Saturday, October 07, 2017

We owe Salem an apology

The worst argument in the world is a date.
GK Chesterton
Congregants of the Church of the Current Year have an intense if solipsistic relationship with the past:

New: Good
Newest (me!): Best of all

As is usually the case with narcissistic faiths, profound knowingness crowds out real knowledge.

Take, for instance, our self-congratulatory “understanding” of Puritan Salem and the witch trials of 1692. Old Salem is silly and backward and believes in witch’s spells. The subtext, of course, is that we are smart and sophisticated and have nothing to learn from anyone who was never on Instagram.

The facts are much less flattering to the evangelists of the Current Year. Compared to the rest of the Western world, Puritan New England was relatively free of demon-haunted worldview which which marked the 17th century in Europe.

Jesse Walker:

English America was less witch-obsessed than England, and England in turn was less witch-obsessed that Scotland or the Continent. From 1623 to 1631, the German bishopric of Wurzburg burned an estimated nine hundred people for their ostensible dealings with demons. If that body count is accurate, one tiny principality killed more supposed Satanists in an eight-year period than were executed in all of New England in the entire seventeenth century.
Cotton Mather, who supported the witch trials and the punishment of those found guilty, was also an early advocate of vaccination against small pox. When it came to Science, he was more cutting edge than Bill Nye can every hope to be.

A key point by Walker:

In Salem, spectral evidence became admissible in court; the boundary between the waking world and the land of dreams broke down. Again, we are not as different from those backward Puritans as we like to think. The court in Salem unknowingly brought the dream world into their proceedings.
We do it explicitly (“Recovered Memory”) and deluded people call it Science.

We usually tell only half the story of the witch trials. We get the hysteria, the testimony about specters that tormented their victims in the night, the guilty verdicts rendered with no physical evidence presented.

Walker reminds us that there was a Act Two:

In 1697, Massachusetts recognized a day of repentance for the prosecution of innocent people. One magistrate anounced that he accepted 'the blame and shame' for his role in the affair, and a dozen Salem jurors signed a formal declaration of regret
Once you know the whole story of Salem AND remember our own recent history, you realize the Current Year should hang its head in shame.

After all, we, too, had our hysteria-fueled public trials. Just as in Salem the name of Satan figured prominently. Innocent people were punished in the complete absence of physical evidence of their guilt.

In the aftermath of the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic we had no “day of repentance”. The prosecutors, investigators, and judges did not accept responsibility let alone “blame and shame.” Some, like Martha Coakley of Massachusetts persisted in their persecution of the innocent for decades.


They trusted the experts

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