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Why the trial by ordeal was actually an effective test of guilt

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Norms by which we live and which guide our behavior are often not explicit and sometimes not even recognized until someone breaks the norm, leaving us unable to say much more than “That’s not done!”

Trial by ordeal had some explicit rules, but there was apparently an unexpressed norm on how to do it, described in Aeon by Peter Leeson, the Duncan Black professor of economics and law at George Mason University in Virginia:

The quest for criminal justice is fraught with uncertainty. Did the defendant commit the crime, or is he a victim of incriminating circumstances? Is he guilty as charged, or has he been charged guilty by an overzealous prosecutor? Unsure about the truth, we often end up guessing ‘He did it’ when he might not have, or ‘He didn’t do it’ when in fact he did.

The only ones who know for sure whether a defendant is guilty or innocent are the defendant himself and God above. Asking the defendant to tell us the truth of the matter is usually useless: spontaneous confessions by the guilty are rare. But what if we could ask God to tell us instead? And what if we did? And what if it worked?

For more than 400 years, between the ninth and the early 13th centuries, that’s exactly what Europeans did. In difficult criminal cases, when ‘ordinary’ evidence was lacking, their legal systems asked God to inform them about defendants’ criminal status. The method of their request: judicial ordeals.

Judicial ordeals took several forms, from dunking the defendant in a pool of holy water to walking him barefoot across burning plowshares. Among the most popular, however, was the ordeal of boiling water and the ordeal of burning iron. In the former, the defendant plunged his hand into a cauldron of boiling water and fished out a ring. In the latter, he carried a piece of burning iron several paces. A few days later, the defendant’s hand was inspected: if it was burned, he was guilty; if not, he was innocent.

Judicial ordeals were administrated and adjudged by priests, in churches, as part of special masses. During such a mass, the priest requested God to reveal to the court the defendant’s guilt or innocence through the ordeal – letting boiling water or burning iron burn the defendant if he were guilty, performing a miracle that prevented the defendant’s hand from being burned if he were innocent. The idea that God would respond to a priest’s request in this way reflected a popular medieval belief according to which ordeals were iudiciua Dei – ‘judgments of God’.

Getting God to judge the guilt or innocence of criminal defendants is a pretty nifty trick if you could pull it off. But how could medieval European courts accomplish this?

Rather easily, it turns out. Suppose you’re a medieval European who’s been accused of stealing your neighbour’s cat. The court thinks you might have committed the theft, but it’s not sure, so it orders you to undergo the ordeal of boiling water. Like other medieval Europeans, you believe in iudicium Dei– that a priest, through the appropriate rituals, can call on God to reveal the truth by performing a miracle that prevents the water from burning you if you’re innocent, letting you burn if you’re not.

If you undergo the ordeal and God says you’re guilty, you have to pay a large fine. If He says you’re innocent, you’re cleared of the charge and pay nothing. Alternatively, you can avoid undergoing the ordeal by confessing to having stolen the cat, in which case you pay the fine, a bit reduced for having admitted your guilt.

What will you do?

Suppose you’re guilty: you know you stole your neighbour’s cat, and so does God. In this case, you expect that if you undergo the ordeal, God will let the boiling water burn you, evidencing your guilt. Thus, you’ll have to pay the large fine – and your hand will be boiled to rags to boot. In contrast, if you confess, you’ll save a bit of money, not to mention your hand. So, if you’re guilty, you’ll confess.

Now suppose you’re innocent: you know you didn’t steal your neighbour’s cat, and again so does God. In this case, you expect that if you undergo the ordeal, God will perform a miracle that prevents the boiling water from burning you, evidencing your innocence. Thus, you won’t have to pay any fine – and you’ll keep your hand intact. This is better than if you confess to stealing the cat, in which case you’d have to pay a fine for a theft you didn’t commit. So, if you’re innocent, you’ll undergo the ordeal.

Did you catch the trick? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2017 at 9:50 am

Trump official halts abortions among undocumented, pregnant teens

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Needless to say, the officials involved were not medical doctors. They were people who believe that the Federal government should intervene in private medical decisions, a far cry from the “small government” idea they hypocritically propound. Renuka Rayasam reports in Politico:

The Trump administration is preventing an undocumented, pregnant teenager detained in a Brownsville refugee shelter from getting an abortion in a policy shift with big implications for hundreds of other pregnant, unaccompanied minors held in such shelters.

She is not the first to be stopped, according to advocates who work with undocumented teenagers.

For the last seven months, the Health and Human Services Department has intervened to prevent abortions sought by girls at federally funded shelters, even in cases of rape and incest and when the teen had a way to pay for the procedure. The agency has instead forced minors to visit crisis pregnancy centers, religiously affiliated groups that counsel women against having abortions, according to documents obtained by POLITICO, interviews with sources involved in the Brownsville case and those familiar with the agency’s policy.

In some cases, a senior HHS official has personally visited or called pregnant teens to try to talk them out of ending their pregnancies.

“There is a pattern of unconstitutional overreach of power in a minor’s abortion decision,” said the teen’s lawyer, Brigitte Amiri of the ACLU.

The ACLU brought suit on Friday on behalf of the 17-year-old in the Brownsville shelter, contending HHS has barred the girl, now about 14 weeks pregnant, from getting the abortion even though she got a judge’s permission to have it without parental consent and has obtained the money to pay for it. Abortions after 20 weeks are illegal under Texas law.

The girl, identified in court papers only as Jane Doe, obtained a judge’s permission on Sept. 25 and had an initial abortion appointment scheduled for Sept. 28, at the end of her first trimester, Amiri said.

But officials at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of HHS, refused to transport her to her abortion appointment, instead taking her to a crisis pregnancy center, and calling her mother in her home country to tell her about the pregnancy, according to the ACLU suit and Amiri.

“What’s especially disturbing for us about this case, is that the child is in the custody of ORR [the Office of Refugee Resettlement], so she has no other choice, and she is stuck in a form of custody or detention,” said Michelle Brane of the Women’s Refugee Commission.

HHS officials released a statement Monday night, asserting the agency is within its rights to prevent unaccompanied and undocumented teens in the U.S. from getting abortions.

“The Office of Refugee Resettlement is providing excellent care to this young woman and her unborn child and fulfilling our duty to the American people,” said the statement from the Administration for Children and Families, a division of HHS.

“There is no constitutional right for a pregnant minor to illegally cross the U.S. border and get an elective abortion while in federal custody. Federal law is very clear on giving the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement the legal responsibility to decide what is in the best interests of a minor in the unaccompanied alien children program and, in this case, her unborn baby. We cannot cede our responsibility to care for minors and their babies by releasing them to ideological advocacy groups.”

The Trump policy represents a sharp departure from the Obama administration, when the government reviewed an undocumented teen’s request for an abortion when she sought federal funding to pay for it, said Robert Carey, director from April 2015 until January of this year.

The funds were approved in cases of rape or incest or when a mother’s life was in danger, according to the agency’s guidelines. HHS didn’t get involved if the teen got funding for the procedure from another source, he said. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the report:

. . . The Trump administration policy shift appears to have begun in early March, in the weeks leading up to Scott Lloyd, a lawyer with Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable organization, taking the helm of the refugee resettlement agency. On March 6, he and two HHS employees sent an internal memo detailing three cases of minors held in federal custody asking for abortions, according to documents shared with POLITICO.

They say that federally funded shelters must “provide immediate and continuing information” to the agency regarding abortion requests, that neither the agency, nor the facilities, may authorize the procedure and that punitive action would be taken against facilities that violate the protocol. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2017 at 9:30 am

Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her lies about Sen. Corker

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders is perfectly willing to bear false witness and falsely disparage a Senator of her own party. She claims to be a devout Christian but apparently is unaware of the Ten Commandments, or at least the commandment that forbids bearing false witness. Jennifer Rubin has a good column this morning on Sarah’s mendacity:

The Hill reports:

“Senator Corker worked with Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration to pave the way for that and rolled out the red carpet for the Iran deal,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing.

Corker’s office said the claim is “not true” and that the Tennessee Republican opposed the Iran deal and worked with lawmakers to craft a bill ensuring Congress could review the deal, against the Obama White House’s wishes.

Sanders’s allegation is preposterous. Corker assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2015. At a hearing that month, he explained that Iran had defied international restrictions and he expressed displeasure that the administration was speaking about “dismantling” rather than destroying centrifuges, allowing it to resume its program at a later date. (“We have talked about dismantlement, and we have concerns of what dismantlement now means.”) He expressed concerns about how the deal would affect research and development. He added, “The agreement itself doesn’t speak at all to ballistic missile development. These are significant concerns for all of us. … [And the Iranians] still are stiff-arming the [International Atomic Energy Agency] relative to access to many of their facilities, which obviously continues to cause us to have great concerns about their trustworthiness.”

Throughout the run-up to completion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is known, Corker and other GOP senators expressed dissatisfaction with concessions made by the Obama administration. In March 2015, he issued a series of warnings. “I am concerned our negotiators may be cutting corners and overlooking significant issues as they rush headlong into a deal,” he said. “Our nation and the world would be much better off if they would slow down or pause to ensure that if a deal is reached, it will be enforceable, hold Iran accountable, and be strong enough to stand the test of time. Especially with all of the turmoil in the region today, a bad deal is far worse than no deal. These negotiations will affect many generations to come, and should be done with the soberness and pragmatism that acknowledges its importance.”

Although the administration insisted that the deal would not be a treaty subject to confirmation, he maintained that Congress be given the chance to review the deal. To that end, he crafted and got veto-proof agreement on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. This was strenuously opposed by the White House and Democratic senators who supported the deal. The very senators who now seek to use Corker’s Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to gain leverage over Iran complained that no review process other than treaty ratification would be possible. (If Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had his way, there would be no review mechanism at all.) At the time, Corker explained, “Without this bill, there is nothing stopping the president from bypassing the American people, immediately waiving sanctions imposed by Congress and unilaterally implementing an agreement with Iran. This legislation ensures the president will submit an agreement to Congress for review and a vote.”

At a hearing in June 2015, he focused on one of the main concerns of the deal, one even more valid now than at the time. “As we begin to look at how to evaluate a prospective nuclear agreement, we cannot ignore that the lack of coherent American leadership in the region has left a vacuum that will continue to be filled by violence,” he said. “Without defined, committed engagement to counter Iranian regional aggression and to support our partners, the need for American involvement will continue to grow as conditions deteriorate.” He criticized idea of  upfront relief from sanctions. He observed that access to “$150 billion potentially overtime and having a growing economy [will] cause them to be even more strident in the region. Do you accept the view that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, a nation that has directly contributed to the deaths of thousands of Americans would somehow reform their behavior after being enriched and empowered for pursuing an illegal nuclear program?”

When the JCPOA was completed in July 2015, Corker was among the leading critics, pointing out what he felt were flaws in inspections, sanctions relief and the “snapback” provisions, and he flatly rejected the notion that it was the JCPOA or war. On the day the deal was announced, he stated:

Throughout these negotiations, I have expressed significant concerns to the administration about the crossing of red line after red line as we have moved from a goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear capabilities to managing its proliferation. I want to read the agreement in detail and fully understand it, but I begin from a place of deep skepticism that the deal actually meets the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. … Iran continues to be the lead sponsor of terrorism in the world and relieving sanctions would make the Tehran regime flush with cash and could create a more dangerous threat to the United States and its allies.

He continued to speak out against the deal, lobby colleagues and rebut the administration’s claims. In a GOP weekly radio address in August 2015, he declared:

Rather than ‘end’ Iran’s nuclear program, this deal allows them to industrialize it over time — with our approval. Instead of the once promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections, this agreement gives Iran nearly a month of advanced notice to hide any evidence of developing a nuclear weapon. “And this deal won’t allow a single U.S. inspector on the ground, relying on an arm of the UN to conduct those inspections. … Over the next decade, it will gain hundreds of billions of dollars of additional funds. And we will have paved the way for Iran to have an internationally-approved nuclear program. Iran will go from a weakened state to an economically-robust country, without being forced to change any of its roguish, destructive behavior.

The president has said repeatedly that this is a choice between accepting this deal or going to war. It is not. Throughout the negotiations, the administration routinely asserted that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ and threatened to walk away if necessary. So clearly there was always another option for the White House — and it wasn’t war.

You can agree or disagree with his arguments, but the claim that he rolled out the red carpet for the deal is a baseless lie. One wonders how that smear came about. Is the administration simply flailing? Is the administration still confused about the deal, the decertification process and the arguments as to its flaws? This administration is unique in its lack of concern for facts and in its willingness to misrepresent reality.

We cannot trust the administration’s rhetoric because it misleads, intentionally or not, constantly. Why trust this administration and empower this president unilaterally to put the United States in violation of the deal (by decertifying the JCPOA and then reinstating existing sanctions)? An administration this erratic, unreliable, inept, uninformed and dishonest must operate on a short leash.

Moreover, nothing we have seen from this administration suggests it has the skill, finesse and credibility to decertify the JCPOA and deftly negotiate a better deal without wrecking the JCPOA, as Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution explains: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 10:49 am

For conservatives, loyalty to the party overrides everything else. Example: Evangelical Christians

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That’s from a NY Times column by Thomas Edsall via a post by Kevin Drum. Both are worth reading, but particularly the Edsall column, which really lays bare the authoritarian mindset.

As demonstrated repeatedly, conservatives are of an authoritarian mindset in which group loyalty and respect for authority are the preeminent virtues. Liberals, in contrast, don’t consider group loyalty that important and also are of the mindset “Question Authority.” See this study and this report for more on these findings.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2017 at 11:51 am

Posted in GOP, Religion

Interesting column from Baptist News Global: “Be careful how close you let Jesus get to real life”

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Via Joanne VR, an interesting comment on the difference between religion and religiosity. Corey Fields writes:

Brian Zahnd, a pastor in St. Joseph, Mo., has a fascinating story. He was once the stereotypical successful church planter, one of those dynamic preachers who started a church that quickly grew to become the large campus that it still is today. But at the height of the growth and vitality, he became convicted that something was missing. His faith and his ministry felt empty and he didn’t know why. He began to read the works of the early church fathers and ancient mystics, and essentially what happened is that he rediscovered Jesus. He realized that what had been missing was the actual teaching and example of Jesus.

So he decided to do an extended sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. He began to reorganize and re-vision his church to do the things that he felt Jesus would actually be doing (rather than just attending a worship concert once a week and maybe meeting in small groups at home over fatty snacks and lackluster curriculum). He began to challenge his people to rediscover the radical way of Jesus and what this might mean for their own choices and priorities.

That’s when people started to leave. They were challenged in ways they didn’t want to be challenged. They left for safer ground.

Too many pastors can tell you a story of things getting weird when you try to take Jesus seriously. One of my early mentors shared about the day he preached on Jesus’ discussion with the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-23 / Luke 18:18-25). A woman in the congregation, who had always been well off and liked nice things, objected to him talking about giving up money and possessions. When he pointed out that he was just trying to deal honestly with what Jesus said, the woman responded, “I know Jesus said it, but that doesn’t mean you have to say it.”

Christianity and the life of the church have become a lot of different things, but it seems that feathers always get ruffled when you actually start taking seriously the example and teachings of the guy supposedly at the center of it all.

Walter Rauschenbusch wrote, “Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus. Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of [humans], to that extent denies the faith of the Master.”

Especially when there’s cultural debate around a particular issue, people get trolled, families split apart, and pastors get fired when you start asking how we can take Jesus seriously. Jesus is fine as a name, but if you create an encounter between Jesus and the personal lives or politics of Christians, you might have trouble.

You can read Jesus’ words declaring blessed the “peacemakers,” “the meek,” and “the merciful” (Matt. 5:3-10), and you might get nods of approval, but if you start talking about actually being merciful towards the desperate or peaceful towards the violent, you might be called foolish.

You can read Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) and you won’t be chased out, but if you insert this into real life situations where people want revenge, you might be berated as weak, perhaps even unpatriotic, if you don’t go back to “eye for an eye.”

You can quote Jesus’ approach to our material possessions as “treasures on earth where moths and vermin destroy” (Matt. 6:19-20), or tell the story of the rich man being told to sell all he has (Mark 10:17-22). You can get a wink and a smile as you read Jesus saying that it’s “easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle” (Luke 18:25). But start talking about actual economic equity, and you might be called a communist.

Surrounded by glimmering Christmas lights and angelic choruses, we read the story of a young Jesus’ family having to flee a violent ruler (Matt. 2:13-18). But bring up that this made Jesus’ family refugees and ask how this should inform our approach to the millions in similar situations today, and you might be told to get your politics out of church.

You can read the passage where Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah in the temple (Luke 4:18-19), saying that fulfilled in Him is God’s mission to “proclaim good news to the poor … freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” You’re fine as long as you understand these words in a spiritualized, abstract way (Isaiah didn’t). But beware if you start talking about how to seek actual freedom and redemption for the imprisoned, or if you start trying to define who is actually “oppressed” and how to actually set them free. (And have you ever looked into what “the year of the Lord’s favor” refers to?)

I’m reminded of those great lines from Wilbur Rees: . . .

Continue reading.

And do read that poem by Rees: brilliant.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2017 at 10:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Religion trends and groupings and political outlook, in good charts

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 September 2017 at 4:55 pm

Trump’s big business CEOs are horrified by his Confederate excuses — but his religious advisers have nothing but praise

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Of course, churches in the antebellum South thought slavery was fine and the Civil War didn’t necessarily change their minds or outlook. Matthew Sheffield reports in Salon:

Corporate CEOs aren’t exactly regarded as bastions of morality but it’s notable that more than a few of President Donald Trump’s economic advisers have decided to cut ties with him after his repeated defenses of racists in Charlottesville, Virginia. By contrast, as of this writing, literally none of Trump’s religious right allies have decided to cut ties.

Incredibly, some of these Christian nationalist advisors have actually praised Trump for words that even his fellow Republicans have been condemning in droves.

On Thursday, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University tweeted out that he was “so proud” of Trump. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2017 at 1:27 pm

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