Monday, September 25, 2017

Mueller Scorches the Earth

His pre-dawn raid was meant to intimidate Manafort, not just to collect evidence.

By Andrew C. McCarthy — September 23, 2017
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Robert Mueller and Paul Manafort (Photos: CQ Roll Call and Getty Images)

Robert Mueller’s sprawling special-counsel investigation is playing hardball.

It was not enough to get a search warrant to ransack the Virginia home of Paul Manafort, even as the former Trump campaign chairman was cooperating with congressional investigators. Mueller’s bad-asses persuaded a judge to give them permission to pick the door lock. That way, they could break into the premises in the wee hours, while Manafort and his wife were in bed sleeping. They proceeded to secure the premises — of a man they are reportedly investigating for tax and financial crimes, not gang murders and Mafia hits — by drawing their guns on the stunned couple, apparently to check their pajamas for weapons.

Mueller’s probe more resembles an empire, with 17 prosecutors retained on the public dime. So . . . what exactly is the crime of the century that requires five times the number of lawyers the Justice Department customarily assigns to crimes of the century? No one can say. The growing firm is clearly scorching the earth, scrutinizing over a decade of Manafort’s shady business dealings, determined to pluck out some white-collar felony or another that they can use to squeeze him.

You are forgiven if you can recall only vaguely that supposition about Trump-campaign collusion in Russian espionage against the 2016 election was the actual explanation for Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. To the extent there was any explanation, that is. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, did not comply with the regulations requiring a description of the crimes Trump’s Justice Department is too conflicted to investigate, purportedly necessitating a quasi-independent special counsel.
The way it’s supposed to work, the Justice Department learns of a crime, so it assigns a prosecutor. To the contrary, this Justice Department assigned a prosecutor — make that: Seventeen hyper-aggressive prosecutors — and unleashed them to hunt for whatever crime they could find.

If you sense that this cuts against the presumption of innocence, you’re onto something. Because of that presumption, coupled with such other constitutional rights as the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable police searches, prosecutors are supposed to be measured in the use of their awesome powers, to employ only as much compulsion as seems appropriate under the circumstances. You don’t get a search warrant when a subpoena will do; if you have to get a warrant, you don’t do a covert pre-dawn entry when ringing the bell in the daytime will easily get you in the door.

In various places, our law reflects this common sense. For example, in applying for a wiretap authorization, besides describing the precise crime it suspects, the Justice Department must satisfy the judge that less intrusive techniques for obtaining evidence of similar quality have been attempted, or would be certain to fail if tried. (See section 2518(b) and (c) of the federal penal code.) The point is to instruct investigators that they must exercise restraint. The prosecutorial privilege to act “under color of law” comes with the duty to respect the rights the law guarantees.

Law enforcement is hard and sometimes dangerous work. Thus, there is leeway for officials to make errors in judgment. Without that leeway, they would be too paralyzed to do their jobs, and there would be no rule of law. But when prosecutors and investigators go way overboard just because they can, it is not law enforcement. It is abuse of law-enforcement power in order to intimidate.

There is no other way to interpret the brass-knuckles treatment of Manafort, a subject in a non-violent-crime investigation who is represented by counsel and was cooperating with Congress at the time Mueller’s Gang of 17 chose to break into his home. Did they really think they couldn’t have gotten the stuff they carted out of Manafort’s residence by calling up his well-regarded lawyers and asking for it? After he had already surrendered 300 pages of documents to investigative committees?

Besides scaring the bejesus out of him with the search warrant, prosecutors reportedly also told Manafort that they intend to indict him. Must mean they have a case, right? So, if Manafort is such a threat to obstruct justice that they needed to break into his home and grab the evidence before he could destroy it, then why hasn’t he been arrested yet? I mean, how could Mueller responsibly allow so dangerous a criminal to walk the streets?

I’m betting he’s not in cuffs because the point of this over-the-top exercise was not to investigate Manafort; it was to demonstrate to Manafort’s very concentrated mind how miserable the prosecutors can make his life if he doesn’t wave the white flag, pronto, and give them whatever he’s got on Donald Trump — which, by the way, had better be something.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m fully convinced that Paul Manafort is a sleazeball. My objections to the revanchist regime in Moscow, unlike those of many Democrats, started long before November 8. Manafort is tight with Kremlin cronies, and his roster of lobbying clients includes a rogues’ gallery of human-rights abusers and corruptocrats. Donald Trump’s decision to put his presidential campaign in Manafort’s hands, however fleetingly, has always been disturbing — to put it mildly. If Manafort was complicit in Putin-regime provocations, and if he has information implicating Trump in them, then that must be investigated even if it compromises the president’s capacity to govern effectively.

But here’s the thing. So far, there is not a whiff of evidence that Trump and his associates were complicit in Russia’s cyber-espionage. Were they on the make for unsavory information about the opposition? Sure they were. It’s distasteful . . . but do you think the Democrats weren’t? The point is: We don’t assign prosecutors to investigate distasteful. We assign them to investigate crime — in this case, a putative information-theft conspiracy.

The FBI and the Justice Department were pursuing that investigation aggressively for months before Mueller entered the picture. It has been over a year, and they don’t have it. If they had it, former FBI director Jim Comey would not have thrice told Trump he was not a suspect. If they had it, it would have leaked by now — the way every unflattering morsel has been leaked. And if they had it, they wouldn’t be poring over eleven years of Manafort’s checkered history; they would be arresting him for espionage in connection with the 2016 election.

If there is strong suspicion that Manafort has committed fraud crimes unrelated to the 2016 campaign, then fine, investigate him. But investigate him as you would any other white-collar fraudster who (a) has counsel willing to honor your lawful demands to produce evidence and (b) has, at least ostensibly, been cooperative. Paul Manafort is not Osama bin Laden, so there’s no reason for Bob Mueller to make like the commander of Seal Team Six.

Why is this worth pointing out? Because someday, maybe, we’ll get around to asking: What would have happened if Hillary Clinton’s very real email scandal — with its mountainous evidence of felony mishandling of classified information and destruction of government records — had been investigated with the no-holds-barred vigor Mueller and his band of Hillary donors are applying to the surmise of Trump collusion in Russian espionage?

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Trump Gets Blunt at the United Nations

September 21, 2017

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Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

I'm not sure President Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly has been fairly judged or received. It was a strong speech—clear, emphatic, remarkably blunt. The great question is whether the bluntness will tend at this point in history to make things better or worse. We’ll find out soon enough.
Often Mr. Trump grows bored with prepared speeches and starts throwing in asides and improvising adjectives. But he was committed to this speech and focused: It looked like Trump believing what Trump was saying. Detractors say, “Oh, his speechwriters just put something in front of him,” but all presidents, from the most naturally eloquent to the verbally dullest, have speechwriters. The point is what a president decides he wants to say and how he agrees to say it. In the end he directs what goes in and what comes out.
Mr. Trump explained to the U.N. the assumptions he sees as driving his own foreign policy, which showed a proper respect for the opinion of mankind. He outlined the central problems facing the world as he sees them—a tradition in such speeches, and a good one, for it matters what an American president thinks.
Mr. Trump’s speech was rhetorically dense, in that a lot was in it and little time was wasted. There were moments of eloquence—the U.N. must not be complacent; we cannot become “bystanders to history.”
He began with the usual bragging: The U.S. economy is improving, and we are militarily strong and getting stronger—and fairly quickly kicked into hopefulness, and respect for the U.N.’s history.
On his administration’s driving foreign-policy attitudes: “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every sovereign nation.” Then: “In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch.”
He painted “America First” as benign, politically realistic. “Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens—to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values. As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.” Still, the nations of the world must “work together in close harmony and unity to create a more safe and peaceful future for all people.”
The U.S. has always been “a great friend to the world” and will continue to be. “Our citizens have paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom and the freedom of many nations represented in this great hall,” he said. “We want harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife. We are guided by outcomes, not ideology. We have a policy of principled realism, rooted in shared goals, interests and values.”
All this is the opposite of democracy promotion and nation building and dreams of eradicating evil. The president has spoken like this before. This section was less statement than restatement for an international audience.
But there was an interesting question of emphasis. Throughout the speech Mr. Trump stressed the importance of national sovereignty, of countries protecting their own ways and needs.
Sovereignty, of course, is crucial. But as he spoke, my mind went back to 1914 and all the fiercely sovereign nations that decided to go to war with each other, putting an end to a unique and rising European civilization. In 1945, after World War II, they put greater emphasis on a more corporate approach, on cooperation and transnational institutions. That path can be abused too, and has been. But it hasn’t been all bad.
It has been charged that Mr. Trump virtually ignored Russia, mentioning it only once, in thanks for supporting sanctions against North Korea. But he also said: “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.” That is not ignoring Russia. “We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders, and respect for culture,” he said. “We must work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, turmoil, and terror.”
The most publicized section of the speech was on North Korea. He characterized its regime as “depraved,” “twisted,” a “band of criminals.” True enough. North Korea’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles” cannot be allowed to continue. In the speech’s most famous flourish: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” The U.S. “has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
Is this too hot, or helpful, or both? During the Cold War colorful candor produced a great deal. When Ronald Reagan was drop-dead blunt about the nature of the Soviet Union, foreign affairs was a high-stakes chess game between two superpowers. The context now is a less clearly demarcated world in which anyone with a weapon of mass destruction is, for the moment, a “superpower.” It’s hard to know if blunt talk will excite nuts into greater activity, or if bracing clarity about the risks they’re taking will slow them down, make them question their ambitions and intentions.
But the U.N. needed to hear clearly and unequivocally the gravity with which the American president views North Korea. Ultimately, as Mr. Trump noted, confronting this question is “what the United Nations is for.”
A great line—because it spoke a great truth—was this: “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.” Mr. Trump then paused and looked at the audience. It struck some as a “please clap” moment. It struck me as a stare-down: I’m saying something a lot of you need to hear. You’re not going to like it, and I’m going to watch you not like it.
Two final points: One is that Mr. Trump is on a roll, a sustained one the past few weeks, and this is new. All levels of government performed well in the hurricanes. Mr. Trump showed competence, focus and warmth. His bipartisan outreach, however it ends, went over well with core supporters and others. He had a strong speech at the U.N., in fact a successful U.N. week, beginning to end. His poll numbers are inching toward 40%.
Which gets us to point two: This is a very important moment for him. History suggests he will ruin it any minute with intemperate statements, wiggy decisions or crazy tweets.
He does this because he’s somewhat compulsive and has trouble governing himself. He also does it because he thinks his supporters like it. Some do, but most don’t. He thinks they all do because he misunderstands his base.
Mr. Trump’s supporters should push back when he starts to go slightly mad. They should tweet at him: “Stop, Donald! Be U.N. Donald, not Twitter Donald.”
They should tweet this to him by the millions. Because he does feel some loyalty to them, and it’s possible he might try to listen.

Saquon Barkley wows nation en route to Penn State record 358 all-purpose yards

By John McGonical
September 24, 2017

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Penn State running back Saquon Barkley runs during the third quarter at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 23, 2017. Joe Hermitt |

Saquon Barkley didn’t score the game-ending touchdown, the one that kept Penn State’s undefeated season alive. But, boy oh boy, he did nearly everything else.
Barkley has wowed before. He’s boggled the mind, left jaws on the floor and dropped defenders to their knees. Literally. That’s not new.
But Barkley has never put together a performance quite like Saturday night. In Penn State’s tight 21-19 win against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium, Barkley broke down the Hawkeyes with 358 all-purpose yards — a new single-game program record.
In a showcase that only furthers his Heisman Trophy campaign, Barkley racked up 211 rushing yards on 28 carries (7.54 yards per carry), 94 receiving yards on 12 catches and 53 kickoff return yards. The total broke Curt Warner’s record of 341 yards, which has stood on the books for 36 years.
"Saquon’s a dog. That’s simply what it is,” Penn State safety Marcus Allen said, nodding his head. “Saquon’s a dog, and dogs do dog things.”
“I can’t take credit for the performance I had today. It’s an 11-man sport,” Barkley said, when asked where this showing ranked for him personally. “You can’t do it by yourself.”
But humility aside, Barkley put the offense on his back.
The elusive back had 10 offensive plays of 10 yards or more (six rushing, four receiving). He scored Penn State’s first touchdown of the night, an eight-yard run in which he dove and reached the ball out over the pylon, putting Penn State up 15-7 late in the third quarter. Barkley accounted for 12 of Penn State’s first downs, including a critical one in the game’s final drive.
And, of course, the dizzying junior dazzled with yet another highlight reel moment: a 44-yard run that stupefied one of the best defensive players in college football. Before he punched in that eight-yard score, Barkley jump-started Penn State’s first touchdown drive by looping around the Iowa defense for an 11-yard gain. Then he stopped along the Penn State sideline still in-bounds and allowed Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell to dive right past him. From there, he put the key in the ignition and raced for 33 more yards deep into Hawkeye territory.
“I’m going to have to watch that 17 more times to know what he did to get out of it,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said of the 44-yard gain, in which Barkley was pinned by four Iowa defenders, including Jewell, on the sideline. “But he somehow got out of it. During that play, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
When asked about Barkley’s performance as a whole, McSorley said it was just “unreal.”
“I don’t know what his numbers were,” the quarterback added.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Reviews: 'Reformations' by Carlos M. N. Eire

The Birth of the Modern
Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450–1650, by Carlos M. N. Eire (Yale, 920 pp., $40)
By John Wilson — September 26, 2016, Issue
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The 500th anniversary of the Reformation has occasioned a slew of books, lectures, conferences, reenactments, and so on, starting several years ago and scheduled to reach a climax in the fall of 2017. Of the books I’ve seen in this cavalcade (there are far too many for any single reader to keep up with), Carlos M. N. Eire’s Reformations is one of the best.

It's a very long book, and at first you may be daunted by its sheer bulk. (I discovered that I couldn’t read it in bed, my favorite spot: I needed to have it lying flat on a desk or table.) But unlike all too many books these days, Reformations is not bloated with verbal filler, lazy repetitions, or self-indulgent digressions. The writing, while deeply informed by scholarship, is beguiling, as one might expect from the author of the memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003). And the book is long because it needs to be, to flesh out Eire’s thesis that we should speak of Reformations, plural, rather than “the” Reformation, singular, symbolized by Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. (Eire, like many historians, describes this famous scene as a legend; in any case, Luther sent his theses to clerical authorities, so the challenge was given.)

In the canonical account of the Reformation, Luther’s scathing critique of the selling of indulgences — in effect, selling God’s mercy — stands for a more thoroughgoing condemnation of ecclesiastical corruption and a revolutionary emphasis on Scripture alone as authoritative for the Christian life. Moreover, believers were to read the Bible in their own language — Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was as important as his theological works.

This is the essence of the Reformation as it has long been understood, both by those who trace their heritage to it and by those who continue to deplore its consequences — those for whom the bumptious individualism (so they see it) implicit in Luther’s defiance leads straight through the centuries to American Evangelicals’ love affair with Donald Trump. The story has long been complicated, as Eire acknowledges, by subplots: the increasing conflict among early Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli and the traditions that flowed from them over the centuries; the Anabaptists and the heirs of the so-called Radical Reformation (whose present-day descendants include the Mennonites and Amish); the Catholic response to Luther and his ilk, commonly referred to as “the Counter-Reformation”; and — a theme especially strong in recent scholarship — the many and wildly varied reform movements that preceded Luther, such as that of the Waldensians (beginning in France in the late 12th century), who embraced poverty, rejected the authority of the pope and the veneration of relics, and argued that the Bible was the supreme authority.

Still, both in everyday conversation and in academic settings, we continue to speak of “the Reformation.” This vexes Eire. He’s convinced that his objection is not merely a matter of scholarly hairsplitting. To speak of “the Reformations,” he insists, is much truer to the reality we are seeking to understand, one in which “all of the different reform movements and churches that emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries” were interrelated. And here we should note the subtitle of Eire’s book: “The Early Modern World, 1450–1650.” As Eire tells us at the outset, “we cannot begin to comprehend who we are as Westerners without first understanding the changes wrought by the Reformations of the early modern era.”

Though Eire lays out his argument quite clearly, this is not a thesis-driven book. Rather, it is a detail-rich cross-cutting narrative that encompasses the “Scottish war on witchcraft” (Chapter 13), Catholic missionaries to India (Chapter 19), the “age of devils” (Chapter 23), and much more. Whether or not you end up agreeing with Eire that we should stop talking about “the Reformation,” and whether or not you agree with his summing up of the impact of this period (see the epilogue and Eire’s concise account of “three revolutionary shifts” that shaped the West as we know it today), you will learn a great deal and be entertained along the way.

Eire is quick to note the “contingency of all summations.” Still, in the spirit of his project, which complicates a familiar story, let me complicate the story he tells in its place. Some of what he says about Protestants in the early modern era fits very well with my own experience growing up in a Protestant household in the 1950s with my mother, my grandmother, and my younger brother. (We mostly went to Baptist churches, and historians of American religion would describe our milieu as Evangelical with some fundamentalist traits.) But in other respects his summation doesn’t fit my experience.

Eire makes a great deal of Protestantism’s desacralizing and disenchanting of the world, especially through its “rejection of miracles.” But most of the Protestants I grew up with (and certainly those in my own family) would have been loath to reject miracles. My grandmother, who had absorbed a good deal of dispensationalism (she read every day in her worn Scofield Bible), explained that “cessationists” believed that miracles were restricted to the period of the early Church and that God did not choose to work that way in the present age, but she — and, again, the vast majority of believers I grew up with — strongly believed that God still worked miracles, even as they were skeptical about the claims of faith healers and such. Moreover, my grandmother had been a missionary in China (where my mom lived until she was eleven years old), and we often had missionaries visiting our house in Southern California as well as speaking in church. Many of them related miracles that they claimed to have witnessed.

So the world in which I was raised was emphatically not desacralized and disenchanted. Both my mother and my grandmother spoke without any embarrassment about the presence of angels. They were equally matter-of-fact about the Devil and his minions. I was raised (and here I will no doubt appall some of my readers) to believe in the personal reality of the Devil, a belief I’ve never been persuaded to abandon. (Quite the contrary.)

Please be assured, if all this sounds a bit fantastic to you, that the setting in which I went to church and Sunday school was not highly idiosyncratic. Of course it was different from growing up in a Catholic setting, and different again from the Lutheran setting I came to know when (I was partway through fourth grade at the time) my mom took my brother and me out of the public school we’d been attending and enrolled us in a Missouri Synod Lutheran school, even though we weren’t Lutherans. (There weren’t so many Christian schools to choose from in those days.)

It was at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Pomona, Calif., that I first learned about the Reformation and Martin Luther. (In the largely ahistorical Baptist churches where we worshiped, the Reformation was never mentioned.) To this day I remain very thankful for my first immersion in another stream of the faith. How different many things formerly taken for granted
-- Mr. Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture. looked from that angle. And I am equally grateful to Carlos Eire for an immersion (no mere sprinkling) in the Reformations from which we have inherited so much, for better and for worse.

The End of Christendom

By Eamon Duffy
November 2016

Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877

Next year marks the fifth centenary of one of the few precisely datable historical events that can be said to have changed the world forever. In 1517, an unknown German professor from an undistinguished new university protested against the sordid trade in religious benefits known as “indulgences,” which were then being peddled around Germany to fund grandiose plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Martin Luther’s protest initially took the form of a public challenge to an academic debate on a swathe of theological niceties. But this was the first age of print, and Luther was a publicist of genius. His list of topics for debate, in the form of Ninety-Five Theses, was printed as a broadsheet (though the legend that he nailed them to a church door is, sadly, probably untrue). The theses nonetheless became the world’s most improbable bestseller. What might have been a technical academic exercise in a Wittenberg lecture hall rapidly escalated into a fundamental questioning of the theological underpinning of Western Christianity. In its wake, Europe divided, roughly north and south, and the peoples of Europe were pitched into a series of murderous ideological wars in which tens of thousands died, and during which the religious, cultural, and political map of Europe was redrawn. We are all still living with the consequences.

This religious and cultural earthquake has traditionally been known as the Reformation, a loaded term with which Catholics have never been comfortable. To dub these transformations as a Reformation implies that something that had gone radically wrong was put right, that a good form of Christianity replaced a bad one. The fact that the term has traditionally been capitalized and used in the singular also poses a problem. The new religious identities and communities which emerged from these conflicts—Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, and the more radical groupings often lumped together under the name “Anabaptist”—did indeed share some beliefs and attitudes in common. They all prioritized the written Word of God in the Bible over traditional Church teaching and discipline, and they all vehemently rejected the papacy and the allegedly materialistic religious system which the papacy headed. But they were divided among themselves—often lethally—on almost everything else. Within a single generation of Luther’s protest, “Protestants” were excommunicating, fighting, and persecuting each other, as well as the common Catholic enemy, and many were calling for a reform of the Reformation.

Even the timescale traditionally assumed has now been challenged. In the older and mainly Protestant historiography, the overthrow of Catholicism almost everywhere in Northeastern Europe, and its replacement by “reformed” versions of Christianity, was seen as a swift process. Since medieval Catholicism was believed to have been corrupt, decadent, priest-ridden, and therefore unpopular with the laity, it was taken for granted that it could have offered little resistance to the reformers’ message. And so histories of the Reformation were conventionally histories of events in the early and middle sixteenth century. Only recently has the notion of a “long reformation” gained currency. Studies of the problems that Protestant officialdom encountered in uprooting deeply entrenched popular beliefs, practices, and loyalties, and in inculcating new beliefs and disciplines, have brought home the realization that after the first energies of “reformation” had passed, consolidating new religious identities at the grassroots level was almost everywhere a difficult and painful process, stretching over decades and even centuries. This realization requires a drastic rethinking, still very much in process, of much that was taken for granted in the older accounts. Some of that rethinking has been done under the rubric of the history of “confessionalization,” a term used to denote the deployment of religion to create or reinforce social and political identities. But this approach has brought its own problems, tending as it does to reduce religion to an instrument of social control and political manipulation.

Against the background of these shifts in historical understanding, an avalanche of biographies of Luther and histories of the religious revolution he launched has begun ahead of next year’s quincentenary. Few of them will rival the sheer scale and ambition of Carlos Eire’s new survey. Eire is one of America’s most distinguished historians of early modern religion, and his absorption of the newer historiography is proclaimed in the fact that his book is entitled Reformations, in the plural. His book “accepts the concept of multiple Reformations wholeheartedly,” and seeks to deepen the concept by paying equal attention “to all the different movements and churches that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, stressing their interrelatedness.” The ambition to present a synoptic account of the multiple sixteenth-century movements for religious “reform,” Catholic and Protestant, has led some historians to search for a single interpretative framework for the reform impulse, to suggest that fundamental similarities underlay sixteenth-century religious reform wherever it occurred. So, the French Catholic historian Jean Delumeau proposed that we should understand both the emergence of Protestantism and the transformation of Catholicism after Trent as twin aspects of a process of “Christianization.” On this account, both Catholic and Protestant reformers labored to replace the inherited half-pagan folk religion of late medieval Europe with something more authentically Christian, focused on the person of Christ rather than often legendary saints, prioritizing orthodox catechesis and preaching over quasi-magical ritual, and imposing religious and moral discipline on a reluctant populace.

Rejecting the negative judgments implicit in Delumeau’s notion of “Christianization,” the English historian John Bossy, himself by upbringing and education a Catholic, offered a rather less benign overarching analysis of the Catholic and Protestant reformations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The central contention of Bossy’s short but scintillating Christianity in the West was that medieval Christianity had been fundamentally concerned with the creation and maintenance of peace in a violent world. “Christianity” in medieval Europe denoted neither an ideology nor an institution, but a community of believers whose religious ideal—constantly aspired to if seldom attained—was peace and mutual love. The sacraments and sacramentals of the medieval Church were not half-pagan magic, but instruments of the “social miracle,” rituals designed to defuse hostility and create extended networks of fraternity, spiritual “kith and kin,” by reconciling enemies and consolidating the community in charity.

But in the Renaissance era, and even more so in the Reformation period which followed, reliance on symbol and image gave way to the privileging of the printed or spoken word. Peace remained a fundamental Christian aspiration, but ritual and sacrament gave way to persuasion and instruction as the means to achieve it. A newly professional breed of intellectuals and activists—the “new clerks”—arose, who understood Christianity not as a community sustained by ritual acts, but as a teaching enforced by institutional structures. The framework of moral teaching shifted away from the medieval preoccupation with the seven deadly sins, which had been understood as wrong because they were antisocial. Sin was malignancy toward other people. It was replaced, Bossy thought, by a preoccupation with obedience to the Ten Commandments, whose transgression was understood in the first place as an affront to God. Creedal orthodoxy replaced Communitas as a supreme virtue, Christianity became a system of beliefs and moral behaviors. By 1700, “the Christian world was full of religions, objectives and moral entities characterized by system, principles and hard edges.” And above that multiplicity loomed “a shadowy abstraction, theChristian religion.”

Both Delumeau and Bossy feature in Eire’s bibliography, but he has little sympathy with these attempts at an overarching morphology of “Reformation.” For him, what characterizes the religious transformations of the sixteenth century, and their out-workings in the seventeenth, is not a single unifying energy, good or bad, but their variety and multiple incompatibilities. The occasion of his book is the upcoming Luther anniversary, and he does justice to Luther’s unique role in triggering the collapse of the medieval religious synthesis. But he is keen to emphasize that Luther was just one, if the first, of the agents of the dramatic upheavals of the period, and in the long term, by no means the most important. Zwingli, a former humanist whose abandonment of medieval Catholic orthodoxy predated Luther’s, gets extended treatment, as does Calvin, who built on Zwingli’s initiatives to create the disciplined structures and alliances with civic society which would become the normative form of Protestantism. So, too, do the leaders of the more radical, apocalyptic, or rationalizing alternatives to Catholicism and to what became “mainstream” Protestantism. Eire does not give much away in his personal assessment of Luther, though alongside a meticulous analysis of the theology we get ample quotation illustrating Luther’s disconcerting penchant for scatological insult and a preoccupation with excreta aimed indiscriminately at Catholics and the devil.
Eire’s final chapter on the great Reformer is headed “Luther the reactionary” and deals with Luther’s violent repudiation of the apocalyptic radicalism of former disciples like Andreas Karlstadt and Thomas Müntzer, and especially with the Wittenbergers’ savage reaction to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1525. The libertarian rhetoric of Luther’s reformation pamphlets, with their insistence on the freedom and dignity of every Christian and their onslaught on ecclesiastical corruption and established religious authority, certainly fueled and probably helped trigger the peasant uprising. But Luther’s fear of anarchy and horrified determination to distance himself from the rebels elicited some of his least appealing writing: “Let everyone who can smite, slay, and stab . . . remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog. . . . Stab, smite, slay, whoever can.” He never retreated from this position. Years later, he would tell admiring disciples, “It was I, Martin Luther, who slew all the peasants . . . for I commanded them to be slaughtered. All their blood is on my head. But I throw the responsibility on our Lord God, who instructed me to give this order.” Eire rejects a long and shrill tradition of hostile Catholic historiography that blamed Luther for unleashing not only religious but also moral and political chaos on the German nation, but Doctor Martin does not emerge well from this unblinking account of Luther the polemicist.
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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Hobbit at 80: much more than a childish prequel to The Lord of the Rings

By David Barnett
21 September 2017
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The Hobbit, that retelling by Mr JRR Tolkien of the adventures of Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, is celebrating its 80th birthday, albeit with no party of special magnificence nor, perhaps, much talk and excitement in Hobbiton or beyond.
But while the the book is not as venerable as its hero – Bilbo died aged 131, we are told in Lord of the Rings; hobbits live, on average, to the age of 96.8 years according to the wonderful number-crunching site – it is still an anniversary worth noting.
These days, The Hobbit is considered nothing more than a childish taster or over-long prologue to Tolkien’s more revered Lord of the Rings trilogy: a sanitised scene-setter filled with folk songs and poems that came before the grownup book that explored war, death and the corruption of men. But while The Hobbit was undeniably written as a children’s book, it is far more than a mere prequel and its significance in modern literature, and fantasy in particular, cannot be overstated.
But perhaps there is a more satisfying anniversary to be celebrated here, as 2017 marks 100 years since Tolkien, effectively invalided out of the army after coming down with trench fever fighting in the Somme, began writing his first story, The Fall of Gondolin. Eventually published in The Book of Lost Tales, a decade after Tolkien’s death in 1973, this story laid out a rich and detailed history of his Middle-earth. Twenty years after first putting pen to paper – that paper apparently being sheets of military marching music Tolkien found in his barracks – The Hobbit was published on 21 September 1937.
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While we can point to other authors who played a part in creating the genre of heroic fantasy – from the epics such as Homer’s Odyssey and the Scandinavian myths, through to Lewis Carroll and Lord Dunsany, to Conan creator Robert E Howard and Fritz Leiber, whose fantasy duo Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser debuted in 1939, two years after The Hobbit – the themes and tropes laid down by Tolkien continue to shape fantasy to this day. A quest. An artefact of power. An unlikely or unwilling hero. Fantastical races of elves and dwarves, orcs and goblins. Dragons. Monstrous spiders. The shadow of profound evil falling across a pastoral, peaceful, medieval world. Fantasy may have evolved a lot since Tolkien’s day, but these building blocks can still be seen in most contemporary novels in the genre.
Like all good myths and legends, The Hobbit began in the oral tradition, as a story that Tolkien imparted to his sons John, Michael and Christopher. The genesis of the story was the opening line, idly scrawled by Tolkien on a piece of paper: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” It went no further, until he breathed life into Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Thorin and his band of dwarves, and wretched Gollum through stories told, as Christopher remembers, “with his back to the fire in his small study of the house in north Oxford”.
Christopher recalls these storytelling sessions happening around 1929. Eight years later George Allen & Unwin printed the first 1,500 copies of The Hobbit. By the end of December it had sold out, in no small part due to Christopher Tolkien writing to Father Christmas “to give The Hobbit a vigorous puff … and proposing it to him as an idea for Christmas presents”.
I think I was 10 or 11 when I first read The Hobbit, and swiftly moved on to The Lord of the Rings. It was quite a jump, akin to the chasm between studying physics at O-level and A-level. As with physics, the first I found relatively straightforward, the second challenging. Unlike physics, which I quickly dumped, The Hobbit threw open the literary Doors of Durin to a whole universe of fantasy writing. I imagine this was a common trajectory for many.
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When it first came out, one reviewer called The Hobbit “juvenile trash” that suffered “impotence of imagination”. By the 1970s, no fantasy novel was worth the name lacked a blurb along the lines of: “Comparable to Tolkien at his best!” These days, to call a modern fantasy novel Tolkienesque feels a little like faint praise. Over the last eight decades, we’ve been there, done that and bought the Mithril T-shirt. And Tolkien’s writing does have its problems: his books, even The Hobbit, are too long and wordy, and there are racist overtones, with the good guys generally being white European in appearance, while the nasty orcs are dark-skinned and the gold-hungry dwarves uncomfortably reminiscent of toxic Jewish stereotypes. Epic fantasy, though by definition steeped in the past (albeit one that never was), has moved on, to become more diverse, more inclusive, more questioning – precisely as it should be.
But The Hobbit endures and it remains a remarkable book that continues to capture imaginations. So let’s raise a glass of ale to The Hobbit, 80 years young. And while we’re at it, according to the books 22 September is Bilbo and his nephew Frodo’s birthday. Any excuse for a party. Who knows, there might be fireworks.

The Pope of Islam

Pope Francis welcomes to the Vatican the head of a Muslim group tied to the financing of jihad terror.

September 22, 2017

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(Photo: Al Arabiya)
As if he weren’t already committed enough to foolish false charity and willful ignorance regarding the jihad threat, Pope Francis on Wednesday met in the Vatican with Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, the secretary general of the Muslim World League (MWL), a group that has been linked to the financing of jihad terror.
During the meeting, al-Issa thanked the Pope for his “fair positions” on what he called the “false claims that link extremism and violence to Islam.” In other words, he thanked the Pope for dissembling about the motivating ideology of jihad terror, which his group has been accused of financing, and for defaming other religions in an effort to whitewash Islam.
I don’t object to the Pope’s meeting this man. After all, Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But the meeting appears to have been a pointless feelgood session, probably featuring some sly dawah from al-Issa. According to Breitbart News, “the two men reportedly exchanged views on a number of ‘issues of common interest’ including peace and global harmony, and discussed cooperation on issues of peaceful coexistence and the spread of love.”
The spread of love. Yes, that’s what the Muslim World League is all about.
Nor is this the first time a Muslim leader has thanked the Pope for being so very useful. Last July, Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar, thanked him for his “defense of Islam against the accusation of violence and terrorism.”
Has any other Pope of Rome in the history of Christianity ever been heralded as a “defender of Islam”?
Of course not. But the Catholic Church has come a long way since the days of Pope Callixtus III, who vowed in 1455 to “exalt the true Faith, and to extirpate the diabolical sect of the reprobate and faithless Mahomet in the East.”
If time travel could be arranged and Pope Francis could run into Callixtus III, Callixtus could “expect a punch,” for Francis is not just a defender of Islam, but a defender of the Sharia death penalty for blasphemy: after Islamic jihadists murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who had drawn Muhammad, Francis obliquely justified the murders by saying that “it is true that you must not react violently, but although we are good friends if [an aide] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch, it’s normal. You can’t make a toy out of the religions of others. These people provoke and then (something can happen). In freedom of expression there are limits.”
So for the Pope, murdering people for violating Sharia blasphemy laws is “normal,” and it isn’t terrorism for “Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist,” he said in a speech last February. “There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions—and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia.”
So there is no Islamic terrorism, but if you engage in “intolerant generalizations,” you can “expect a punch.” The Pope, like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, apparently thinks that the problem is not jihad terror, but non-Muslims talking about jihad terror; Muslims would be peaceful if non-Muslims would simply censor themselves and self-impose Sharia blasphemy restrictions regarding criticism of Islam.
For Pope Francis has no patience with those who discuss such matters: “I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence, because every day, when I read the newspaper, I see violence.” He said, according to Crux, that “when he reads the newspaper, he reads about an Italian who kills his fiancé or his mother in law.” The pontiff added: “They are baptized Catholics. They are violent Catholics.” He said that if he spoke about “Islamic violence,” then he would have to speak about “Catholic violence” as well.
That comparison made no sense, for Italian Catholics who killed their fiancés or mothers in law were not acting in accord with the teachings of their religion, while the Qur’an and Islamic teaching contain numerous exhortations to violence.
But Pope Francis, defender of Islam, cannot concern himself with such minutiae. Nor does he appear to be particularly concerned about the fact that all his false statements about the motivating ideology behind the massive Muslim persecution of Christians over the last few years only enables and abets that persecution, for if that ideology is not identified and confronted, it will continue to flourish.
The Pope of Rome, whom Catholics consider to be the earthly head of the Church, should be a defender of Christianity, not a defender of Islam, the religion that has been at war with Christianity and Judeo-Christian civilization since its earliest days. That any Christian leader would be called a “defender of Islam” by anyone only casts into vivid relief the absurdity of our age and the weakness of the free world. The creeping idolatry of the papacy that is rampant in today’s Catholic Church, with all too many Catholics treating every word of the Pontiff as if it were a divine oracle, only makes matters worse.
Can you imagine any Muslim leader ever being called a “defender of Christianity”? Of course not: Muslim leaders are more aware than their fond defender in the Vatican that Islam mandates warfare against unbelievers, not defense of their theological views.
Pope Francis is not only disastrously wrongheaded about an obvious fact that is reinforced by every day’s headlines; he is also deceiving and misleading his people about a matter of utmost importance, and keeping them ignorant and complacent about a growing and advancing threat.
“Leave them; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14)