The unvaccinated have been called stupid, selfish, dangerous, everything, as my mother used to say, but children of God, which, of course, whatever else they are, they are that too. Their disobedience casts a shadow that makes the virtue and rationality of the vaccinated shine all the more brightly. This reminds me of the disruptive Black children with whom I attended junior high. A sizable minority of my schoolmates were willfully disobedient, ignored the teachers, fought all the time, terrorized and robbed the rest of us, and made learning all but impossible. Oh, how I hated them! They were a true danger to me, stealing my right to an education, making the school unsafe, not respecting the teachers’ authority. How could they be so stupid? How could they be so selfish? Why were they not obedient and willing to learn as most of us were? They were my youth’s version of the “unvaccinated.”
As I grew older, I began to think a bit more deeply about them, especially as I was no longer troubled by their presence in school. Why were they disobedient? There have been many answers: bad parenting, systemic racism, bad schools, poverty, hormones, internalized racism and inferiority, and whatever else was the notion of the moment. All of this was a bit like the blind man and the elephant, a part was explained that was meant to explain the whole. In the end, I thought the children were disobedient because many people, for whatever reasons and whatever causes, are inclined to be disobedient as a defense of their humanity. Being disobedient is not necessarily a wise choice in any given circumstance, but it is powerful, perhaps the most powerful of all human actions. From “No! In Thunder!” to “I would prefer not to.” The symmetry of opposition has a kind of beauty to it. It clarifies. Sometimes, I secretly envied the bad kids for thumbing their noses at all the tired nostrums and platitudes we obedient ones swallowed as if it were a banquet of grand knowledge. Other times, I hoped and prayed they would come to a bad end. Some did, but it was not necessarily inevitable that they did. As the parable of the prodigal son so amply demonstrates, God has a way of thwarting the obedient ones’ sense of justice. In that story, the obedient son wound up with no more than the bad son and was less well-regarded to boot.
I wonder if Trump were still in office how many of the obedient White liberals who have taken the vaccine and “followed the science,” such as anybody knows what the science is, would be among the unvaccinated as part of the “resistance” against Trump’s “trumped-up” vaccines. In that instance, disobedience would be courageous, principled, and liberating instead of being anti-intellectual, anti-science, stupid, pig-headed, selfish, racist, and oppressive, as it has been variously referred to now. (Hypocrisy is so common an affliction among us that it is no surprise that it has long ceased to humble us.) It is probably better to take the vaccine than not. But it must be admitted that the vaccines have not been the panacea that we all hoped they would be or were led to believe they might be. No silver bullet here but a kind of decent medicine. For the general public, is science a method of trial, error, partial success and failure, and a body of tentative knowledge, or is it wishful or dire thinking and an opportunity for moralizing, both of which we Americans excel at?
The Bible is shot through with stories of disobedience, from Adam and Eve to Jesus and the Jewish community. We might learn something if we consider why that book concentrates so much on disobedience to authority. Why did God wire us to be this way, so divided by our desire to submit and our will to disobey, and what is it that we are supposed to learn from our oppositional nature?