Whereas Calvin’s Geneva is of most interest to reformed theologians, Weber’s Protestant Ethic to sociologists, and McCarthyism to free speech activists, they are all referenced in Arthur Miller’s famous play The Crucible – on the accusation, torture and execution of innocent victims (mostly women) of a 17 C. moral panic in the small Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts.
So what? Why should anyone be interested in extremes of theology, controversies in sociology, TV footage so old it’s in Black & White and a play most of us reading this will have studied in High School?
Because it’s happening again. Which was the point of the play. While 1950s White American audiences gasped at the stupidity of their forebears – cos every White American came over on the Mayflower, apparently – getting so worked up about ideology, and how un-neighbourly they all were to snitch on their neighbours, many of them were busy doing the same, impelled by the fanatical Senator Joseph McCarthy.
‘Inquisition’ is an umbrella term than covers ‘witchhunt’ and, whereas it is the senator’s Catholic coreligionists (and mine) who are most infamous for the former, it is Calvinists who are infamous for the latter.
In his Religion and the Decline of Magic. Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth and seventeenth century England, Keith Thomas makes a point that is so often missed by his smug secularist reviewers:
When calamity is taken as either an Act of God or of the Devil, and (as a Catholic) you believe you have some means of spiritual defence, or influence, you can employ it.
If (as a Calvinist) you don’t believe so, then the only thing you can do is to –
1) suffer 2) blame other humans as agents of calamity and attack them
In other words, the Protestant Reformation did not remove the belief that calamity has a spiritual source; it merely removed the possibility of opposing it. Even the Guardian’s clever report of a materialist analysis (based on a theory of congregation ‘market-share’ by two American economists, Peter Leeson and Jacob Russ) fails to obscure the figures:
The data shows that witch-hunts took off only after the Reformation in 1517, following the rapid spread of Protestantism. […] Germany, ground zero for the Reformation, laid claim to nearly 40% of all witchcraft prosecutions in Europe. Scotland, where different strains of Protestantism were in competition, saw the second highest level of witch-hunts, with a total of 3,563 people tried. “In contrast, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland – each of which remained a Catholic stronghold after the Reformation and never saw serious competition from Protestantism – collectively accounted for just 6% of Europeans tried for witchcraft,” Russ observes.
Hold on! Jumping ahead to the obvious point: the various symptoms of Coronapanic are all expressions of social anxiety unassuaged by recourse to either efficacious prevention and cure or spiritual deliverance from a perceived medical calamity. So wouldn’t we then expect a neat division of the world into areas of belief in divine intervention (with low levels of Coronapanic) and areas of such unbelief (with high)?
Theoretically. Populations characterised by rationalist ideologies, especially in areas with present or recent authoritarian governance, are showing such high levels of panic. Confounding factors are globalisation of ideologies and the elite of countries still largely steeped in traditional values now trying to demonstrate how modern and scientific they are – and imposing restrictive and anxiety-causing measures on their subject citizenry. Along with relentless indoctrination by pharmaceutical industry-backed media, exaggerated excess death count and high ratio of ICU provision to head of population.
If lockdown, mask-wearing, antibody/PCR testing and contact tracing are all symptoms of Coronapanic, let’s define terms of the factors below. F1 refers to either ‘cases’ or ‘deaths’, or both. F3 includes social media. F4 refers to funding of either public bodies or the private bodies used to stir up panic. F5 where most politicians mostly don’t ‘do God’. Let’s not use lockdown in F6 (as that’s a symptom) but include Communism/ Fascism in living memory.
|1 Exaggerated Epidemiology|
|2 Ratio of ICU provision|
|3 Pervasive media|
|4 Pervasive Pharmaceutical Industry|
|5 Rationalist Ideology|
|6 Recent Authoritarian Government|
If my theory holds water, and it does seem to account for the African countries such as Tanzania (with only 509 ‘cases’ and 21 ‘deaths’ out of a population of about 60 million reported in May, after the President couldn’t take the paw-paw test seriously) so perplexing to the minions of Big Pharma, we may expect countries with high Coronapanic (such as China) to tick most boxes under High (yes, that does include Italy which is only nominally Catholic) with the reverse true for countries who…haven’t lost their minds.
I’m a teacher, and a big believer in homework. So do yours!
Thanks to George Hodan who has released his image Halloween Witch into the Public Domain.