The Rape of Europe: a review

The Rape of Europe  is a video produced by David Hathaway, an evangelist who is the founder and president of Eurovision Mission to Europe. In 2006 he wrote a book entitled Babylon in Europe and the video is based on that book. In the video, Hathaway claims that the modern-day Europe is a continuation of the Roman Empire prophesied by Daniel. He also makes the claim that the EU is the prostitute of Revelation 17 that rides on the Beast of Islam.

The problem with the video is that when you start examining the statements that Hathaway makes, most of them turn out to be, at best, highly questionable.

Empires

The video starts by giving us a sweeping tour of world history, emphasising the great empires, and saying that now “we are seeing the absolute dominance of America in world politics and economy, but alongside it, arising a challenging force – that of the emerging European empire.”

This description is questionable. The big problem is that if one actually looks at the world, the EU is not challenging the US for dominance in world politics and economy. The EU’s share of global GDP is declining. The countries that made up the EU controlled about 30% of the world’s economy in 1980, whereas today it is about 16% and is expected to continue to fall. In other words, Hathaway’s great tour of world history sounds impressive, but when he gets into recent history, he ignores crucial facts which go against his narrative.

Having spoken about the fact that there were a succession of world empires, he then moves on to the Bible, and talks about how it also speaks of a succession of empires, and focuses on the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the 2nd chapter of Daniel. Hathaway says that Daniel says that “there would be five succeeding empires.” The video shows a picture of the statue with the the Babylonian empire at the top, followed by the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek empire, the Roman Empire, and at the bottom the “Holy Roman Empire” and “Europe Today.” He says that the only one not fulfilled is the iron and clay in the fifth empire.

What the book of Daniel says is:

This was the dream. Now we will tell the king its interpretation. 37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold. 39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. 41 And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”

What should we notice? First, there is nothing about empires – it speaks about kingdoms. It probably means empires, but we can’t be certain. Some scholars have thought that it means individual kings coming after Nebuchadnezzar. Secondly, it does not speak of five kingdoms / empires: it speaks of four. If you read verses 40 and 41, it seems pretty clear that the iron and clay feet are not a fifth empire, but part of the fourth.

As for which four kingdoms the parts of the statue stand for – the generally accepted view over the years is that they are, indeed, the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire. This was the view of most of the early church fathers, and of the reformers, and of most Bible-believing scholars today. They would generally accept the view that when verse 44 says “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,” – it is speaking about how in the days of the Roman Empire, Jesus came, bringing the kingdom of God, which is growing over the course of history as people are added it it through faith in Jesus, and which will eventually bring to an end the kingdoms of this world.

As well as the fact that the video speaks of a fifth empire, whereas Daniel speaks of four – there is another problem. Trying to fit the Holy Roman Empire or the EU into the pattern of the four empires does not really work. The four empires dominated the known world in their day, and each collapsed in battle at the hands of the empire that succeeded it. That was not the case for the Holy Roman Empire or the EU. Hathaway tries to argue that the Roman Empire was destroyed by Germanic tribes, and so the next empire is going to be German, but his argument is weak.

Symbols of the European Union

The video says that “actually, there are two main symbols used by the European Union both of which are found in the Bible.” It goes on to say that they are the Parliament Building in Strasbourg, and a statue in Brussels of a woman riding a bull.

When one looks at that statement, it breaks down completely. If you google “symbols of the European Union”, you come to a Wikipedia article of that name. The Wikipedia article begins: “The European Union (EU) uses a number of symbols, including the European Flag, Anthem of Europe, Motto of the European Union and Europe Day.” The video mentions none of these symbols, and the Wikipedia article mentions neither the Parliament building nor the statue of the woman riding a bull. To say that the Parliament building and the statue are “the two main symbols used by the European Union” is just not true.

The Tower of Babel

The video claims that the EU Parliament building represents the Tower of Babel, and spends a lot of time looking at this claim and what it means. The claim is based on the fact that the building, in some ways, looks very like a painting of the Tower of Babel by the 16th century Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the elder. Wikipedia says “The story of the Tower of Babel . . . was interpreted as an example of pride punished, and that is no doubt what Bruegel intended his painting to illustrate.” There is nothing controversial about that.

The video, however, claims, that the Parliament Building was modelled on the painting. I have not been able to find any evidence for that. The video claims that a journalist confirmed that the members of the European Parliament understood that it represented Babel in the Bible, and that they intended to finish what Nimrod and the people of Babel had failed to do. No source is given.

It seems to me very unlikely that all these people would choose a symbol of pride being punished as their symbol. What sort of idiot would choose, as a symbol, a great project that ended in disaster? Politicians and bureaucrats may not be the brightest people in the world, but they do tend to know a little bit about public relations – and choosing something that was a total disaster as your symbol is not good PR.

It is worth noting that the video claims that Nimrod was the builder of Babel. The Bible doesn’t actually say that. In Genesis 10, it says

Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

And Nimrod is not even mentioned in the account of the building of Babel in Genesis 11. He is not described in the Bible as the builder of Babel.

The video also says “In Babylonian culture, the title Queen of Heaven was the title given to the earthly mother of Nimrod.” The Babylonian goddess who they called the Queen of Heaven was Inanna. There is nothing in Babylonian mythology that says she was the mother of the founder of Babylon – or of anyone called Nimrod. In other words, what the video says appears to be untrue.

The Europa Statue

It is not surprising that Europa is used as a symbol of Europe by the EU. After all, in Greek mythology, the continent Europe is named after her. (It was common in ancient Greek mythology and geography to identify lands or rivers with female figures.) The video goes out of its way to make the story of the myth of Europa sound as horrific as possible, and then proceeds to use the fact that in the myth, Europa was originally from Phoenicia (on the east coast of the Mediterranean ) to suggest that this has implications for the relationship between between Europe and the Middle East in our time. To draw such a conclusion from an ancient Greek myth has no rational basis, and leaves me wondering why Hathaway takes Greek myths so seriously.

The video then goes on to assert that the description in Revelation 17 of a woman and a beast is actually a description of Europa and the bull. What Revelation actually says is:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgement of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”

There is no reason to believe that John, the writer of Revelation, had in mind the myth of Europa. Nowhere does it say in Revelation that the woman is Europa, nowhere does it say that the beast is a bull, nowhere does it say that she is riding on it – she is described as seated on it. More to the point, Revelation tends to draw its imagery from the Old Testament. It does not use imagery from Greek myths.

Fact-checking

I could go on, but the point is that when one fact-checks the video, it turns out that just about every claim that the video makes falls apart. One Christian writer, commenting on the video, remarked “nearly everything in the video is untrue—both historically and biblically. There are some facts in the presentation—it is nearly impossible to talk for over an hour without some facts slipping in . . . .

My guess is that very few people who see the video – and it is up to almost 180,000 views on YouTube – ever bother attempting to check the facts in the video. And yet Christians, of all people, should know that they ought to do some fact-checking when a preacher says something radically new or different. In the book of Acts (17:11) we are told that when Paul and Silas preached in the synagogue in Berea, his hearers were more noble than those in Thessalonica, and “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Final comments

I want to make a final comment about the video.

About 11 minutes in, Hathaway says “I want to try to show you in a very definite way, a very clear way, that we are actually living in the time when Bible prophecy is being fulfilled, literally today, in your lifetime.”

When Hathaway says that, it should ring alarm bells. Since the end of the New Testament, about 1900 years ago, people have often claimed that Bible prophecy is being fulfilled literally in their lifetimes, usually seeing this fulfilment in the political events of their own day.

For example, in 17th century England, during the political turmoil between King and Parliament that lasted from about 1639 to 1662, a group called the Fifth Monarchy Men claimed that the fifth monarchy spoken of in Daniel chapter 2, the kingdom of God, was about to happen. They saw great significance in the fact that the year 1666 was approaching. A lot of intelligent Christians believed it. Within a few years, it became clear that they were wrong, and today it is largely forgotten.

In the 18th Century, Jonathan Edwards, a great preacher with a brilliant mind, followed the battles between the Britain and France, trying to see how they fitted in with Biblical prophecy. Today, nobody believes that, and it is largely forgotten. These things often seem credible for several decades – sometimes for a few centuries – but in the end, they have always turned out to be wrong.

 

Postscript

Before the 2016 referendum, I wrote about why I planned to vote for the UK to leave the EU. In my piece, I spoke about the Tower of Babel, and said that what the Bible had to say suggested to me that moves toward greater unity in Europe were not a good thing. In other words, in some ways, what I had to say might appear at first glance to be similar to what David Hathaway said.

I wrote:

“Would a united Europe be a good thing? I think that a lot of people are attracted to the idea of being part of a large union because it feels ‘safer’ – remaining outside feels risky. This way of thinking believes that big is good – or at least that it is good to be part of something big – that a united Europe would be secure and strong in the big wide world out there.

I have to confess that I am uneasy with that view. In my opinion, the worst possible political arrangement for the world is a world with one central government exercising political control of the entire planet. It simply concentrates far too much power in one place. As Lord Acton observed, all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

(It seems to me that the account of the life of King Uzziah in II Chronicles 26 is a good example of what Acton spoke about, for verse 16 says “But when [Uzziah] was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.“)

And it seems to me that the second worst option is a world divided into a small handful of powerful blocks. Again, far too much power would be concentrated in only a handful of places. What I would prefer to see is a large number of independent countries – the more the merrier. That would share power out, and provide diversity instead of uniformity.

And that is basically why I would like to see Britain leaving the EU.

This brings us back to the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel, And in particular to words of the builders of the tower: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. ” What is interesting is that the Biblical account describes an attempt by the people of the world to form a unity. It doesn’t describe it explicitly as a political unity, but that is what it was.

God clearly did not believe that this unity project was a good idea:

The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

The words “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” suggest that God did not think this huge amount of power (basically, political power) concentrated in one place was a good thing. It suggests that being able to do more was not a good thing. And so he scattered them over the face of all the earth – in other words, into many smaller political units, so that they could not do so much.

And if God seems to be saying that having large amounts amounts of political power concentrated in one place is not good, and that it is better to split it between smaller political units, it seems to me that moving towards a unified Europe is probably not a good thing.”

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Thoughts on the Christchurch shooting

How should Christians respond to the attack that took place this week on a mosque in New Zealand?

My first response, to be honest, was not to be terribly surprised. Every so often, someone decides, for whatever reason, to kill a group of people. Last October it was a synagogue in Pittsburgh. In December 2017 it was a church in Quetta in Pakistan. Sometimes a school is attacked, sometimes a concert, sometimes a busy night club.

Upon further consideration, it struck me that New Zealand is about the last place one would expect such an attack to happen. New Zealand strikes me as about the safest place one could be. And yet even in New Zealand, things like this happen. If it can happen in Christchurch, it can happen anywhere – and I should be grateful that I have never been caught up in such an attack.

And the reason that things like this could happen anywhere is that all it takes is one person who has the motive to launch such an attack, and the means to do so. And since, I reckon, getting hold of the means, and using them, is within the capability of a lot of people everywhere in the world – all it takes is a person who, for whatever reason, has a desire to kill.

Which brings us to Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch attacker. What everyone knows is that he attacked a mosque in order to kill Muslims. He also made known his reasons for doing so in a manifesto that he posted online.

The most important line of the manifesto – at least in Rod Dreher’s opinion is this:

“RADICALIZATION IS THE RATIONAL RESPONSE TO DEGENERATION”

Dreher continues: 

What is “degeneration”? According to the manifesto, it consists of:

1. The decline in native European populations, and native European stock in the US, in terms of numbers relative to non-Europeans within those societies.

2. Politics and policies within European countries (that is, countries with ethnic European majorities, including the US and Canada) that disempower native Europeans.

3. Widespread drug use.

4. The loss of worker rights and stability under the reign of globalist capitalism.

5. Environmental degradation.

6. The collapse of Christianity.

7. Rampant hedonism.

These are the 7 things that Tarrant was particularly unhappy about in our society.

Dreher comments:

Here’s the chilling part: Everything Tarrant identifies as qualities of a disintegrating Western civilization is true. You may think that declining numbers of ethnic Europeans is a good thing, or something that has no particular moral meaning. But it really is happening. So are all the rest.

I suspect that most people in the west, including most Christians, would agree with Dreher. And a lot, including a lot of Christians, would be concerned about all, or most, of these seven things.

I am only going to comment on one of them, however – the one that I think is most interesting: “The collapse of Christianity”.

Dreher comments that Tarrant seems to value Christianity only as a force ethnically binding Europeans, and that may well be true. But the fact that Tarrant actually sees this as one of the seven marks of the degeneration of western society is quite striking.

As I pondered that, some words of Jesus came to mind:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”   (Matthew 7:3-5)

The question Jesus asks is one for Tarrant.  It asks him “What about you? You see degeneration all around you. Do you not see it in yourself?”

Isn’t it just a little bit strange that a man can speak of how the collapse of Christianity in the west is a bad thing, and yet he goes out and commits mass-murder – partly because he regrets the collapse of Christianity in the west?

Christianity, after all, is about Jesus Christ. And Jesus’ final instructions to those who were closest to him was to go into all the world and make disciples of all people everywhere, and teach them to keep his commands. Those command include the command not to murder. They also include the command to love your enemies.

Tarrant valued Christianity – and thus, in some way, apparently valued the teaching of Jesus -but failed to acknowledge that the words of Jesus applied to him.

Any Christian must surely regret that Tarrant saw that there was some value in Jesus, but didn’t realise what that value was.

And that brings us to the really interesting thing. Just as Tarrant saw value in Jesus, so, I suspect did his victims.  They were Muslims, and Islam teaches that Jesus is a prophet of God. The Jesus of Islam, however, is not quite the same as the Jesus of the gospels – and so Muslims are strangers to the Jesus of the gospels . . . just like Brenton Tarrant is.

Tarrant and his victims had this in common – they needed the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel – but they had not yet discovered that good news. And so what they had in common was far bigger than what divided them.

Degeneration does, indeed, demand a radical response.  It demands radicalization.

But the radical response it demands is not the one that Tarrant had in mind.  Rather, it was the one Jesus spoke of when he said (Mark 8:34-35):

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

That means me recognising that I am inherently degenerate, and that I live in a degenerate society in a degenerate world – and that the (radical) answer is to deny myself and follow him. And that means, to use John Piper’s words, to march to a different drum, to have a different King, and to have our citizenship elsewhere.

The “anti-Semitism epidemic” 1: America

When Donald Trump comes out strongly in favour of condemning bigotry, but Bernie Sanders has his doubts, you know something strange is going on.

Five years ago, stories about anti-Semitism were not particularly common in the western press. Times have changed, and in the past few months, there have been an increasing number of media headlines about anti-Semitism. 

This morning, on the BBC News website, I was intrigued to see the headline “US House votes to condemn bigotry” The mind boggles. This may be the most surreal headline I have ever seen on the BBC. Perhaps next week, they’ll vote in favour of virtue. They might even vote to condemn dishonesty, but that is probably too much to expect.

The headline on the article turned out to be slightly different: “Ilhan Omar: US House votes amid anti-Semitism row“.  It reports

The US House of Representatives has voted to condemn “hateful expressions of intolerance” amid a row over anti-Semitism. Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar has prompted sharp objections recently for frequently criticising Israel and pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington. Her Democratic party was split over how and whether to censure the freshman lawmaker. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has denied the resolution was made to rebuke Ms Omar. “It’s not about her. It’s about these forms of hatred,” Ms Pelosi told reporters, denying suggestions the measure was “policing the speech of our members”.

“Aye, right.” as they say in Glasgow.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 407-23 in favour of the resolution condemning discrimination against Jewish people, Muslims, Latinos and other minorities. Some Democrats had pushed for a vote purely condemning anti-Semitism, but the resolution was broad and did not mention Ms Omar by name.

Playing Politics

The fact that 23 people voted against condemning bigotry might seem surprising.  In fact, of the 23 who voted against, 22 apparently did so because they felt the resolution was “watered down”.  They wanted one that specifically condemned Ilhan Omar’s recent remarks.

The other dissenter was Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who commented “Now that the resolution protects just about every group on the planet, can we add “babies on the day of their birth” as a protected class?”  I’m guessing that Massie voted “nay” because he thought the resolution was silly and meaningless.

Indeed, the whole thing looks like it was simply about playing politics, because the House passed a closely related motion just three weeks agoPolitico reports:

House Democrats were forced to vote Wednesday on a measure condemning anti-Semitism, a gambit by House Republicans to embarrass the majority party in the wake of controversial comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. GOP leaders used the procedural tactic — known as a motion to recommit — as a messaging tool to put Democrats on the spot after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her deputies publicly denounced Omar’s comments this week.

The surprise manoeuvre came when GOP leaders offered language condemning anti-Semitism to a high-profile foreign policy measure, causing a 30-minute hold-up on the floor as top Democratic leaders huddled to discuss the next steps. Then in a highly unusual move, all Democrats voted in favor of the GOP amendment.

Democrats dismissed the partisan move and noted that most Republicans voted against the underlying Yemen resolution that contains the language condemning anti-Semitism.

This is what’s wrong about this place. They pushed out a [motion] to try to make us look bad, and then they’re forced to vote against their own [motion] after the bill passes,” said Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish.

They were trying to embarrass us. They played a game,” added House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland . . .

The fact that all the Democrats supported the Republican motion meant that it was unanimous, apart from Massie (who, presumably also thought that this resolution was silly and childish) who, along with Justin Amash (who, I’m guessing thought similarly), abstained.

But, back to yesterday’s resolution. It seems to be utterly pointless. However, it is clearly all about Ilhan Omar, and the Democratic Party feeling that it had to do something, but it wasn’t quite sure what to do.

What is it really about?

Which brings us back to Trump and Sanders.  

Donald Trump tweeted

“It is shameful that House Democrats won’t take a stronger stand against Anti-Semitism in their conference. Anti-Semitism has fuelled atrocities throughout history and it’s inconceivable they will not act to condemn it!”

However Bernie Sanders – himself Jewish – said in a statement on Wednesday that he feared the House vote was to target the congresswoman “as a way of stifling debate”, saying people should not “equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel”.

And standing with Sanders on this are several other people who are (at least ethnically) Jewish, such as Glenn Greenwald, whose article on the subject is titled: “The House Democrats’ “Rebuke” of Rep. Ilhan Omar Is a Fraud for Many Reasons, Including Its Wild Distortion of Her Comments

Greenwald’s piece is good. Read it.

I’ll just quote three lines:

“. . . the irony here is glaring: what’s actually anti-Semitic is to conflate the Israel Government and those who support it with Jews: that’s something being done by Democratic House leaders, not by Congresswoman Omar. “

“In fact, if one were to apply the warped reasoning of the House Democrats’ resolution to its logical conclusions, then one would have to also condemn Congresswoman Omar for also being anti-Muslim. That’s because she has repeatedly voiced very similar criticisms of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, specifically complaining that Saudi money has corrupted Washington and caused policy makers to be beholden to the Saudi monarchy – comments which, strikingly, nobody purported to find offensive: . . . “

And, finally Greenwald’s reference to

“all the cowards in the House about to formally denounce Omar, yet again, for the crime of telling this truth. “

However, the last word goes to Ben Swann, who in a short video, “Rep Omar’s Comments On Israel Were Not Anti Semitic“, makes much the same points as Greenwald.

Eyeless on Gaza

But Swann also points out something.  Just last week the UN Human Rights Council released a report stating that Israel intentionally shot children and journalists in Gaza, and that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Israel violated international law. And yet that UN report

 . . . has not been covered in one single mainstream media outlet in the United States; it has not been commented on by even one lawmaker.

And the evidence of what Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is talking about is right there. Instead of putting together a resolution against the killing of 35 children during protests along the border, and thousands others who were injured, rather than even debating it, House Democrats are drafting a resolution in order to silence a legitimate criticism – not of a people, not of a religion, but of a foreign government.

Jesus condemned hypocrites of his day, saying “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:24)

That sounds pretty much like what is going on in American politics today.

A serious question for Christian Zionists

Yesterday, I received an invitation from a Facebook friend to join a Facebook group called “Israel, My Beloved”. The group’s description of themselves was “We are a group who loves and support Israël and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We manage biblical values.

I was intrigued by the words “We manage biblical values,” and, wondering what it meant, turned to Chambers 21st century dictionary. The first meaning of “manage” is “to be in overall control or charge of “. Hence I assume that this group is claiming to be in overall control of Biblical values – which is quite a claim.

However, this description raised another question – one which is, I think, much more important. Had the group simply described themselves as a group who loves and support Israël”, I would not have been too surprised. The thing that I found astonishing was that it is a group that “loves and support Israël and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Now, the group is not explicitly Christian, but it speaks a lot about the Bible and God, so it clearly welcomes and encourages Christians. But more to the point, it suggests that there are a lot of Christians out there who feel that loving and supporting Israel goes hand in hand with loving and supporting Benjamin Netanyahu.

Now, Christians are called upon to pray for for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (I Timothy 2:2).  But praying for political leaders, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life is not quite the same as loving and supporting them. After all, it is quite likely that I Timothy was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. There were good reasons that Christians living under Nero should pray form him, that he would allow them to lead a peaceful and quiet life. But that didn’t mean that they were going to absolutely love Nero and enthusiastically support him – in the way that this Facebook group appears to love and support Netanyahu.

The big question

Which brings me to my serious question for those who are Christian Zionists:

Does being a Zionist mean that you feel that you have to give political support to the political leaders of the state of Israel?

I ask this question  because pretty much every professing Christian I have met (or read) who is strongly committed to a belief in Zionism, and to the right of the modern state of Israel to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people – is also strongly committed to supporting the political leaders of the state of Israel.  And in recent years, that translates as enthusiastic support for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party.  And by support, I mean that these people seem to believe that whatever Netanyahu says is to be believed and whatever he does is to be supported.

I have a problem with that.  Why?

1) Among Jews – both inside and outside Israel – there are a wide variety of perspectives on Israeli politics. Some Jews completely reject Zionism, and some Jews are enthusiastic supporters of Netanyahu. But there are a lot of Jews who are somewhere in between – they support the state of Israel, but are very critical of Netanyahu, and support other political parties in Israel. But I cannot recall meeting or hearing many Christian Zionists who are critical of the Netanyahu or the Likud party. You will find Jews, both in Israel, and outside of Israel, who are very uneasy about the policy of shooting of unarmed protesters in Gaza. You won’t find many (if any) Christian Zionists who express unease about that.

2) Among evangelical Christians in the west, including those who are supporters of Israel, there is often a willingness to be very critical of politicians in their own country – and often in an unpartisan way. There is a willingness to treat politicians of all parties as fallible human beings, and to despair of them as a class. But western Christians who are deeply sceptical about the politicians of their own country can appear to be completely uncritical of Israeli politicians – especially those who in power at the time.

Biblical values

3) But the thing that really puzzles me is that I wonder if these enthusiastic Christian supporters of Netanyahu have thought about what they read in the Bible. Because if you read the Bible, and look at the political leaders of the people of Israel in the Bible, they turn out to be, on the whole, an absolutely terrible bunch.

If you start in the Old Testament, things begin well enough. Moses is faithful to God, as is Joshua after him, but the Judges are a fairly mixed bunch. And then we get to the kings. Of the early kings, David is good (mostly), but Saul and Solomon are flawed, and after that, the vast majority of the kings are bad. And after the division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel, every single king of the state called Israel was an unfaithful scoundrel.

And then you get to the New Testament, and the kings from the house of Herod (Idumaeans who had converted to Judaism) were all terrible, and the Sanhedrin (who functioned as the political leadership of the respectable religious Jews) were, for the most part, utterly evil. In the end, the Sanhedrin has Jesus, the Son that God sent into the world, killed – on trumped up charges  And things don’t improve after that.  In the book of Acts, the Sanhedrin’s leaders continued to behave pretty badly.  And Jews who didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah often indulged in unacceptable violence against followers of Christ. 

So – why do people who claim to believe the Bible (and hold to Biblical values) seem to think that the political leaders of the modern state of Israel (who don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah) can be trusted?  Why are they willing to believe anything they say?

A final question

Yesterday, the very day that I got an invitation to join the Israel, My Beloved Facebook page, a couple of other things happened which may be significant.

First, it was announced that Israel’s attorney general intends to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges.

Second , a UN Commission of Inquiry, set up last year by the UN’s human rights council, reported on the fact that Israeli forces killed 189 people and shot more than 6,100 others with live ammunition near the fence that divides the state of Israel from the Gaza strip.

They found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognisable as such”, and said “These serious human rights and humanitarian law violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

These two reports raise serious questions about the political leadership of Israel.

I wonder how many Christian Zionists will look at these things with an open mind, really wanting to know the truth of these accusations – and how many will simply dismiss them as slander – because that is what they want them to be.

True repentance – in faith and in politics – involves having your eyes opened

Martin Luther once said  “to do so no more is the truest repentance” . In other words, repentance is not about what you say or feel; it is about what you do. If you really repent of something wrong that you have been doing, you will stop doing it – and never do it again. 

The great example of true Christian repentance is that of the apostle Paul. His conversion story has made the phrase “road to Damascus” part of the English language. The change in his life was spectacular.  He went from being persecutor of Christians to become not just a Christian – but an outspoken Christian who faced death for his faith in Christ almost from the day of his conversion.

The politician who saw the light

Two days ago,  congressman Walter B Jones, who represented the 3rd district of North Carolina in the House of Representatives, died. It was his 76th birthday. But what is notable about Jones is that he had one of the most spectacular about turns in politics in recent years. I  remember hearing, in March 2003, about how an American Congressman, wishing to protest against France’s opposition to the coming invasion of Iraq, had proposed that “French Fries” be renamed “Freedom Fries.”   That congressman was Walter Jones.

Within two years, he had completely changed his mind. And the change was profound.   In a tribute in The American Conservative, Kelley Vlahos wrote:

Walter Jones was the only lawmaker I can recall who turned on war out of profound guilt. Life-changing guilt, borne out of watching coffin after coffin return to his North Carolina district draped in the stars and bars and met with the white, blood-drained faces of mothers and wives, fathers and children.

. . . for Jones, a man of deep Catholic faith who had come to believe that the Bush administration lied to Congress to get its approval for the Iraq invasion in 2003, it was intensely personal. He wept openly and talked about it. There was no whiff of political contrivance or calculation. In fact, his pain was so visceral it was at times hard to look at directly.

Those of us who did look, saw a brave, brave man who chose the isolation of his peers in the Republican party over compromising his own convictions. Simply put, there was Walter Jones pre-Iraq vote, and Walter Jones, post-Iraq vote. The latter spent the rest of his life—until his passing on Sunday at the age of 76—working towards redemption and a future where America’s sons and daughters aren’t sent into a meat grinder for politicians’ senseless wars of choice.

He told me in 2009 that writing thousands of letters of sympathy to the survivors of dead service members was in part, penance for his vote. “I think I have been forgiven, though all of those letters, I really do,” he said. In addition, he’d joined a small, but stalwart cadre of conservative voices against the wars based on moral and Constitutional grounds (including new interventions in Libya and Syria).

There was a cost. In 2005, a plane flew rather close to the centre of Washington, and because of concern that this might be an attack, there was an evacuation of the buildings on Capitol Hill. When the panic was over, one congressional staff member watched the members of congress walking back to their offices:

“As it happened, I spotted Walter Jones walking back up by himself.  While the other Republican Members greeted each other, walked a bit together, shared stories, and compared notes on the way back up the Hill, no one spoke to Walter Jones. No one smiled at him. No Member extended him that normal courtesy. They looked the other way.

I watched this play out in astonishment. Again and again. Once Walter Jones exited the war cult he simply ceased to exist. A man alone, wrestling with his guilt, determined to make amends. “

A complete change

I suggest that there are three things readers should notice.

First, and most importantly, the change was total. It was like what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus. As Vlahos put it, “Simply put, there was Walter Jones pre-Iraq vote, and Walter Jones, post-Iraq vote. ” Many people who supported the war in 2003 changed their mind and decided it was a mistake. But pretty well every single high profile figure in political and public life that supported the Iraq war, and then changed their minds – proceeded to support every single war that America was involved in afterwards.

It wasn’t that way with Walter Jones. He opposed every single American military intervention in the Middle East afterwards. He was one of three members of congress to introduce a resolution in September 2017, that invoked the War Powers Resolution to order President Donald Trump to remove U.S. military forces supporting the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The fact is, it is difficult to change your mind. For a member of congress who was a very public and staunch supporter of the Iraq war to admit that he was wrong was not easy. None of us find it easy to do that. It isn’t so difficult when everyone else was doing it – but to change your mind, and admit that you were wrong when nobody else is doing it takes real guts and integrity. Very few of us have ever done that. This really was like the apostle Paul. 

An awareness of need

Second, he felt that his wrongdoing was serious – very serious.   Kelly Vlahos speaks of his “profound guilt“.  He once said in an interview:

I did not do what I should have done to read and find out whether Bush was telling us the truth about Saddam being responsible for 9/11 and having weapons of mass destruction. Because I did not do my job then, I helped kill 4,000 Americans, and I will go to my grave regretting that.” 

It is very rare indeed to hear of a politician speaking like that.  In a sense it is like the extraordinary way that the apostle Paul spoke of his own past – when he called himself “the worse of sinners” (I Timothy 1:15).  Walter Jones spoke about his desire to be forgiven.   It was important to him.  Paul spoke of the wonder of Jesus Christ making forgiveness available – even to him.

His eyes were opened

The third crucial point that Vlahos tells us about Jones is that he: “had come to believe that the Bush administration lied to Congress to get its approval for the Iraq invasion . . .”   In his own words: “I came to believe we were misled, we were lied to.  The people around Bush manipulated the intelligence.”

The story of how he came to that belief is told in an article by Robert Dreyfuss in Mother Jones:

Then—”as God would have it,” Jones says—his daughter, who works for the state agriculture department in Raleigh, gave him a gift that changed everything. For his long drives back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Farmville, a lonely trip down Interstate 95 that can take five or six hours, she presented him with an audiotape of James Bamford’s A Pretext for War, a scathing indictment of the Bush administration’s abuse of prewar intelligence that excoriates the neoconservatives who hyped the threat from Iraq. The revelations opened Jones’ eyes. “I was so concerned that I bought the book so I could highlight it.” Jones invited Bamford to lunch and then brought him back to Capitol Hill for an off-the-record dinner with two dozen members of Congress. Bamford, a former investigative producer for ABC News who has written widely on intelligence issues, was impressed. “The vast majority of people in Congress, once they make a mistake, don’t want to admit it, which is why I have a lot of admiration for Walter Jones,” he says. “Until then, he had felt the emotion of the war and the casualties, but he hadn’t focused on the lies and the distortion and the exaggeration involved in the period before the war.” 

Walter Jones came to see that there was more dishonesty in government than he had realised – that even the people and agencies that he had assumed were basically honest were not.

Interestingly, the Mother Jones article refers to Jones as a man who “knows the Bible”.   Well, if you read the Bible, you will see that pretty much every ruler it describes is corrupt and dishonest.  And yet so many Christians who know their Bibles seem to have a remarkable faith in politicians. And even those who claim to be sceptical about politicians tend to believe what the political leaders of their own country say about the political leaders of other countries – and, in a similar way, Christians who support a particular political party tend to be tend to believe what the leaders of that party say.

What came as a shock to Walter Jones was the discovery that in the run-up to war, leaders of his own party and of his own nation had lied about Iraq and its political leadership.

And a curious footnote

But there’s one last thing. The man that Walter Jones credits with opening his eyes to the lies, distortion, and exaggeration in the run-up to the Iraq war James Bamford. The full title of the Bamford book involved is “ A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq. and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies.” The word ‘pretext’ is significant. In the words of Wikipedia, the abuse of America’s intelligence agencies in order to fabricate a pretext for the war in Iraq, and achieve political goals . . . in the process. . . . One notable remark by an unidentified figure in the CIA exclaimed to his employees that if the President wanted a war, then their jobs were to produce the justification and reasons.”

By interesting co-incidence, the day after Walter Jones died, James Bamford published an article in the New Republic. By very interesting co-incidence, it was about America’s intelligence agencies. And the story is, in its own way, as appalling as what happened in the lead up to the Iraq war.

In this case, it wasn’t about how the intelligence agencies went after a foreign dictator for political reasons. Rather, the article – “The Spy who wasn’t” –  tells how they went after a young woman. It is about how “The U.S. government went looking for someone to blame for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—and found Maria Butina, the perfect scapegoat,” and explains that

“The government’s case against Butina is extremely flimsy and appears to have been driven largely by a desire for publicity. . . .  Despite the lack of evidence against Butina, however, prosecutors—abetted by an uncritical media willing to buy into the idea of a Russian agent infiltrating conservative political circles—were intent on getting a win.”  

It tells how intelligence agencies spent over 3 years and probably over a million dollars trying to find something serious to charge her with. Just as in the case of Iraq in 2003, the vast majority of the media fell in line, and painted her as a spy – with some salacious stories. And just as was the case with regard to Iraq, it played upon the natural xenophobia of the American people.

The FBI, however, was unable to come up with a shred of evidence that she was a spy. And so they resorted to alternative tactics. Bamford explains what finally happened.

“On November 23, 2018, Butina went to sleep on a blue mat atop the gray cement bed in her cell, her 81st day in solitary confinement. Hours later, in the middle of the night, she was awakened and marched to a new cell, 2E05, this one with a solid steel door and no food slot, preventing even the slightest communication. No reason was given, but her case had reached a critical point. Prosecutors were hoping to get her to plead guilty rather than go to trial, and had even agreed to drop the major charge against her: acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia. Born and raised in Siberia, she is terrified of solitary confinement. Fifteen days later, still in solitary, she signed the agreement, pleading guilty to the lesser charge, one count of conspiracy.
”

Lesson learned

Walter Jones learned a vital lesson from Bamford in 2005. What he heard caused the scales to fall from his eyes. He was a changed man, and he never again went back to his old ways.

Sadly, he was one of the few.  Not many are prepared to admit that they are completely and utterly wrong. The history of the past 15 years show that true repentance in politics is rare – and that most eyes remain firmly shut. 

Trump and Tribalism

It seems to me that Donald Trump divides the world.

And he does that in (at least) two ways.

First, he seems to see the world as being made up of two kinds of people – Americans and non-Americans. I say this because during his presidential campaign, there were two issues that were central to his platform. One was that he wanted to keep down the number of people from Latin America from coming into the USA. The other was that he wanted to limit the flow of foreign imports (especially from China) into the USA. He appeared to believe that basically, immigrants and imports were in some way a threat to America and Americans. It was a matter of “them” and “us”.  And “they” were the main threat to us – at least the main economic threat (because, for Donald Trump, making money, er, trumps everything.)

And the word I would use for that “them and us” way of looking at the world is “tribalism”. It could also be called xenophobia, but xenophobia specifically implies “dislike of foreigners” – and while Trump may well be xenophobic in some ways, I prefer to use the looser and more general word “tribalism” to describe looking at the world through “them and us” spectacles.

But Trump also divides the world by virtue of being a controversial character. To use a British colloquialism, he is “Marmite” – most people seem to either love him or hate him. And a  result of this is that those who hate him tend to extend this hatred to those who like him, or to his policies, in quite astonishing ways.

This is illustrated in two recent stories.

The Covington Affair

The first is the affair of the Covington teenagers. Under the headline “Video of US teenagers taunting Native American draws fire“, the BBC reported that

Footage of a group of teenagers – many wearing Make America Great Again caps – taunting a Native American man in Washington DC has drawn criticism. The teenagers, students at Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School, are seen mocking Omaha elder Nathan Phillips as he sings and drums. The students were taking part in an anti-abortion rally on Friday, while Mr Phillips came for an Indigenous Peoples’ March. The school apologised to Mr Phillips. The footage of the incident went viral on social media.

The following day, the BBC had another story, “US teen denies mocking Native American“. 

The report begins

“A teenager involved in a controversial encounter between a Native American man and a crowd of students has spoken out. A video appeared to show some of the boys laughing and jeering as Omaha elder Nathan Phillips sang and drummed in Washington. The footage, which went viral, led to widespread criticism of the boys. However, additional video footage has provided further details of the incident, while student Nick Sandmann has denied mocking Mr Phillips.”

The second BBC piece reports the claims of the different parties involved, but studiously avoids taking sides, leaving casual readers with little idea about who is telling the truth.

It seems to me that the BBC is being disingenuous. The evidence leaves little doubt that Nathan Phillips’ account bears no relationship to reality, and that the accusations made against the teenagers were baseless. Robby Soave’s article in Reason  tells the story of what actually happened clearly and concisely – as does independent journalist Tim Pool’s video “The Truth About “MAGA Kids” And The Native Americans” and his follow up video “Native Activists Lied, Media Covered For Them in MAGA Incident“.

The piece that really struck me, though, was Julie Irwin Zimmerman’s article “I Failed the Covington Catholic Test” in The Atlantic.  She begins

“Like many people who spend too much time on Twitter, I watched with indignation Saturday morning as stories began appearing about a confrontation near the Lincoln Memorial between students from Covington Catholic High School and American Indians from the Indigenous Peoples March.”

And then she goes on to tell of how she looked a little deeper, and realised that she had rushed to judgement a little too quickly.

Why had she rushed to judgement? She explains:

“The story is a Rorschach test—tell me how you first reacted, and I can probably tell where you live, who you voted for in 2016, and your general take on a list of other issues—but it shouldn’t be. . . . If the Covington Catholic incident was a test, it’s one I failed—along with most others. “

It’s nice to hear someone admitting that they got it wrong, and apologising – more than the BBC did.

But the key words in her article, for me, were: “I hated the maga hats some of the kids were wearing . . . .”

I suspect that she was not the only one to jump to conclusions because some of the boys were wearing maga hats.

The logic is basically “if people wear MAGA hats, they are Trump partisans, and we can safely assume that they are bad. And so when it is teenagers wearing maga hats vs. an elderly native American, the native American must be in the right.”

Even more worrying than the rush to judgement by thousands of people, was the amount of vitriol thrown at the teenagers on social media.

As far as many people were concerned, the boys were of the “Trump tribe” – they were “them”, not “us”. And the depth of the tribalism was shown by the way people rushed to judgement and said some pretty horrific things – all because they thought some teenagers had been disrespectful to an old man.  Or rather, all because the teenagers were wearing MAGA hats.

Learning to love war

Which brings me to my second story – about what Americans think of Donald Trump’s proposal that American troops should be withdrawn from Syria 

In an article published by the Intercept on the 10th January, Glenn Greenwald reports

“PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S December 18 announcement that he intends to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria produced some isolated support in the anti-war wings of both parties, but largely provoked bipartisan outrage among Washington’s reflexively pro-war establishment.

Both GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the country’s most reliable war supporters, and Hillary Clinton, who repeatedly criticized former President Barack Obama for insufficient hawkishness, condemned Trump’s decision in very similar terms, invoking standard war on terror jargon.

But while official Washington united in opposition, new polling data from Morning Consult/Politico shows that a large plurality of Americans support Trump’s Syria withdrawal announcement: 49 percent support to 33 percent opposition.”

But then we come to the fascinating, and very revealing, twist:

But what is remarkable about the new polling data on Syria is that the vast bulk of support for keeping troops there comes from Democratic Party voters, while Republicans and independents overwhelming favor their removal. The numbers are stark: Of people who voted for Clinton in 2016, only 26 percent support withdrawing troops from Syria, while 59 percent oppose it. Trump voters overwhelmingly support withdraw by 76 percent to 14 percent. . . .

Identical trends can be seen on the question of Trump’s announced intention to withdraw half of the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, where Democrats are far more supportive of keeping troops there than Republicans and independents.

This case is even more stark since Obama ran in 2008 on a pledge to end the war in Afghanistan and bring all troops home. Throughout the Obama years, polling data consistently showed that huge majorities of Democrats favored a withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan: . . .

With Trump rather than Obama now advocating troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, all of this has changed. The new polling data shows far more support for troop withdrawal among Republicans and independents, while Democrats are now split or even opposed. Among 2016 Trump voters, there is massive support for withdrawal: 81 percent to 11 percent; Clinton voters, however, oppose the removal of troops from Afghanistan by a margin of 37 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.”

In other words, Democratic voters are, in Greenwald’s words, “becoming far more militaristic and pro-war than Republicans”.

Ten years ago, nobody would have believed you if you’d told them that was going to happen.

No, Greenwald doesn’t use the word “tribalism”. But that is what it is. It is caused by a perfectly reasonable fear about what Trump might do, combined with an irrational belief that he is so evil that anything he does is probably dangerous, and an even more irrational belief that because most of the leaders of the Democratic Party are opposing something that Trump is doing, they must be right.

And the fact that only a decade after Barack Obama took office, the Democrats (with some honourable exceptions) have become more pro-war than Republicans, tells us that a lot of the time, politics isn’t so much about principles of government, but about  personalities, prejudice, and partisanship. 

Or, as I prefer to call it, tribalism.

It is something that we are all prone to.   But it isn’t helpful.

 

How America chose to support death, destruction, and the persecution of Christians in Syria

A lot of people listen to the news or read newspapers – basically, to find out what is new, what has happened in the course of the last 24 hours. Some study or read books about history, to find out what happened in the past – usually, the distant past.

The problem with the news is that it usually only gives a small part of the story, and is thus often misleading. The problem with history is that few people read it, and discover what really happened.

But last week, a couple of articles came out which were somewhere between news and history. Both were about American policy in Syria, and both were by veteran reporters. In some ways they were quite different; in some ways they were very similar. But both were fascinating in shedding light on the dark story the war in Syria, and America’s part in it.

Interviewing the immortals  

I’ll start with an article published in the February edition of Harpers magazine entitled Tell Me How This Ends – America’s muddled involvement with Syria.”

It was written by Charles Glass. Glass was born in 1951 and began his career in 1973 with ABC News in Beirut, rising to become their chief Middle East correspondent from 1983 -93.

At the beginning of his piece, he explains how he came to write it:

I have observed the Syrian conflict off and on since it began, in 2011, filing stories from Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Palmyra, the Turkish border, and other zones of contention. But the story as seen from inside Syria seemed as incomplete as the Trojan War without the gods. In the conflagration’s eighth year, I flew to the Olympian heights of Washington to ask the immortals what they were doing while an estimated half million of Syria’s twenty-three million inhabitants were dying, millions more fled the country, and some of civilization’s most precious monuments were destroyed.

And then, in the course of a long article (over 7000 words) he tells the story of how an incident in Damascus in February 2011 sparked discontent in Syria which got out of control and had become, by spring 2012, open warfare. And in particular, Glass talks about what people close to the American government, told him about the Obama administration’s reaction to events in Syria, and its response to them.

Robert Ford, who had been the American ambassador to Syria until America closed its Embassy in Damascus in 2012, told Glass

I wrote a memo to Clinton with a copy that went to the White House—this was in June 2012—that the Al Qaeda faction is taking over eastern Syria. And the Free Syrian Army doesn’t have enough supplies, not enough money, to hold them off. If eastern Syria falls, they are going to link up with the people on the other side of the border in Iraq and create this gigantic entity.

In response, Glass tells us,

“the Obama Administration dispatched nonlethal aid—what Ford called “food, medicines, meals ready to eat, stuff like that”—to the ostensibly moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) faction. When that didn’t make any real difference, according to a senior administration official,“The State Department, the agency [CIA], and some in the White House began advocating for providing arms to the Free Syrian Army. That summer, [CIA Director David] Petraeus and Clinton made a pitch.”

Another advisor to the Obama Administration, Fred Hof, told Glass

In the summer of 2012, you had the incident of Clinton, [CIA Director David] Petraeus, [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta, and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin] Dempsey going to the president and saying, in effect, Look, Mr. President, what Assad is doing is terrible, but now we’re noticing something else. We’re noticing some Al Qaeda elements beginning to establish themselves in Syria, and what we recommend is that the United States take the lead in arming and training vetted elements of the Syrian opposition, focusing, for the most part, on officers and soldiers who had defected from the Syrian army, forces that would be able to fight in two directions—against the regime and against Al Qaeda. And the president turned that down. He turned it down.

However, it didn’t remain that way.

Many in the administration were in favor of some form of intervention, perhaps targeted strikes. But there was also significant skepticism about the wisdom of direct U.S. military involvement, about the nature of the opposition, the risk of a slippery slope.

The compromise between direct military involvement and staying out was the route taken by many presidents before Obama: a covert operation to raise an insurgent army and train it in nearby countries; provide weapons, sustenance, and communications; and oversee the military campaign. It was high-risk for the locals and casualty-free for the Americans. A senior administration official told me, “Only a few were against arming the opposition. Obama commissioned a report on the history of arming groups.

The CIA produced a history that remains classified and which, says one of those who read it, showed “only one or two instances of successful proxy wars.” Despite the failure of the CIA’s secret wars, from Albania in the late 1940s through Angola in the 1970s and 1980s, Obama assigned the CIA to train militants in Turkey and Jordan under what is called a Title 50 program in defense of American national security.

That is the key bit: “Despite the failure of the CIA’s secret wars, from Albania in the late 1940s through Angola in the 1970s and 1980s, Obama assigned the CIA to train militants in Turkey and Jordan under what is called a Title 50 program in defense of American national security.”

If you are wondering what this had to do with American national security, by the way, the real answer, I suspect, is “nothing”.

The results 

What happened next?

Rebels turned up with equipment they could not have looted from the Syrian Army. Al Qaeda-linked gangs shared the bounty, prompting Secretary of State Clinton in the summer of 2012 to fly to Istanbul, by then the unofficial capital of the Syrian opposition in exile. Jake Sullivan said that she wanted US allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar “to ensure the arms were provided with checks to make certain they were not going to Nusra or other terrorist groups.” He recalled her asking, “‘How are the controls implemented?’ The steps were taken, but they were incomplete.” Incomplete or non-existent, because jihadis with weapons supplied by American allies flooded Syria through the Turkish border.

Glass tells us that according to Charles Lister, who had monitored insurgent groups from the beginning of the Syrian conflict,

“By the summer of 2012, there was a pretty active effort on both sides of Syria’s northern and southern borders to prop up and help to create a somewhat more organized opposition movement. But the fact that Qatar and Turkey and Saudi and the UAE and Jordan were all involved, as governments, and then there were separate private networks coming out of Doha, Kuwait City, Istanbul—every single one of them was working along their own chart.”

And it gets worse:

Rebel training became the province of US and British agents, and the Turks allocated weapons. But there was no control over fighters when they infiltrated Syria, where many joined Salafist brigades. A British trainer told me that the program was benefiting religious fanatics more than any moderate, secular oppositionists . . . .

CIA operatives in Turkey and Jordan screened rebels to weed out fundamentalists. Vetting, however, proved futile. . . .

On the opposition side, jihadis from Chechnya, Afghanistan, Algeria, China, and Europe joined the fight. Together with indigenous fundamentalists, they reduced the FSA (Free Syrian Army) to irrelevance.

The most extreme elements, the Al Qaeda offshoots Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State, not only used the weapons but also advertised them in videos that included beheadings, the hurling of gay men off towers to their deaths, the murder of American journalists and British aid workers, and the rape of Yezidi women . . . .

A state of lunacy was reached when the respective insurgent bands of the CIA’s covert and the Defense Department’s overt programs turned their American weapons on each other.

And in October 2, 2014, American Vice-President Joe Biden declared:

Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks . . . the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni–Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world”

I think the most important words there, and ones that should be repeated regularly concerning US policy in the Middle East, are “Our allies in the region were our largest problem.

And so, Glass says,

“The result of US meddling in Syria was failure on all counts. It did not depose Assad, who looks like he is set to hold on to power for years. It did not expel Iran and Russia, whose influence and footprints in Syria expanded. It did not break the Syria–Hezbollah alliance. Nor did it ameliorate civilian suffering, as refugees either stay in exile squalor or return to demolished homes. It had the unintended consequence of turning Turkey from a traditional ally into a regional adversary.”

And the lessons are

As so often, American foreign policy managed to achieve about the opposite of what was intended. And, to be honest, that is often true not just of America, and of foreign policy, but also of many policies pursued by governments all around the world.

Which is why I regularly quote Psalm 146:3 “Do not put your trust in princes.”

The title of Glass’s article comes from something Antony Blinken, a member of Obama’s administration said: “I think from President Obama’s perspective, when some of us would advocate to do more, take some more chances, he would regularly ask, ‘Tell me how this ends.’”

Obama was asking the right question. I wonder if anyone at one of those meetings said “There is a very good chance that it will achieve precisely the opposite of what we intend”. Somehow, I doubt it.

But, as so often, whatever Obama’s misgivings, he went ahead and took action in Syria. Why? Probably because he and his staff suffered from the “something must be done” malady, which affects most people who have political power. As Glass puts it: “The men and women around Obama’s conference tables and via video links claimed that, more than anything else, they wanted to do the right thing. In [the case of deputy national security advisor, Ben] Rhodes . . . , anything. “Even though I had misgivings about our Syria policy,” he wrote, “I was glad we were doing something.”

Oh dear.

And so, Glass concludes: “Obama’s strategists sought to make Syria better. As they admit now, they didn’t.”

The memo

The second article, “The Memo That Helped Kill a Half Million People in Syria”  is by Daniel Lazare, and was published in Consortium News. It is a lot shorter than Glass’s article, and it is not based on interviews, but on a single memo dating to April 2012, published by Wikileaks. What it does is to throw some light on factors that may have encouraged the Obama administration to pursue the policy of supporting anti-Assad forces in Syria.

The 1,200-word memo was written by James P. Rubin, who had been a senior diplomat in Bill Clinton’s State Department, and was sent to Hillary Clinton, who at that time was Obama’s Secretary of State. We know that Clinton twice requested be printed out, so she apparently found it significant.

The memo begins with the words “The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.”

It says

“Bringing down Assad would not only be a massive boon to Israel’s security, it would also ease Israel’s understandable fear of losing its nuclear monopoly. Then, Israel and the United States might be able to develop a common view of when the Iranian program is so dangerous that military action could be warranted. . .

Arming the Syrian rebels and using western air power to ground Syrian helicopters and airplanes is a low-cost high payoff approach. As long as Washington’s political leaders stay firm that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed, as they did in both Kosovo and Libya, the costs to the United States will be limited. Victory may not come quickly or easily, but it will come. And the payoff will be substantial. Iran would be strategically isolated, unable to exert its influence in the Middle East. The resulting regime in Syria will see the United States as a friend, not an enemy. Washington would gain substantial recognition as fighting for the people in the Arab world, not the corrupt regimes. . . .

With the veil of fear lifted from the Syrian people, they seem determine to fight for their freedom. America can and should help them — and by doing so help Israel and help reduce the risk of a wider war. “

According to Lazare, “The memo was sent to her shortly before Clinton joined forces with then-CIA Director David Petraeus to push for an aggressive program of rebel military aid.” and he comments

“the memo illustrates. . . a recklessness, lack of realism and an almost mystical belief that everything will fall neatly into place once the United States flexes its muscle.”

I think that’s fair comment; the memo is so unrealistic as to be almost delusional.

And Lazare then speaks about the results:

“By August 2012, a secret Defense Intelligence Agency report found that Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al Qaeda were already “the major forces driving of the insurgency” and that the U.S. and Gulf states backed them regardless. The report warned that the U.S. and some of its allies were supporting the establishment of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria to pressure Assad that could turn into an “Islamic State”–two years before the Islamic State was declared in 2014. Clinton was among senior Obama administration officials who had to have seen the report as it was sent to the State Department among several other agencies.

In 2016, then Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed this policy in a leaked audio conversation, saying that the U.S., rather than seriously fighting the Islamic State in Syria, was ready to use the growing strength of the jihadists to pressure Assad to resign, just as outlined in the DIA document.

We know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that Daesh [an Arabic name for Islamic State] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened,” Kerry said. “We thought however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him.””

The cost

And finally, Lazare writes of the cost:

The cost of the Clinton-backed policy in Syria has been staggering. As many as 560,000 people have died, and half the population has been displaced, while the World Bank has estimated total war damage at $226 billion, roughly six years’ income for every Syrian man, woman, and child.

I will simply add that, as I have written before, it was one of the costs of the war in Syria that got me interested in digging deeper into what was going on there. In July 2013, Middle East Reformed Fellowship reported:

While Western diplomats host opposition figures promising a democratic agenda, it is well documented that on the ground in Syria, passionate Islamists effectively head the opposition forces. . . . major media have shown little interest in the fact that opposition militias in Syria have also specifically targeted murderous cleansing operations against Christian civilians. . . . Two pastors, one in Aleppo and the other in Homs, give thanks to the Lord for being able to remain in their neighbourhoods, and that, after security was restored by the army, many members of their congregations returned and Sunday services resumed.”

Yes, back in the summer of 2013, it was known that “opposition militias in Syria have also specifically targeted murderous cleansing operations against Christian civilians.”

And the western mainstream media, as well as the political leadership in America and Britain, simply turned a blind eye.

And that, as far as I was concerned, told me everything I needed to know about the media and the political class in this country.

 

The threat of terrorism and the wisdom of Solomon

Last week, I wrote about the resignation of William Arkin, an American reporter who left his post at NBC and MSNBC because of his disappointment with their journalistic standards. His problem is not just with his employers; he believes that American journalism as a whole is in a state of crisis.

But he also expressed concern about the state of the world – and about the state of American political discourse. In particular, he is concerned about what people are saying war and conflict – because that is his specialist area: he is a a military affairs analyst.

Terrorism

And one subject he homes in on is terrorism. He mentions it three times in his resignation letter.

First, he speaks of how he “spoke up about the absence of any sort of strategy for actually defeating terrorism.”

Second, he makes the point that “terrorists will never be defeated until we better understand why they are driven to fighting.”

And third, he tells us that he is writing a novel, one that meditates on the question of how to understand terrorists in a different way.”

These are all closely related, since understanding terrorists, and in particular, why they are driven to fighting – in other words, their motives, is the key to defeating terrorism.

Understanding people’s motivations

And this brings us to the matter of how terrorists think, and the things that drive them to do the things they do. In America, and in the west in general, I think that people have given very little attention to that.

In fact, there is little secret about the motivations of those who were involved in the 9/11 attacks that spurred America’s modern war on terrorism. Osama bin Laden, who was the leader at the time, spoke quite openly about his motives.

One can read about what bin Laden said in many places, but the place I am going to turn to is an extraordinary article, written a few weeks ago, entitled “What if Osama bin Laden Had Legitimate Grievances?

What makes this article extraordinary is that it was written by Major Danny Sjursen, a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point, who has served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article is not long, so I’ll just quote the whole thing.

“You’re not supposed to utter these words, but what the heck: Osama bin Laden had a point. No, his grievances, as well as those of his followers and sympathizers, didn’t excuse the mass murder of 9/11—not by a long shot. After all, I am a native New Yorker whose family and neighborhood were directly touched by the horror of those inexcusable attacks. Still, more than 17 years after the attacks on the Pentagon and twin towers, it’s worth reflecting on bin Laden’s motives and discussing the stark fact that the United States government has made no moves to address his gripes.

Now is as good a time as any. The U.S. military remains mired in wars across the Greater Middle East that have now entered their 18th year. The cost: $5.9 trillion, 7,000 dead American soldiers, at least 480,000 locals killed and 21 million refugees created. The outcome: more instability, more violence, more global terror attacks and a U.S. reputation ruined for at least a generation in the Islamic world.

Need proof? Consider the regular polling that indicates that the U.S. is considered the greatest threat to world peace. Not China, Russia, Iran or even North Korea. The United States of America.

Why, exactly, is the U.S. so unpopular, from West Africa to South Asia? This can be explained in part by the mere presence—sustained, at that—of U.S. troops in the region. As a historian, I can assure you that folks don’t usually take well to being occupied. Nevertheless, it’s more than that. And here’s the rub: Washington, unwilling to even consider the grievances bin Laden and his acolytes clearly communicated, has instead doubled down on militarism in the region—thereby turning al-Qaida’s fringe complaints into a mainstream sense of injustice throughout the Muslim world.”.

The key words there are, of course:

“it’s worth reflecting on bin Laden’s motives and discussing the stark fact that the United States government has made no moves to address his gripes.”

Osama bin Laden’s gripes

“Let’s review the three core grievances in bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa—essentially a declaration of war—against the U.S., and then look over Washington’s contemporary policies on the issues:

1. Bin Laden objected to the presence of U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia specifically and across the region more generally, due to their proximity to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Furthermore, bin Laden criticized the U.S. backing of Saudi Arabia’s despotic royal regime.

But rather than pull its troops “offshore,” the U.S. military has expanded its empire of bases, both in the Mideast and throughout the world. Despite the slaughter in Yemen and the murder of a Washington Post journalist, Washington still inflexibly backs the Saudi monarchy. The U.S. has even negotiated record arms contracts with the kingdom, to the tune of $110 billion. Clearly, Washington has only doubled down on this front.

2. The al-Qaida chief lamented the starvation blockade that the West—led by Washington—imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. Make no mistake: Saddam was no friend of bin Laden—in fact, they were mortal enemies. But the well-reported deaths of some 500,000 Iraqi children, victims of the sanctions during that period, are what motivated bin Laden’s concern. The blockade was so hard and its civilian toll so gruesome that the United Nations aid chief, Denis Halliday, resigned in protest in 1998. Optically, the U.S. government response came across as both coarse and callous. When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked in a “60 Minutes” interview in 1996 whether the price of a half-million dead children was worth the benefits of the sanctions, she cold-heartedly replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

Today, in addition to the unwarranted 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which caused at least another 200,000 civilian casualties, the U.S. is complicit in a new blockade, this one imposed by Washington’s Saudi allies in Yemen. Recent reports indicate that some 85,000 Yemeni children have already starved to death in the 3–year-old war on the poorest Arab country. Undeterred, the U.S. continues to provide munitions, intelligence and in-flight refueling to the Saudi military. This veritable war crime has galvanized an increasing anti-American regional public just as intensely as the 1990’s sanctions on Iraq once did.

3. Bin Laden, like many global Muslims, felt sympathy for the generations-long plight of the occupied Palestinians and abhorred America’s one-sided support for Israel’s military and governing apparatus. The U.S. has been almost alone in its willingness to flout international law, U.N. resolutions and a basic sense of humanity in its backing of Israel since 1948.

Here again, nothing has changed. Washington has simply doubled down. Israel remains the principal recipient of U.S. military aid, with almost no strings attached. U.S. media and Washington policymakers rarely mention the slaughter of mostly unarmed Palestinian demonstrators protesting along the Gaza fence line in the past eight months. The results have been striking: 5,800 wounded and at least 180 killed since March. American mainstream media may not take much note of this, but guess who does? A couple of million Muslim citizens worldwide. In fact, the ongoing protests kicked off partly in response to President Trump’s near unilateral decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that essentially announced that in American eyes, the Holy City belongs to the Jews alone.”

Why listen to a terrorist?

And Danny Sjursen concludes:

“The reasons behind American intransigence and obtuseness in Mideast affairs should come as no surprise. The U.S. is a nation built on a millenarian, exceptionalist ideology and has long been driven by a mission to spread its message across the globe. A populace—and government—infused with these ideas is unlikely to demonstrate the humility to take a proverbial look in the mirror and admit fault. This became especially unlikely in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when passions reached a fever pitch and chauvinistic nationalism became the name of the game. Even then, however, credible voices questioned America’s rush to war, including scholars such as Noam Chomsky and Robert Fisk, and even comedians like Bill Maher.

Seventeen years into the nation’s longest war, there are plenty of crucial reasons to review bin Laden’s grievances, consider his arguments and show the strength of character to acquiesce on certain points. This is sobriety, not surrender. After all, self-awareness is a sign of strength and maturity in nations, as well as in individuals.

After years of counterproductive U.S. policies and Mideast interventions, the nation is left with a stark choice: admit error and alter policy, or wage an indefinite worldwide war on a significant portion of the Islamic population. The former option would lessen violence and ultimately lead to a safer homeland, but it would require confronting an uncomfortable truth that most Americans simply can’t face: Bin Laden was a monster, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong on all fronts.”

The wisdom of Solomon

So – Americans have generally been slow, or even unwilling, to think about the motives of bin Laden and other terrorists. However, in being unwilling to think about motives, and trying to understand how people think, and what drives them – modern Americans are not unique. Pretty much everyone is like that – it is a universal human characteristic. We are, in general, very slow to try to put ourselves in other peoples shoes. But to do so is a mark of real wisdom – the sort of wisdom that governments need, if they are really serious about dealing with terrorism.

However, rulers don’t always have the wisdom that they need. Which brings me to the matter of the wisdom of Solomon. The wisdom of Solomon has become proverbial. And yet the Bible only gives one example of the wisdom of Solomon; the case of two women arguing over a baby.

Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house.

And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.”

But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.”

The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.

Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.'”

And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king.

And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.”

Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.”

But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.”

Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.”

And all Israel heard of the judgement that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.

(I Kings 3:16-28)

What was it that enabled Solomon to decide the case correctly? His understanding of human motivation. It occurred to him to think about what would motivate the two women, and how they would respond to a particular suggestion. Nobody else present thought of that. But he understood human motivation, and how people react to certain things.

It is an interesting irony that Reheboam, Solomon’s son and successor as king, managed to lose most of his kingdom early in his reign (see I Kings 12), by (wait for it) failing to understand human motivation. He thought that the way to win was to be strong, tough, and uncompromising with people who had a grievance. It backfired spectacularly.

It seems to me that if the west is serious about terrorism, they would be wise to think about what Major Danny Sjursen says, and about what motivates terrorists.

They would also be wise to consider the actions of Solomon and Reheboam – and the fate of the latter.

William Arkin’s resignation: War, truth, and the media

Before yesterday, I had never heard of William Arkin. You probably hadn’t either – at least if, like me, you don’t live in America. I don’t know if I’ll hear much about him in the future either.

But yesterday, he made the news.  He resigned from his post with NBC, one of America’s main TV networks. It wasn’t a big story; I don’t know if the UK press covered it at all.  But because of what he said in his resignation letter, I think it is significant – deeply significant – in the sense that it is a sign – a sign of the times.

Arkin is a veteran reporter. In his younger days, he served in U.S. Army intelligence; after leaving the army he worked in journalism as a military affairs analyst, being employed by, among others, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Arkin’s resignation letter  is not brief, and he covers a lot of ground. In his opening paragraph, he speaks of “the world and the state of journalism in tandem crisis.” And while I suppose that it is true that both journalism and the world are always in crisis in some way, it is probably more obvious today than it was, say 25 or 50 years ago.

The state of the world

The crisis in the world that Arkin is most concerned about concerns war and conflict. It is his area of expertise, and he knows what he is talking about. He tells of how he “spoke up about the absence of any sort of strategy for actually defeating terrorism” – and he is right. And he makes the extremely important point that “terrorists will never be defeated until we better understand why they are driven to fighting.” In the 1970s, I lived in both the Middle East, and in Ireland (about a mile from the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic), and over the years have thought a lot about terrorism – and I think that far too little thought and attention is given to the motives of those who take up terrorism.

Which probably goes a long way to explaining why, as Arkin says, the wars America has been fighting since the 9/11 attacks “produce nothing that resembles actual safety and security,” and “There is not a soul in Washington who can say that they have won or stopped any conflict.” And he is also absolutely right when he says “There is not one county in the Middle East that is safer today than it was 18 years ago. Indeed the world becomes ever more polarized and dangerous.”

The state of journalism

But more significant than Arkin’s comments about the state of the world, are his comments about the state of journalism. He is talking about journalism in America, and specifically about NBC, but I think that what he says applies to journalism in the UK as well.

He reminds us of the failures of the American media in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

“I’m proud to say that I also was one of the few to report that there weren’t any WMD in Iraq and remember fondly presenting that conclusion to an incredulous NBC editorial board. “

But his problem is not just with the fact that the media gets stories completely wrong; it is also with the fact that the media is far from objective and dispassionate, and even worse, it pursues dangerous agendas:

“I find it disheartening that we do not report the failures of the generals and national security leaders. I find it shocking that we essentially condone continued American bumbling in the Middle East and now Africa through our ho-hum reporting.”

And he says he is

“specially disheartened to watch NBC and much of the rest of the news media somehow become a defender of Washington and the system.”

Which brings me to the paragraph that sums up his exasperation with NBC (and much of the rest of the American media):

“For me I realized how out of step I was when I looked at Trump’s various bumbling intuitions: his desire to improve relations with Russia, to denuclearize North Korea, to get out of the Middle East, to question why we are fighting in Africa, even in his attacks on the intelligence community and the FBI.

Of course he is an ignorant and incompetent impostor.

And yet I’m alarmed at how quick NBC is to mechanically argue the contrary, to be in favor of policies that just spell more conflict and more war. Really? We shouldn’t get out Syria? We shouldn’t go for the bold move of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula? Even on Russia, though we should be concerned about the brittleness of our democracy that it is so vulnerable to manipulation, do we really yearn for the Cold War? And don’t even get me started with the FBI: What? We now lionize this historically destructive institution?”

Note those words: “how quick NBC is to mechanically argue the contrary.” Donald Trump has so polarised America that millions of apparently rational people seem to reflexively disagree with him on everything, unless he is simply embracing the political consensus of the day.   It has been said, jokingly, that if Trump came up with a cure for cancer, a lot of people would rush to tell us what a bad thing that was.

But more seriously, Arkin sees the mainstream media in America as being remarkably unanimous in favoring policies “that just spell more conflict and more war.”

The problem is that the media shapes the way we think far more than we realise – with the result that if the media favours policies that promote war and conflict, it is very likely that more conflict and war will ensue.

William Arkin’s resignation is, indeed, a sign of the times. And for anyone interested in peace or in truth, it is a wake-up call – a call to be aware of how untruthful and dangerous much of the western mainstream media actually is.

How the New Testament supports the case for infant baptism

I believe that a careful reading of the New Testament supports the case for infant baptism.  And I emphasise the word “careful”.   Because the New Testament’s support for infant baptism does not come so much from what it says, as what it does not say.

What the New Testament says:

1) The New Testament never explicitly forbids the baptism of babies.

2) The New Testament never explicitly commands the baptism of babies.

3) The New Testament never mentions a single infant of a baby or infant being baptised.

4) The New Testament never mentions a single incident in which a baby or infant in a Christian household is not baptised at the time his / her parents were baptised.

5) The New Testament never mentions a single incident of someone being baptised as an adult (or older child) who had grown up in a Christian home.

6) The New Testament mentions occasions on which “households” were baptised. It is possible that these households included small children or even babies, but we are not told.

In other words, the New Testament really does not enable us to be particularly certain about whether infant baptism should be seen as valid by the church, and if so, whether Christian parents are obliged to have their babies baptised.

There are, of course statements in the New Testament about the meaning of baptism, e.g.

1) The New Testament frequently associates baptism with personal faith, which suggests that baptism would not be appropriate for babies.

2) The New Testament on one occasion associates baptism with circumcision, which suggests that baptism would be appropriate for babies.

None of these things enable us to come to any certain conclusion about apostolic teaching on baptism or about the practice of the New Testament church.

However . . .

There is something very interesting about all this.

The New Testament tells us of baptisms in the name of Jesus Christ taking place just weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – which would be roughly A.D. 30

The New Testament, including the book of Acts and the various letters to churches and individual Christians, was written over the following decades. We don’t know when it was completed, but at the very earliest, it was completed around A.D. 70, and it is possible that some books were written after A.D. 90.

This means that there were at least 30 years (and probably somewhere between 40 and 70 years) between the first Christian baptisms and the completion of the New Testament.

In other words, there would have been many baptisms taking place in New Testament times, and many children being born to Christian parents.

We can be pretty sure that the New Testament church had a policy about whether or not babies (or other children) of Christian parents should or should not be baptised. This policy is never stated in the New Testament, so it must have been passed on by word of mouth by the apostles and other Christian teachers. The fact that there is no discussion at all of the subject in the New Testament letters tells us that it was not a subject of debate or controversy. In other words, the matter was settled. And since we have letters to churches and information about Christians in all parts of the Roman Empire from Rome to Jerusalem, it would appear that there was an agreed policy throughout the church by, say, A.D. 60.

What was that policy?

We don’t know. But we can make a fairly good guess. We have a huge number of Christian writings about various subjects, including church practice and order, as well as theological debates, from the apostolic period onward. In other words, we have Christian writings from the end of the New Testament – say, A.D. 100 – through the second, third, fourth centuries and beyond.

And there are two interesting facts about these writings –

1) There is no big debate at any point in them about whether infant baptism is valid.

2) Those that mention the issue of infant baptism, all the way back to Origen (about A.D. 200), are unanimous in agreeing that infant baptism is valid.

And so . . .

It seems to me that it is inconceivable that the whole New Testament church had a policy that regarded infant baptism as invalid in, say A.D. 60, but that without any big argument, the church throughout the whole Roman Empire should decide to accept infant baptism as valid by A.D. 200. Had there been a big change of mind on the subject, we would have expected much debate and discussion in the various early Christian writings that have survived. But there is none at all.

So I conclude that the historical evidence suggests that the Christian church in New Testament times was completely agreed that the baptism of infants was valid baptism.

That is not to say that I am convinced that Christian parents are obliged to baptise their babies – for there is some evidence of Christians in the early church (such as Augustine of Hippo) who were born to Christian parents but were not baptised as babies. However, it does seem to me that there is a strong case that infant baptism was regarded as normative in the early church right back to New Testament times. 

Afterthoughts

The most significant thing in the New Testament for the debate about infant baptism, in other words, is the fact that the New Testament is silent about the subject.  One might say that it is like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of Silver Blaze.  In that story, a race horse  goes missing in the night, and is presumed to be stolen.  And the crucial piece of evidence is the dog that didn’t bark.  When a Scotland Yard detective asks Holmes “”Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”, Holmes replies, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”  The detective, puzzled, says: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”  Holmes explains, “That was the curious incident.” 

The point is that if thieves had come and taken the horse, the dog would have barked.  In the same way, the total absence of anything about infant baptism (for or against), in the New Testament (and in Christian writings for a century afterwards) is  curious – if the New Testament church did not practice infant baptism.

I will add that I did not come up with this evidence for infant baptism in the New Testament church by myself.  I got it from somebody else, and not from Arthur Conan Doyle, but from a book written earlier in the 19th century – The Life of Archibald Alexander.  Alexander was an American Presbyterian minister and theologian who, early in his ministry, had doubts about infant baptism, and spent some time struggling and thinking about the issue.  And one thing, he says that convinced him “was that the universal prevalence of infant baptism, as early as the 4th and 5th centuries, was unaccountable on the supposition that no such practice existed in the times of the Apostles.”  His biographer (one of his sons) wrote:

On a thorough examination of the early Fathers and Councils, he traced the universal usage of infant baptism to a period, between which and the times of the Apostles, he satisfied himself that it was absolutely impossible that the usage could have been interpolated, and especially, without a shred of notice to be found of the change. The historical argument seemed to him invincible.

When I read that, it struck me that this was a brilliant insight, and I was amazed that I had never heard it before.  And so I never forgot it, and remain indebted to Alexander for showing that to me.