May 24th, 2022


Vaccines and Values

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published Feb. 5, 2015

  Vaccines and Values
The recent outbreak of measles that has now spread to 14 states has prompted a national conversation about vaccinations and those who choose, for a number of reasons, not to vaccinate their children.

Immunologists use the term "herd immunity" to explain that when the vast majority of people vaccinate, that behavior protects them as well as the relatively small number of people who do not. Unvaccinated individuals are sometimes called "free-riders" because they enjoy the benefits provided by the conduct of others. However, when the number of unvaccinated people grows, so do the risks that diseases once considered eradicated will re-emerge. In other words, if too many people become "free-riders," the benefits of "herd immunity" evaporate.

An interesting analogy can be drawn between vaccines and moral values.

Atheists and other secular humanists are a growing minority in the United States, and they are increasingly vocal about what they view as the needlessness -- and even harmfulness -- of religion. They insist that no belief in a deity is necessary in order to live a "moral" and "upright" life, that kindness and decency to one another are universal values and that through the use of human reason -- no faith required -- we can discern rules by which to produce a prosperous, peaceful and civilized society.

Would that this were true. But history has amply shown that it is not.

Without doubt, an atheist can live a moral and praiseworthy life. But this begs the question of who decides what "moral" is. Atheists want us to believe that human reason and intellect can define morality for us. This conveniently ignores the 100 million killed and untold suffering inflicted by totalitarian regimes that were expressly atheistic -- just in the 20th century. It ignores modern-day "ethicists" such as Princeton's Peter Singer who argues -- presumably using his reason and intellect -- that human babies and toddlers should be able to be killed under circumstances he identifies.

It is extremely easy to advance a rational and reasoned argument why any number of people should be destroyed -- we see this taking place daily across the globe. What prevents such ideas from becoming public policy in the U.S.? Not reason, but a conflicting world view that draws heavily from Judeo-Christianity.

Atheists and secular humanists rely upon a different kind of "herd" phenomenon: cultural, in this case, rather than immunological. Their faith (as it were) in "human reason" ignores the fact that they live among people -- at least in this country and most of Western Europe -- the overwhelming majority of whom were raised with Judeo-Christian values and who largely still live by them. (A recent Pew Research survey states that nearly 80 percent of Americans self-identify as Christian.)

Those values include prohibitions against doing injury to another, murder, lying and stealing. They promote fidelity in marriage, respect for one's parents, love of children and kindness to others. Judeo-Christianity proclaims the inestimable worth of all human beings, not because they are useful, but because each is created in the image and likeness of G0D.

These principles (along with others drawn from Greek and Roman political philosophy) are incorporated into the founding documents of this nation and stand squarely behind our political ideals of liberty, equality and tolerance -- including tolerance for those who disagree.

Our secular humanists are, in many respects, like the unvaccinated "free riders." Notwithstanding their reasons for doing so, those who reject Judeo-Christian values are protected by the far larger numbers of Americans who still subscribe to them. And they face the same conundrum as those who fervently argue against the safety of vaccines: The more people you persuade to agree with you, the more risks everyone faces.

It isn't religion that produces evil; it's human nature. And unlike disease, there is no vaccine that will eradicate evil, which resides like a dormant virus in every human heart. It is foolish to conclude that human reason alone will produce a better, more civilized, peaceful and compassionate world.

Untethered to any higher standard, human reason can be -- and has been -- used to justify any evil under the sun. Appeals to "reason" and "intellect" will inevitably devolve into nothing more than battles over raw power; those who have the power to impose their "reason" on others will do so.

Judeo-Christianity's track record is not perfect. But it does provide a template for opposing the abuses inflicted in its absence. We reject it at our peril.

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.