Category Archives: Religion

How Trump could cause a 21st Century witch hunt


Way back when esnl was an undergrad majoring in anthropology, one of our professors relentlessly hammered in one point: People are territorial group animals just like chimpanzees, our closest primate cousins [the bonobo hadn’t be recognized yet as a separate species even closer to us than chimps].

We also know that violence breaks out among chimps when resources are scarce and groups come into conflict.

We’ve also learned that humans who see themselves and their groups under threat can respond in those same primal ways.

And history teaches us that demagogues with dark agendas can exploit those same instincts to enhance their own positions of power by targeting popular anger towards the weak and those readily distinguishable from our own groups.

Some of our first television memories, after we got one of the first sets in town when we were six years old, was of the Army/McCarthy hearings, when a right wing demagogue in the Senate who had built a career out of whipping up fear of communists finally past the point of no return.

And now, with Donald Trump in the Whoite House the stage may be set for another witch hunt, writes Peter Neal Peregrine, Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies at Lawrence University in this essay for The Conversation, an open-source academic journal written in everyday English:

As an anthropologist, I know that all groups of people use informal practices of social control in day-to-day interactions. Controlling disruptive behavior is necessary for maintaining social order, but the forms of control vary.

How will President Donald Trump control behavior he finds disruptive?

The question came to me when Trump called the investigation of Russian interference in the election “a total witch hunt.” More on that later.

Ridicule and shunning

A common form of social control is ridicule. The disruptive person is ridiculed for his or her behavior, and ridicule is often enough to make the disruptive behavior stop.

Another common form of social control is shunning, or segregating a disruptive individual from society. With the individual pushed out of social interactions – by sitting in a timeout, for example – his or her behavior can no longer cause trouble.

Ridicule, shunning and other informal practices of social control usually work well to control disruptive behavior, and we see examples every day in the office, on the playground and even in the White House.

Controlling the critics

Donald Trump routinely uses ridicule and shunning to control what he sees as disruptive behavior. The most obvious examples are aimed at the press. For example, he refers to The New York Times as “failing” as a way of demeaning its employees. He infamously mocked a disabled reporter who critiqued him.

On the other side, the press has also used ridicule, calling the president incompetent, mentally ill and even making fun of the size of his hands.

Trump has shunned the press as well, pulling press credentials from news agencies that critique him. Press Secretary Sean Spicer used shunning against a group of reporters critical of the administration by blocking them from attending his daily briefing. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shook off the State Department press corps and headed off to Asia with just one reporter invited along.

Again, the practice cuts both ways. The media has also started asking themselves if they should shun Trump’s surrogates – such as Kellyanne Connway – in interviews or refuse to send staff reporters to the White House briefing room.

Accusations of witchcraft

Witches persecuted in Colonial era. Library of Congress.

But what happens when informal means of control don’t work?

Societies with weak or nonexistent judicial systems may control persistent disruptive behavior by accusing the disruptive person of being a witch.

In an anthropological sense, witches are people who cannot control their evil behavior – it is a part of their being. A witch’s very thoughts compel supernatural powers to cause social disruption. If a witch gets angry, jealous or envious, the supernatural may take action, whether the witch wants it to or not. In other words: Witches are disruptive by their very presence.

When people are threatened with an accusation of witchcraft, they will generally heed the warning to curb their behavior. Those who don’t are often those who are already marginalized. Their behavior – perhaps caused by mental disease or injury – is something they cannot easily control. By failing to prove they aren’t a “witch” – something that’s not easy to do – they give society a legitimate reason to get rid of them.

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Abby Martin dissects Steve Bannon: It ain’t pretty


There’s little doubt that Steve Bannon is the brains behind President Pussygrabber.

And if Donald Trump is an infantile personality, easily distracted by the latest shiny thing to enter his field of vision, Steve Bannon is another breed of cat altogether, a man with a plan.

And what Bannon plans, Martin shows in this edition of The Empire Files, is a return to the 1950s, when the white man’s word was law, both on the street and in the home, and women, minorities, and others not gifted with testicles and melanin deficiencies could be expected to know their places.

Oh, and he also wants a war with China.

Corrupt, cunning, and vicious, Bannon has fueled the rise of a reign of misfits, and we’ve only seen the beginning.

From teleSUR English:

Empire Files: Abby Martin Exposes Steve Bannon

Program notes:

Steve Bannon has been propelled over the last year from fringe media outlier to top propagandist of the U.S. Empire as Trump’s Chief Strategist.

From his Wall Street roots and apocalyptic film career to his cultivation of alt-right bigots at Breitbart News, Abby Martin exposes Bannon’s true character in this explosive documentary.

Dissection of Bannon’s ideology of “economic nationalism” and desire to “Make America Great Again” reveals the danger of his hand in Trump’s agenda.

Chart of the day: Congressional religious makeup


Following up on our previous post, here’s a look at the religious makeup of the Congressional delegations of the nation’s ten largest states from the Pew Research Center:


More from the report:

As has been the case in prior Congresses, the 115th Congress is more Christian than the U.S. population as a whole. The vast majority of the nation’s federal lawmakers (91%) describe themselves as Christians, compared with 71% of U.S. adults who say the same, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of congressional data compiled by CQ Roll Call.

Here are some other facts about the religious makeup of the current Congress, focusing on state congressional delegations:

  1. More than half the states (28) have delegations that are composed entirely of Christians. These delegations range in size from three members (as with Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana) to 38 (Texas). In none of these states is the general population more than 86% Christian. (Alabama is 86% Christian.) In several of the states on this list, such as Massachusetts, the share of Christians in the general population is roughly six-in-ten.
  2. While nearly half of all American adults are Protestant (48%), six states have delegations that are 100% Protestant. These states are Alabama (nine members of Congress), Delaware (three), Kansas (six), Montana (three), Oklahoma (seven) and Wyoming (three). Four other states have delegations without any Protestants: Hawaii (four members), Idaho (four), Utah (six) and Vermont (three).
  3. Catholics, who make up 31% of Congress and 21% of the adult population, are included among the congressional delegations of all but 11 states. And nine states have delegations in which half or more are Catholic, including the large states of New York, with 17 Catholics among its 29 lawmakers, and Pennsylvania, with 13 Catholics in its 20-member delegation. In addition, five of the states with delegations that are half or more Catholic – Alaska, Maine, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Vermont  – send only three or four lawmakers to Congress.
  4. There are 17 states with at least one Jewish lawmaker, and six of these states have more than one. California and New York each have five Jewish legislators, Florida has three, and Illinois, Maryland and Tennessee each have two. The states with one Jewish member of their congressional delegations are Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. The 30 Jews in the 115th Congress make up 6% of the body; Jews make up 2% of American adults.

One state, Hawaii, has no Christians in their delegation, which features two Buddhists, a Hindu, and a Jew, even though the state is majority Christian.

Kids in religious countries lose in science, math


A new study of the impact of religion on the minds of growing children reveals a disturbing finding: When religion dominates, kids fare poorly in science and mathematics.

The study offers a hint of things to come in the United States, where the government is now controlled by a party eager to hand off education to church schools while simultaneously declaring an allegiance to improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

With the Department of Education headed by a confirmed Christianist who made her billions off private schools, the outlook is bleak for our children.

From Leeds Beckett University:

The more religious people are, the lower children in that country perform in science and mathematics, according to new research at Leeds Beckett University.

The research [$35.95 to access] , published today in the academic journal Intelligence, reveals that more religious countries had lower educational performance in science and mathematics.  The study also shows that levels of national development and time spent on religious education played a role in students’ attainment.

The research, led by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at Leeds Beckett, alongside David Geary, Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, is relevant for the government’s announcement in the budget that it will be investing £320 million into new free schools, including faith-based schools.

Professor Stoet explained: “Science and mathematics education are key for modern societies. Our research suggests that education might benefit from a stronger secular approach. In that context, the current UK policy of investing more money in faith-based should be reconsidered.

“The success of schools and education in general directly translates in more productive societies and higher standards of living. Given the strong negative link between religiosity and educational performance, governments might be able to raise educational standards and so standards of living by keeping religion out of schools and out of educational policy making.”

The researchers combined data from the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), OECD’s Education at a Glance, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey, and the United Nationals Human Development Report.

Analysis of the data sets allowed conclusions to be drawn about international levels of religiosity, schooling and educational performance, and levels of human development (measures in regard to health, education, and income).

Levels of religiosity were determined using representative questionnaires carried out around the world in the World Values Survey and the European Social Survey among the adult population. Levels of school performance in mathematics and science literacy were based on scores from children aged between 14 to 15 years old.

Considering the relationship between religiosity and educational performance, the findings suggest that by engaging with religion, this may lead to a displacement of non-religious activities.  Although relatively few countries have data on the time spent on religious education, it appears that the time spent on religion has a negative correlation with educational performance in mathematics and science.

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A call for a ‘liberal genocide’ at a TrumpRally™


The toxic xenophobia long latent of sometimes expressed in American culture has surged since the Pussygrabber declared his candidacy for the White House.

And just as Europe’s fascists never ceased stirring up their base with rage-filled rallies, so Trump’s strategists have kept the campaign spirit alive by holding regular post-election gatherings designed to rouse the basest from the base.

Here’s a report from one such rally, held in Phoenix, Arizona, and reported by Dan Cohen of The Real News Network:, where we learn, among other things, that John McCain is a closet commie, converted in the Hanoi Hilton.

Trump Supporters Call For Imprisoning Liberals at Phoenix Rally

Program note:

In this shocking video, Dan Cohen documents the toxic atmosphere of Trump’s political allies and most fervent supporters.

Chris Hedges & Abby Marin on Christian fascism


Trump’s ascent was fueled by a fusion of factions on the far Right of the American political spectrum, the alt-Tight movement fueled by Breitbart and the newly empowered Right — both groups harboring deep strains of racism, a growing sense of rage, and a hunger for the power to  realize their dreams.

In this edition of The Empire Files, Abby Martin’s excellent series for teleSUR English, she talks with Pulitzer-winning journalist, author, and activist Chris Hedges about the likely outcome when the inherent conflicts between the two groups flare into the open.

Hedges is deeply concerned about the fascist strains that run throughout the Christianist spectrum, and the power they’ve been handed by the White House, filling cabinet seats and running crucial agencies.

But what raises his concerns the most is that the brother of the Christian Fundamentalist Secretary of Education is the founder of Blackwater — and he shares her extremist beliefs.

In other words, there’s a ready made crew of highly trained, battle-hardened latter-day Brownshirts should the need arise.

From The Empire Files:

Chris Hedges & Abby Martin: Trump, the Alt-Right & Christianized Fascism

Program notes:

For the first time in modern history, a fringe wing of Christian extremists have obtained the highest seats of power in the US government—from Mike Pence to Betsy DeVos.

This new development is coupled with the emergence of the Alt Right, the Trump movement, and the rise of fascist movements abroad.

Renowned journalist and author Chris Hedges has embedded himself in what he calls “Christianized Fascism” and warns that this is the biggest danger we face under Trump.

Legislator to young Muslims: Are you wifebeaters?


One Republican lawmaker in the Sooner State is showing us all how to make America great again. . .or not.

From Reuters:

Muslim students visiting an Oklahoma lawmaker’s office in the state capitol were required to fill out a form that asked if they beat their wives and other questions that offended them, an Islamic advocacy group said.

The two-page form from Republican state Representative John Bennett’s office, which was shared by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), also asked whether they believed an adherent to Islam should be punished for leaving the faith and if Muslims should rule over non-Muslims.

A staff member at Bennett’s handed the form to Muslim students who visited his office on Thursday seeking to meet with him, said Adam Soltani, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR. It was presented as a requirement before they could meet Bennett, Soltani said.

The students were at the capitol in Oklahoma City for an annual Muslim Day event organized by CAIR to introduce members of the community to their state lawmakers and encourage democratic engagement, Soltani said by phone on Saturday.

Back when esnl was first getting involved in the journalist’s craft, there was a standing joke: If you want to discredit a politician, ask them when they stopped beating his wife [politicians were, then as now, mostly men].

It didn’t matter if he never laid a hand on his spouse. If he denied it, you still had a great a headline: Senator denies beating his wife, and nobody would ever be able to think about the hapless sod without remembering the wife-beating question.

UPDATE: Maybe he should hand the same form to Christians.

There’s a growing movement among Christian fundies calling for a return to wife-beating because women are, as the Bible says [Proverbs 20:30],  “Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.”

From the website of Christian Domestic Discipline, instructions on how to beat you wife in a manner Jesus would approve:

When administering physical discipline, take caution not to deliver the lashes anywhere but the buttocks. The first attempt at this punishment should only be delivered by hand so you can get an idea of how many lashings are needed. The best position will be for you to sit at the end of a bed or on a chair (with no arms) and have her lay across your lap. She can also bend over a bed with arms tucked under her chest and your left hand on the small of her back. If a strap (belt) is to be implemented watch that each stoke falls directly on the buttocks and not higher. EDITOR’S NOTE: When using the hand, or a small, short implement, such as a switch or small “hairbrush”-type paddle, over-the-knee positioning can work quite well.

A fearful wife may begin crying or pleading and find it difficult to remain still. Reassure her. of your intent and love (yes this will hurt, that is why it is a punishment) then instruct her to be still. Remind her that she is not in control of this discipline. You should continue the lashing through her tears and pleas for you to stop, until you are certain the message was received. This will insure her remorse and therefore stop the undesirable behavior.

A sound lashing is five to ten strokes with your hand, or three to five strokes with a strap; some wives need more. To avoid brusing do not strike the same area in repetition. Gauge your decision to proceed based on your wife’s readiness to repent.

You may find it difficult to cause your wife pain, but as a woman she needs the release of guilt that this form of punishment brings. Afterwards, help her up gently and hold her while allowing her to cry for as long as you both feel necessary. If you have children instruct her to wash her face before emerging from the room.

And from another post on the same website:

Maintenance discipline is a practice of giving your wife regular spankings to maintain her proper behavior and attitude. From our experience when Kim receives this type of discipline she is more humble and her attitude is greatly improved.