A House Divided

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“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Who said it?

If you said ‘Abraham Lincoln’, you would be correct, though it was originally said by Jesus (Mark 3:25), referring to an internal conflict going on within an individual person. Lincoln famously took up the phrase in his address to the Illinois Republican State Convention in June of 1858 to refer to his country, which he saw as divided over the issue of slavery. “I believe this government cannot endure”, he continued, “permanently half slave and half free.”

That speech came to mind for me as I thought about our situation here today in Australia. We are a house divided, and I do wonder how much more we can stand.

Of course, the issue for us is not slavery, though listening to the language of our leaders, if you didn’t know better, you could be forgiven for thinking it was:

“We’ve outlined the freedoms that exist for vaccinated people. However, don’t assume that at 80% double-dose vaccination, that unvaccinated people are going to have all those freedoms. I want to make that point very clear.” (New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, September 13, 2021)

Who would have believed a year or so ago that any Australian leader could say something like that about any minority group in Australian society – that those people won’t be allowed the freedoms enjoyed by the majority. It wasn’t a slip of the tongue:

“I want to stress again – for those of you who choose not to be vaccinated, that’s your choice, but don’t expect to do everything that vaccinated people do even when we hit 80%, and I want to make that very clear.” (New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, September 13, 2021)

I am an unvaccinated person.

Even saying that openly, I feel as if I’m confessing to a crime, and perhaps I should be wearing a bell around my neck, which is what they once forced lepers to do so that other people could hear them coming. I think they also had to yell out ‘unclean, unclean’ whenever they came into a public place, just in case people didn’t hear the bell. Perhaps it will come to that for the unvaccinated here too. I hope not.

Either way, as an unvaccinated person I find it hard to hear things like this said by my State Premier – that for the foreseeable future I will continue to be denied freedoms that I had always taken for granted in ths country – freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of worship.

I spent the first 59 years of my life thinking that these freedoms were somehow God-given and that no political leader, particularly in this country, would every try to take them away from me. I was wrong, and then I assumed that if my freedoms were to be taken away, that it couldn’t be for long, and I was wrong about that too!

It makes me feel a little ill, thinking that Australia is becoming a house divided between those who are (relatively) free and people like me who will be restricted in where we can go, and what we can do, and who we can see, and barred from pubs and clubs and perhaps even from places of worship.

Never did I believe that I’d hear an Australian leader say something like this. Even so, it isn’t those statements from the Premier that upset me the most. It’s this one:

“Well, I certainly hope that all of you are vaccinated. I wouldn’t want to be in a room with a lot of people who aren’t vaccinated.” (New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, September 7, 2021)

Did she really say that?

“I wouldn’t want to be in a room with a lot of people who aren’t vaccinated.”

I guess she did.

Surely, she didn’t mean it the way it sounded, as it sounds like pure prejudice!

If she’d said “I wouldn’t want to be in a room with a lot of Indigenous people” or “I wouldn’t want to be in a room with a lot of Muslim people”, we would immediately be offended, wouldn’t we, as we’d see these as expressions of pure prejudice?

We don’t allow our political leaders to say things like that, so I must assume there’s more to it, even though it is a statement that isolates a specific group of people whom she has said are going to be discriminated against by having freedoms denied to them that the rest of the population are going to enjoy.

I assume she means that she doesn’t want to be in a room with a lot of unvaccinated people in it because those people will put her at risk – at risk of getting the virus!

I assume that’s what she means, except that this doesn’t make a lot of sense since, as a vaccinated person, confident in the efficacy of the vaccine, why would she be worried about being in a room full of people, regardless of their vaccination status? Isn’t she protected, to a significant degree at least, by the vaccine?

Of course, yes, we do know that the vaccinated can still contract the virus, and we know too that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can carry the virus while being asymptomatic, meaning that you wouldn’t know that they had it, but that they can still give it to you!

Given that, I can understand why the Premier (or any number of people) might choose not to enter rooms with lots of people in them (vaccinated or unvaccinated) but the key question here is whether the unvaccinated in the room pose any greater risk to the healthy than the vaccinated, and I’m pretty sure they don’t!

Of course, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the virus, and I am certainly no expert, but I think it’s been well established that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can still get the virus and that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can still carry the virus, and I believe it’s been equally well-established that asymptomatic carriers of the virus (vaccinated and unvaccinated) carry about the same ‘viral load’ if they do have it, meaning that they’re equally capable of infecting others.

Now … I have read that the unvaccinated can carry the virus for longer, which might make people like me more suspect. At the same time though, we are surely less likely to be asymptomatic if we’ve got it, since the virus is likely to hit us unvaccinated people harder, so … let me tell you a story.

Back in the early 1980’s, when the AIDS epidemic was at it’s height, I was working with a church in Kings Cross (Sydney’s red-light district) and we used to have a well-known transvestite guy join us sometimes for our Sunday Eucharist (where we share the bread and wine with each other) and this guy would always make a point of being the first person at the communion rail.

If you don’t know the Anglican system, we share a ‘common cup’, meaning that each person takes a sip of wine from the same cup, one after the other. We wipe the cup with a cloth between communicants but, as you can appreciate, some people do get concerned about the possibility of spreading infection through the sharing of the cup.

As I say, this guy, who was a member of a group known as ‘the sisters of perpetual indulgence’ would make a point of being first at the communion rail, meaning that his lips were going to be on that cup ahead of everybody else. He was making a point. He wasn’t known to be AIDS-positive, but people, understandably, had their fears and, at the time, no one was quite sure how easily the virus could be shared.

So what did we do? We all shared in the Eucharist as per usual and … I’m still here.

Interestingly, when the medical establishment eventually got on top of the AIDS epidemic, they worked out that people putting their lips to a common cup couldn’t possibly spread the virus, whether they were AIDS-positive or not. Ironically though, if our brother had been AIDS-positive, his immunities might have been in a bad way, and he would have been at risk of catching a cold from someone if he hadn’t taken the cup first, and that could have done him a lot of damage, so he was actually doing the right thing by going first because it was actually him who was at risk and not us!

I think we’re in a very similar situation now. As I understand it, I would actually be at greater risk, being in a room with the Premier and other vaccinated people, than she would be, being in a room with me and my unvaccinated mates.

Maybe that was the point of the Premier’s statement – that she doesn’t want to be in a room with a lot of us unvaccinated people because she doesn’t want to put us at risk. If that’s the case, Madam Premier, let me say, ‘thanks, but no thanks’. Please let me look after my health while you focus on looking after my rights and freedoms!

The Premier probably wouldn’t remember, but we have actually been in the same room together, and we shared a meal together, back in the glory days, and I don’t mind risking it again (if it is a risk) as I do believe it’s worth taking just about any risk to prevent this country from becoming further divided.

Let me state my position as plainly as possible: I do want to be in a room full of unvaccinated people. I will also be very happy to be in a room full of vaccinated people, just as I’d love to be in a room full of Indigenous people or a room full of Muslim people. The bottom line is that I’m yearning to be back in a room full of people, but if my freedoms are going to be restricted until I get jabbed, I can wait.

You might wonder why I’m so hesitant about being vaccinated. Just for the record, it’s not primarily a concern about the vaccines, though I do have my questions. The bigger issue for me right now though is this divided country that our politicians are creating, and if we are going to have two tiers in Australian society, with a free majority looking down on a restricted minority, I’m going to stand alongside those at the bottom until the discrimination ends.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Madam Premier. It never had to be this way. There were always other alternatives and there are other alternatives now. Embrace them please!

We need to move beyond this division. We need to become one people again, and we need it to happen now, because a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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