Time for individual attention
August 11, 2021
Church clear on vaccinations
August 11, 2021

It’s more than anti-vaccine stances…

By Fr Matthew d’Hereaux

The events of August 5, 2021, in St Vincent and the Grenadines in which the Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves was injured has brought the vaccine polemics closer home.

As reported by the regional press, the incident took place outside parliament during a protest against mandatory vaccination by the Vincentian government.

Unfortunate as this occurrence is for our Caribbean neighbour, the present socio-political climate locally, regionally, and globally goes way beyond vaccine hesitancy and suspicion.

The socio-political fragmentation, be it in St Vincent, the USA or the Netherlands, ‘happens’ to be playing out in a pandemic. The reaction to vaccination is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

What could be feeding the vaccine polemics? Posed differently, are ‘anti-vaxxers’ just plain vindictive and bad-minded people? No, they are not.

In my respectful view, vaccine hesitancy is symptomatic of three bigger moral issues in modern culture, namely, rugged individualism engulfing the world, the outright rejection of the idea of the common good, and the ascendency in the public domain of the notion of ‘alternative fact’, Trumpian-style.

Pope Benedict XVI hinted to this cocktail in his phrase, “the dictatorship of Moral Relativism”. He was alluding to a narrative that we have constructed and are now subscribing to, consciously and unconsciously, when we began to tinker with the God-question as well as truth as a necessary civilisational and civilising values.


Moral relativism


The narrative of moral relativism has no use for objective moral truth. For its proponents, it is the individual’s moral calculation that matters most. Moral relativism has morphed from something said to be about an individual’s “private” moral decision-making to something impacting the social, economic, and political management of entire societies.

In my opinion, when we undermine moral truth and values, “facts” and “verifiable truth” begin to be devalued, too.

The moral values of honesty and integrity defer to and, respects fact/reality. In its morphing, the current narrative is now slow to fully embrace verifiable reality/truth: the January 6 Capitol Hill protests weren’t really what the media made it out to be or, coronavirus isn’t real.

As the individual takes more and more a prominent place, the notion of common good and the value of social solidarity also become enemies because these values require that from time to time the individual temper his/her self-interest for something greater.

Simply put, in the Kingdom of Moral Relativism, the individual is king and the values of common good (that is, the good of all and of each individual) and social solidarity (that is, we are responsible for each other) are vagrants.

Moral relativism celebrates the individual and individual moral opinion over and above any moral consensus or moral tradition. The classic tale of this was Margaret Thatcher’s, “there is no such thing as society; there is only the individual.”

If the narrative celebrates individual’s moral calculation over and above everything else, any threat to it must be dispensed of. A start with rejection of moral truth ends up rejecting any truth and its allied institutions and values that get in the way of the social and political fulfilment of the narrative.

What’s the application to pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine polemic today?

The biggest “threat” to an individual’s stance on vaccine is the power of society’s moral consensus/guidance expressed through institutions like faith traditions, State governance, and the World Health Organization (WHO) collective guidance and moral suasion on vaccination.

The individualistic reaction, conscious and unconscious, is to reject them.

Did we think we would ever have seen the rejection of the WHO advice to get vaccinated?

Did we ever think that we would see science rejected in favour of conspiracy theories via 10-minute WhatsApp videos?

Clearly, individual moral stances and/or opinion now trumps responsible use of science and the authority of international organisations such as the WHO.

Pope Benedict XVI warned us.


Fr Matthew d’Hereaux is the parish priest for St Joseph (St Joseph).