Four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon wrote:
"The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it neglects and despises .... in order that ... its former conclusions may remain inviolate."
Most of us find ourselves amazed at the angry polarisation that has been caused by the pandemic and now especially the vaccination. It unfortunately seems that the polarisation is largely driven by groups within the Christian tradition. The camps are vast and becoming more and more angry. Especially in the US, the divisions follow the fault lines that have been exposed during and after the Trump era. The same forces seem to be at work - fake news from both sides flooding social media and preachers and leaders openly campaigning for either side of the argument.
Most of the leaders and prophets seem to be acting in good faith and seem to be convinced that they are representing God. One wonders why "god" would then "speak with a forked tongue". But that is not new either, just look at the role of false prophets in the life of Israel in the Old Testament. "God" has through the ages been recruited by both sides of the argument and both sides could quote scriptures and visions and dreams to strengthen their argument.
What these leaders don't realise (or maybe they do and it does not matter) is that their rhetoric is fanning the fires of discontent in the hearts of the people and that we may soon see uncontrollable fires break out in places we thought were safe ... like the church and the family.
That is not new either. Jesus predicted that and connected it to his ministry.
"I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.
For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." (Luk 12:49-56)
There seems to be something in the life and teaching of Jesus, that causes division. His words, "from now on" connected the events that would follow directly after his coming. His life, if you move away from interpreting it as an example of morality, was so radical and confrontational that he predicted that it would kindle a fire of division on the earth. His way of life and the way he thought, confronted existing beliefs, especially the beliefs of the revered theologians and leaders of the time. His message of sacrificial other-centeredness stood in stark contrast to the ego-centric message of religious and moral performance they preached. It seems that the lines were drawn the moment his life witnessed to the possibility that one could actually die to save someone else.
The cards were stacked against him from the beginning for he was preaching to people who had been thinking from self-centered foundations for generations. Egoic thinking is part of the human DNA, built into every cell. We call it "survival instinct".
The leaders and their audience are no different today. We all want to survive first and then look after others. Some leaders and prophets are utilising this survival instinct to build their own popularity, empires and churches. And they are not concerned about the fires they are kindling. They feel justified by the words of Jesus quoted above. They are just kindling the fire he started. It all depends on how we interpret the words of Jesus. Their interpretation in my mind, misses the basic and foundational message contained in the words and life of Jesus.
Other leaders are preaching and doing what Jesus asked: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. (Joh 15:12-13) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (Joh 13:34-35)
The "new commandment" is in direct confrontation with the survival instinct of most of the hearers of the words and it caused such a reaction in so many people that the mob killed Jesus. And then, as now, the mob's anger was stoked and directed by well meaning leaders.
I think the raging debate is not really about whether one should take the vaccine or wear a mask. The reaction is based on the survival instinct, on the egoic mindset of all humans who do not love enough to lay down their lives for not only friends but like Jesus, for their enemies as well.
If you really want to obey the "New Commandment", you know that it may cost you your life because Jesus said so. And we all instinctively react to that and take up a position. Some will react in anger and reject such a suggestion and some will realise the inherent wisdom in laying down their life for the sake of the greater good. And these two positions, as we can see every day, will oppose each other till death do us part.
It is the position people take up that got the mob going that killed Jesus and the mob that stormed the US Capitol and the shopping centers in South Africa and is dividing households and families and nations at present. I has been the problem through the ages and it will remain a problem until humanity has taken the next step in its evolutionary development into sacrificial other-centeredness. Jesus knew that and predicted it.
I want to add my little voice to the voices that are pleading for the laying down of our lives for the sake of others and for the sake of our Christian witness. Whether the matter is facing the risks of vaccination or the discomfort of masks, we should do it not for ourselves but for those we love.
And the more love we have, the more it makes sense to lay down our lives for our friends and the more inclusive our circle of friends becomes.