In the dark, cold winter of 1692 several young girls inexplicably began to manifest strange behaviours: spasms, cries of pain, loss of sight, strange visions, at times they became unmanageable, even belligerent. Disobeying parents and telling off the pastor in the church was unthinkable for an 8-year-old puritan girl of that era, but it this strange season it happened with disturbing regularity. What both tortured and emboldened these girls? Three possible answers lay before the troubled town of Salem. The girls were experiencing a physical malady, they were demon-possessed, or tortured by witches. Doctors came, and physical explanations were quickly ruled out. The nature of the girl’s ailments could only be diabolical. Leading questions were asked, the girls began to name names, and the witch hunt was on. In 9 months 14 women, five men and two dogs were all executed for being witches. During that frenzied nine months, many people opted to become bewitched to save their skins as the number of bewitched individuals increased so to did the number of accusations. The jails overflowed. Finally, the witch storm blew itself out, the sheriff quit, witch hunting was too exhausting. The governor’s wife was accused, and he wasn’t about to let her be prosecuted, and the desperate appeals of innocence from those who hung for their alleged crimes began to weigh on the collective conscience. Today everyone agrees that this was a gross miscarriage of justice. What can be learned?
- Defying authority was the bigger problem: The chief justice Stoughton and several of his judges were convinced already before the trials began that witchcraft was the problem. They were only interested in guilty verdicts. To declare one’s innocence was to challenge authority and ensure their wrath, that is what got you killed. 18 out of the 19 people of those executed maintained their innocence. It was only the ones who acknowledged their guilt in agreement with the judges that ultimately went free. This is how the whole fiasco managed to balloon so much. It didn’t take long to figure out that chances of survival increased with a confession, so people started admitted to the most inane stories of witchcraft one could imagine. In the interest of survival, they freely named names of others they suspected of being witches. When the trial ended, there were over 60 “guilty” witches stacked up like cordwood in the tiny prison. They all went free.
- There was one accused witch, a 71 one-year-old man name Giles Corey, who defied the court by refusing to say the words “By God and country” at the beginning of his hearing. Without saying these words, the trial could not proceed. This stubborn refusal upended the proceedings and infuriated the judges. They found a way around the impasse, by digging up a medieval law for what to do with someone who refused to plead, as Corey had done. Turns out “pressing” was the legal way to get the indigent Corey to say the words “By God and country” and thus to be able to move forward with the trial. Pressing involves lying the victim on the ground, covering him with a board and putting increasingly heavy stones on the board until he either says the magic words that would allow the proceedings to continue or he dies. Corey was indignant to the end, having lots of choice words for his persecutors none of which resembled the words “By God and country.”
- “Justice” was more interested in having someone to blame: Life was hard in 1692. It was no picnic to live on the frontiers of Massachusetts. Sometimes people try to make sense of things by blaming others for their misfortunes. Witches must be why all the Indian attacks are happening, why I can’t solve the land dispute with my neighbour, why my child died etc. If we do away with the witches we do away with our problems was the conventional wisdom. It also helped to ease the conscience if own blamed people less desirable. With only a few exceptions the community purged itself of its nastiest people.
- There was a catastrophic failure in understanding what constitutes legitimate evidence: The primary flaw was in the acceptance of spectral evidence. The accused could press charges against someone if they felt that person’s ghost had harassed them. There was no way to defend against such charges. Chief Justice Stoughton had no reservations about spectral evidence, though increasing numbers of people did. Other inferior quality evidence used to damn a person was the discovery of slightly raised discolouration on an accused person’s body. These “Devils teats” were a clear sign of guilt. The “touch test” was another abysmal means of establishing guilt.
- The rule of law appears to be a bit of a joke. Rebecca Nurse’s story is the saddest one of all. She was happily married to Francis for over 50 years, eight kids, many grandkids and great grandkids. She was named as a witch and accused based on spectral evidence. People could believe others were witches but not Rebecca. The trial was contentious, but the jury declared her “not guilty.” The judge was very unhappy with the verdict and told them to reconsider. During all the tumult of celebration on one side and disgust on the other, the judge ordered another accused witch to come in. Rebecca was surprised to see her prison mate at her trial and wondered allowed something to the effect of “what another one of us was doing here.” The jury under incredible pressure by the judge, asked Rebecca what she meant by “us.” was this the admission of guilt that the judge wanted? By using the pronoun “us” was she implicating herself as a witch? Rebecca then over 70 years old and nearly deaf did not hear the juries question so did not answer. The Jury took her silence as an admission of guilt and overturned their verdict. Phips, the governor, didn’t like the guilty verdict, so he reversed it again, Nurse was free, but only for a short while. When Phips left the colony, he appointed Stoughton as governor in his absence. Stoughton, the chief justice of the witch trials used his additional power as governor to secure the guilty verdict he wanted for Rebecca Nurse.
- Too many logical potholes and too many muzzled mouths. One observer noted that If the witches were so convinced on their innocence why would they choose the courtroom to bewitch their victims? (The girls regularly disrupted court proceedings with outbursts) This visible logical pothole was ignored, along with stories that consistently contradicted each other. There are dozens of questions that if asked would have assuredly unravelled the prosecution, but there was no one able or willing to ask them. Unfortunately, at that time in history, defence lawyers were not invented yet and the accused by, and large were scared out of their minds. Most people were scared out of their minds, to object to the hunt often resulted in finding oneself accused of witchcraft.
- I would do anything for love. Something ailed the original girls to be sure, but one factor that helped them carry on in their state of distress was love. Most of these girls received frighteningly little attention, and now all of a sudden the entire town was concerned for their safety and well-being. Never before in the history of Puritan New England had little children received such affection and care. Why stop it? For many of these girls they were only too happy to play their roles with distinction, the pay they received in affection was worth it.
In the end, the blame should go on Stoughton the chief justice. He, in my opinion, did everything wrong. He assumed guilt, had little patience for objections, badgered the accused, forced convictions, ignored good evidence, accepted terrible evidence, and condemned the innocent without a hint of remorse or even sober second thought. He failed to listen to a growing chorus of clergy and other learned men who warned him of clear points of concern in the whole debacle. Even though the entire affair was admitted to be a terrible mistake within decades of the events, Stoughton remained untouched for his gross negligence in the whole incident. That is a shame.
We have here in Peterson a man of great courage, intelligence and help for any humble enough to double check their pre-suppositions and listen well. Most of us want to be accepted culturally; we want our ideas to fit well with popular ideology. Peterson cares nothing about that. It’s no surprise that Babylon Bee, the Christian news satire organization granted him “honorary Christian status.”. He’s saying a lot of what Christian’s have been saying for years. Below are some of his most juicy counter-cultural bits.
Humanity is evil
Humanity is good
We all naturally get along
People don’t typically want to hurt each other.
The truest thing about any of us is our propensity toward evil. We hurt people with full knowledge that it will hurt them. Only the human has made an art form out of torture. The Nuremberg trials were the most significant event in the 20th century because the world agreed that evil is real. If evil is real then good must also be real. Clarity on good and evil is what creates the moral fabric of society. Christianity, for Peterson, is not true in any historical sense, but it’s true when it comes to good and evil. The rejection of Christianity is why the 20th century played out the way it did. The bloodbath came as a direct result of the moral vacuum created by the dismissal of Christian thought.
How does the acknowledgement of our evil help anything? Instead of spending valuable energy trying to disguise it you can confess it, then use it as motivation to push hard toward’s the light. The realization that we have the capacity of a Nazi prison guard becomes a good thing in helping us all make sure we don’t.
Humanity needs Religion
The ancient religions tell true stories but not in any objective, historical, or scientific sense. The invaluable truth is in the moral drama played out in the stories. These stories give understanding to life which is something science can never do. It’s not difficult to see why some people get irritable and even violent when their belief systems are attacked. Belief is the greatest thing any human has in the assistance of living. Belief is the great antidote for chaos. Nihilism is the real enemy of humanity and faith keeps it at bay.
It is cruelty not to punish your kids
“Adultism” equates disciplining your child with other unacceptable perspectives like sexism and racism. Peterson gives no quarter to this idea. Reward and punishment consistently and carefully administered is the only way to raise children. “Two-year-olds are the most depraved humans on the planet,” says Peterson “they’re violent and selfish, and they must be taught. It’s cruel not to teach them.” Enforcing basic boundaries is an obvious necessity. He recommends limiting rules as much as possible and using the minimum force necessary to implement them, but kids must be taught.
Christians should be tougher
Peterson likes Christianity, that is obvious, but not Christianity that doesn’t stand up for itself. He says, “Christianity is not a call to victimize oneself in the service of others… Taking care of yourself doesn’t include being beat up!… It’s not virtuous to be victimized by a bully. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” I resonated with this, but also wonder how this “don’t mess with me” perspective fits with Jesus’ admonition to take up our cross and follow him. It’s not always clear to me when it is Christian humility to defer to someone or if that is just weakness.
Using “the finished work of Christ” as an excuse for non-action was a terrible idea.
Nietzsche, Yung, and Marx were all extremely critical of Christianity because of the Christian emphasis on the finished work of Christ. This belief affected some prominent Christian people in such a way that they felt they were not responsible for working to make the world a better place. Redemption had already been accomplished in Christ, and so the status quo could remain. Communism came to be as a direct reaction to this apathy. Carl Yung said that the explosion of science as an effort to fix the wrongs of the world came about as a result of this same theologically based in-action. I wonder if this is one of the terrible unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation? Catholics emphasized works but then used works as a hammer of oppression. The Protestants removed that hammer but then also, perhaps, the impetus to change the world.
Western culture brought about by white men is not as terrible as you’ve been led to believe
What has this “terrible western patriarchy” brought us? A comparatively uncorrupt political and economic system. Technology, wealth, increased lifespan, freedom, luxury and opportunity are all gifts from this “terrible oppressive system.” All cultures take with one hand and give something back with the other. Western culture has given more back than any other culture. To reduce our culture to simply an “oppressive system” is ungrateful, untrue and dangerous. Hierarchy exists everywhere. It’s not wrong or right, it just is. Culture creates winners and losers. Healthy cultures like Western culture have many levels and grades of success which can be noted and appreciated. We can all be winners without being equals.
The idea of a master plan where men simply tyrannized and controlled woman before the feminist revolution is false. Men invented feminine pads, tampons, and anesthetic to help women in childbirth and birth control. Did these men do so to oppress women or free them? (My wife astutely pointed out that perhaps they invented these things to benefit themselves. This possibility Peterson fails to suggest in his book.) Ultimately, Peterson’s big point is that freedom is Western culture’s overall goal, not oppression. The prevailing narrative that white men, in particular, are oppressors and destructive is not true. While abuse and exploitation have occurred, the dominant narrative arc of Western civilization has been a slow, and thoroughly imperfect, march towards freedom.
Marginalized men wreck society
Peterson makes a direct link between the softening of masculinity and the right-wing extremism of Donald Trump. When society forces men to be gentled and weak, when men are put down and villainized for their masculine behaviours they will always revolt in extreme directions, becoming either fascists or antisocial video-game-playing losers. Peterson laments that the universities are already emptying of men. Our society needs to celebrate and encourage masculine characteristics like competition, leadership, independence, risk and struggle. In the long run, this is better for women. Children of father-absent homes are four times as likely to be poor, twice as likely to commit suicide, and are at much higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse. Men no longer know where they belong in society and that spells trouble for everyone.
Inequality as the greatest evil is a lousy idea with terrible consequences.
The insane and insensible postmodern insistence that all gender differences are socially constructed comes from the false pre-supposition that all inequalities must be eliminated. Our society seems to want to believe that inequality is the greatest evil and hierarchy or distinction of any kind is wrong. For Peterson, these pre-suppositions must be rejected because they run right over the truth, prove themselves to be logically inconsistent and create havoc for our society.
- Taking care of yourself does not mean getting what you want or doing whatever makes you happy.
- Picking the right friends will push you in the right direction not pull you in the wrong direction and don’t worry about being overly compassionate. Jesus loves sinners to be sure, but you’re not Jesus so pick good friends!
- The triad of evil is arrogance, deceit, and resentment; however, listening to resentment can help you address what’s wrong.
- Do you want your kids to grow up safe or grow up strong? If the answer is strong, then you will be able to give them the tools to grapple with the chaos of life. Safety first is not the best way when it comes to raising kids.
- Christianity is far less barbaric than any other society. It was the unique Christian idea of the worth of an individual soul that turned the world upside down and ended slavery. People migrate West not East for a reason: It’s because Christian roots taste better.
This is one of those books where you have to stop every few pages, look at the front and back covers, searching for something that says “fiction” as you say to yourself, “This isn’t a true story – is it? No, it can’t be true!” Turns out it is true.
So what happens? A little girl from a fractured home grows up and gets the itch to travel. The story is about all of her adventures, which seem harmless enough at first, until her wanderlust brings her into dangerous places. Much to her family’s disapproval, she is able to spend significant time in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places, barely skirting death on several occasions.
High stakes adventuring is what Amanda wanted, and so it seemed to her that the ultimate prize would be Somalia. What better place was there to risk it all? This war-torn state is a veritable treasure trove of peril and uncertainty!
She talks an ex-boyfriend into going with her and off they go. Things unravel quickly from there. After only 4 days, they are captured and held for ransom for 15 brutal months. During that time, Amanda is starved, beaten, raped repeatedly, tortured, and in every way abused. In the end, a ransom amount is arranged privately with the families of the two captives and a release is arranged. This book is troubling to read, so it would not be for the faint of heart or the squeamish. What did I learn?
- Just Business — From the very beginning, Amanda’s captors constantly proved their devotion to Allah through the vigorous keeping of endless rituals. They also exhibited a genuine care for their fellow Muslim brothers, but the trajectory of devotion to God, which should result in care for other humans, never reached Amanda. Why? Amanda was a business project. Her captors were actually apologetic at times, “Just business, Amanda, nothing personal – your family just needs to pay the ransom” ~boot to the head!~ How is it possible to see another human being in this less-than-human way? That question leads me to my second point.
- That Which Your Right Hand Possesses — Repeatedly, Amanda’s captors, almost in gentle ways, told her to get accustomed to the treatment she was receiving, especially the rape. What was their justification for such actions? The Koran. In it, it is ok for sexual relationships to happen with both one’s wives and any woman “That your right hand possesses.” “We possess you, Amanda, so there is nothing wrong with what we are doing to you.” Lovely 😦
- Nothing to See Here — At one point in the story, Amanda and her partner manage a daring escape. They flee to the one place they figure they will find a sympathetic and compassionate ear. They burst into a mosque full of worshippers, and cry out for help. In broken Somalian, they explain that they have been kidnapped and abused. The elders of the mosque confer with the kidnappers who arrive breathless and angry a few minutes later. After a short conversation they are handed back over to the kidnappers. Only one woman objects, but she is violently kicked to the side. How in God’s name would you not intervene if someone in such a deplorable condition as Amanda barged into your church service pleading for help? It is inconceivable to me.
- You’re Still A Woman and A Slave Even If You Convert — As a survival tactic, Amanda converted to Islam. But it did little to improve her situation – she was after all still a woman, and still a slave, Throughout her captivity, she was told repeatedly of her lowly status. As a good Muslim, she would have to make peace with her station in life. It is the will of Allah. The only improvement offered to her was the promise that if she married one of her captors, they would untie her, let her live in an upstairs room with a window, and have lots of babies.
- Ritual Is All That Matters — Amanda as a Muslim now needed to make sure she shaved her pubic hair, but not pluck her eyebrow hair. She needed to preform her daily ablutions. It was critical for her to learn the Koran and pray five times a day. Correct pronunciation of Arabic words in her prayers became critical. Her standing as a good Muslim or a bad Muslim depended on it. She must observe Ramadan, and keep her eyes lowered in the presence of men. These are the things that mattered. Not compassion or mercy or justice. Jesus bumped into a similar sort of situation in his day. He was not amused – see Matthew 23.
This is Amanda’s story. It is not a direct attack on the religion of Islam per se, but it’s impossible not to become skeptical of that particular religion after reading this book. Is what Amanda experienced just a perversion of Islam or just the way it is? Is this what Islam becomes if you are serious about upholding its beliefs? To me it seems like the more one devotes one’s life to Islam, the more justifications there are for what happened to Amanda. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.
What about Jesus? For my Muslim friends and indeed for all the world, I say follow him. The more one becomes devoted to Jesus the more the needy are helped, the more equality and value for all humans becomes the norm, the more captives are freed, and the more humanity flourishes. Whatever ones official religion, to follow Jesus is never a mistake. I just finished reading Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce, the Christian statesman who in the late 1700’s fought for 40 Years to abolish the slave trade. If ever there was a dramatic counterpoint to this story, it is Amazing Grace. I challenge you to read both books back to back and ask yourself the question, which faith story is the better one to shape your life around.
They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old male or female — 2 Chron 15:13
Then when the Sacred months have passed, kill the Mushrikun (Idol worshipers including trinitarian Christians) wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them and prepare for them each and every ambush. — Surah At-Tauba 9:5
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! — Matt 5:44
With the exception of Jesus’ counter cultural words in Matthew 5, the two passages from the Bible and the Quran above are perfect examples of what religion was capable of prior to the Enlightenment.
For some in the religious community the coming of the Enlightenment will be seen as a disaster for faith. I don’t see it that way. Thanks to the enlightenment in the west, Religion was transformed from an involuntary truth to a voluntarily accepted possibility. The movement from involuntary to voluntary transformed how the vast majority of the Western world understands religion today. I believe the shift from involuntary to voluntary is a good one that the entire world should embrace.
As crashing waves slowly erode a shore line, the enlightenments steady pounding of “question everything, believe nothing, human reason above all” began to fracture the steady shorelines of Europe. Nothing could stop this tide. The mantra of “human reason first of all” created healthy (and unhealthy) scepticism which eroded irreversibly so much of what was involuntarily accepted as true in that day, no place was left untouched by this rising tide, most especially religion. The firm shorelines of religion in Europe began to crumble for some very understandable reasons:
There had been a couple hundred years of religious war between Catholics and Protestants which had ended in stailmate with all sides exhausted, and beginning to think “there has to be a better way”. In addition the development of dozens and dozens of denominations since the reformation was enough to cause even the most religious of people that niggling feeling in the back of their mind that the right path to God might be little more than a best guess. Then it happened, science slipped passed theology in the race for supremacy. God no longer informed us about science. Science informed us about God. Eventually, sufficient amounts of doubt took the fight out of religious zealots. Was there really a need to clobber someone over the head just because they didn’t believe as you did? The answer was becoming increasingly clear: No.
If one wished to journey towards God that trip would have to be a voluntary trip based on all sorts of information, evidence, tradition and experience. Before the enlightenment, the idea of voluntary religion was unthinkable. Theology was at the heart of knowing. Ones understanding of God was all that mattered everything else in life was just details. People were born into certain systems of belief and these systems were true and unquestioned. To wander from the truth for any reason was dangerous to the community and damning for the soul. Thus responsible leaders both political, military and religious embraced their duty to stamp out heresy and false belief. The eternal destiny of their people mandated aggressive action. The assumption of meta-physical truth being known conclusively is what the enlightenment destroyed.
Many parts of Islam have not yet gone through any sort of enlightenment. Unlike Western religions, Islam is not a voluntary belief system yet, that means it’s adherents are not free to determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their faith. For many Muslim systems, the Quran (and Hadith in some cases) is still the diffinitive truth that must be believed at all costs. Life both now and forever depend on it. Any threat to this belief must be destroyed.
- Ancient Jews were part of an involuntary system of religion. (Hence the verse above)
- Middle age & post reformation Christians were part of an involuntary system of religion, (Hence the religious wars in Europe during that era) — Sadly, Jesus’ call to love those in opposition was pushed aside in this era. The most important thing in order to maintain law and order was to punish someone whose belief system was not in accord with everyone else’s.
- Many modern day Islamists are still a part of an involuntary system of religion. (Hence the never ending gruesome news reports coming from many Muslim countries around the world) as long as a belief system remains a compulsory non optional reality, for it’s followers, there will always be bloodshed. Protecting the absolute truth of ones belief system will always be infinitely more important than the life of ones enemy or even ones own life as the seemingly endless line of suicide bombers testify.
Granted, it’s disconcerting for a faith position to be relegated to optional. Jesus for example, claimed that he was “the truth” such definitive statements don’t leave a whole lot of options on the table. How must a doubt soaked post enlightenment Christian come to grips with this claim? How must he share this claim with others?
Let healthy doubt create humility. What would be wrong with saying “Jesus might be the truth, and this is why I think he is”? Nothing in my estimation. We will never go back to involuntary religion, so the verbal bluster that comes from that era should be dropped. I also think we should take seriously, the words that Jesus gave us about loving those who oppose us. In the post enlightenment scientifically based world it will be impossible to know with clinical certainty existential truth based on ancient historical narrative, therefore we simply can’t have an arrogant swagger when it comes to presenting what we believe to be true. Faith is the confidence we have in what we cannot see, but our senses will more easily grasp what cannot be seen, if everything we do is wrapped in love. This is good advice for all the religions of the world.
This less dogmatic, more unsure stance will be completely unpalatable for some strong believers who have managed to avoid the doubt that comes with the enlightenment. For me, letting go of some certainty regarding my faith is a tremendous step forward in developing a world of peaceful coexistence, and even peaceful cooperation. Easing up on personal certitude in order to embrace the free will that comes with voluntary religion is infinitely better than the shallow benefits of confidence, conformity, and security that come with involuntary religion.
They tell the prophets,
“Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things.
Tell us lies.
2700 years ago the people wanted religion, but they wanted it to suit them, to make them happy and comfortable. This is exactly the kind of religion many in our world desire today. Religion that doesn’t actually make any claims, religion that doesn’t actually give directives for life, religion that doesn’t take a moral stance on anything. We want a religion that isn’t hard and doesn’t require sacrifice. Much to be preferred is a religion that just makes you feel good about yourself. Meditate, stretch, breathe, feel good, repeat. The principle deity of “tell us nice things religion” is self. In the end, self is a poor choice for a deity.
4 Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;
let them proclaim your power.
5 I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor
and your wonderful miracles.
God is worth worshiping, obeying and praising because God has acted in time and space in human history. When the people of God were delivered from Egypt, they actually experienced the events of God’s miraculous intervention. Do the people of God today experience such things? Not so much. Interestingly, this Psalm was written about 1000 years after the events It speaks of. We in modern times prefer current events over history. We want the God of today not yesterday. We want the God of the now not the God of the future. This is understandable. The cry of our time is ” live in the moment” but where is God in the every day? Sometimes I don’t know, except to say “to love another person is to see the face of God” True God faith will result in sacrificial love for other people which will make the world a better place. To believe in God is to walk away from self absorption. Though I can’t see God I can see his path and I like it very much.