ exemptions have their appropriate place in a free society, I believe that in a free society, exemptions for just about any reason should exist, for just about everything.

I emphasize:  in a free society.

And just to be clear, yes, I’m saying that if you don’t believe such exemptions should be in place, you are, indeed, advocating for a more totalitarian society.  I mean, its obvious you are.  It is almost by definition, dude.

Now, my reasoning goes well beyond the issue of vaccination, but let me just make another point here that is somewhat related.

These sophisticated yokels are also the quickest to trot out the ol’ “We have to keep religion out of politics!” which is a neat trick since in their world, there isn’t anything they don’t consider political, which means they feel perfectly justified in boxing you out of all public policy debates.  Of course, these same people will then appeal to religionists to support their progressive agenda (eg, universal health care) on the basis of it being the ‘moral’ thing to do, or even (I’ve heard it with my own ears) the ‘Christian’ thing to do.

I think by this point, if you have half a brain, you have already figured out that they don’t believe anything of that, per se.  Instead, its just tactics.  They will SAY anything that prompts you to side with them, up to and including calling you a bigot, a fascist, a racist, a sexist, a Nazi, so on and so forth.  It is obviously a flat out contradiction to say in one breath “You have to keep your beliefs out of politics!” and then in the next breath say “Your beliefs require you to support my political position!”

Here we are faced with the prospects of dealing with two different kinds of people.  There is the pure Machiavellian, who engages in this dishonesty deliberately, knowing full well the contradiction in what he is saying, and then the honest to goodness dolt, who, while trumpeting his superior intellect, education, and reasoning abilities and their reliance on “evidence based” rationales, in point of fact does NOT see the contradiction.

Such is the world we live in.  But how we proceed definitely depends on which of the two types of persons we are interacting with.  And yes, I am saying that if you say you should keep your beliefs out of politics but you should keep your beliefs in politics, simultaneously, you fall squarely in one of those two camps.

This raises the obvious question related to religious exemptions–if you have to keep your religion out of politics, then why on earth would you allow religious exemptions?  And conversely, wouldn’t it follow that you would embrace non-religious exemptions?

I have much to say about that whole line of thought.  I’ve touched on it elsewhere and may address it more directly some other time.

The broader reality is that people who take the time to inform themselves on issues nonetheless also tend to disagree with each other all the time.   In other contexts (ie, when they are not trying to manipulate you), people are quick to point out that one of the virtues of SCIENCE! is the fact that scientists are permitted, nay, encouraged, to challenge each other all the time.  Within supposedly ‘scientific’ circles, there is often fierce debate and dispute over interpretations of data and experiments (we will pretend for a moment that scientists limit themselves to data and experiments in forming their conclusions), and the best scientists know very well that one’s paradigm or worldview can significantly color those interpretations–with no reference whatsoever to anything ‘religious.’

So it is that if individuals in the general public for some reason become invested in a topic, you can be well-assured that there really isn’t anything within (real) science that is considered ‘settled’, and you can almost always find ‘experts’ who quite reasonably and appropriately reflect whatever concerns it is that these individuals have.  Which makes sense, if you think about it, because the whole reason why individuals in the general public might become concerned is precisely because they are aware that the (real) ‘experts’ themselves acknowledge ambiguity, discrepancies, and limitations to whatever is under discussion.

It is not in defiance of the ‘scientific facts’ that these individuals typically are prompted by, nor is it anything particularly ‘religious.’  It is, in fact, BECAUSE of the ‘scientific facts’ that these folks have become invested.

So it is, that regardless of the topic you are discussing, the most educated dissenters are proceeding from the very basis which is supposedly what we want in an informed society.  How are these people not permitted to have exemptions?

It makes no sense.

Unless, of course, the whole “the science is settled” bit is just another Machiavellian ploy to bludgeon people into a political position that they know is not actually attainable on the facts alone.

I have said several times that this isn’t just about vaccinations.  I could give many applications.  But to illustrate how broadly it is, let me turn to something like building codes.

Where I live, the Amish are given wide latitude to conduct their lives much differently than the rest of us, including not having their buildings up to ‘code.’

It is always so interesting to me that defenders of the Amish are willing to allow the Amish to be at variance with the codes because the Amish have ‘religious’ exemptions, but others are not given the same right.  So, I have to cloak my objections in religious language in order to win an exemption?  Ah, not so fast!  Unless your religion is a certain age, you don’t even get that exemption!

While in principle building codes are meant to create safe living conditions, many codes exist because of invested parties who had an interest in preferring certain options.  Eg, the advocates for a sign ordinance that requires signs be built with brick shockingly! are backed by masons and stoneworkers.  Or, a required doohickey is promoted at the national level by the manufacturer of that doohickey, well out of sight of the rest of the nation, and suddenly all new construction must have the ‘doohickey’ for the ‘common good.’

In this sense, though, the example of the Amish shows that, in point of fact, religion or no religion, in general one can be perfectly safe in a home not built up to ‘code.’  It isn’t like the Amish want to be crushed in their sleep by a collapsing house, right?  And they don’t.  Without their houses being built to code?  HOW CAN THAT BE?  It can be because, in point of fact, religion or no religion, it turns out that there are many ways to make safe homes.  And, I should mention,  many of those other ways are much, much, much more affordable than building to ‘code.’

I am not necessarily calling for the elimination of building codes, just as I am not flat out against vaccinations.   The problem is the compulsory aspects of these things.  When you bring the coercive powers of the state into the mix, it changes the dynamic considerably.   When it is perfectly reasonable to choose Option A as opposed to choose Option B, then in a free society, by golly free citizens should be able to choose between them.  But when the ‘state’ gets involved and forces you to ‘choose’ Option A, or else they’re going to throw you in jail, well, that’s another story altogether.

Examples of this, I’m afraid, abound.  The problem, of course, is that a lot of statists have zero idea how the world really works, and so they are quite clueless about these many instances.   Hey, its not THEIR house and family, right?

Let me just give one example.

What if I objected to throwing people into jail because they don’t have the siding on their house finished?

We already know what your oblivious statist is going to say:  “That’s absurd.  No one is going to be thrown into jail because they didn’t finish the siding on their house.  That’s an exaggeration.  No one is talking about throwing people into jail because the siding on their house isn’t done.  It will never happen. Stop saying stupid things.”

And yet, such a thing did actually happen.

As much as I’d like to dissect that particular instance, let it serve to illustrate that in the real world, when you attach the coercive powers of the state to something, regardless of YOUR best intentions and what YOU think is likely or possible, things you don’t want to happen probably WILL happen.  Not that Mr. Good Intentions would ever hear about it, because Mr. Good Intentions is not concerned about the actual effect or impact of his favored policies, and instead measures all policies only against his own warm and fuzzy feelings.

Does the idea make him get all warm and tingly?  Then we should do it!  And you are a bigot/etc/ if you oppose it!  Will the idea end up harming many people?   Ha!  How could that ever happen????  Remember?  He’s got GOOD INTENTIONS!  So obviously no one will get harmed.  I mean, duh.

Somewhere and somewhen, probably 10-20 years before the siding incident, a small group of citizens and legislators–probably no more than 10 of them–were sitting in a little council room, and one of them–I can see a little old lady in my minds’ eye–says “I just think it would be WONDERFUL if people kept up the exterior of their homes!”  Another says, “Oh, I quite agree.  Let’s make it law!”   The ‘siding’ salesman who managed to get the council president to put the subject on the agenda in the first place nods in pleasure.

If you were in the room to ask these people if they think someone should go to jail because they didn’t have their siding finished, I bet most of them would emphatically have said “No!”  And yet, it happened.  They probably all died of old age before it happened.   100 to 1 odds that there wasn’t someone in that room like myself pointing out the potential unintended consequences of the actions and the impact of the additional burden on homeowners, yet to be born.   And naturally, the poor slouch who got frogmarched off to jail doesn’t know who any of these people are, what their names are, what their reasoning was, or whether or not the whole thing came up in the first place because the National Siding agent won the ear of the council president.

Not all ‘harm’ occurs visibly, let alone immediately.

While many building code requirements serve a good purpose and have their appropriate context, they also add tens of thousands of dollars to new construction, which effectively prevents people who presently must rent from being able to get their own home.  This is an ‘unseen’ harm, which is, nonetheless, a harm.

There was a time when I was an elected politician.  I stood face to face with another elected politician, who (incidentally?) was someone that was a liberal Democrat.  I said, to his face, “Don’t you know that these policies you are promoting are going to impact poor people the most?  They won’t be able to move to our community, and they won’t be able to stay, either.”

Right back to my face he said, “Maybe that’s the point.”

Oh, and by the way, the community in which I served has far less poor people in it than it used to, and also, incidentally, far fewer sole proprietorships.  I mean, its expensive to comply with all those codes, and the only ones that can do it are the large corporations and so on–who, we are told, liberal Democrats consider their ideological foes.  Irony, right?  Or is it duplicity?  We’ll never know in most cases.

For most people on most issues, whatever the general consensus on something is is going to be ‘good enough.’  When there are exceptions, its usually because someone has a good reason, and that reason probably has nothing to do with ‘religion.’  Moreover, when there is a lot of contention about something, even if that thing is considered ‘settled’ by some, that level of contention is itself a sign that the thing in question definitely SHOULD NOT be proscribed by the ‘State’, which, unlike other organizations and associations, has the ability to toss people into jail and shoot them if they resist.

Instead of removing exemptions, we should be increasing them.

The very people who are most likely to use them are also the ones most likely to have put in the effort to determine they need them in the first place.



    • Darin on March 24, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve been reading up on changes to the National Electrical Code (NEC 2020), and it occurs to me that much that is good-intended is simply meant to cover worst case scenarios. A child was electrocuted crawling behind a washing machine, a horrible tragedy. Therefore, all 250V appliances should now have Ground Fault protection. Decision makers, especially politicians, are especially prone to place more weight on impacts that can be seen, and downplay impacts that are real, widespread, and vaguely identifiable. Which person who couldn’t afford a house can one bring before a camera as proof that a house was not affordable because of regulations? And yet, it is absolutely certain this happens. Also what happens: People do their own home maintenance because professionals are expensive. But, some people should be kept as far away from tools as possible. I know this firsthand. I own a very old home. I would like to have the knowledge that a house I’m buying isn’t going to burn down on me because someone who did’t know what they were doing tried to save a buck. This is still very different that simply saying something would be good to do or have. Public figures rarely know the difference.

    • Anthony on March 24, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Good comment, Darin.

    It reminds me a maxim I heard once, “hard cases make bad law.”

    No doubt, some people should avoid tools. 🙂

    I think there is always going to be a tug of war over how far regulations should go. Without belaboring the rationale too much here (I’ve done so on this blog numerous times), the answer is to have the smallest government possible, with the most intrusive measures only actionable by the people most accountable. Building codes, for example, should be at the city or township level, county at most. But state and national regulations are practically impossible to reverse if they prove to be intrusive.

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