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The Dutch Reformed pastor Jannes van Raalte served congregations on both sides of the German border in the years leading up to World War II. Many of his parishioners viewed National Socialism as an understandable reaction to the injustices Germany had suffered in Europe, and they recoiled from comparisons between what they considered the relatively benign National Socialism and the evils of socialism and communism. Van Raalte disagreed, staunchly opposing Nazism from the outset. Already in 1932, he began to systematically expose fascism’s philosophical underpinnings: “National Socialism is radical, not in fighting against sin but in its glaring violence. Socialism, Bolshevism, and National Socialism are fundamentally akin to each other.”

Three months after the Nazis took over the Netherlands, they arrested Van Raalte. His arrest warrant stated, “Er war immer ein fanatischer Gegner des National-Sozialismus” (“He always was a fanatic opponent of National Socialism”). After spending half a year in prison in Arnheim, he was transferred to Buchenwald, and he spent the last three years of the war in terrible conditions in Dachau. When the Americans arrived there on April 28, 1945, Catholic prisoners erected an altar draped with flags of the many nationalities represented, with a 65-foot cross placed at the center. The staunchly Calvinist pastor’s published memoirs, In het concentratiekamp, gratefully recall the Catholic mass, noting that the cross conquered the hell of Dachau.

This blog is written in loving memory of Rev. Jannes van Raalte (1894–1982), who was my maternal grandfather. I often think of him. These days, when I browse his memoirs, I wonder whether in our lifetime we will endure similar experiences.

The internet abounds with comparisons between today’s vaccine mandates and the treatment of Jews and dissidents in Nazi Germany. The response is usually that these comparisons demean the Holocaust and may even signal anti-Semitism. This response is not without warrant. Unlike yellow stars, QR passports are not used to send people to their death in concentration camps. While the Holocaust killed millions of Jews, vaccines presumably serve the opposite purpose of protecting the vulnerable. Today’s situation is not like that of Nazi Germany.

But could it be that our situation is more like 1932 than, say, 1943? Recent developments—in particular the imposition of QR-controlled mandates—should give us pause.

American courts have been on the alert and have checked the Biden regime’s most blatant attempts at imposing vaccine mandates. But for a glance at what the future may hold, Americans would do well to look to Europe and Canada.

European nations are rapidly introducing the so-called 2G rule. Starting this February, only Germans who have been vaccinated (geimpft) or healed (genesen) will be allowed in restaurants, theaters, and many stores. Moving beyond mere incentivizing, the German government will make vaccinations mandatory for all. Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel insists the new rules are a matter of “national solidarity.” Austria’s government, envisaging a similar regime, is ready to impose $4,000 fines and even jailtime for stubborn refusals of solidarity.

Canada has not yet made vaccines mandatory, but all air and train travel in the country now requires the QR code. Provinces too have restricted the lives of the unvaccinated. Restaurants, cafes, bars, and theaters are out of bounds for many Canadians who refuse the jab. New Brunswick has gone so far as to allow even grocery stores to bar the unvaccinated: No jab, no food.

Churches too are pressured to conform and demand vaccination: While retrograde churches in British Columbia are limited to using 50 percent of their seating capacity, churches are allowed to operate at full capacity if they do the government’s bidding and impose vaccine mandates. Quebec is even more unequivocal: It recently demanded that churches close their doors to anyone without a data passport. Fr. Raymond de Souza has rightly observed that the new rule bulldozes the very first of our fundamental freedoms, namely, religious liberty.

These mandates violate the unity of the body of Christ; as such, they are a most egregious denial of the heart of the gospel. The sad reality is that while Canadian church leaders have been at the forefront of encouraging the faithful to get vaccinated as an act of love, until now they have mostly been silent when it comes to protecting the integrity of the body of Christ.

None of this proves beyond doubt that we are headed toward totalitarian control. Incremental coercive restrictions on freedom do not inevitably have totalitarianism as their endpoint. But, to adopt Giorgio Agamben’s terminology, the signs of impending totalitarian biosecurity are everywhere. The speed of recent developments is breathtaking. Who would have thought two years ago that we would regularly be required to show QR codes along with personal ID?

It is also increasingly obvious that health concerns are not the primary factor behind the QR passports. A recent study in The Lancet suggests that with the Delta variant, the vaccinated are just as likely to be infected and to transmit COVID as the unvaccinated. And since the vaccinated are more likely to be asymptomatic than the unvaccinated, data passports are actually becoming counterproductive. With Omicron apparently evading vaccines for the most part, the argument for passports dissipates even more, while there is simply no argument at all for vaccinating children.

Indeed, when caught off-guard, officials admit the obvious: Transmission concerns are not the real reason for excluding the unvaccinated from public life. The question, then, seems unavoidable: If health concerns do not drive the push to universalize data passports, what could be the real motivating factor?

At the conclusion of his book, Van Raalte opines about the possibility of history repeating itself: “I do not know if we will again have concentration camps at some point in the future. Let’s hope not, but we cannot preclude the possibility.” Writing in 1946, he was thinking of a possible Soviet takeover. Mark Twain once commented, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.” The push for vaccine mandates—now extended to children ages five and up, and likely soon to include boosters for adults—should make anyone with a sense of history sit up and take note. As Bruce Hindmarsh suggests, the harshest restrictions are likely still to come.

It is possible that a few years from now, we will look back with a sense of relief: Sanity may prevail, and governments may give up the nearly universally imposed system of QR passports. But let’s not be naïve. They will not do so without strong pushback against vaccine mandates and QR passports. 

Hans Boersma is the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Professor in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.

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Photo by karel291 via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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