Thursday, November 19, 2015

Puritanism: A Legacy Disdained by Historians and Sullied with the Devil’s Victory in Salem

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996) andForgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival(Zondervan, 2002). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian

The Puritans were the first major renewal group within the English Reformation. Puritan pastors, writers and theologians recovered much of the Hebraic “earthy” perspective that accentuated the goodness of life on earth. This is in contrast to the predominant pre-Reformation theology of the Western Church (Catholic) which was heavily “Hellenized” and “other-worldly,” and often slighted the role of the layperson in Church life.2 The Puritan’s rejection of Christian Hellenization was not a conscious goal, but rather the natural result of reading the Bible, including the Old Testament, without the allegorical and ascetical traditions that were dominant in Christian theology since the 4thCentury. Puritan writers and theologians made Reformed theology into a practical, and biblically centered way of life that looked heaven ward while valuing of life on earth. A recent book by the noted Christian scholar, Leland Ryken, calls the Puritans “worldly saints” because of their concerns with practical living.3 All this is contrary to their current caricature, which paints them as glum killjoys focused on avoiding earthly temptations.

The Puritans were originally a faction within the Church of England (the Anglicans) who wanted their church “purified” and to be more like Calvin’s Reformed Church in Geneva—and less like the Church of Rome. Most Puritans stayed within the Anglican Church and worked for reform from within. Among these were some of Puritanism’s greatest theologian/pastors such as John Owens, Richard Baxter and William Perkins. A minority were “separatists” who could not tolerate the “papist” ways of Anglicanism (such as vestments and fixed liturgy) and chose to separate from Anglicanism, often at considerable cost—as in losing their salaried pastoral offices.

The Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock fame were Puritan Separatists, but the majority of America’s Puritans came to New England a decade later, during the “Great Migration” of the 1630s, and were technically Anglicans. However, since there were no Anglican bishops in America they developed a “congregational” type of church government where the local church was governed by its members. They ultimately separated from the Anglican Church.

All Puritan ministers had to be highly educated and well-read in the classics of Greece and Rome, the Early Church Fathers and the Reformers. Among the first things the Puritans did in the New World was found HarvardCollege as a place to educate their clergy (1636). However, the Bible was always the final word on theology or church practice. In fact, one might say that Puritanism, Colonial or English, was primarily a biblical renewal movement.4

The Puritans reject rejecting the Jews (supersessionism):

Because the Puritans read the Bible literally and without the allegorical traditions of Catholicism, they greatly increased their appreciation of the Old Testament. Supersessionism, the long held theory that the Church totally displaced the Jews as the “people of God,” and by implication, that the Old Testament was of little practical concern for the Christian, melted away. Puritans discerned that much of the Old Testament was a good and practical guide to the everyday life and spirituality. One of the fruits of this biblical recovery was that Puritan writers came to appreciate Paul’s understanding of the Jews’ continuous importance and ultimate, future reincorporation into the Church.

Some Puritan theologians even developed a Jewish-centered understanding of the end times that predicted a restored Jewish state. In that view, Jews would resettle Palestine and then would attack and destroy the Ottoman Empire (the most powerful Islamic entity at the time). After this, the Jews would convert to Christianity and the usher in the millennium.5 That the Jews would be restored again to Palestine was new to Christian thought, and certainly a valid prophetic insight—even if it did not happen as soon or in the way they expected.

Oliver Cromwell, who ruled Great Britain as a Puritan commonwealth (1645-1658) believed in this early form of Jewish Zionism. He attempted to further Jewish interests by inviting the Jews back to England, and providing them with legal rights.6 (The Jews had been expelled from England in the 1200s, as in most of Europe, after being blamed for the spread of the bubonic plague.)

Puritan Sabbataranism

The most noticeable aspect of the Puritans’ renewed appreciation of the Old Testament was their desire to observe the Sabbath according to biblical mandates.7 That is, the Sabbath was to be reserved as a day of worship and rest. Catholic Europe had a few long-standing restrictions on Sunday activities, as in forbidding hard labor. Luther and Calvin were reluctant to go much further than the Catholics, as they were especially weary of legalism.

However, the Puritans believed that a strict observance of the Sabbath was not just an Old Testament issue, but an eternal mandate for Christians. In fact, one issue of hot concern for the Puritans in England was their irritation at the proclamation of the king, Charles I, read in all churches, that it was all right to play sports after Sunday church service. The Puritans felt sports and recreations were good and necessary, but not on the Sabbath.8

The Puritan attitude towards the Sabbath was one of the legacies that endured in the United States, and made American Protestantism different from it European cousins. Whither or not contemporary Christians agree with the Puritan’s on Sabbath observances, it is important to note that they understood that the Old Testament regulations of a Sabbath of rest and worship was truly for our good, and not just as an historical oddity of the Old Testament.

Puritan Sexuality: Recovering the Biblical Perspective

Ironically and contrary to the caricatures about them, the Puritans were reformers, indeedrevolutionaries, against the Medieval Catholic distortions of Biblical sexuality.10 Both Luther and Calvin had ended monasticism and celibacy as central Christian ideals. But the Reformers were quickly overwhelmed with the responsibilities of establishing Protestant life in face of immediate contention and warfare. It was the Puritans, a century later, who had the time to elaborate a new and Biblically centered theology of sexuality.

Puritans reversed the Catholic understanding of marriage as intended for procreation only. For instance, in Medieval Catholic theology it was taught that it was a sin to have intercourse with one’s wife once she was pregnant, because the “intention” of marriage was fulfilled in pregnancy. In fact, for a period the Church declared that normal sexual relations between husband and wife could be a “venial sin”—a minor sin.11 Puritan thinkers and theologians, to the contrary, argued that marriage was for companionship (sexual) and friendship, plus procreation. Puritans cited the fact that in Genesis the first reason for the creation of Eve was companionship for Adam, only after which came the command to procreate (Gen. 2).12 Puritans writers also helped create a revolution in the Western ideal of romantic love. In the Middle Ages, the theme of romantic love, or “courtly love” as it was called, was invariably associated with adulterous relationships. This was due partly to the prevalence of arranged marriages (recall the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette). But English Puritan writers, and other Anglicans, served at the forefront of refocusing the romantic love ideal to “eligible singles” and between husband and wife.13

The greatest Puritan poet of all, John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, rightly understood that traditional Catholic suspicion of sexuality and the allegorical (and de-sexed) interpretation Song of Solomon were wrong.14 In Paradise Lost he presented the sexuality and love between Adam and Eve as representing God’s original intention and a model for Christian marriage.15 Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), New England Puritan pastor and founder of the Colony of Connecticut, wrote about the love between husband and wife in terms no Catholic cleric would dare.

The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves…dreams of her in the night, hath her in his eye and apprehension when he awakes, museth on her as he sits at the table…She lies in his bosom. And his heart trusts in her, which forceth all to confess that the stream of his affection, like a mighty current, runs with full tide and strength.16 All this points to the fact that Puritans celebrated love and marital sex in a way that was, affirming, Hebraic and biblical. They even encouraged remarriage after the loss of a spouse. They did, however, draw biblical bounds around sexuality, and, for instance, abhorred any type of public display of sexuality. For this belief in modesty modern writers continue to berate them as prudes and anti-sex.

Puritanism and the Biblical Work Ethic

John Calvin made major contributions to the recovery of a biblical work ethic for the Christian layperson—the very thing absent in the Medieval tradition of spirituality. The model community he established in Geneva was controversial, but it was a success in an area Calvin did not imagine. Its biblically centered theology of work began to disperse the anti-commerce prejudices of traditional theology and established the pattern for the coming prosperous Europe. Christians could pursue the devout life and labor in any lawful craft without guilt that they had missed the “way of perfection” of celibate, monastic life.

Just as with the theology of sexuality, what the Reformers began, the Puritans elaborated.17 An early example is the pioneer work of the merchant John Browne, who specialized in trade with Spain. In 1591 he published a textbook for aspiring merchants. It included practical advice on dealing with foreign merchants, rates of exchange and the like, all interspersed with a biblical perspective:

The Godly and diligent man shall have prosperitie in all his wayes: but he that followeth pleasure and voluptuousnesse, shall have much sorrow before he die… If thou wilt prosper well pray: if thou wilt have blessings, restore what thou hast evil gotten: if thou wilt have joy of thy labors, be single in thy tongue and eye, use no lying, nor deceit …18

What is noticeable of Browne is that he took the promises of the Book of Proverbs literally and seriously—without allegory—as operating in everyday life for earthy goals. Browne had rediscovered the literal meaning of the Hebraic precepts and advised their use as principles of successful business. Significantly, opposition to the new layman’s prayer books and manuals came from the clergy who believed these works were too “worldly” and not sufficiently concerned with theological matters—a touch of the Pharisaic to be sure.19

In fact many Puritan ministers held on to the traditional Medieval view, shared with the Ancient World, that a mercantile life was ungodly. The early Puritan pastors of New England often railed against the merchants in their communities and contrasted them to the “honest” farmer. It took a generation of more biblically attuned Puritan theologians to see this attitude was unbiblical.20Among them was William Perkins (1558-1603), Puritan theologian and Cambridge professor. He became the most influential and widely read of Elizabethan theologians. In his work A Treatise of the Vocation or Calling of Men, written about 1600, there would be no Christian gentlemen, such as Don Quixote, who did not work. Honest labor, including merchant’s work, was essential to righteousness, and idleness was a sin:
Sloth and negligence in the duties of our callings are a disorder against the comely order which God hath set in the societies of mankind, both in church and commonwealth. And, indeed idleness and sloth are the causes of many damnable sins. The idle body and the idle brain is [sic] the shop of the devil.21
The writings of William Perkins were among the most often imported for the personal and pastoral libraries of the colonies. His and other works like it established the work ethic for the American colonies.

The net result of Puritan theology on work was revolutionary. For the first time in Christendom since the Fall of Rome, a merchant was given a “pass” as an honorable profession. Further, they were given specific guidance as to honorable behavior in commerce that overrode the Medieval suspicion of profit.22 This had the revolutionary results in bringing about the expansion of the economies of England, New England and the Netherlands (where Puritan influence was strong) and later the rest of Northern Europe.23

Great theologians, bad politicians

The English Civil War (1642-1645) pitted King Charles I against the parliamentary forces. The parliamentary army was composed mainly of Puritans and other devout Protestants. Under the brilliant military leadership of Oliver Cromwell, who was strongly Puritan, the parliamentary army won, and ultimately captured and beheaded Charles.

Oliver Cromwell wished to rule in conjunction with parliament, but lost patience with its political bickering and became “Lord Proctor”—king without the title. Cromwell divided Great Britain into military districts. His army helped enforce the laws, including many restraints on public conduct, such as violations of the Sabbath. When Cromwell died the Protectorate was overthrown, and in 1660 the monarchy was reestablished. Most Englishmen breathed a sigh of relief and partied. The restored monarchy of Charles II was known for its corruption and loose morals, but for many that was more acceptable for daily life than the Puritan government, and that judgment has been normative to most historians since.

The Devil’s victory in Salem, Myth as reality

For the average American, Puritanism is synonymous with the Salem witchcraft trials. And the most popular account of the Salem witch trials is the 1952 play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible. It is still assigned reading in many high school and college English courses. It was also made into a movie that was seen by millions. However, The Crucible is a distorted and historically inaccurate account of the trials. In it Miller presents the liberal, materialist perspective—that nothing supernatural took place in Salem. For Miller, the young girls who accused others of witchcraft faked their curse-induced torments for various reasons, as in increased attention or sexual longings. Miller took the liberty to make one of the original thirteen-year-old accusers into a seventeen year old in order to play out more credibly his hypothesis of sexual longings. Miller’s presentation represents the view of most text-book histories (and sadly many Christians).24

A few things must be noted to put the trials in proper perspective. All Christians of the 17th Century believed that witchcraft was real and deserving of capital punishment. The procedures used in English courts and the Puritans were much superior to many European nations, where often mob rule disposed of the accused before any sort of trial.25 The horror movie motif of a mob attacking a vampire and driving a stake through his heart represents an echo of this. The European mob vs. witch scenario parallels the current situation in much of Africa, where persons accused of witchcraft are often lynched by angry mobs.26

In the 1950s, when Miller researched and wrote his play, only a few scholars took witchcraft seriously, or had studied it extensively. But since the 1960’s, when Wicca and other witches “came out,” and the whole occult scene blossomed, there has developed a much better understanding of witchcraft and its history.27

It is now clear that witchcraft and witch covens were common in Europe from the earliest days of Christianity. The covens were derived from the “left over” Paganism from the incomplete and haphazard way in which various European peoples were evangelized. The most extreme example of this being the Gypsy peoples, the Romani, who were never evangelized at all, and to this day regularly practice witchcraft and occultism. The early monk missionaries of Northern Europe often focused on converting local kings and tribal leaders, who then forced all their subjects to be baptized. This seemed like a good policy, and it certainly produced great numbers of baptized “Christians.” But it left resentful Pagan followers in place, baptized but unconverted, to go underground and continue their rites and religion.28

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church allowed this situation to go on uncorrected for centuries. As a result, Medieval Catholics were often quite open to all sorts of divination, occult, and superstitious practices that blended with their more orthodox Sunday practices. Most churchmen looked upon witchcraft as delusion and something that could be lived with—a curious resonance with modern secular views. This parallels much Catholic practice in Latin America, where churchmen often allow indigenous occult rituals and worship to go on without much opposition—as long as the people baptize their children and sometimes show up for Sunday services.

In Europe, the Church’s tolerance of witchcraft began to change under the medieval papacy of John XXII (1316-1334). He had a true discernment that witchcraft was serious, and believed that its rites were “demonic sacraments” capable of real spiritual effectiveness and harm. In 1320 set up a commission to make witchcraft a “heresy” that could be dealt with by the Inquisition.29 This was a theological blunder, as witches are not heretics properly speaking, but non-Christians. In any case, Catholic logic, that anyone baptized was a Christian, placed witches and sorcerers in the “Church,” and thus under the Church’s jurisdiction. The local inquisitors then attacked the problem with all of their rational, legal and investigative tools that they had used against heretics (including, of course, interrogation by torture). But nothing in the theology or practice of the Church could be a substitute for the gift of discernment of spirits that had been largely lost to the Church since the 4th Century.30

By 1484 the famous textbook guide on witch hunting, the Malleus Maleficiarum, had been compiled and published. Thus began the official witch-hunting period of late medieval Europe. No one noticed that the New Testament pattern of countering witchcraft and sorcery with the power of the Spirit by temporary immobilization, as modeled by Paul (Acts 13:6-12). More correctly, no one imagined that such a thing was possible in the Church Age. Many innocent persons died as a result of this spiritual incapacity (and real witches too). In recent decades a mythology has arisen via the radical feminists, who often have no concern for the truth, that up to nine million witches were burned from the Middle Ages to modern times.31 This is a ridiculous and fantastic number, the real number being in the thousands—not counting mob vigilantism.

Understanding the Salem Witchcraft Trials

To return to the to the Salem witch trials, we can now appreciate the tremendous work done by the recently deceased scholar, Chadwick Hansen, professor emeritus of English at the University of Illinois, in his work Witchcraft in Salem.32 Building on the new scholarship that took witchcraft seriously, he meticulously researched the Salem trials from the manuscript evidence of the trials, and studied newer archeological findings. Yes, archeological investigations had found witchcraft paraphernalia in Salem such as voodoo like dolls stuffed with goat’s hair. His careful analysis of all the evidence showed that there was indeed true witchcraft in Salem, and that some of the executed were indeed guilty.

Hansen’s landmark work comes short only in not affirming that supernatural events really did happen at Salem. Rather he believed that witchcraft worked because it victims had “faith” in the power of witchcraft and responded psychosomatically to the claims and curses of local witches. This is a step forward from the traditional 19th and 20th Century views that it was all fake, and that Cotton Mather, the judge, was a cruel fanatic, and the judicial system ridiculous—the view of Miller’s The Crucible.

Perhaps Hansen was reluctant to call the witches at Salem demonically empowered33 out of prudence. Doing so would have discredited his fine work within academic circles and much of the public. As it is, his work has revolutionized the understanding of the Salem trials, and has influenced subsequent scholarship.34

A major factor that made the Salem trials so awful was the breakdown of proper rules of evidence. Both Catholic and Protestant witch investigators of the period understood that “spectral evidence” was inadmissible evidence. Specifically, at Salem the girl victims claimed that their attacks began and were continued by ghost-like apparitions of real persons in the locality. Churchmen had long known that Satan can disguise himself as an “Angel of Light” (2 Cor. 11:14) and of any person. Thus, that a ghost looking just like “Mrs. A” who attacks the victim does not prove that Mrs. A is really behind the attack. It might be just an attempt by the demonic to create confusion and accuse an innocent person.

Cotton Mather, the leading cleric of the area wrote to Judge John Richards, one of the judges of the trials that spectral evidence was deceitful and treacherous, and admissible evidence must be from other sources, as in the physical evidence of witch paraphernalia or especially confessions.

And yet I most humbly beg you that in the management of the affair in your worthy hands, you do not lay more stress upon pure specter testimony than it will bear. When you are satisfied or have good plain legal evidence that the Demons which molest our poor neighbors do indeed represent such and such people to the sufferers. Though this be a presumption, yet I suppose you will not reckon it is conviction that people so represented are witches to be immediately exterminated. It is very certain that the Devils have sometimes represented the shapes of persons not only innocent but very virtuous…35

Unfortunately, in the course of the trials, and in the very court room, the young victims were constantly attacked, forced into contortions, and other phenomena—the authorities panicked. The victims’ piteous cries seemed too hideous to disregard, and several persons were convicted by spectral evidence alone.36

Is there a Biblical response to witchcraft?

Even if all of the wisdom of Catholic and Protestant anti-witch procedures had been followed, the Salem trials would have all fallen short of New Testament standards. Specifically, there was no congregation in Massachusetts, or anywhere else in Christendom for that matter, that could function as any of Paul’s Spirit-empowered congregations as described in 1 Cor. 12-14. Such a congregation would include persons gifted in exorcism and healing, and with the gift of discernment of spirits. That latter gift, exercised by tested and reliable persons, would have at the very least avoided the errors of false spectral evidence. Other members of the congregation would have used tongues to wage spiritual warfare, etc. This was impossible at the time as the Protestant doctrine of cessationism, central to its theology, had declared the gifts of the Spirit as non-existent in the post-Apostolic church, and the practice of the gifts of the Spirit as heretical or vain “enthusiasm.”37 It would take the rise of Pentecostalism at the dawn of the 20th Century before cessationism was seriously challenged in the Protestant world. Only at that time would congregations began forming in which all of the gifts of the Spirit were present on a regular basis. Even today, a century after the birthing of Pentecostalism, such congregations are rare. That is, the majority of Pentecostal and charismatic churches in the “First World” often have substantial healing and deliverance ministries, but do not systematically teach or cultivate discernment of spirits.38

In any case, the limitations of contemporary theology are not the main issue of this article. Rather I wanted to clarify why the so called Puritan “failure” or “scandal” at Salem was not what many Christian imagine. Certainly it should not hamper their appropriation of the great and valuable works of Puritan theologians and writers.

Recommended reading:

For a good introduction to the Puritans, read J. I Packer, Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), and Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Grand Rapids; Zondervan; 1986). See also the following issues of Church History: Issue 41: “The American Puritans,” Issue 77: “Jonathan Edwards: Puritan pastor and theologian,” and Issue 89: “Richard Baxter and the English Puritans.”


1 Ironically, the modern appreciation of Jonathan Edwards and the whole Puritan legacy was triggered by the masterful work of the Harvard historian (and unbeliever) Perry Miller. He began writing on the Puritans during the first decades of the 20th Century with great insight and evenhandedness. See especially his masterful work: Jonathan Edwards (New York, William Sloam Associates, 1949).

2 Hellenization refers to the melding of Greek philosophy and attitudes into the Gospel. This produced an over emphasis on doctrinal/philosophical definitions, and over emphasis on celibacy as a primary virtue. Hellenized Christian theology inflated the meaning of heresy to include any philosophical deviation from the norm, as for instance claiming that Coptic Christians were heretics because they affirmed a differing philosophical understanding of how Jesus was both man and God. For a scholarly anthology of Hellenization in Christianity see: Wendy E. Helleman, (ed.).Hellenization Revisited: Shaping a Christian Response Within the Greco-Roman World (Lanham: University Press of America, 1994). The seminal work contrasting Hebrew and Greek (Hellenized) ways of thought is: Thorleif Boman’s Hebrew Thought Compared With Greek, Translated by Jules Moreau, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961).

3 Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Zondervan, 1990).

4 J.I Packer. A Quest for Godliness, chapter six, “The Puritans as Interpreters of Scripture.”

5 For this view, and a wide variety of pro-Jewish, prot-Zionest views of Puritan theologians and writers see: Richard W. Cogley, “The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Restoration of Israel in the “Judo-Centric” Strand of Puritan Millenarianism,” Church History, 72:2 (June 2003) 304-332. It may well be that the Jewish state will have a major role in overthrowing Islam, which would make the Puritan writers acutely prophetic. Stay tuned.

6 On Cromwell’s view of the Jews see: George Drake, “The Ideology of Oliver Cromwell,” Church History, 35:3 (Summer, 1966), 259-272.

7 On this topic see: Keith l Sprunger, “English and Dutch Sabbataranism and the Development of Puritan Social Theology (1600-1660), Church History, 51:1 (March 1982), 24-38. For a contemporary view of why Sabbath rest is a “good” that should not be skipped see: Judith Shulovitz,The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time (New York: Random House: 2010).

8 Most readers will remember the movie “Chariots of Fire,” which documents how the Olympic contender, and later missionary, Eric Liddell, would not run his event on a Sunday.

9 See Amy Julia Becker, “Secular People Need Sabbath, too.” Her Meneutics, Nov. 18, 2010. Becker cites secular articles and books that laud different forms of Sabbath rest.

10 On this issue see Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: chapter 3, “Marriage and Sex,” and Daniel M. Doriani, “The Puritan, Sex, and Pleasure,” Westminster Theological Journal, 53:1 (Spring 1991), 125-43. See also, Edmond S. Morgan, The Puritan Family: Religious and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England, rev. ed . (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), chapter 2 “Husband and Wife.”

11For example, the great Catholic cannon law codification done by Gratian (12th C.) cites instances when normal sex between married person may be venially sinful, see “On marriage” at: How times change! Thankfully, in the last decades the Catholic Church has developed a splendidly biblical theology of sexuality which in many ways is more insightful and balanced than anything in the Protestant and Evangelical camp. On this surprising turn see the article the recent issue of Christianity Today, the lead American Evangelical magazine: Matthew Lee Anderson’s “God has a Wonderful Plan for Your Body,” (posted, August 12, 2011).
12 Ryken, Worldly Saints, 47.

13 See: C. S Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1936), and Ryken, Worldly Saints. 50-51

14 John Milton, Tetrachardon 2:597

15 John Milton, Paradise Lost, Bk 4, lines 741ff.

16 Cited in Morgan, Puritan Family, 61-62.

17 This section is mostly derived from the excellent study by Louis B. Wright, “The Whole Duty of the Citizen,” in: Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935.). See Also Perry Mill, “The Protestant Ethic,” in: Michael McGiffert, Puritanism and the American Experience, (Reading: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1996).

18 Wright, “Whole Duty,” 161-162.

19 Ibid., 247.

20 On how Puritan theology morphed from Medieval anti-merchant to pro-merchant see: Mark Valeri, Heavenly Merchandise: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

21 William Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations or Callings of Man, in: The Works of William Perkins, ed., Ian Breward, (Applefond: The Sutton Courtney Press, 1970), 450.

22Deirdre N. Mccloskey, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economists Can’t Explain the Modern World(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

23 The relationship between Puritanism (and Calvinism) and the economic blossoming of Northern Europe and the United States was first recognized by the German sociologist Max Weber in his seminal work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

24 See the discussion of Miller’s distorted analysis fully described in: David C. Downing’s excellent articles, “The Mystery of Spirit Possession” parts 1 and 2, Books and Culture, Jan. 1, 1997.

25 Jeffrey Burton Russell, “Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany,” Church History, 76:2 (June, 2007) 411-413.

26 Peter Jenkins, “Notes From the Global Church,” Christian Century, 125 (Dec. 2, 2008), 45.

27 See the multiple works by Jeffrey Burtan Russell, especially his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages(Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1972).

28 Russell, Witchcraft.

29 Isabel Iribarren, “From Black Magic to Heresy: A doctrinal leap in the pontificate of John XXII,”Church History, 75 (March 2007), 32-60.

30 Many of the saints and mystics had the gifts of the Spirit, including discernment of spirits, although that Pentecostal terminology was not used. See the classic work by the Jesuit theologian Augustin Poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910), modern editions available. Unfortunately, the gifts of the Spirit were unknown in normal parish life, nor were they understood as a repeatable and normal gifting for Christian life, as in discerning witchcraft.

31 Irving Hexham, “The Invention of Modern Witchcraft,” Books and Culture (Jan/Feb 2004).

32 Chadwick Hansen, Witchcraft in Salem (New York: G. Braziller, 1969). Available in paperback. Hansen passed away in 2011.

33 William Peter Blatty, I’ll Tell Them I Remember You (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973). For an Evangelical perspective on extreme phenomenon of the possessed, see: Merrill F. Unger, What Demons Can Do to Saints (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), 132-133. On the reality of demonic spiritual phenomenon really happening in the Salem Witchcraft trials see the more recent study: Larry Gragg’s, The Salem Witch Crisis (New York: Prager, 1992), Chapter 1, “Mists of Darkness.”

34On the central role of Hansen’s work see: R.D. Stock, “Salem Witchcraft and Spiritual Evil: A Century of Non-Whig Revisionism,” Christianity and Literature, 42:1 (Autumn 1992), 141-156.

35 Cited in Hansen, Salem, p.132.

36 For a details discussion of this misuse of spectral evidence see: Dean George Lampros, “Season of Anguish: The Formal Proceedings Conducted During the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692,” Westminster Theological Journal, 56 (1994), 303-327.

37 On the tragedy of cessationism, see my Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1996) and Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).

38 In my four decades of living and ministering in charismatic and Pentecostal churches in the United States I have seen only a few congregations that operated in all of the gifts of the Spirit. The literature indicated that churches in the “Third World” where witchcraft is often ever present, do much better on discernment of spirits—they have to!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Notes on False Equivalence

False equivalence contaminates many arguments but several subjects now in the news seem to be spinning out of control as two presumed "sides" wrestle for hegemony. 
  • Firearms safety (Second Amendment)
  • Free speech (First Amendment)
  • Religious objections (First Amendment)
Thanks mostly to broadcast journalism some subjects are treated to false equivalence, the presumption that most discussions have but two "sides" and each should receive "equal time", presumably in the interest of balance. Print journalism -- books, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers -- doesn't have that challenge. It's more democratic. Most take one stand or another, and many encourage comments so anyone to take part. Air time, even for call-in programs, must be rationed, in the interest of "equal time." Consequently the nuttiest arguments find a place among others that are far more compelling.

Thanks to decades of NRA advocacy the firearms subject has become so one-sided in favor of an absolutist Second Amendment position that any variance from the party line is tantamount to treason. Another case of false equivalence involves the First Amendment -- free speech and exercise of religion especially.

Regarding the Second Amendment, the old Negro militias somehow morphed into the worshipful form of the National Guard (and by association a tribe of citizen militias to be prepared in the unlikely event the world's biggest armed forces runs low on either manpower or ammo).

Free speech has been preserved and protected to the degree that even the Pentagon Papers were eventually celebrated. Daniel Ellsberg came to be regarded as a respected whistleblower. To that end Ellsberg himself regards Snowden as a hero, so his censure in high places has become one of the fibers of the free speech conversation. Of course thousands of individuals have access to content tagged "secret" but those legions are sworn to secrecy lest too many *other* thousands find out what has already been seen and read so easily by the first legions. I'm speaking, of course, about Manning.

In all these cases there are nuanced variations being swept aside in favor of the absolutist interpretation of language. As a result we have seen the Confederate battle flag waved as a free speech symbol, and non-religious enterprises claim religious exemptions from the law arguing matters of conscience or religious belief.

These are a couple of examples of false equivalence that have bothered me lately. In both cases there are nuances lost by both "sides" and it is in that grey area that some kind of resolution to the argument must be found.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


These are the opening paragraphs of a monograph by Walter Wink (1999). It was my good fortune to see and hear him talk once when he came to Cobb County, Georgia. His writing and thinking have been a formative influence on my thinking and beliefs. He died in 2012 at the age of 79.
Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquillity that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer themselves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about. 

In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood. Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor perfectible world; it is theatre of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Paul Ryan Links & Notes

This is my Paul Ryan post compiled in 2012 when Mitt Romney chose him to be the vice-presidential running mate for that year's election.  Rather than a string of entries about Paul Ryan, I decided to start with one and add to it as the days pass.

What follows is the list accumulated at that time. Except for his ideas for amending Social Security I don't know how much of this may have changed since that time.

► This list from the Milwaukee paper looks like a good place to start. (Links at the source.)
As they say, you can't make this stuff up!
  • Interest group rankings
  • American Conservative Union: 92% lifetime score (2011) 
  • American Civil Liberties Union: 0% (2011) 
  • The John Birch Society: 70% (2011) 
  • Citizens Against Governmental Waste: 95% (2010) 
  • League of Conservation Voters: 20% lifetime score (20
  • National Journal: Conservative Foreign Policy score: 57% (2011)
  • National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, guns rights positions: A (2010)
  • AFL-CIO, labor positions: 28% (2011)
  • Alliance for Retired Americans: 6% lifetime score (2011)
  • NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby: 25% (2012)
  • Family Research Council, social issues: 90% (2011)
  • Vietnam Veterans of America: 100% (2011)
  • National Organization for Women: 13% (2008)
  • National Federation of Independent Business: 90% (2011) Source: Project Vote Smart
Rep. Paul Ryan loves noodling catfish
Ryan said he planned to head to Oklahoma on Sunday and take his children fishing on Lake Texoma, then indulge in another favorite activity in the afternoon: “I’m going to go out with some of my Okie friends, and I’m going to do something that I’ve been doing for a number of years, and that’s called noodling catfish.
“And I want to say something to you Texans — because you understand freedom, you now legally recognize a man’s right to catch a catfish with his own bare hands.”
How Stuff Works...

If you're lucky, a catfish will swim out and, in an attempt to defend its nest or escape, will bite you. Some catfish may just nip at your fingers, but others will clamp onto your entire hand. Although catfish don't have super-sharp teeth, those teeth are plentiful. They curve inward, and noodlers say they feel like coarse sandpaper. The sandpaper feeling alone might not be so bad. But after a catfish clamps down on something, it tends to spin, which can rub your skin raw.

If the fish doesn't clench your hand, you'll need to pull open its mouth to get a good grip. Then, wiggle your fingers to work them into the fish's gill cover, the respiratory area on the sides of the fish's head. Grabbing it by the gills makes it more difficult for the fish to bite you during a struggle. It also helps you hold on a bit tighter. Once you get a firm hold on the fish, pull that prize to the surface. A flathead catfish could weigh anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds (9 to 22.7 kilograms) or more, so this is no small task.

More gory details at the link. Get ready, Mr. Biden.

Widow's peak -- Wikipedia

A number of fictional people have a widow's peak. In stories and on film this trait is often associated with a villain; Count Dracula is an example. Eddie Munster – from the television program "The Munsters" – also had this distinctive hairline. Another villain depicted as having widow's peak hair is The Joker from "Batman" comic books and films.Hannibal Lecter is described as having one in the novels that feature his story. Villainous Natasha Fatale from "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" has a widow's peak.

Social Security Personal Savings Guarantee and Prosperity Act of 2005   [Updated]

Climate Denier, Conspiracy Theorist, Koch Acolyte
A favorite of the Koch brothers, Ryan has accused scientists of engaging in conspiracy to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” He has implied that snow invalidates global warming.
Meet Janna Little Ryan, Who Wants To Be America's Second Lady 
She's a former Washington, D.C. lawyer and lobbyist with deep roots in Oklahoma Democratic politics. Her husband, Rep. Paul Ryan, just became Mitt Romney's running mate.

==> This is not a hit piece. It's an excellent survey of Mrs. Ryan's backstory -- respectable educational and professional (if politidcal) roots.

► Paul Ryan: Randian poseur   Salon -- Mitt Romney couldn't have chosen a better example of the fakery at the heart of today's GOP By Joan Walsh
...Paul Ryan represents the fakery at the heart of the Republican project today. It starts with the contradiction that Mr. Free Enterprise has spent his life in the bosom of government, enjoying the added protection of wingnut welfare benefactors like the Koch brothers. If Herman Cain is Charles and David Koch’s “brother from another mother,” as he famously joked, Ryan is the fourth Koch, swaddled in support from Americans for Prosperity and other Koch fronts. The man who wants to make the world safe for swashbuckling, risk-taking capitalists hasn’t spent a day at economic risk in his entire life.
► Less than twenty-four hours after the announcement of the Ryan pick I am thinking about another presidential election offering a famous "Choice, Not an Echo" in 1964. A Google search turned up a delightful link featuring part of Barry Goldwater's website announcing in his own words his decision to run for president against LBJ. As in this year's election the famous book by that title describes "how the liberal 'Rockefeller Republican' wing of the Republican Party had manipulated the Republican Party's choice of nominees in several elections to nominate people like Wendell Willkie and Dwight Eisenhower, and called on conservatives to rally against the liberal wing and offer a true conservative for the nomination."

Does this ring any bells?
I’ve always stood for government that is limited and balanced and against the ever increasing concentrations of authority in Washington. I’ve always stood for individual responsibility and against regimentation. I believe we must now make a choice in this land and not continue drifting endlessly down and down for a time when all of us, our lives, our property, our hopes, and even our prayers will become just cogs in a vast government machine.  
I was once asked what kind of Republican I was. I replied that I was not a “me-too” Republican. That still holds. I will not change my beliefs to win votes. I will offer a choice, not an echo. This will not be an engagement of personalities. It will be in engagement of principles. 
I believe that we can win victory for freedom both at home and abroad. I believe that we can be strong enough and determined enough to win those victories without war. I believe that appeasement and weakness can only bring war. I’ve asked and will continue to ask: Why Not Victory–why not victory for sound, constitutional principles and government–why not victory over the evils of communism? 
I’m convinced that in this year 1964 we must face up to our conscience and make a definite choice. We must decide what sort of people we are and what sort of world we want–now and for our children. 
My candidacy is pledged to a victory for principle and to presenting an opportunity for the American people to choose. Let there be a choice–right now and in clear, understandable terms. And I ask all of those who feel and believe as I do to join with me in assuring both the choice and the victory.
And choose we did. That year the electorate buried Mr. Conservative in a historic landslide.
Now there's this...

Joe Biden debating Paul Ryan, 2012.
Posted by Brandon Weber on Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Notes on Taxes -- What is "Fair Share"?

This Facebook post links a National Review column by Thomas Sowell. It's the usual bait-and-switch argument misrepresenting the thrust of arguments, in this case an argument to correct the inequities of a tax code that has directed nearly all new wealth to those already at the very top of the wealth scale
Contrary to the way some people on the left conceive of the world, neither rich people nor poor people are inert blocks of wood, to be moved about like pieces on a chess board, to carry out some grand design from on high.

Even outright confiscations of people’s wealth, including whole industries in some countries, have failed to spread prosperity, and have even led to collapsing economies.
For future reference (lest I forget) this is my comment an a response lifted from the comments thread...

John Ballard -- About half of Americans have so little income they pay zero taxes, and about 80% of those who do pay tax take the standard deduction (not itemizing). In other words, all that offshore money Sowell mentions is not part of their lifestyles. I don't have a magic remedy, but I know there is a difference between INCOME (revenue from all sources) and WEALTH (revenue minus liabilities).

Until those two terms are no longer used interchangeably (and the word "rich" abandoned altogether) this is and will remain an incoherent discussion. Meantime, nearly every dollar of NEW WEALTH continues to be acquired by a small minority at the top of the population. Call that group anything you like, but until NEW wealth gets spread around, not much will change for the rest of us.

Richard L --  You mean new wealth like Steve Jobs? Like Mark Zuckerberg? New wealth gets spread around every day. Guys are coming up with innovative new ideas and getting rich. What democrats want is new wealth spread THEIR way. How is that going to work. Old money creates new wealth everyday too. Today's generation creates new ways to protect their return on capital. They have the right and responsibility to keep what is theirs and pass it down to subsequent generations. I don't get the idea that someone should benefit from wealth they didn't create.

JB -- To Richard L   No, I do NOT mean newly-created REVENUE streams. Those are a function of the economy as a whole. I mean that portion of already existing revenue streams (like those of the majority of ordinary people) for whom any new wealth -- or wealth accumulation, if you prefer -- is what remains after the expenses of living are taken into account. Or in business terms, what profit remains after all expenses are taken into account.

The business acronym EBITDA -- Earnings Before Taxes, Depreciation & Amortization -- illustrates my point, but pretend that someone's INCOME (from work, investments, gifts, gambling winnings, whatever) only exactly equals their lifestyle expenses. In that case there will be no wealth accumulation. Every dollar will be used to maintain the lifestyle. Even those with extreme earnings (sports and entertainment stars, lottery winners, entrepreneurs like the ones you mentioned) can very easily piss away all that revenue as fast as it comes in and the result will be zero wealth accumulation, or even going into debt. The biographies of movie stars and musicians have many such case studies -- a lifetime of vast revenue either stolen by agents, companies or unscrupulous family members. This is not a hard concept to grasp.

Consider the case of a newly-graduated medical doctor, lawyer or engineering super-star who lands a six-figure job with a ton of benefits. If that person has a big student debt, gets married and starts a family, signs a mortgage, buys a car or two and runs up credit card debts on top of all that -- that person may have a handsome income (revenue stream) but will not reach the "wealthy" category until all those liabilities are liquidated or at least balanced with accumulated assets. The home value may become more valuable than the original mortgage (equity), some kind of savings plan can be started (a good beginning), their might be generational assets from another source (inheritance, gifts, etc.), the kids may have funds being fed a little at a time, and some kind of retirement arrangements may be started (Roth, 401(k), etc.). But until the total of all those assets = all those liabilities, there will be zero wealth accumulation. Period.

I hope that explains what I mean by new wealth. Most of those challenges simply do not exist for the vast majority of ordinary people who will be lucky to reach retirement with anything more than the fragile social safety nets now in place -- Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and Meals on Wheels.