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 political) 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.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mark Carman Discusses Gun Safety

GUN OWNERS 2nd Amendment See:
Posted by Mark Carman on Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday, October 3, 2015

US Airstrike Hits MSF Hospital in Kunduz

Afghanistan / 04.10.2015

Lajos Zoltan Jecs, photographed during his previous
Médecins Sans Frontières placement in Kabul
in 2013. © Andrea Bruce/Noor Images
Médecins Sans Frontières nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs (photographed above in Kabul in 2013) was in Kunduz trauma hospital when the facility was struck by a series of aerial bombing raids in the early hours of Saturday morning. He describes his experience.

It was absolutely terrifying.

I was sleeping in our safe room in the hospital. At around 2am I was woken up by the sound of a big explosion nearby. At first I didn't know what was going on. Over the past week we'd heard bombings and explosions before, but always further away. This one was different - close and loud.

At first there was confusion, and dust settling. As we were trying to work out what was happening, there was more bombing.

After 20 or 30 minutes, I heard someone calling my name. It was one of the Emergency Room nurses. He staggered in with massive trauma to his arm. He was covered in blood, with wounds all over his body.

At that point my brain just couldn't understand what was happening. For a second I was just stood still, shocked.

He was calling for help. In the safe room, we have a limited supply of basic medical essentials, but there was no morphine to stop his pain. We did what we could.

"We saw the hospital destroyed, burning"

I don't know exactly how long, but it was maybe half an hour afterwards that they stopped bombing. I went out with the project coordinator to see what had happened.
What we saw was the hospital destroyed, burning. I don’t know what I felt – just shock again.

We went to look for survivors. A few had already made it to one of the safe rooms. One by one, people started appearing, wounded, including some of our colleagues and caretakers of patients.

We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds.
The airstrikes destroyed the hospital operating theatres,
and killed many patients and staff. © MSF.
"...patients, wounded, crying out, everywhere..."

We looked for some staff that were supposed to be in the operating theatre. It was awful. A patient there on the operating table, dead, in the middle of the destruction. We couldn't find our staff.

Thankfully we later found that they had run out from the operating theatre and had found a safe place.

Just nearby, we had a look in the inpatient department. Luckily untouched by the bombing. We quickly checked that everyone was OK. And in a safe bunker next door, also everyone inside was OK.

And then back to the office. Full - patients, wounded, crying out, everywhere.

"We saw our colleagues dying"

It was crazy. We had to organise a mass casualty plan in the office, seeing which doctors were alive and available to help.

We did an urgent surgery for one of our doctors. Unfortunately he died there on the office table. We did our best, but it wasn't enough.

The whole situation was very hard. We saw our colleagues dying. Our pharmacist - I was just talking to him last night and planning the stocks, and then he died there in our office.

The first moments were just chaos. Enough staff had survived, so we could help all the wounded with treatable wounds. But there were too many that we couldn't help.

Somehow, everything was very clear. We just treated the people that needed treatment, and didn't make decisions - how could we make decisions in that sort of fear and chaos?

"I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable"

Some of my colleagues were in too much shock, crying and crying. I tried to encourage some of the staff to help, to give them something to concentrate on, to take their minds off the horror. But some were just too shocked to do anything.

Seeing adult men, your friends, crying uncontrollably - that is not easy.
I have been working here since May, and I have seen a lot of heavy medical situations. But it is a totally different story when they are your colleagues, your friends.

These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people... and now they are dead.

These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

The hospital, it has been my workplace and home for several months. Yes, it is just a building. But it is so much more than that. It is healthcare for Kunduz. Now it is gone.

What is in my heart since this morning is that this is completely unacceptable. How can this happen? What is the benefit of this? Destroying a hospital and so many lives, for nothing. I cannot find words for this.


The U.S. Gunship that Slaughtered Doctors and Patients in Kunduz
The crews of the AC-130, a low, slow plane bristling with guns, don’t have to follow the same rules as those in other U.S. warplanes

The American warplane that apparently struck a Doctors Without Borders clinic in the embattled city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan on October 3, killing 22 people, was probably an AC-130 gunship — a lumbering, four-engine transport modified to carry a powerful arsenal of side-firing guns.

Maybe the gunship’s crew knew exactly where the clinic was in Kunduz, maybe it didn’t. Maybe there were Taliban fighters nearby, maybe there weren’t.

Regardless, the AC-130 blasted the vicinity of the clinic for more than an hour, repeatedly striking the medical facility. And the U.S. military’s lax rules allowed it to happen.

Packed floor to ceiling with high-tech sensors and radios and boasting a wide range of weaponry including 25-millimeter and 40-millimeter cannons plus a 105-millimeter howitzer, the AC-130 is supposed to be more accurate than other warplanes—and thus safer for innocent civilians in the line of fire.

But the Pentagon's rules for using the gunships actually make them less safe. Eager to take advantage of the AC-130’s firepower, the military actually requires relatively little scrutiny of the target area before a gunship crews opens fire, compared to the much greater restrictions the Defense Department imposes on the pilots of other aircraft types.

Owing to these loose procedures, the AC-130 could actually be one of the most dangerous U.S. warplanes for civilians caught in the crossfire. And yet it’s also the plane that American commanders sent into the chaotic combat in densely populated Kunduz, where U.S.-backed Afghan forces were locked in battle with Taliban fighters who captured the city in late September.

And where Doctors Without Border was working to save people, including children, who’d been injured in the fighting—unaware that their clinic was about to become a slaughterhouse.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters attacked Kunduz in the last week of September, quickly routing a much larger but poorly led Afghan National Army force. Encouraged by their American advisers and backed by U.S. warplanes, Afghan soldiers counter-attacked. Kunduz’s 300,000 residents were caught in the middle without adequate medical care.

Doctors Without Borders, a Paris-based humanitarian organization that’s also known by its French name Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF), sends medical personnel into even the most dangerous war zones. It has been at work in Kunduz for four years. The group said that on September 29 it relayed the exact location of its clinic in Kunduz to the U.S.-led coalition, in order to prevent the facility and its 180 staff and patients from coming under attack.

It’s not clear whether the military got the memo.

At 2:08 in the morning local time on October 3, the first munitions struck the clinic. The blasts continued at 15-minute intervals until 3:15, according to Doctors Without Borders. “The main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward, was repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched,” the group stated.

“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round,” Heman Nagarathnam, in charge of Doctors Without Borders’ programs in northern Afghanistan, said in the statement. “There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again.”
Owing to these loose procedures, the AC-130 could actually be one of the most dangerous U.S. warplanes for civilians caught in the crossfire.

“When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames,” Nagarathnam added. “Those people that could had moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds.”

Ten patients and 12 staff members died and 37 people were hurt, Doctors Without Borders stated. At least three of the dead patients were children, according to the group. The remaining medical personnel scrambled to get the surviving patients to hospitals in other Afghan cities, in some cases driving hours on rough roads.

On October 4, Doctors Without Borders said it was shutting down its Kunduz operation. “No medical activities are possible now in the ... hospital in Kunduz, at a time when the medical needs are immense,” spokesman Tim Shenk told The New York Times.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis Notes

Something tells me I need a notepad to track comments, links and reflections on last week's visit of Pope Francis to the US.
This Facebook exchange comes first.

Brian:  They can joke and prod Ben Carson about his take on a Muslim being president, but the wall-to-wall coverage of the Pope by the media and his reception by President Obama, Congress, and New York removes all doubt that the U.S.A. is still a nation based on Christianity, regardless of the statements made by President Obama and others, declaring the opposite.
John:  Why not just anoint the nation Roman Catholic? He sure fell short of a good many non-Catholic Christians finding fault with a big chunk of his messages. And not all are in a twist about abortion and queers. Just yesterday I ventured into a corner of evangelical Christianity to hear a man let me know he had been monitoring what the pope said and did, and when he spoke to the UN he never spoke the name of Jesus even once. To him that was all the evidence he needed to cast a dark shadow over everything else he may have done or left undone.

I don't know about where you live but anti-Catholic sentiments are alive and well where I live. There are plenty of people regarding the pope's visit as sacrilegious. Some may have serious arguments about whether or not he may be the anti-Christ. Do your own search for "is the pope the antichrist" and see what comes up. I get nearly two million links.

Saying that the president and others are "declaring the opposite" implies a binary take on what the president and others have said. It's the old "if you're not for us then you're against us" dichotomy. Declaring that the country is based on many faith traditions -- one of which is Christianity -- is not the same as saying the country is "not based on Christianity." This nuance is missed by many of the same people who argue that those of us who are pro-choice regarding abortion must therefore be pro-abortion. To my knowledge no one is PRO-abortion, even women who face that terrible CHOICE.

That same warped reasoning applies to what Dr. Carson and many others keep saying when they advocate a test of faith for the presidency. Ironically we went through this same mess leading up to the election of JFK. I remember it as though it were last week. And today's maligning of Muslims is every bit as ugly as the way Catholics (and anyone who didn't agree with their critics) were being criticized at that time. As Yogi Berra would say it's deja vu all over again. 
Brian:  I was being a bit facetious, but it's doubtful that an Imam, who is the leader of the Great Mosque of Mecca, a Protestant leader, or any other world religious leader would receive such coverage. 
John:   If your comment had any hint of being facetious I missed it. It reads pretty serious to me. As for a visiting imam, you're right. Unless and until the number of Muslim American followers reaches the numbers of Catholics it's not likely they would receive anything like the reception received by Pope Francis. The treatment and reception of the Dalai Lama is more comparable. That's not too bad but it's nothing close to the festivities of the week we just passed.
So during his sojourn in America the Holy Father surreptitiously met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. News of this didn't become public until after he left, but that news went a long way toward upsetting a lot of people who never imagined he would do such a thing. The official Vatican response has been to mute the story.

Pope Francis hung out privately with gay friends before accidentally shaking hands with Kim Davis
02 OCT 2015

Pope Francis

Pope Francis held a private meeting with a longtime friend who is gay one day before meeting briefly with anti-LGBT county clerk Kim Davis in a reception line.

Yayo Grassi, who has known the pope for more than 50 years, brought his longtime partner and several friends to the Sept. 23 meeting at the Vatican Embassy, reported CNN.

Pope Francis personally arranged the brief visit by email ahead of his visit to the United States, said Grassi — who had been a student in the pontiff’s literature and psychology classes in 1964-1965 at Inmaculada Concepcion high school in Argentina.

Grassi, who lives in Washington, D.C., told CNN that Pope Francis has known for many years that he is gay, but he had never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship.

“He has never been judgmental,” Grassi said. “He has never said anything negative.”

Yayo Grassi (Facebook)

The Vatican sought to downplay the significance of the pope’s meeting with Davis, who was jailed six days last month on contempt of court after she refused to follow court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

A senior Vatican official said Pope Francis met briefly with Davis along with several dozen other guests who had been invited by the Vatican ambassador to meet with the pontiff.

Pope Francis did not know the details of Davis’ situation and did not offer conditional support to the defiant county clerk, the official said.

Grassi, however, said the pope contacted him three weeks before the visit and invited him to meet with him.

“He called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,” Grassi told CNN.

The Vatican made an oblique reference to Grassi in its statement distancing the pope from Davis.

“The only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“That was me,” Grassi said.

Vatican to Replace Diplomat Who Set Up Kim Davis Meeting
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who has been controversial as the Vatican's ambassador to the U.S., is on his way out, sources say.
March 14 2016 
The Vatican is replacing its controversial ambassador to the U.S., who arranged the meeting between Pope Francis and antigay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last fall. 
Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò will leave the position of apostolic nuncio, the equivalent of an ambassador, and will be replaced by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a French-born clergyman who is currently the nuncio to Mexico, Catholic magazine America reports, citing Sandro Magister, a blogger who covers the Vatican.
[More at the link.]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Might Putin Do in Syria?

What will Russia do in Syria?  The question is impossible to answer even for Putin, because even he cannot reliably predict the future. Every move he makes, not only in Syria but everywhere, carries calculated risk. And the risk-reward calculus is an ever-changing target. Marvin Kalb offers this during last night's interview with Margaret Warner on PBS Newshour.
Vladimir Putin is a Russian czar. He’s kind of a mix of Peter the Great and Stalin. He’s got both in his veins. And he looks out first and foremost for the national security interests of Russia.
Listen closely to this interview and let the question of what might Putin do in Syria play in the background...

I was made aware of The Soufan Group by one of my Twitter contacts who monitors their analyses. The links below are all internal to that group's assessments, but all I have checked appear to be timely and accurate. And there is nothing secret here. This information is widely available from ordinary news sources.

This brief from The Soufan Group does not mention Putin (oddly since it is dated yesterday) but the analysis of Assad and Syria rings true. Reading between the lines, it is clear that Assad's moves are anything but random. Like Putin, he makes cold-blooded calculations about what best serves his interests. His risk-reward formula may look strange from outside, but his use of barrel bombs is targeted,not random. See the highlighted portion below.
For decades, the maintenance of autocratic regimes in the Middle East has been an exercise in popular bribery—and the Assad regime was no different. Before the start of the war, the Syrian economy was centered on a strong state, and designed in such a way so as to benefit those close to the government—primarily the Alawite elite—over all others. The remainder of the population was largely supported by government redistribution of resources in the form of subsidies, especially for fuel and food. The central government kept unemployment levels relatively low through its support for the agricultural sector, and through a bloated public sector. 
By the beginning of the protests in 2011, this artificial system had begun to crumble. Between 2006 and 2011, a severe drought crippled the agricultural sector, which accounted for 22.93 percent of Syrian GDP in 2009. In some regions of the country, as much as 60 percent of arable land and 85 percent of livestock were affected, and 800,000 agricultural workers lost their jobs. The subsequent rise in food prices removed a central cog of the popular complacency mechanisms that the Assad government had constructed, and the calculus for the general population changed. Without the support of subsidies, fear of the regime was no longer sufficient to prevent popular unrest. 
Now, after four years of war, both the government and the opposition forces find themselves facing a similar dilemma: how to maintain control of territory and resources while providing for the civilian populations under their control. The Syrian economy has been devastated by the war, and the current battleground is as much about economics as it is about politics. Oil resources—always important in conflict—are strategically vital to both the opposition and the regime. As the war drags on, control of agricultural resources has become increasingly important for the sustainability of each side. Control of border crossings is also critical, particularly for opposition forces along the northern border with Turkey
The Syrian government, for its part, has a distinct economic advantage over the opposition groups. The Assad regime remains in control of the central governance structure that ran the country before the war. Central banks are still functioning—albeit with dwindling reserves—and much of the bureaucratic structure is still operational, even in areas controlled by the rebels. The provision of services is significantly more consistent in regime-held areas than in rebel-held areas, helping to maintain popular loyalty in those territories. 
Before the war, Damascus and Aleppo were the economic powerhouses of Syria. Though Aleppo is now partially under rebel control, government air power has essentially destroyed any manufacturing capacity in rebel-held areas, preventing the opposition from generating revenue or providing for its own forces. The regime forces have done the same in rebel-held Idlib, which lies on key routes to Turkey and to the coast. The indiscriminate nature of Syrian government bombardment serves two central purposes: to drive out civilian populations, and to destroy any infrastructure that the opposition forces could use to support themselves. 
In addition, the highly publicized territorial losses of the regime have often been strategic, rather than acts of desperation. Though the regime only controls roughly 50 percent of the territory in Syria, the areas it does hold are vital to its sustainability. The Assad regime still controls much of the most productive agricultural land in the country, especially along the coast and the western border with Lebanon. Though it has lost the majority of the border with Turkey, the regime maintains one strategic beachhead at the border town of Qamishli, northeast of regime-held al-Hasakah. 
Of the rebel groups operating within Syria, the Islamic State has arguably the strongest economic base, drawn primarily from oil revenue generated from captured fields in both Syria and Iraq. In Syria, the Islamic State controls the majority of the oil producing regions, providing it with a key strategic resource and a ready supply of cash from black market oil and gas sales. The Islamic State also controls a key agricultural corridor along the Euphrates, from Raqqa all the way to the Iraqi border. While the loss of these oil producing regions have hurt the Assad regime, continued support from Iran—and to a lesser extent, Russia—has allowed the regime to cover the energy shortfall, albeit at a higher cost. 
Other rebel groups have developed their own strategies for acquiring key resources, to include: seizing cash reserves from state banks; looting captured government bases; selling industrial equipment; and kidnapping for ransom. However, the majority of economic support for rebel groups continues to come from foreign supporters, whether in the Gulf, Turkey, or the West. This reliance on foreign aid—and the necessity of maintaining control of border crossings in order to smuggle resources in—makes the economic base for the rebel groups significantly more tenuous. While the Assad regime has suffered severe setbacks since the start of the war, its economic base remains more stable. The Syrian government has, in many ways, adopted a siege mentality, and the Assad regime and its international allies are prepared for a long winter.
Two conclusions are clear. First, the Syrian diaspora is fueled deliberately, at least by Assad and possibly by Russia.  Those who are leaving may or may not have been loyal to Assad, but all happened to live in areas targeted for destruction by the conflict. Second, by reducing the number of bona fide loyalists, Assad is in effect rationing a shrinking source of resources, both financial and material, retaining only what he needs for survival.

How Putin puzzles into this quagmire has yet to be seen, but hopefully he will see the destruction of ISIS to be in his long-term best interests. Ultimately, of course, all parties will benefit from any cease-fire leading to peace, but that remains a fantasy at this point. Meantime, I found this at Soufan. 
The Islamic State cannot be bled to death but it can strangled; in part by denying the group fresh foreign fighters.

September 30, 2015

Events of the last twenty-four hours illustrate why I am opposed to military actions as a means of conflict resolution. The outcome may indicate which side or coalition are more powerful, but not which are right. One reality governs the outcome -- which side is victorious.
Russia has now joined the conflict involving Syria, ISIS, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Kurdistan. That makes seven recognized entities, not counting the US and a dukes mixture of groups trying to replace Assad, despite whatever chaos that would add to an already multifaceted conflict.

ISIS is the fountain of a conflict involving the other players, all of which share the common goal of destroying ISIS. That aim, the destruction of ISIS, is the only unifying force.If ISIS magically vanished overnight, however, that unifying goal would quickly give way to squabbling among this "accidental army" with each seeking a status quo ante, with rewards added for good work.

For insane reasons the president is being criticized for extricating America from this mess. Not counting centuries of shifting empires and tribal fighting, the roots of this conflict go back as far as World War One and involve a multitude of languages, religions and cultural traditions. And it's not an exaggeration to suggest that Syria, though we think of it as a single country, is a microcosm of several of these linguistic, religious and cultural groups.

So today Russian air strikes are reported in Syria, but not at targets known to be ISIS. In other words, Russia is protecting Assad by taking out rebel groups opposing him. If Assad did the same thing (or worse, using barrel bombs) he would be condemned for "killing his own people." Never mind, of course, that "his own people" are trying to destroy him. And I have heard at least one news report calling them "our allies."

Let's get something straight. Russia cannot be expected to do what the US has failed to do -- juggling multiple conflicts at once, hoping somehow it all works out. From where I stand it appears Putin is systematically doing one task at a time. And if he succeeds in emasculating ISIS (which is a long shot) he will get credit for succeeding where the US failed. 

As for Assad "killing his own people" my guess is that targeted military strikes are preferable to barrel bombs. [Wrong. See my note below.]   Prior to the Russian arrival I had an irrational wish that barrel bombs might stop since every barrel bomb is a gift to ISIS, and a Russian presence might be reassuring to Assad.  Reality, however, is more savage. Putin is a tyrant, too. It takes one to know one. He and Assad are BFF.

Update, a day or two later...
I was wrong about my layman's guess about the difference between barrel bombs and sophisticated air strikes.  An NPR reporter says people in the dangerous areas have adapted to the approach and destructive results of Assad's planes. They can be heard coming and people have learned to take cover, sometimes in underground shelters dug for that purpose. When the bombs are finished they then come out to resume their activities ("buying tomatoes" or other activities, for example). But the Russian planes are so high they cannot often be heard, and the strikes are sudden, severe and unexpected. Sophisticated air strikes are apparently far more terrible than barrel bombs.

September 28, 2015

WASHINGTON: In keeping with its increasingly aggressive behavior over the past two years, Russia is deploying lethal and long-ranged anti-aircraft defenses to keep Western forces out of three key regions: the Baltics, the Black Sea, and, now, the Levant. From where NATO’s top commander Gen. Philip Breedlove sits, the Russian forces flowing into Syria don’t look like counter-terrorists out to stop the Islamic State, which Vladimir Putin has said is his highest priority. They look like the first pieces of a layered “anti-access/area denial” system that could complicate US and allied operations in Syria and well beyond.

“Anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD, is a growing problem,” Gen. Breedlove told the German Marshall Fund this afternoon, speaking just hours before Putin’s teeth-clenched meeting with President Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The northernmost danger zone or “bubble” is the oldest, based out of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania. “Kaliningrad is a large platform for A2/AD capability,” Breedlove said. His subordinates Gen. Frank Gorenc and Lt. Gen. Ben Hodgeshave warned taht Kaliningrad-based missiles reach well into Polish airspace and could shut down NATO reinforcements to the Baltics in a crisis.

To the south, by contrast, Russia lacked a suitable forward base — until last year. “[Since] their occupation of Crimea, Russia has developed a very strong A2/AD capability in the Black Sea,” Breedlove said. “Essentially, their [anti-ship] cruise missiles range the entire Black Sea, and their air defense missiles range about 40 to 50 percent of the Black Sea.”

Now, it seems, comes Syria. “As we see these very capable air defense [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we’re a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Breedlove said. “We see some very sophisticated air defenses going into these airfields. We see some very sophisticated air-to-air [fighter] aircraft going into these airfields.”

The Islamic State has no air force that Russia might use such sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons to counter, Breedlove continued. “These very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about ISIL,” he argued, despite Putin’s publicly stated priorities.

Based on the military forces Russia is actually putting in place, Breedlove said, he believes Putin’s top priority is to protect Russian access to airfields and warm water seaports in the Eastern Mediterranean. The second priority, in service to the first, is to prop up Russia’s host, the Assad regime. Then third, he said, “After all of that, I think that they will do some counter-ISIL work to legitimize their approach to Syria.”

So what can NATO do about these expanding bubbles of no-go zones? First of all, in the Baltic and the Black Seas today, the alliance’s force can just go there, Breedlove said “to contest that they are not forbidden spaces” but international airspace and waters. Second, in case the shooting starts, it needs to invest in forces that can break the bubble.

“As an alliance, we need to step back and take a look at our capability in a military sense to address an A2/AD challenge,” Breedlove said. “This is about investment. This is about training.”

That investment must be across the board, Breedlove emphasized. “We have made great progress since Wales [i.e. the alliance’s 2014 summit],” he said. “We have increased the readiness and responsiveness of our NRF [NATO Response Force] and certainly the VJTF [Very High Readiness Joint Task Force]. We have given the SACEUR back authorities to alert and stage forces, etcetera….. but it’s not enough.”

“What really deters, I think, that is we increase the readiness and responsiveness of the entireNATO force structure,” Breedlove said, not just elite quick-reaction units like the NRF and VJTF. “We have to get to these investments, exercises, and training scenarios that raise the responsiveness and readiness of the whole force.”

Barack Obama was elected and re-elected in large part because a critical mass of Americans were and are opposed to sending US troops into foreign conflicts. As in many other matters (firearms safety, abortion and women's rights, response to climate change, the role of religion in public life, federal vs state powers of government, educational metrics and expectations) the public has been deeply polarized by a toxic mixture of partisan politics, the ability of vast fortunes to shape reporting narratives and a communications-industrial complex with three or four near monopoly players laced together with trans-national corporate and banking enterprises. 

Added to this picture is a presidential/Congressional election putting incumbents on pins and needles and challenger candidates into attack mode. Policy and position statements are larded with escape clauses and layers of plausible deniability, and even then armies of spinmeisters shape virtually any casual remark into whatever damning or supportive contour fits their particular agenda. 

The president advocates regime change in Syria putting him at odds with Putin who recognizes Assad as the legitimate head of state and all who oppose him as terrorists. One man's rebel is another man's traitor and it's hard to discern the difference when all blood, bullets and artillery look the same on the battlefield. Dead children might be the victims of a savage monster or the unfortunate collateral damage of legitimate targeting, depending on who makes the judgement. But in either case they are equally dead. And in the bitterest irony of all, American-made instruments of war are serving all sides of this conflict, having been donated, traded, sold, resold or captured -- or whatever provenance each might have. 

Now comes China...
China’s military advisers ‘heading to Syria to help fight ISIS’ – report

Russian President Vladimir Putin was recently asked about Russia’s presence in Syria, to which he replied that Russia’s activities are limited to supplying weapons to the Syrian government, training personnel and providing humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.

“We act based on the United Nations Charter, i.e. the fundamental principles of modern international law, according to which this or that type of aid, including military assistance, can and must be provided exclusively to the legitimate government of one country or another, upon its consent or request, or upon the decision of the United Nations Security Council,” Putin told CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ show.

Putin reiterated his support for Syria’s regular army – the army of President Bashar Assad. “He [Assad] is confronted with what some of our international partners interpret as an opposition. In reality, Assad’s army is fighting against terrorist organizations,” Putin said.

Russia’s president added that US attempts to train a Syrian opposition to take on Islamic State have failed. The US had aimed to prepare up to 12,000 fighters, but only 60 managed to complete the training and only four or five actually fought with the opposition, while others fled to IS with American weapons, Putin said, citing US Senate hearings.
“In my opinion, provision of military support to illegal structures runs counter to the principles of modern international law and the United Nations Charter,” he said.
Back in December, 2014, China offered to help Iraq in fighting Islamic State militants, volunteering to assist with airstrikes, but said it would not join the US-led coalition against ISIS.

In one of the latest atrocities committed by IS, the terror group used an online magazine to post pictures of two hostages, one Norwegian and one Chinese, putting the men up “for sale.”


[Web translation -- make of it what you will]

Sheikh al-Sham readers:  Jihad today to impose my eyes Baham Vlijahd each according to his ability, and I call upon Muslim scholars to declare jihad ...

Page Mujahid Sheikh Karim Rajeh
to Jihad !! ...
the name of God the Merciful
to Jihad ...
neighborhood on the Commission presented the heavens and the earth .. 

[O ye who believe! Fight those who Iloncm of the infidels and to find harshness in you]
[those who believe and migrated and struggled in the way of Allah with their wealth and themselves the greatest degree of God. And those are the winners] 

O Muslims everywhere, no longer a secret to a what Ebih unbelievers of cunning and deception and the power they prepared for us, and here they are Russians entering Syria Bakdahm and Qdeidahm and their flight kill and destroy, and cunning Americans and Western countries from behind .. and here they are they activate the Persians predecessors in entry Syria Ieithoa havoc, killing and sabotage, and here is Iraq destroyed before, and here they are treacherous rulers give them tincture of legitimacy - as they claim - in entering our country, though they called them to enter under the false cover of the legitimacy of their law. 

What I heard that the governor calling for the occupation of his country by the ruler of Syria .. Amazing to see and hear it !! And the whole world sees and hears, and we are in the era of human rights, and any such person and any rights to him !! And the rights of dogs in the world enemy that sabotages our homes greatest of human rights in the Arab countries, in Syria, in Iraq, in Palestine, in Yemen, in other of our countries. 

This in any case their business and their law as they claim, what is our business and our law are we?
We are the people speak and act according to our energy, and our rulers, we curse God and the angels and all the people understand .. traitors who have betrayed God and His Messenger, and the nation and peoples. And I say and issue fatwas including said scholars, and said scholars? 

They said: (If the infidels entered the town from a Muslim country - and here they are Russians entered Syria and before them the Persians enemies of Islam - and encamped close to her jihad to impose on them, they shall be the people of that country pay the infidels as they can, even if This obligatory includes boys and women, If he can not the people of that country get them moved obligatory to the nearest country of them, and so that the reign obligatory Muslims as a whole, they struggled Vmak, otherwise Baa angrily all of God, the enemy infidel and enabled from their necks and their country and their money and their women and their faith. 

I say: infidels; because it has become today a blatant, it is a war against Islam and Muslims and their country and their money not Shi only because they are Muslims, and Muslims only .. war carried out by the mixtures: Alawites, Shiites, Russians, Europeans, secular, Majnon .. and the Russians are doing a holy war, as you say their church .. If it is a war between infidelity and Islam, between polytheism and monotheism, between the devil and the Muslims .. Oaraftm you gawk of Arabs and non-Arabs who owed ​​the infidels allegiance ??. 

I therefore address the rulers honest people, and peoples vanquished, and the general Muslims that jihad has become an obligation in kind on Muslims . 

Jihad wider than the fighting, and fighting is part of jihad, it is as much as arms Vlijahd weapons, or pen Fbkulm, or tongue Fballsan, or money Fbalmal, or stone Fbahadjr, or nail Fbalozafar, or boycott of all kinds Fbalmqatah .. Vlijahd all what God gave him from scientific or material or physical ability or otherwise ... and we have to start with those rulers who Tgam devoid of honor and religion and patriotism. And here Jerusalem go and received the blessing of the Holy rulers who claim they are Arabs and that they belong to Islam. 

The Shiites Fmqatathm and jihad is the duty because they are sowing evil, and led the aggression and support.
I declared Jihad and Ojoppe at all levels and Juba in kind on every Muslim, and I hope that Lefty Muslim Scholars and their synagogues should be Jihad for the sake of God, and that the move in the countries of the entire world .. and he pointed out on the right dumb devil. 

Mohammad Karim Rajeh / Sheikh readers Sham