Thursday, November 18, 2021

“My body is a temple”: Vaccine hesitancy, religious exemptions, and the integrity of Christian witness

This is a fairly competent bit of theology below but it seeks to apply a broad context to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. That may be convenient but it ignores the specific context of the passage. The passage is primarily about fornication (illicit sex). Paul regards fornication as unnatural and hence defiling the body.

But it is precisely unnatural things that some Christians object to: Vaccinations, blood transfusions, smoking, consumption of coffee and alcohol etc. A "pure" body would not have those things within it is the conclusion

One can argue about what is unnatural but if illicit sex is unnatural, a fairly broad definition is obviously intended by Paul.

So I think the avoidant stances of some Christians are well justified by the "temple" reference

As governments and businesses implement COVID-19 vaccine mandates, increasing numbers of people are seeking exemption on religious grounds. As such, mainstream social and political discourse has begun to stray into theological territory, with uninspiring results. One common refrain among those seeking exemption from vaccination is the assertion, “My body is a temple”. Given the near ubiquity of this phrase in the sphere of health and wellness, most people are likely to have forgotten that it comes from the apostle Paul.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians6:19-20) Here, Paul is repeating a refrain from earlier in this same letter: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (3:16)

It has become common for Christians to claim that being forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine is a violation of their religious convictions because their body is a temple, and they are commanded to keep it pure. They make this argument for a variety of reasons. For example, some believe the vaccine has dangerous side-effects; others think it contains microchips; and some have suggested that it can alter your DNA or cause infertility. Each of these, it seems, would violate the purity of their bodily temple, making it unsuitable as a vessel for the Holy Spirit.

It is worth stating unambiguously that there is no evidence that any of these things are true of the available COVID vaccines, beyond some extremely rare and typically mild side-effects. Nonetheless, the question I would like to consider is whether a vaccine could, in theory, go against Paul’s exhortation in this passage.

“A temple of the Holy Spirit”

Let’s begin with Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians itself. Most commentators agree that the purpose of the letter is to urge unity among the Christians in Corinth. In the third chapter, Paul addresses the elephant in the room. The Corinthians have been drawing lines of separation based on who brought them to the faith. Some have been saying “I belong to Apollos” (which is to say, “I’m a member of Apollos’s faction”), while others say “I belong to Paul”. And yet, Paul sees no reason for this to cause strife: “We are God’s servants, working together; you are … God’s building.” Paul and Apollos cooperate in building on the foundation that Christ himself laid. And this leads him to ask: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person” (3:16-17).

Paul says that the Corinthian church as a whole is God’s temple, and those who cause division among them are threatening to destroy it. Paul’s warning is not about the pollution of their individual physical bodies, nor any threat from outside. He is warning them about the effect of their own divisive actions on the community. Paul follows this with fitting words for our time: “So let no one boast about human leaders” (3:21).

Three chapters later, Paul returns to the image of the temple, this time with individual Christians in view. Now he is discussing specific sinful habits that are causing division among the Corinthians. In particular, he commands them not to engage the services of prostitutes, and in general to “shun fornication” (6:18). And why should they do this? Because their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (6:19). Far from suggesting that the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in a body that is physically contaminated by illness, microchips, medicines, or other substances, Paul is urging them to keep themselves free from sin.

Paul is repeating a central theme of the New Testament, which is that the purity laws found in the Torah no longer hold for those who are in Christ, because he has fulfilled them (Matthew 5:17). Christian notions of purity are not about food laws and physical cleanliness, but about the heart. As Jesus explains, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth.” He goes on to explain that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:11, 19-20)

Paul has something similar in view in his second letter to the Corinthians: “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). He explains that the sins of sexual immorality and idolatry defile the body and the spirit, and he urges them to free themselves of it (see also 1 Thessalonians 5:19-24).

Grounds for exemption?

It is worth considering the implications of Paul’s words if they did mean what those seeking exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine take them to mean. If the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in a body that has been contaminated by chemicals or debilitated by injury (let alone in a body injected with a safe and effective vaccine), then countless people who have fallen victim to natural or manmade disasters would be bereft of the presence of God. Similarly, if physical cleanliness was in view, then surely the COVID-19 virus itself would do at least as much to contaminate one’s body. After all, natural illness is one of the main causes of impurity in Leviticus.

Furthermore, it is central to the Christian faith that we may well be called to sacrifice our bodies for the sake of others (see John 15:13; Philippians 2:3-4; 1 John 3:16). We witness this most acutely on the cross. Jesus’s body was made impure by his crucifixion — in fact, that’s a considerable part of the point. It is worth repeating that there is no reason to think that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine involves bodily sacrifice. Regardless, the theological principles here do not support those seeking exemptions. There is no Christian belief that the body must be kept free from physical contamination in order to be a fitting vessel of the Holy Spirit.

In reality, what those seeking exemptions are arguing is that they believe the vaccine will harm them, and therefore they shouldn’t be forced to take it. There is nothing distinctly religious about the fear of bodily harm involved in vaccine hesitancy. In general, non-religious people fear bodily harm just as much. This should lead us to question why religious exemption is being sought here. The answer, it would seem, is that there is a long-standing precedent for exempting religious communities from government mandates, so people have reached for religious exemption as a ready-made solution for their fears.

This should give Christians pause. Freedom of religion plays an important role in our society, but it is always in danger of being abused and misused. As Christians, we have a vested interest in ensuring that it is not. If our non-Christian neighbours come to see us as people who think the rules don’t apply to us, or as people for whom the well-being of the wider community is irrelevant, their tolerance for our beliefs is likely to wane. At the same time, if our theological beliefs are sacred, then we should be unwilling to let people twist them for political or legal purposes. The truth of what Paul wrote should matter more to us than the use to which it can be put in court. A vaccine cannot go against Paul’s exhortation, because it is not what goes into us that defiles us, but the sin that emerges from our hearts.

Paul warns the Corinthians not to deceive themselves, but to have true wisdom (1 Corinthians3:18). James describes such wisdom as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Especially in the United States, the belligerent response on the part of many Christians to the public health efforts of the past two years looks rather different from this vision of wisdom. If we take Paul’s words seriously, our main concern shouldn’t be the physical purity of our own bodies, but the purity of our witness to the world around us. After all, the Christian witness has always been grounded, first and foremost, not in individual political liberty, but in self-sacrifice for the well-being of others.


A new higher education ranking has placed five Australian institutions in the top 50, comprising almost 10% of the top 50 universities.

The Aggregate Ranking of Top Universities (ARTU) ranked the University of Melbourne as the 28th best university in the world, followed by University of Queensland and the Australian National University at 42nd and 44th respectively.

The report also placed University of Sydney and University of NSW in the top 50.

In its third year, the ARTU combines the three main global university rankings to form a single index, examining 10 years of data.

Nicholas Fisk, the ranking’s creator and deputy vice-chancellor (research) at the University of NSW, told the Australian Financial Review the project provides a comprehensive picture of the state of the university sector.

“It smooths out the volatility and variance of the three major ranking systems,” Fisk said.

The rankings show that Australia has catapulted in global standing over the past 10 years, with the country’s Asia Pacific neighbour China following closely behind.

“In the past decade, Australia has gone from five universities in the top 200 to 13, China has gone from five to 10,” Fisk said. “It is Australia and China that have really been the movers and shakers.”

With 13 universities in the top 200, Australia is behind only the U.S. with 54 and Britain with 27.

Fisk said that considering the country’s population, its growth as a higher education superpower was impressive.

“​​10% of the world’s top 50 universities are in Australia,” Fisk said. “That is truly remarkable for a country with 0.3% of the population and 1.7% of GDP.”

UNSW vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs said the internally developed index came together when the institution began working on a 10-year strategic plan to understand how it was performing against the world’s best.

In 2015, UNSW set a target to be in the world’s top 50 universities by 2025, a goal that has been achieved four years early.

“We wanted to be hard on ourselves and objectively measure what we had done,” Jacobs said.

“Rankings are one way of looking at how we are performing relative to other universities in the world,” he said, adding, “We are not suggesting that rankings are in any way perfect, but they are about the best surrogate measure we have.”

Fisk said each of the major rankings had quirks, adding to the arguments for its aggregated index.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities gives 33% of its score for Nobel and Fields medallists over the past century, whereas the Times Higher Education places significant weight on reputation by asking academics which universities they think are the best, and QS judges teaching quality by looking at staff-to-student ratios.

Jacobs said the success of Australian universities was “not something that happens overnight” and suggested it was based on strong foundations, including healthy public investment over the past three decades.

Universities are Australia’s third largest export industry, contributing a record $22.4 billion to the Australian economy as of 2017. However, the shockwaves of the pandemic rocked the sector hard, exposing the uneven nature of government funding and its internal business models.

The top five universities in the world are: Harvard, Stanford, Massachussetts Institute of Technology, Oxford and Cambridge. The rankings that feed into the ARTU are the Academic Ranking of World Universities from China, those from Times Higher Education and QS.


Religious discrimination bill overhauled

Schools would receive legal protection to hire staff on the basis of faith under a bill expected to go to federal parliament as early as next week.

However, Education Minister Alan Tudge says the religious discrimination bill will not allow a school to reject a teacher based on their sexuality or other trait.

The draft bill will be presented to a joint coalition partyroom meeting in Canberra on Tuesday and could be introduced to parliament as early as Wednesday.

It is understood a contentious part of the bill - known as the "Folau clause" - has been scrapped from an earlier version.

The section would have protected organisations from indirect discrimination claims if they acted against employees for misconduct for expressing their religion.

There had been a push from conservative groups for the bill to allow individuals and organisations the freedom to make statements of belief, such as Israel Folau's controversial social media posts saying homosexuals would go to hell.

Folau, who was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 over the posts, later received an apology from the body and a confidential settlement.

Also believed to be axed is a section in the bill allowing healthcare providers to "conscientiously object" to providing a service on religious grounds.

Mr Tudge told Sky News on Wednesday the bill would uphold the right of a religious school to employ teachers of their own faith. "This is a critical principle at stake here ... you can't be a Catholic school if you can't employ Catholic teachers, you can't be a Muslim school without employing Muslim teachers."

Asked if it also meant a Catholic school could reject a gay teacher, Mr Tudge said: "That wouldn't be lawful under our bill."

But Equality Australia chief executive Anna Brown labelled his comments "breathtakingly misleading". "Nothing in this religious discrimination bill acts to fulfil the federal government's previous commitment to protect LGBT students," she said.

"In fact, the Morrison government's bill licences more discrimination against all our communities, by overriding existing protections for women, people with disability, LGBTIQ+ people and even people of faith."

Mr Tudge said while there had not been a significant problem to be resolved by the bill, the laws would enable schools to "provide a good education consistent with the values which they articulate".

The bill was an election promise by the Liberal-National coalition but has sat in the too-hard basket since then as conservatives and moderates disagree on how far it should go.

Labor is awaiting the detail before determining its position.


Peter Ridd and the reef

The essay below by Jennifer Marohasy dates from October 13. I have hesitated in putting it up because it is so long. It does however provide an excellent coverage of a number of points so repays the effort of reading it.

I was pleased that she mentions water-level variations as a factor in coral death. I had thought I was the only one pointing that out

Coral reefs can be messy, and so can court cases. And so it is with the case of Peter Ridd, sacked by James Cook University because he exercised his intellectual freedom. The only thing that is neatly settled from this case is apparently ‘the science’, never mind that this is only because anyone who publicly disagrees with it is censored or sacked. In the case of Peter Ridd, even after he managed to raise over A$1.4 million to appeal his sacking by James Cook University all the way to the High Court of Australia, he lost.

This sends a very strong message to all politically astute academics: if they are likely to make findings that do not accord with the consensus, these findings should be hidden within phrases that are unintelligible gobbledygook. In other words, their findings should be communicated in language that is meaningless, or is made unintelligible by the excessive use of technical jargon. They should certainly not translate their findings into plain English, or, worse, air them on national television, because that way the average Australian would have some understanding of what they are actually funding with their hard-earned taxes.

The climate science literature is replete with hidden meaning and technical jargon. The extent of the gobbledygook is such that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently concluded that humans are the main cause of global warming and the role of the sun is inconsequential, never mind that there is prestigious scientific literature that arguably comes to the opposite conclusion – which is that much of the global warming we have been experiencing can be explained in terms of solar variability. This extensive literature was recently reviewed by Ronan Connolly, Willie Soon and 20 of their colleagues from 14 countries and published in the international journal Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics (Volume 21). However, it appears that tenured academics are not allowed to argue, at least not publicly.

There was a sense of irony this morning that made me smile. As I waited for the High Court judgement, I looked through a paper by Peter Ridd’s former colleagues – Emma Ryan, Scott Smithers and others – entitled ‘Chronostratigraphy of Bramston Reef reveals a long-term record of fringing reef growth under muddy conditions in the central Great Barrier Reef’ published in the very respectable journal Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Palaeoecology (Volume 441, page 734–747, 2016).

It would be difficult for the non-specialist to decipher this jargon-filled technical analysis that essentially supports what Peter Ridd has been saying for some years – and which earned him his first censure by the University, but, in short, it says there is still healthy coral reef in Bowen Harbour.

It’s cold comfort, by the way, for the High Court to find in passing that the 2016 censure was unlawful, especially when it led directly to the 2018 censure, which, in turn, resulted in Peter’s employment being terminated.

Anyway, I’m told Scott Smithers is a very competent scientist and an all-round good guy. He never replies to my emails. Perhaps this is because I could translate his gobbledygook into plain English. His potentially subversive publications would then be understood by the intelligent layperson for what they are – which is that they back up what Peter Ridd is saying and provide a very detailed explanation of how many inshore reefs of the Great Barrier Reef have been in decline for more than 1,000 years because of falling (yes, falling) sea levels.

Because academics are not allowed to speak freely about controversial subjects most people have no understanding the cyclical nature of sea levels. The general public are under the misconception that the most important global trend is one of sea-level rise. There are cycles within cycles and the most significant cycle has been one of sea-level fall, by some 1.5 metres over the last 2,000 or so years, notwithstanding that there has been sea-level rise of some 40 centimetres since the industrial revolution, which coincides with the end of the Little Ice Age (circa AD 1303 to AD 1835).

To put all of this in some context, along the Great Barrier Reef there is a large and variable daily tidal range. For example, at Hay Point the tide varies by as much as 7.14 metres; at Mackay by 6.58 metres; and at Gladstone by 4.83 metres.

The daily cycles can be averaged to show that sea levels can change even more dramatically over geological time frames. For example, just 19,500 years ago, during the depths of the last major ice age, sea levels were 120 metres lower (yes, lower) than they are today. And the Great Barrier Reef did not exist. This very long record shows changes in temperature precede their parallel changes in carbon dioxide by 800 to 2000 years. This vital point establishes that carbon dioxide cannot be the primary forcing agent for temperature change at the glacial-interglacial scale, but this reality is mostly hidden by the modern astute geologist and ice-core expert who arguably cares more for his career than the truth. If this were not the case, they would be marching on Glasgow.

The modern Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system to have ever existed on planet Earth, according to Peter J. Davies writing in the Encyclopedia of Modern Coral Reefs. It is but a thin veneer growing on top of at least five previous extensive reef systems, each destroyed by dramatic falls in sea level in the past. The modern reef has grown up on top of extinct reefs, the last of which existed 120,000 years ago. In some places the depth of the coral growth since the last ice age, which had begun by 100,000 years ago, is 28 metres – layer upon layer. This growth is now constrained by sea level.

Many of the nearly 3,000 reefs that make up the modern Great Barrier Reef have a crest that is flat-topped because the most recent 1.5 metre drop in sea level has sliced this much off their tops. So, the crests of these reefs expose dead coral that is thousands of years old, sometimes capped with coralline algae. These reef crests were dead long before European settlement. Yet it is surveys of exactly this reef habitat, taken from the window of a plane by Peter Ridd’s nemesis Terry Hughes flying at an altitude of 150 metres, which have made media headlines around the world, and which suggest that the Great Barrier Reef is more than half dead. Worse, they were used in a recent Australian Academy of Sciences report (March 2021) to claim the imminent demise of the Great Barrier Reef due to carbon dioxide emissions and thus the need for a commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Glasgow. It is all nonsense, and politics. But beware the academic who explains as much in plain English, especially following this morning’s ruling by the High Court of Australia.

On 2 May 2018, Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University for serious misconduct. It all started when he called-out Terry Hughes, whom he believed was falsely claiming that the inshore coral reefs at Bowen, specifically Bramston Reef, were dead because of climate change and the deteriorating water quality.

Professor Ridd had been complaining quietly for years. He had already published peer-reviewed papers explaining in detail some of the serious issues with the official science. It was nevertheless a tough decision to go public, which he made in full knowledge that there could be consequences. At the same time there was a feeling of optimism; eventually, the truth would win out and the University would acknowledge the importance of implementing some form of quality assurance over the various pronouncements made by one or two high-profile academics. These academics, whom he believed were speaking beyond their area of expertise and hammering the theme of the reef being dead in order to progress their own personal political agenda and, at the same time, their careers.

Former Chairman of the Institute of Public Affairs, Janet Albrechtsen, wrote in The Australian on 25 July 2020:

“Remember that Ridd wasn’t querying the interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He was raising questions, in one particular area of his expertise, about the quality of climate change science. One of the fundamental challenges of our generation is to get the science right so we can settle on the right climate change policies. JCU told Ridd to keep quiet, then it sacked him.”

Peter Ridd did win the first round in the Federal Circuit Court back in April 2019. Judge Salvatore Vasta found in his favour and order that the 17 findings made by the University, the two speech directions, the five confidentiality directions, the no satire direction and the censure and the final censure given by the University and the termination of employment of Professor Ridd by the University were all unlawful.

Then the University appealed, and the Federal Court of Australia overturned the decision of the Federal Circuit Court. That decision, according to Dr Albrechtsen, has sent intellectual inquiry down the gurgler in the 21st century at an institution fundamental to Western civilisations:

“Is that to be the legacy of JCU’s vice-chancellor Sandra Harding? And what oversight has JCU’s governing council provided to this reputational damage, not to mention the waste of taxpayer dollars, in pursuing a distinguished scientist who was admired by his students?

"Following this decision, no academic can assume that an Australian university will allow the kind of robust debate held at Oxford University in 1860 between the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, and Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist and proponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

"The Historical Journal records how this legendary encounter unfolded: ‘The Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and fluent he assured us there was nothing in the idea of evolution: rock-pigeons were what rock-pigeons have always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey? On this Mr Huxley slowly and deliberately arose. A slight tall figure stern and pale, very quiet and very grave, he stood before us, and spoke those tremendous words ... He was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth.’

"Not for nothing, Ridd’s lawyers submitted this example of intellectual freedom during the first trial. In sacking Ridd, and to win in court, JCU had to argue against the means that seeks the truth – intellectual freedom.

"In deciding whether to grant special leave for the appeal, the High Court considered whether the case involved ‘a question of law that is of public importance’. It was the first time the High Court had been called upon to consider the meaning of ‘academic and intellectual freedom’, a term that is used in enterprise agreements covering staff at almost all Australian universities.”

We now have a judgement. For the High Court, it seems that intellectual freedom is like a delicate flower that does not survive being plucked. It can be contemplated from afar but cannot be held or given as a gift. Intellectual freedom survives in academia only if limited to gobbledygook that alludes to the truth in such a way that no member of the pubic could understand how deeply that truth contradicts the official scientific consensus. Perhaps I already knew that.

Some argue there are other legal avenues – not through the courts – that could, perhaps, have been pursued and may have achieved a different outcome, but which may or may not have provided some vindication. But as for the courts: if you have to raise A$1.4 million and put in a further A$300,000 of your own money, as Peter Ridd has done, just to run one argument all the way to the High Court, how much would you need to fight on the substance of each issue?

This alternative strategy might have been to try and get the matter raised under the Queensland whistle-blower legislation. Peter Ridd would at least have been, theoretically, protected while an investigation was conducted. The focus would have been on science rather than a narrow construction of employment law and the procedures laid out in the University’s Code of Conduct. But given the determination of James Cook University to silence its critics, and the need for this to have included testimony from colleagues desperate to avoid controversy – lest they are admonished by their family and communities for failing to be respectable, thereby jeopardising their own careers – it is unclear this would have been any more fruitful.

And so to this day there has never been any consideration given by the courts or any other independent body to the actual state of the corals in Bowen Harbour, including at Bramston Reef, even though this was the reason for the first censure that the High Court has ruled should not have been issued in the first place. Yes, the ruling this morning clearly states, in agreement with Judge Vasta, that Professor Ridd’s initial comments about his colleague Terry Hughes and the state of the corals in Bowen Harbour were reasonable and that the censure should not have been issued. Yet that is where all the other allegations subsequently came from as Peter Ridd tried to defend himself in the public domain.

Following today’s decision, Peter Ridd has accepted an invitation to join the Institute of Public Affairs as a Research Fellow, without salary, to lead a newly established project for ‘Real Science’. The Project’s aims are to improve science quality assurance and to support academics speaking out for integrity in science and research. You can support this project by way of a tax deductable donation to the IPA. It is the case that long ago scientific inquiry was mostly privately funded, now is your opportunity to be a part of this new initiative for open and honest inquiry.




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