Hiring this Spring

This spring I am looking for part time help with data entry for a history curriculum. The application will be open for the month of April. For anyone interested, please apply here.

Censorship in Czarist Russia and Canada

From the Diary of John Korb, a secretary of the Austrian legation at the court of Peter the Great:

11th July, 1698.— The wife of a diak {i.e. a chancery secretary) happening to pass in front of the gibbet that was erected in front of the Czar’s castle of the Kremlin in the late rebellion, compassioning the fate of those that she beheld hanging there, inadvertently exclaimed, “Alas ! what mortal knows whether you were guilty or innocent?” These words were repeated to another person, who forthwith denounced them to the Boyars as an indubitable indication of treason.

A woman’s pity for condemned and public criminals was deemed dangerous. So she was forthwith dragged up, along with her husband, to an examination. Now, when it was proved that there was nothing more in question than unreflecting and womanly compassion for the unfortunate, and that there was no trace of deliberate malice, they were indeed exempted from the penalty of death, but nevertheless condemned to exile. Thus thoughtless and guileless liberty of the tongue is chastised where subjects are coerced to obey through fear alone.

Source

Premier Doug Ford, like his counterpart here in Alberta, is a spineless political hack who fired one of his staffers, Marion Isabeau-Ringuette, for donating to the trucker convoy after she was doxxed by the CBC. In doing so, Doug Ford bowed to the boyars at the CBC and their czarist masters. Featuring prominently in this shameful chapter of Canadian history are the conservative premiers and MP’s who sat idly by while Trudeau ran roughshod over their constituents. One wonders if they have any convictions or principles at all? Or do they think that people protesting the perpetual forced injections of an experimental substance really are terrorists? Not even Peter the Great, who made sport of pulling out the perfectly good teeth of his subjects, would have dared to attempt what our Dear Leaders have done in the past two years. And Peter was a satanist.

A collection of teeth pulled by Peter the Great, many of which were perfectly healthy. From the Kunstkammer Wien.

Manitoba MP, Raquel Dancho, is clearly an exception.

Jason Kenney and Coutts Crossing

Jason Kenney is in no position to declare the barricade at Coutts Crossing illegal. He has spent the better part of a year coercing and manipulating Albertans to take an experimental drug therapy, a therapy which under the Moderna brand has been banned in multiple countries for men under thirty due to its harmful side effects. How many men in Alberta under 30 were coerced into taking the Moderna drug therapy before Hinshaw tweeted that young men should no longer receive it? And don’t forget the lotteries and the “restriction exemption program” for the “vaccine hesitant”. All of this shows the utter contempt Kenney has for Albertans. He has treated us like animals who respond to stimuli rather than human beings who must and can be reasoned with. I would like to see Kenney prosecuted before a court of his peers for coercing Albertans to take an experimental drug therapy. We should be free to take it upon our doctor’s recommendation but not at the point of a bayonet.

The imposition of lock downs has resulted in a debt supernova with total debt in the province now projected to hit 115.8 billion by then end of the fiscal year 2021-2022. Consider for a moment that in 2004 Ralph Klein was widely celebrated for eliminating Alberta’s debt which had previously stood at around 3.7 billion. Contrast this with the 20 billion dollar deficit racked up by Jason Kenney in just the past year! Interest on the debt now stands at 2.7 billion per year, more than the entire operating revenue from the oil sands, even as interest rates remain at historic lows. (Calgary Herald) We have effectively, over the course of the last several years, consigned our children to lives of debt servitude. And to what end? …mountains of plexiglass, rivers and lakes full of masks, a gaping hole in children’s education, and a hollowed out small business sector. Meanwhile the monopolists on Bay and Wall Street are buying everything that isn’t nailed down. This is the real crime.

The beauty of the Coutts barricade is that Kenney can no longer repeal the mandates on his terms. He must do so now on our terms. It is perhaps a matter of optics, but it makes all the difference.

God bless the truckers (and farmers, and the citizens of Coutts who are supplying the truckers with 500 sandwiches and gallons of coffee per day). Stand strong!

Donate here to help with legal fees of truckers at Coutts Crossing.

Les Miserables is set in the early 1800’s. The novel concludes with with June Revolution of 1832. This is not the French Revolution.

Take a Stand

It was the year 735 BC. The kingdom of Judah had already lost most of its territory in the Transjordan to Rezin, the powerful king of the Aramaeans. Sensing weakness, Philistia and Edom had begun to attack from the south and west. Meanwhile, in the northern kingdom of Israel, Pekah and his band of Gileadite soldiers had staged a bloody coup. Pekah was almost certainly a Manchurian candidate whose rise to power was engineered by Aram. Judah’s only consolation was King Jotham, a good king. But for reasons that remain unclear, in 735 BC Jotham was replaced by his son Ahaz. That very same year news reached Judah that Rezin and Pekah were planning to attack Judah and replace Ahaz with a certain Ben-Tobeel from the Transjordan. If successful, Aram would have a client king on the thrones of both Ephraim and Judah. The year 735 BC was a year of conspiracy and fear.

Judah was by no means a weak and indefensible kingdom as some have maintained, but it had little chance of defeating the combined forces of Rezin and Pekah. According to the Kurkh Monolith from a century earlier (c. 850 BC) the combined forces of Aram and Israel at the Battle of Qarqar numbered 3200 chariots, 1200 horsemen, and 30,000 foot soldiers. The battle fought at Qarqar against the Assyrians was at that time the largest land battle ever recorded. It probably ended in a draw which was a good outcome for the western allies. But now these very same forces were massing on Judah’s northern border. The prophet Isaiah captures the mood of the moment: “And the heart of the king and the hearts of the people shook like the trees of the forest before the wind.”

It has sometimes been suggested that Isaiah was a royal scribe. His supreme command of the Hebrew language seems to necessitate some kind of scribal training. But the prophet was most likely an outsider when he was called by God to deliver a message to king Ahaz of Judah. Isaiah addressed the king from outside the walls of the city in the hearing of all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. “Be on guard. Be quiet. Do not be afraid. Don’t let your heart be timid.” Although Rezin and Pekah have devised a plan against you, they will not succeed. It will not happen. It shall not stand!

But Ahaz brushed the prophet off. Isaiah’s message ran counter to the “chirping and muttering” of the necromancers and mediums that surrounded the king. He had already decided to send a messenger to Tiglath Pileser III, the king of Assyria, with enough money to purchase the Assyrian king’s support. However Isaiah was not so easily dismissed. He pressed the matter further by offering to perform a miracle in view of the king and all the people. “Ask for a sign, in the highest of heavens or in the deepest parts of the earth!” But the heart of the young king was already inclined towards evil. He piously declared that he did not wish to put the LORD to the test.

An alliance between Judah and Assyria made a lot of sense in terms of realpolitik. And Ahaz’s policy was successful in the short term. Tiglath Pileser III attacked Aram and the northernmost tribes of Israel which took the pressure off of Ahaz. But the payments to Assyria never ended. In the end Ahaz was forced to strip the temple of its furnishings even as Assyrian “aid” became an unbearable yoke around Judah’s neck.

After Isaiah’s encounter with Ahaz, God spoke to the prophet and commanded him, “do not call conspiracy what this people calls conspiracy, and do not be afraid of what this people fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:12-13 ESV) This is the central theme of Isaiah 7-8. There is an unholy fear that makes us susceptible to manipulation and drives us to take actions we never could have contemplated before.

In his book, Dark Persuasion, Joel Dimsdale cites historical examples of how fear has been used by governments and corporations as a means of gaining power and changing people’s behavior. The following is a brief summary based on several of his lectures which are available here and here. One of the questions the author addresses is why so many U.S. POW’s collaborated with the enemy (as many as 15%) and why 20 POW’s chose to relinquish their citizenship completely and live in China or Russia after the Korean War.

With a death rate of over 30% the prison camps in North Korea where among the worst in modern history. So when American POW’s were transferred from North Korea to Chinese camps they were surprised by the lenient treatment they received. However, it soon became apparent that the Chinese were using the “iron fist in a veiled glove” tactic in order to break the prisoners. They segregated the enlisted men from the officers, fomented distrust by soliciting informants, and interfered with the prisoners mail by ensuring that the only letters filled with bad news from home were delivered to the prisoners. The Chinese were relentless in their demands, many of which were irrational and absurd, and required tokens of participation from the prisoners, no matter how trivial.

Many POW’s became apathetic, and morale plummeted so low that only 13 percent of the men showed much concern for their fellows; informing on another prisoner was common.1Dimsdale 2021, 77

Jolly West summarized the methods employed by the Chinese communists with the acronym DDD:

  • Dread – make them afraid
  • Debility – inflict suffering
  • Dependency – make them dependent on you

There is a fourth D in one of Dimsdale’s slides which I also think is worth taking note of.

  • Dissociation – isolate them from their leaders, friends, family, church, and community

A commission was established after the war to investigate the conditions American POW’s faced in the Communist internment camps. One of the doctors called upon to give testimony during the hearing was Charles Mayo. Mayo reported that,

“the Communists were using Pavlov’s conditioned reflex tricks. The prisoners resistance was punished by kicks and slaps to the face…with threats of death. Signs of cooperation on the other hand were rewarded with slight increases in rations, with promises of better treatment soon.

No wonder that some of our prisoners… were brought down to that animal level of response where resistance was associated with death,…and where survival on any term seemed more important than moral principles. If anything is surprising to me, it is that so many of our soldiers—both those who [falsely] confessed and those who did not… somehow continued throughout to act like men.”

The Korean War and the Birth of Brainwashing

Mayo makes reference to Ivan Pavlov whose experiments with behavior modification on dogs (and later on humans) were influential in shaping Soviet propaganda. When Lenin visited Pavlov at his Institute of Experimental Medicine, Lenin stayed for over two hours and talked with Pavlov about his discoveries. Lenin wanted to know if, “Pavlov’s experiments could bolster the states efforts to mold the new soviet man…?”

Pavlov: Do you mean you would like to standardize the population of Russia, make them all behave in the same way?

Lenin: Exactly, that is what I want, and you must help us by your studies of human behavior.

Pavlov and the Soviets

And what was the mechanism by which the population of Russia could be standardized? The answer Pavlov and Lenin agreed upon was “proper education.”

Lenin: Does this mean hereditary factors can be overcome by proper education?

Pavlov: Under certain circumstances yes, they can be overcome. Conditioned reflexes can abolish natural instinct.

Lenin: That’s fine, excellent, that’s exactly what I wanted to know.

Pavlov and the Soviets

Pavlov likened proper education to the “conditioning of reflexes,” a reference to Pavlov’s most famous experiment in which he trained dogs to salivate with the ringing of a bell. To equate education with a purely physiological process such as this reveals something about Pavlov’s pathologically twisted mind. Both Lenin and Stalin generously funded Pavlov’s research and gave him access to psychiatric patients upon which to test his theories. (Note: The above description of conditioned reflexes does not come from Dimsdale’s two lectures. It is probably explained in his book which I hope to read at some point.)

In response to Soviet and Chinese advances in human behavior modification, the CIA set up its own research program. They gave America’s foremost neurologist, Harold Wolff, the task of developing new methods of ‘coercive persuasion’ or what popularly became known as ‘brain washing’. Wolff used covert funding provided by the CIA to found the Human Ecology Program. In one telling exchange, a CIA agent inquired about a potential research program.

White (CIA): What is the possibility of working out a graph indicating the state of panic of the enemy, based upon the varying degree of pressure used?

Harold Wolff: Yours is a very provocative notion and I am sure it could be documented. Warm regards.

The Korean War and the Birth of Brainwashing

Warmest regards to you too, Harry… down there.2Harold Wolff collaborated with the CIA to collect information on a wide variety of torture methods, and stated the intention that his research program would: …assemble, collate, analyze and assimilate this information and will then undertake experimental investigations designed to develop new techniques of offensive/defensive intelligence use … Potentially useful secret drugs (and various brain damaging procedures) will be similarly tested in order to ascertain the fundamental effect upon human brain function and upon the subject’s mood … Where any of the studies involve potential harm of the subject, we expect the Agency to make available suitable subjects and a proper place for the performance of the necessary experiments.— Dr. Harold Wolff, Cornell University Medical School (from Wikipedia)

I wonder what graphs are being used today by our health bureaucracies to determine the level of pressure required to induce a “state of panic” that will ensure compliance with the “health” mandates? Media outlets have for more than a year and a half published a constant stream of statistics: cases, hospitalizations, deaths, vaccination rates, variants, etc. The news desk and commentators on our local talk radio station here in southern Alberta, AM 770, have consistently promoted the most extreme measures to combat the pandemic. Dissenting voices such as those of Danielle Smith and Michael Campbell have gone silent.

Our premier, Jason Kenney, has wavered between offering public assurances and panic. On several occasions he warned that without decisive action case numbers would continue to rise and our healthcare system would collapse. What we thought would be a wave, Kenney warned, was about to become a tsunami. He said this even as case numbers were cresting and beginning to decline in other parts of North America. Fear has driven Kenney’s response to this crisis every step of the way. Now his government has imposed truly radical and restrictive policies on Albertans. And every form of persuasive coercion is being brought to bear.

  • wildly inaccurate projections (dread)
  • terrible reports about new ‘variants’ (dread)
  • constant reporting on numbers of dead and hospitalized (dread)
  • threat of job loss (debility)
  • lock-downs (debility and dissociation)
  • exclusion (dissociation)
  • mockery (debility)
  • forced masking (dissociation)
  • silencing of opposition (dissociation)
  • generous government programs (dependency)
  • restoration of freedoms (dependency)

These measures have proven ineffectual and have come at a staggering cost but that is not the point. What is most concerning is how many in Alberta have embraced these mandates and restrictions. In future years historians studying this period in our history will be presented with a paradox similar to that of the American POW’s who embraced their captors during the Korean War. Did Kenney set out to strip Albertan’s of their freedoms, ruin their institutions and destroy their businesses? No, I don’t believe so. But his policies are responding to fear. And I believe this fear is being driven by those who have much to gain from it. We are all Fauci’s dogs now.

De Tocqueville observed that true and lasting success is never achieved by men grasping and clawing after life as though it were an end in itself.

In ages of faith, the final end of life is placed beyond life. The men of those ages, therefore, naturally and almost involuntarily accustom themselves to fix their gaze for many years on some immovable object toward which they are constantly tending; and they learn by insensible degrees to repress a multitude of petty passing desires in order to be the better able to content that great and lasting desire which possesses them… This explains why religious nations have often achieved such lasting results; for whilst they were thinking only of the other world, they had found out the great secret of success in this.”3Weaver, Ideas have Consequences, pg 108

Pavlov’s reflexive conditioning only works on animals. But Christ has called us to a life of faith. Or in the words of Isaiah to King Ahaz,

Lo teeminu
Lo taamenu

If you do not take a stand
you will not be established.

Introduction to Biblical Hebrew

If anyone is interested in studying Biblical Hebrew I am willing to do some tutoring this Fall. I am located west of Innisfail but could meet somewhere more central. I’d like to use the textbook “Basics of Biblical Hebrew” by Pratico and Van Pelt. I know that college and university study is difficult these days so this might be a way to continue with your studies. Please use the contact form at the top of the page if you are interested and would like more information.

Peace.

Lockdowns in Alberta

In a recent press briefing, Alberta’s health minister, Deena Hinshaw, baldly stated that the 16 MLA’s who opposed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s lockdown order must not believe that the virus was a real threat. In an unbelievable piece of maternalistic tripe, Hinshaw further suggested that many Albertan’s were not abiding by the new lock-down mandate because they themselves had not personally suffered from the virus. Generally speaking, anyone who opposes the actions taken by the province are depicted as “conspiracy theorists”.

I went to Gracelife Church today and took some photographs of those who gathered to protest the fencing off of the church. Based on what I overheard, and the conversations I had with those who attended the demonstration, people are worried about government spending and the precarious state of small businesses in the province. “There will be nothing left for our children,” was a common refrain. People also expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of lock-downs (our third and last one…) and the wearing of masks (no one was wearing one). I spoke with one lady (this was actually this past Friday while standing in line to get into Lee Valley) who was disgusted that children were being forced to wear masks in schools and while playing sports. No doubt there are many (myself included) who feel the same way about masks in churches, but I think the real concern right now is with the lock-downs and the economic impact it is having on nearly everyone in the province.

There is nothing unreasonable about these concerns. It is our lawmakers who should be fending off questions of sanity… but the gaslighting continues. Of course, there is another layer of fear and concern about what forces are at work behind the scenes exploiting this crisis to gain power. Some of this is necessarily speculative and sometimes unwise, but none of those sentiments (many of which are also valid) were expressed today at the demonstration at Gracelife. There was an impromptu worship service in front of the hastily erected fence around the church where a loudspeaker and a mike circulated freely in the crowd. It could have been a train wreck but not a single person who spoke said anything that could be construed as a conspiracy theory.

I would like to come back to the press conference conducted by our health minister, Deena Hinshaw, this past Friday. None of the journalists in attendance posed a serious question during the Q & A session. But there are many questions that need to be answered by our health minister and premier. What happens when the bid fall out from beneath our bond market due to excessive debt and rising inflation (or cascading defaults)? Are the policies of our government destroying the incentive to work and innovate? What evidence is there for the effectiveness of lock-downs over the long term? How many businesses will fail due to forced closures? Having fostered a climate of fear and hysteria, and having presented the vaccinations as our salvation, how will you restore normalcy if the vaccinations prove ineffective? Should the government be coercing people to receive an improperly tested vaccine? Are lawmakers willing to accept the liability that may ensue? Why has there been so little focus on effective therapies? Why wasn’t the Alberta Pilot Program (which must have cost huge sums of taxpayer money to set up) allowed to work? Why are critics of government policies being de-platformed, harassed, and labelled “conspiracy theorists”? Why did the RCMP close a church and cordon it off with an armed guard while the matter was still being litigated in court and there were no active cases in the church? What happened to the provincial police force?

These questions, and many more besides, are being asked by people in this province in increasing numbers. I think we will be getting some answers in the months ahead.

Mary, the Impractical Woman

El-Azariya is the Arabic name for Bethany. It means “The Place of Lazarus.” The school I attended in Jerusalem was not more than a few hundred meters from Bethany, but since El-Azariya is in the West Bank, one has to take a circuitous route to get there. I had never visited the place until a few years ago, when I took an Arab bus to the village. I was disappointed to discover that the church that marked the grave of Lazarus appeared to be closed to visitors. I tried knocking on the door of the church courtyard until finally a nun appeared and graciously escorted me inside. She did not speak English but she was very kind and showed me to a place where I could sit and cool down. Eventually, another nun came and informed me that I was in a convent and that the church was further down the road!

The convent that I visited during my first visit to Bethany (I think it is more properly referred to as an abbey) was founded by Queen Melisende (1105-1161 AD), a remarkable woman who ruled Jerusalem for 30 years. She was born in Edessa to Morphia, an Armenian woman, and Baldwin, a Frankish knight. Melisende’s son, Amalric, had a daughter named Sibylla, who was raised in the same abbey founded by her grandmother. She too was destined to become a queen of Jerusalem. Her life has become the subject of many works of fiction, the most recent of which is the movie, “The Kingdom of Heaven.” The Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem had an unusual number of queens since women had a longer lifespan than men in the besieged kingdom. Their husbands, having fallen in battle, bequeathed their estates to their wives.

But of course, the most famous residents of Bethany are Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Of the three, Mary is accorded a special place of honor. When Martha expressed frustration that Mary remained seated listening to the teaching of Christ while she did all the serving, Jesus responded that “only one thing is necessary” and Mary “has chosen the better part.” When Jesus returned to Bethany in response to the news of Lazarus’ death, Mary did not rush to meet Jesus like her sister Martha, nor did she engage Jesus in a dialogue about the resurrection of the dead, she simply stated that if Jesus had been there, her brother would not have died. These are the only recorded words of Mary in the Gospels. Jesus’ reaction to Mary is not that of a philosopher or a teacher but of a friend. “Jesus wept.”

Later in the gospel we find Mary pouring expensive myrrh on Jesus feet and wiping them with her hair. Judas hypocritically protested that the myrrh could have been sold and the money given to the poor. He was a calculator, a philanthropist, a public relations manager, a thoroughly modern man, and Mary was none of these things. She was impractical. Her actions had no perceivable utility. Her life stands as a repudiation of all rational systems of ethics. “Do your duty!” says Kant. But Kant’s “categorical imperative” doesn’t work. We are still “anxious and troubled by many things.” But only one thing is necessary. We need redemption, the forgiveness of sin. And Mary, I think, understood that better than anyone else.

Dig at Et-Tell and other Happenings

I’ve been intending to post some pictures from our dig in November… I know, that was a long time ago… seems like ages past. So here is brief update.

We uncovered several important structures from the Bronze Age at Et-Tell. Particularly noteworthy was a bronze age destruction level exposed during the last several days of digging. This was a nice reward for two weeks of digging through what was mostly sterile soil. We were down well over 8′ when we began to uncover pieces of burnt mud-brick and charcoal, and then the corner of a building constructed with large stones typical of the Bronze Age. During final days of the dig we encountered a definite destruction level comprised of compacted mud brick and charcoal. Unfortunately, we did not have time to dig into this level. It will have to wait for another season. It is never easy to find stratification on a site that has already been dug extensively, but we have it at Et-Tell.

Luke was able to come and join us for a week. He is officially the first student of the Jerusalem Field School. He was also the only student of JFS so we dubbed him “the student body.” If we can get more like him then it will be worth it. We packed a lot into the week, including a trip to the Dead Sea, a tour of Tel Balata (Shechem), Gerizim, Samaria, and major sites around Jerusalem.

I stayed in Israel several more weeks to lead a tour for some friends from Nantucket and East Virginia. We spent a day visiting sites in the Shephelah and spent the rest of the time in the Galilee. It was a privilege to tour with them. I fully expect them to reciprocate when I visit the birthplace of Melville’s Moby Dick!

I’ve done a fair amount of travelling since then, in Jordan, Greece and Egypt. One of the fellows I met on the dig joined me in Jordan. I was grateful for his company for that leg of the trip. I made it back back to Canada for a few months at Christmas.

I am envious of the explorers who explored Syria and Palestine on horseback. They got to experience the land in a way that we never will. Gone are the days when you could ride a horse through the Galilee, cross the mountains into Lebanon, survey the great city of Damascus, and then continue on to Baalbek! What a ride that must have been! Their travel diaries make for fascinating reading.

You can still find a decent horse in Egypt although it is hit and miss. I found a guide at Giza who had horses and also knew how to get us into the site after closing hours. Unfortunately a dust storm blew in that afternoon. I told the guide that there was no point in making the journey since I was there to get pictures of the pyramids. He insisted that the storm would pass and the air would clear! Yeah right! But it turned out to be the perfect photo-op.

I met Titus in Cairo and the next day we caught a ride to St. Catherine. It began to rain the day we arrived which is a rare occurrence in the Sinai… and continued raining for the next three days. We just so happened to arrive in the Sinai during a 100 year flood. It was cold, the power cycled on and off leaving us in the dark for much of the time, and the roof of our lodge leaked profusely. But the cook made pretty good shish-kabab and rice and he poured our drinks with all the flair of a Parisian waiter: heels together, slight bend at the waist, arm placed behind his back. That lodge had seen better days but tourism in the Sinai has fallen to barely a trickle.

Although the rain forced us to spend several more days in the Sinai than originally planned, we were able to get some unique pictures of Jebel Musa and the monastery covered in clouds. Father Justin kindly gave us a tour of the monastery library and showed us the high tech cameras they are using to scan manuscripts. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The monastery also served real coffee.

Our next stop was Serabit El-Kahdim. The road passed through some beautiful and wild country. The only signs of civilization were the expansive poppy fields. Apparently opium is a major export of the Sinai. That night we stayed at a bedouin camp. I had forgotten how the stars look in the desert on a cool, clear night. It is something we miss in our cities.

The trip back from the Sinai turned out to be more difficult than anticipated since the main highway was washed out in several places and many of the smaller roads were washed away completely. Thankfully, we had a Land Cruiser and an expert Bedouin driver.

Road to Serabit el-Khadim

Titus and I were just about to board a flight for Aswan when a mutual friend of ours called from Jordan. “You have to get out of there!” he warned, even as the gate attendant pressed us to board. Sadly, we had to walk away from that ticket but it turned out to be the right decision. Almost immediately Egypt Air announced that they would suspend all domestic flights. This created a stampede for the exits as people tried to buy tickets out of Egypt. Not many days later all international flights were suspended.

I spent a month in quarantine in a small flat in downtown Calgary. It looked pretty good on Air BnB but after a month in a small flat decorated with IKEA accessories I was ready to get out of there! Thankfully I had plenty to keep me occupied. My main project these days has been an online history curriculum. I had hoped to have a first version up and running by Christmas but obviously that hasn’t happened. It’s proven to be a greater technical challenge than anticipated.

The developers calculations for an interactive timeline.

So what’s next? We plan to continue the excavation at Et-Tell in the Fall. I’ve updated the sign-up page to reflect the new dates. Unfortunately, we will not be able to confirm these dates until one month before the dig begins. Of course, I will not collect payment before then. If you are interested, sign up, and I will keep you posted.

Thomas Massie for Prime Minister

Do you want to know who speaks the truth in Washington? It is the guy who is despised by both the Democrats and Republicans. We need to support this man.

The Americans can have Trump. We will take Thomas Massie for Prime Minister.

The Son

Descartes sent a copy of Meditations of First Philosophy to his friend and confidant, Father Mersenne, with the request that he circulate it among the influential members of his inner circle. As its title suggests, the manuscript contained a description of Descartes’ new philosophy. One of those who read it was Le Maistre de Sacy, who offered the following critique:

God created the world for two reasons… one, to provide an idea of his greatness, the other to depict invisible things in the visible. M. Descartes has destroyed the one as well as the other. ‘The sun is a lovely piece of work,’ one says to him. ‘Not at all’, he replies, ‘it is a mass of metal filings.’ Instead of recognizing invisible things in the visible, such as the God of nature in the sun, and seeing an image of this grace in all that he has produced in plants, he insists, on the contrary, on providing a reason for everything.” (Cambridge Companion to Descartes, 402)

As far as I can tell, Le Maistre de Sacy was not the reactionary type. He was the driving force behind the translation of the Bible into the French vernacular which means that he was willing to risk offending church authorities. Blaise Pascal and Antoine Arnauld were among his close associates. What disturbed Le Maistre de Sacy about Descartes’ philosophy was that it inclined towards a completely mechanistic view of the cosmos, and of life. This criticism was also shared by Blaise Pascal. “I cannot forgive Descartes,” said Pascal, “In his whole philosophy he would like to dispense with God, but he could not help allowing Him a flick of the fingers to set the world in motion, after which he had no more use for God.” Perhaps nothing illustrates Descartes mechanistic view of life better than an experiment he conducted to learn how the circulatory system functions in animals. He nailed a live dog to a plank and cut it open in order to observe its still beating heart. The howls of pain emitted from the creature meant nothing to Descartes because his philosophy taught that animals are machines. They have no soul. Well ok, but then what would prevent Descartes’ beast-machine doctrine from morphing into a completely materialistic account of man? It wouldn’t take long to find out. One of Descartes’ disciples, Benedict Spinoza, went the logical next step and argued that it was time to dispense with the notion of a soul completely. To see what this philosophy looks like in practice, we have only to look outside our window (I am in a 1970’s apartment tower seemingly inspired by brutalist architecture). It is the world we live in.

Le Maistre de Sacy and Pascal perceived something in Descartes philosophy that troubled them. Jesus taught us to see nature in terms of parables: the lilies of the field, the wind that moves imperceptibly, the seed that multiplies, the little children, the water that springs up to eternal life, the fire that cannot be quenched, the unfailing love of a Father. These parables follow a pattern rooted in the Old Testament where nature is treated, not as the subject of mythology, but as an allegory that points to a transcendent reality: the glory of the heavens, the sun shining overhead, the pounding of surf against the rocks, the tree planted by quiet waters, the snow falling on Zalman, the pinions of a dove, the stork in the heavens, the gleam of gold in the inner sanctuary, the gentle breeze, the quiet whisper, the love of a woman, the crouching lion, the slithering serpent, and yes, even sickness and death.

I remember sitting in a botany course while the prof explained how a parasite feeds on a healthy tree. It is truly gruesome what a parasite can do to its host. What struck me is that a tree can live with a parasite for a long time and still look quite healthy. But it will eventually succumb to the disease until it is reduced to a scabby, gnarled, stump. The thing about a virus or a parasite is that it is an alien thing. It has no life of its own. The only way it lives (or replicates) is by attacking and destroying the life of something else. A virus takes over the machinery of a cell that is designed to give life, and uses it for destructive ends.

Although we’ve always known that a pandemic may strike at any moment, we’ve only recently had to come to grips with this reality. The result has been widespread panic and a total lock-down of our economy. It seems to me, that, if Jesus were walking among us today, he would use this opportunity to remind us that we should not fear what kills the body, but what destroys the soul. Sickness is, after all, one of the many metaphors employed in the Bible to describe the effect of sin on our soul. “Is there no balm in Gilead… no physician there… to restore the health of the daughter of my people,” lamented Jeremiah. “The healthy have no need of a doctor, but the sick,” Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day. If we thought of sin in terms of the coronavirus it might change our outlook.

Descartes was fixated on matter in motion. But life cannot be reduced to mathematics, nor the sun to a mass of metal filings. This Easter morning, as the sun shines brightly through my apartment window, I am reminded that there is medicine for the sick, that the sun’s rays kill the virus, and that where there is death, there is also life. The Son has risen!