The Left wants Joe Rogan silenced for peddling “misinformation” about COVID-19. Defenders of Joe Rogan are citing free speech and appealing to the first amendment. Rightly so. However, the issue here is deeper than simply a question of free speech. The censorship surrounding discussions of COVID-19 is merely a symptom of a deeper malaise and a stance on the pandemic which has long since gone off the rails.
Joe Rogan’s crime is discussing COVID-19 vaccines and COVID policy with two medical professionals: Dr. Robert Malone and Dr. Peter McCullough. Both men are highly qualified to talk about this subject; both men reject the narrative pushed by Western governments and the mainstream media.
Their comments have been damned as “COVID misinformation” and there are fears they might spread vaccine hesitancy. Some artists have boycotted Spotify (which funds Rogan’s podcast) and even the White House has waded in, urging Spotify to “do more” to fight COVID-19 misinformation.
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Free speech is important. Whether or not dissenting voices are correct, they have a right to be heard. But to get to the core of what is going on here, it is necessary to consider the religious dimension to the pandemic and the spiritual malaise of modern society.
Two key characteristics mark the modern world: a crippling fear of death, and the rejection of God.
The fear of death is nothing new and one only expunged by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, we become so accustomed to seeing crucifixes we perhaps become desensitized to how radical an icon the cross is and how provocative it would have been at the time of the early Church. Crucifixion was one of the most sadistic killing methods the Roman Empire used—a punishment used to inspire terror. Christians held up the cross in defiance. Even that holds no fear for us, they claimed. Our Lord has conquered it.
A society that has turned away from Christ has no such solace. Death remains the ultimate and undefeated enemy. Modern science can do almost anything: put a man on the moon, connect people all over the planet, and create war machines that would make Alexander the Great tremble. But it cannot stop us from dying.
Early on in 2020, we learned to associate COVID-19 with death, and it became our number one fear. This might explain, in part, the hysteria and the ruthless, single-minded desire to vaccinate everyone. COVID meant death and the vaccine offered an end to COVID. The vaccine, therefore, became a life raft and our sole hope for survival. Any challenges to widespread vaccine use meant allowing the reaper to remain within our gates.
But the fear of death only partially explains our attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines. Sceptics, such as Dr. Malone and Dr. McCullough, do not simply argue that the vaccines are unsafe and ineffective. They suggest that the notion that “no vaccine equals death” is wrong. For the majority of people, COVID-19 is not a death sentence, and for others there are viable early treatments that would stop them from ending up in the ICU—treatments, they allege, that would be readily available were it not for the vaccine obsession.
So, what is going on here? If we do not need a vaccine to stop people from dying from COVID-19, why the continual push for everyone to be vaccinated?
To answer this, we must understand that when man turns away from God, he will inevitably elevate something else in God’s place.
What does this mean? We all have an ultimate value: an ultimate aim to which our beliefs and our actions cohere. We sin when we aim at something other than God. When Adam and Eve committed the original sin, they sought to elevate themselves to the status of God, following the serpent’s suggestion: You shall be like God, knowing good from evil (Genesis 3:4).
Fast forward to the modern world: Cartesian thought taught us to elevate the rational mind to the status of the absolute. What was true was what the mind could fully grasp. What was good was what the mind could fully articulate. The mind was no longer a receiver and processor, basing its knowledge and understanding on an encounter with the Divine, but was instead the central determiner of knowledge and understanding.
This phenomenon is well-articulated by Jordan Peterson who writes, “It’s the greatest temptation of the rational faculty to glorify its own capacity and its own productions and to claim that in the face of its theories nothing transcendent or outside its domain need exist” (12 More Rules for Life, page 218).
This concept is crucial to understanding the singular push of one narrative when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines and the otherwise baffling practice of trying to silence anyone who questions it. When the mind champions a theory or ideology above all else, be it Marxism, a conspiracy theory, or a human authority, it rejects evidence that conflicts with it. Truth, in this instance, becomes what is consistent and coherent within the theory the mind has made absolute.
Neuroscience offers an instructive insight into how the mind does this. In The Master and His Emissary, neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist maps the differences between the two brain hemispheres. The right hemisphere is open to encounters with the other, the left hemisphere processes the familiar. The right hemisphere is therefore open to the unknown, the left favors and seeks coherence with what it already knows.
There is certainly a parallel here with a society that is open to encountering the Divine and a society that elevates the rational intellect to the status of absolute.
Now consider this following experiment, which shows the equation of truth with coherence taken to the extreme:
In repeated situations, in subject after subject, when syllogisms with false premises such as ‘All trees sink in water; balsa is a tree; balsa wood sinks in water’…are presented, the same pattern emerges. When asked if the conclusion is true, the intact individual (individual with both hemispheres operating) displays a common sense reaction: ‘I agree it seems to suggest so, but I know in fact it’s wrong.’ The right hemisphere dismisses the false premises and deductions as absurd. But the left hemisphere sticks to the false conclusion, replying calmly to the effect that ‘that’s what it says here’ (The Master and His Emissary, page 193).
McGilchrist notes that the left hemisphere is adept “at finding quite plausible, but bogus, explanations for evidence that does not fit its version of events…the left hemisphere would rather believe authority, ‘what it says on this piece of paper,’ than the evidence of its own senses” (The Master and His Emissary, page 234).
It is no coincidence that McGilchrist argues we are living in a left-hemisphere-dominated world. This is fully consistent with a world that rejects the Holy in favor of cold logic and science. Accepting the Holy entails inviting an encounter with the other: the unknown. A blinkered focus on logic and science seeks to make everything familiar, to explain everything from within a certain framework.
How does this relate back to COVID-19? COVID-19 was equated with death. For the non-believer, death is undefeated. Deliverance was offered in the shape of a vaccine: a savior developed and produced by the rational mind. Somehow, this vaccine became the new absolute. It represented a great triumph of the rational mind; a man-made creation that promised deliverance from disease and death. The ultimate goal became the mass roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines. When faced with criticism of this policy, the question asked is not “Is the criticism true?” but “Is the criticism a help or hindrance to rolling out the vaccine?”
The vaccine, pharmaceutical companies, and certain scientists and individuals established themselves as the authority to which all truth should cohere. When Anthony Fauci said that attacks on him were attacks on science, we can presume he spoke sincerely. Under COVID-19, science has become an authoritative tradition, and sceptical questions, as we have seen and as we might expect from the neuroscience experiments, are to be ignored, dismissed, or confronted with aggression.
The issue, then, is not one of censorship alone. It is a religious problem: the elevation of the rational mind and its creations to fill the God-shaped hole in our society. As such, it requires a religious solution and can only be fully addressed by considering Christ on the cross; remembering who our God is and why death holds no fear.
[Photo Credit Michael S. Schwartz for Getty Images Entertainment]