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A Conspiracy Theorist Confesses! This new essay might be "preaching to the choir" for many on this subreddit. Regardless, it is an excellent rallying cry for free-thinkers and truth-seekers. It also provides a succinct summary of the history of "conspiracy-theorist" as a pejorative term. MUST READ!
By Iain Davis, via Off-Guardian
I am what the general population, politicians and the mainstream media (MSM) would call a conspiracy theorist. While I don’t agree with their definition of the term, there’s not much point in me denying it. It is applied to me, and millions like me, whether we like it or not.
For those who deem conspiracy theorists to be some sort of threat to society, we are the social and political malcontents who lack reason and hate our democratic way of life. We are trolls, bots and disinformation agents on social media, probably employed by the Russians, the Chinese or Iranians.
We are supposedly hellbent on sewing the seeds of discontent and can be found protesting against every government policy and decision. Alternatively, we are arrogant fools, both anti-science and evidence averse, who trot out crazy theories based upon little knowledge and no evidence. Apparently this is a very dangerous thing.
Thus we come to the glaring contradiction at the heart of the concept of the loony conspiracy theorist. Conspiracy theorists are both imbeciles, who don’t have any proof to back up anything they say, while simultaneously being dangerous subversives who threaten to destabilise democracy and foment chaos.
Which is it? It can’t be both. Unless society is so fragile it cannot withstand the opinions of idiots.
So where does the idea that fools present a threat to “our way of life,” come from? What is it that the conspiracy theorists say that is so dangerous? Why do their opinions seemingly need to be censored? What are governments so worried about?
WHAT IS A CONSPIRACY THEORY?
Some definitions are required here. From the Cambridge online English dictionary we have:
Misinformation: [noun] wrong information, or the fact that people are misinformed.It is notable that Cambridge University Press have introduced the concept of “secret” into their definition. By describing something as secret you are suggesting that it is impossible to know what it is. This added notion of secrecy is not commonly found in other dictionaries.
Disinformation: [noun] false information spread in order to deceive people.
Fake News: [noun] false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke.
Conspiracy: [noun’] the activity of secretly planning with other people to do something bad or illegal.
Theory: [noun] a formal statement of the rules on which a subject of study is based or of ideas that are suggested to explain a fact or event.
Conspiracy Theory: [noun] a belief that an event or situation is the result of a secret plan made by powerful people
Nor is it present in the legal definition of conspiracy. Blacks Law Dictionary defines conspiracy as:
Conspiracy: In criminal law. A combination or confederacy between two or more persons formed for the purpose of committing, by their joint efforts, some unlawful or criminal act.Obviously conspirators would like to keep their plans hidden. But that doesn’t mean they always remain so. If all conspiracies were “secrets” nobody would ever discover any of them.
Known conspiracies, such as Operation Gladio, Iran Contra, the Lavon Affair, the 2001 anthrax letter hoax and so on, would not have been exposed had people not highlighted the evidence which proved their existence.
The notion of the “secret conspiracy” is not one most people called conspiracy theorists would recognise. Often the whole point of our argument is that the conspiracies can be quite plainly evidenced. Most of that evidence is in the public domain and freely available.
More often conspiracy theorists are concerned with the denial or obfuscation of the evidence. It is not that the evidence doesn’t exist, rather that it either isn’t reported at all or is hidden by labelling those who do report it conspiracy theorists.
We can define “conspiracy theory” simply to mean: the reporting of evidence indicating a plan between two or more people to commit an illegal or nefarious act.
We can add that a conspiracy theory is an opinion or an argument. The merit of which is solely defined by the strength or weakness of the evidence.
However, if you read Wikipedia a very different definition is suggested. Suddenly conspiracy theory means an attempt to ignore other more plausible explanations. It is a theory based upon prejudice or insufficient evidence, it resists falsification and suffers from circular reasoning. It has left the realms of logical deduction and become a matter of faith.
This rationale is some distance away from the dictionary and legal definitions. It relies heavily upon opinion and is highly subjective. It is a pejorative definition which claims to be based in science, though the scientific evidence is feeble to non existent.
This depiction of the delusional conspiracy theorist, as described by Wikipedia, is the popularly accepted meaning. Perhaps we can agree, the narrative we are given about alleged conspiracy theorists broadly runs like this:
Conspiracy theorists forward arguments that are unfounded. These are based upon limited knowledge and lack substantiating evidence. Most conspiracy theorists are simply wrong and unwittingly spread misinformation. However, prominent conspiracy theorists spread disinformation and have used their large followings on the Internet to create a dangerous phenomenon called ‘fake news.’It is difficult to understand how democracies, which supposedly value freedom of thought, speech and expression, can be threatened by diversity of opinion. Yet it appears many people are willing to ignore this contradiction and support government attempts to censor information and silence the voices of those it labels conspiracy theorist. Which is genuinely anti-democratic.
Many of those with the largest followings are agents for foreign powers. They use a global network of trolls and bots to advance their dangerous political agenda. This is designed to undermine our democratic way of life and valued political institutions. Therefore all conspiracy theory is anti-democratic and must be stopped.
Consequently it has become relatively straightforward for politicians and the media to refute evidence and undermine arguments. As long as they can get the label of conspiracy theory or theorist to stick, most people will discount their arguments without ever looking at the evidence.
The label of conspiracy theorist is an umbrella term for a huge array of ideas and beliefs. Some are more plausible than others. However, by calling everyone who challenges accepted norms a “conspiracy theorist” it is possible to avoid addressing the evidence some offer by exploiting guilt by association.
For example, many people labelled as conspiracy theorists, myself included, believe even the most senior elected politicians are relatively low down the pecking order when it comes to decision making. We suggest powerful global corporations, globalist think tanks and international financial institutions often have far more control over policy development than politicians. We can cite academic research to back up this identification of “Biased Pluralism.”
We do not believe the Earth is flat or the Queen is a lizard. However, because we believe the former, politicians, mainstream academia and the media insist that we must also believe the latter.
Psychology is often cited as evidence to prove conspiracy theorists are deranged, or at least emotionally disturbed in some way. Having looked at some of this claimed science I found it to be rather silly and anti-scientific. But that is just my opinion.
However, unlike many of the psychologists who earn a living by writing junk science, I do not think they should be censored nor stopped from expressing their unscientific opinions. However, governments across the world are seemingly desperate to exploit the psychologist’s ‘work’ to justify the silencing of the conspiracy theorists.
This desire to silence people who ask the wrong questions, by labelling all as conspiracy theorists, has been a common theme from our elected political leaders during the first two decades of the 21st century. But where did this idea come from?
THE HISTORY OF THE CONSPIRACY THEORIST LABEL
Conspiracy theory is nothing new. Nearly every single significant world event had at least one contemporary conspiracy theory attached to it. These alternative interpretations of events, which lie outside the accepted or official narratives, are found throughout history.
In 117 CE, the Roman Emperor Trajan died only two days after adopting his successor Hadrian. All his symptoms indicated a stroke brought on by cardio vascular disease.
Yet by the 4th century, in the questionable historical text Historia Augusta, a number of conspiracy theories surrounding Trajan’s death had emerged. These included claims that Trajan had been poisoned by Hadrian, the praetorian prefect Attianus and Trajan’s wife, Plotina.
While we would call this a conspiracy theory today, the term was not commonly used until the late 1960’s. The earliest written reference to something approaching the modern concept of conspiracy theory appeared in the 1870’s in the Journal of Mental Science vol 16.
“The theory of Dr Sankey as to the manner in which these injuries to the chest occurred in asylums deserved our careful attention. It was at least more plausible that the conspiracy theory of Mr Charles Beade”This is the first time we see an association made between “conspiracy theory” and implausibility. Throughout most of the 19th and 20th century, if used at all, it usually denoted little more than a rationale to expose a criminal plot or malevolent act by a group.
After the Second World War colloquial use of “conspiracy theory” was rare. However, academics were beginning to lay the foundations for the interpretation which has produced the label we are familiar with today.
The burgeoning idea was that the large numbers of people who questioned official accounts of events, or orthodox historical interpretations, were all delusional to some degree. Questioning authority, and certainly alleging that authority was responsible for criminal acts, was deemed to be an aberration of the mind.
In 1945 The philosopher Karl Popper alluded to this in his political work The Open Society and Its Enemies. Popper was essentially criticising historicism. He stated that historical events were vulnerable to misinterpretation by those who were predisposed to see a conspiracy behind them.
He argued this was because historians suffered from cognitive dissonance (the uncomfortable psychological sensation of holding two opposing views simultaneously.) They could not accept that tumultuous events could just happen through the combination of error and unrelated circumstances.
In Popper’s view, these historians were too quick to reject the possibility of random, chaotic events influencing history, preferring unsubstantiated conspiratorial explanations. Usually because they made better stories, thereby garnering more attention for their work.
Popper identified what he called the conspiracy theory of society. This reflected Popper’s belief that social sciences should concern themselves with the study of the unintended consequences of intentional human behaviour. Speaking of the conspiracy theory perspective, he wrote:
It is the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon (sometimes it is a hidden interest which has first to be revealed), and who have planned and conspired to bring it about.”Popper also believed that increasing secularism had led people to ascribe power to secretive groups rather than the gods:
The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled by powerful men or groups – sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from – such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolists, or the capitalists, or the imperialists.”Popper’s theory illustrates the fundamental difference between those labelled conspiracy theorists and those who, on the whole, defend the official narrative and the establishment. For conspiracy theorists the evidence shows that powerful forces have frequently conspired to shape events, control the flow of information and manipulate society. The deliberate engineering of society, suggested by the conspiracy theorists, is rejected by their opponents and critics.
For them the conspiratorial view has some minor, limited merit, but the suggested scale and prevalence of these plots is grossly exaggerated. They see nearly all world events as the result of the unintentional collision between disparate forces and the random influence of fate.
In general, they consider the powerful incapable of malice. Where disastrous national and global events have clearly been caused by the decisions of governments, influential groups and immensely wealthy individuals, these are invariably seen as mistakes.
Any suggestion that the power hierarchy’s destructive decisions may have achieved their intended objectives receives blanket rejection. Even asking the question is considered “unthinkable.”
For many people called conspiracy theorists this is a hopelessly naive world view. History is full of examples of the powerful using their influence to further their own interests at others expense. Often costing people their lives.
For their opponents, like Popper, to reject this possibility outright, demonstrates their cognitive dissonance. They seem unable even to contemplate the possibility that the political and economic power structures they believe in could ever deliberately harm anyone. They have faith in authority and it is not shared by people they label conspiracy theorists.
Following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 alternative explanations proliferated, not least of all due to the apparent implausibility of the official account. Many U.S. citizens were concerned that elements within their own government had effectively staged a coup. Others, such as the prominent American historian Richard Hoftsadter, were more concerned that people doubted their government.
Building on the work of Popper, partly as a critique of McCarthyism but also in response to the Republican nomination loss of Nelson A. Rockefeller, American historian Richard Hofstadter suggested that people’s inability to believe what they are told by government was not based upon their grasp of the evidence. Rather it was rooted in psychological need.
He claimed much of this stemmed from their lack of education (knowledge), political disenfranchisement and an unjustified sense of self importance. He also suggested these dangerous opinions threatened to pollute the body politic.
Like Popper, Hofstadter did not identify conspiracy theorists directly. But he did formulate the narrative underpinning the modern, widely accepted, definition. He wrote:
I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind…It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significantGoing to great lengths to focus on the “paranoid’s” tendency to highlight the evidence, as if that were a failing, like most critics of so-called conspiracy theorists, Hofstadter chose neither to address nor even mention what that evidence was. He merely asserted that it was unbelievable. The reader just had to take his word for it.
Of course, there are highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow paranoids, as there are likely to be in any political tendency. But respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all but obsessively accumulates “evidence.”….he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions.
The Warren Commission Report into the JFK assassination drew considerable criticism. The finding that Oswald acted alone contradicted numerous eye witness accounts, film, autopsy and ballistic evidence.
Four of the seven commissioners harshly criticised the report issued in their name. Widely seen as quite ridiculous, in the absence of any sensible official account of the assassination, numerous explanatory theories inevitably sprang up.
In response to the mounting criticism, in 1967 the CIA sent an internal dispatch to all field offices called Document 1035-960: Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report.
Revealed by a New York Times Freedom of Information Request in 1976, the dispatch is the first written record we have of the combination of Popper’s “conspiracy theory of society” with Hofstadter’s “paranoid style” militant. It defined the modern concept of the conspiracy theorist.
The document states:
Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists.”It can be considered as the origin of the weaponised term “conspiracy theory.” It recommends a set of techniques to be used to discredit all critics of the Warren Commission Report. Once you are familiar with them, it is obvious that these strategies are commonly deployed today to dismiss all who question official statements as “conspiracy theorists.” We can paraphrase these as follows:
- Deny any new evidence offered and cite only official reports stating ‘no new evidence has emerged.’
- Dismiss contradictory eyewitness statements and focus upon the existing, primary, official evidence such as ballistics, autopsy, and photographic evidence.
- Do not initiate any discussion of the evidence and suggest that large scale conspiracies are impossible to cover up in an open and free democracy.
- Accuse the conspiracy theorists of having an intellectual superiority complex.
- Suggest that theorists refuse to acknowledge their own errors.
- Refute any suggestion of witness assassinations by pointing out they were all deaths by natural causes.
- Question the quality of conspiracy research and point out that official sources are better.
The CIA advocated using mainstream media feature articles to discredit people labelled conspiracy theorists.
While the use of these methods has been refined over the years, the essential process of labelling someone a conspiracy theorist, while studiously avoiding any discussion of the evidence they highlight, is extremely common in the mainstream media today. We only need look at the reports about academics who questioned the government’s narrative about COVID19 to see the techniques in operation.
The drive to convince the public to use only “official sources” for information has seen the rise of the fact checker.
These organisations, invariably with the support of government and corporate funding, are offered as the reliable sources which provide real facts. The facts they provide are frequently wrong and the fact checking industry has settled legal claims from those who challenged their disinformation.
People have been directed by the mainstream media to abandon all critical thinking. They just need to go to their government-approved fact-checker in order be told the truth.
Providing the public believe the people labelled conspiracy theorists are crazy, ill informed or agents for a foreign powers, the mainstream media, politicians and other commentators can undermine any and all evidence they present. In keeping with the CIA’s initial recommendations, it is extremely unlikely that the evidence will ever be openly discussed but, if it is, it can be written off as “conspiracy theory.”
However, it isn’t just the mainstream media who use the conspiracy theorist label to avoid discussing evidence. Politicians, speaking on the worlds biggest political stage, have seized the opportunity to deploy the CIA’s strategy.
THREE SPEECHES ONE AGENDA
Even for Prime Ministers and Presidents, addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations is a big deal. These tend to be big thematic speeches as the leader impresses their vision upon the gathered dignitaries and global media.
Yet, despite the fact that conspiracy theorists are supposed to be idiots who don’t know the time of day, global “leaders” have repeatedly used this auspicious occasion to single them out as one of the greatest threats to global security.
In November 2001 George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly with the following words:
We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty. To inflame ethnic hatred is to advance the cause of terror.”Even if you accept the official account of 9/11, and there are numerous reasons why you wouldn’t, how does questioning it suggest that you support terrorism or mark you out as a racist?
The suggestion appears absurd but it does illustrate that the U.S. president wanted both to silence all criticism of the government account and link those questioning it to extremism and even terrorism.
This theme was reiterated by the UK Prime Minister David Cameron in his 2014 address. He said:
To defeat ISIL – and organisations like it we must defeat this ideology in all its forms…..it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by preachers who claim not to encourage violence, but whose world view can be used as a justification for it. We know this world view. The peddling of lies: that 9/11 was a Jewish plot or that the 7/7 London attacks were staged […] We must be clear: to defeat the ideology of extremism we need to deal with all forms of extremism – not just violent extremism. We must work together to take down illegal online material […] we must stop the so called non-violent extremists from inciting hatred and intolerance.This season we will mostly be wearing anti-fear glasses
Like Bush before him, Cameron was at pains to identify what he called non violent extremists (commonly called conspiracy theorists). According to him, all who question government accounts of major geopolitical events are, once again, tantamount to terrorists.
Calling for online censorship to stop any questions ever being asked, it is this authoritarian need to avoid addressing evidence that led his successor, Prime Minister Theresa May, to propose wide-sweeping censorship of the Internet.
At the time of writing, the UK is among the many nations still in so called “lockdown” following the outbreak of COVID19. When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the U.N General Assembly in September 2019 he delivered a speech which seemed weirdly out of context. With Brexit and possible conflict with Iran high on the agenda his address, which barely touched on those issues, was received with considerable bewilderment.
Six months later his predictive powers appear to be remarkable. It transpires that Johnson’s comments were extremely relevant. Just six months too early.
There are today people today who are actually still anti-science […] A whole movement called the anti-Vaxxers, who refuse to acknowledge the evidence that vaccinations have eradicated smallpox […] And who by their prejudices are actually endangering the very children they want to protect […] I am profoundly optimistic about the ability of new technology to serve as a liberator and remake the world wondrously and benignly […] Together, we can vanquish killer diseases.”Despite the wealth of scientific evidence which justifies scepticism about some vaccines, anti-vaxxer (a variant of conspiracy theorist), is another label used to convince people not to consider evidence. The assertion is that those who question vaccines all fundamentally reject the concept of artificially inducing an immune response against a disease.
This isn’t true but how would you know? The anti-vaxxer label alone is sufficient to convince most to turn away.
Johnson’s speech rambled across so many seemingly irrelevant subjects there is little reason to suspect any COVID 19 foreknowledge. But given the global pandemic that would occur just a few months later, it was certainly prescient. Johnson was sufficiently concerned about the supposedly baseless questions of so called conspiracy theorists (or anti-vaxxers) to allege they killed children. A ludicrous suggestion the mainstream media strongly promoted.
It doesn’t matter that academic research has proven that the official account of 9/11 cannot possibly be true; it makes no difference that Mossad agents admitted that they had gone to New York on the morning of 9/11 to “document the event;” studies showing that approximately 90% of the total 20th Century disease reduction in the U.S. occurred prior to the widespread use of vaccines are irrelevant.
None of these facts need to be known by anyone and governments are going to censor all who try to tell others about them. All questions that reference them are crazy conspiracy theories. They are both stupid questions and a huge threat to both national security and the safety of the little children.
One of the recurring themes the people labelled conspiracy theorists discuss is that policy is made behind the closed doors of corporate boardrooms and policy think tanks. It doesn’t matter who you elect or what party you choose to rule over you, they are only capable of tinkering at the edges of the policy platform.
The policy agenda is set at a globalist level. So the fact that, over two decades, one U.S president and two British Prime Minsters were delivering essentially the same message doesn’t surprise the conspiracy theorists.
As we move toward a world where certain ideas are forbidden and only officially approved questions can be asked, where governments and corporations have a monopoly on the truth and everything else is a conspiracy theory, only one thing really matters. The evidence.
Hofstadter’s believed that his paranoid style militants constant citation of evidence was merely an attempt to “protect his cherished convictions.” This could be true, but the only way to find out is to look at that evidence. The label of the conspiracy theorist has been deliberately created in order to convince you not to look at it.
Regardless of whether or not you think someone’s opinion is a conspiracy theory, you owe it to yourself and your children to consider the evidence they cite. Perhaps you will reject it. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But to reject it, without knowing what it is, really is crazy. Your only other option is to unquestioningly accept whatever you are told by the government, globalist think tanks, multinational corporations and their mainstream media partners.
If you choose to believe that everyone who claims to have identified the malfeasance of officials, the crimes of government or the corruption of powerful global institutions, are all conspiracy theorists, then you have accepted that the establishment is beyond reproach.
If you also agree the same established hierarchy can not only determine what you can or cannot know, but can also set all the policies and legislation which dictates your behaviour and defines the limits of your freedom, you have elected to be a slave and don’t value democracy in the slightest.
Jesus and the Disabled
Sharing meals - meant to create bonds of friendship - with “outsiders” and inviting, as well including them, was for Jesus key to breaking down barriers:
"Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." (Luke 14:21)
Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you" (Luke 14:12-14)
Walter Burkert defines a quite-different kind of meal - the Greco-Roman Symposium - with deep roots in the history of Hellenistic culture, one that was explicitly exclusionary:
The [Greco-Roman] symposium is an organization of all-male groups, aristocratic and egalitarian at the same time, which affirm their identity through ceremonialized drinking...it guarantees the social control of the polis [city] by the aristocrats. It is a dominating social form in Greek civilization from Homer onwards and well beyond the Hellenistic period
(Walter Burkert, “Oriental Symposia: Contrasts and Parallels,” in Dining in a Classical Context (ed. William J. Slater; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991))
As the scholar John P. Meier explains:
Jesus instead emphasized the joyful message that the eschatological banquet was at hand, a banquet anticipated in the meals he shared with the religiously marginalized. No doubt this offended those who identified the renewal of Israel with stringent observance of the laws of ritual purity.
From a different scholarly perspective, Marcus Borg:
Marcus Borg: Jesus the Man of the Spirit
The historical Jesus challenged the purity boundaries in touching lepers as well as hemorrhaging women, in driving the money changers out of the temple, and in table fellowship even with outcasts. Jesus replaced an emphasis on purity with an emphasis on compassion.
People who were not “whole” – the maimed, the chronically ill, lepers, eunuchs, and so forth – were on the impure side of the spectrum. The purity contrast also was associated with economic class...
For Jesus, compassion had a radical sociopolitical meaning. In his teaching and table fellowship, and in the shape of his movement, the purity system was subverted and an alternative social vision affirmed. The politics of purity was replaced by a politics of compassion.
In Matthew 21, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and cleansing from the Temple courtyard of the money-changers, Jesus welcomed the blind and crippled out in the streets into the Temple, and we are told that upon seeing these things the priests became enraged (21:14-15).
The sequence of events goes as follows:
(1) Triumphal entry of Jesus into the holy city, starting from the Mount of Olives (21:1-11);
(2) Cleansing of the temple of the money-changers (21:12-13);
(3) Welcome into the Temple of the blind and lame, and indignation of the religious leaders (21:14-16)
Matthew 21:12-15 reads,
12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.
13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’
14 Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple...But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did...they were indignant.
Why were the religious leaders angry at Jesus that blind and lame people were invited into the Temple? What could possibly be offensive about that? To most modern readers, this would seem a bizarre thing to get annoyed about. What was Jesus’ purpose, starting from the procession in the triumphal entry until the welcoming of the blind and lame in the temple?
First, using the approach to this question that I outlined earlier, let's consider how these classes of society tended to be treated in Judaea and the Roman Empire.
The ancient Jewish "Qumran literature" - otherwise known to the public as 'the Dead Sea Scrolls' - is contemporary with Jesus (dating from the 2nd century BCE to the late first century CE) and has provided scholars with an invaluable insight into the world of Second Temple Judaism.
While the texts have traditionally been attributed to the Essenes, some scholars have challenged this in recent years, given the Sadducee orientation of a few of the fragments, the fact that there is no trace of celibacy at Qumran (whereas all the ancient accounts of the Essene sect, from Josephus and Pliny, refer to their celibacy as a key distinguishing feature) and the inclusion of both sectarian and non-sectarian texts (indicating a diverse 'library' in the true sense of the term).
For these reasons, it has even been suggested that the scrolls were originally salvaged from the library of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, by Judaeans fleeing the fall of the city. Whichever interpretation one adopts, however, the Qumran scrolls are indispensable for our knowledge of the religious, cultural and social milieu of the era.
How were disabled people and the chronically ill dealt with in these texts? They are frequently referenced, but certainly not in a positive or sympathetic way.
While the written Torah had restricted cruel acts towards blind and deaf people (i.e. "You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God - I am your Lord." (Leviticus 19:14)) as part of its wider concern for social justice, it becomes readily apparent when one reads the Qumran literature that by the first century CE, the exclusionary mindset typified by the ritual purity laws outlined by Moses in Leviticus 21 (i.e. "“The LORD spoke further to Moses: No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God. No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm; or who is a hunchback, or a dwarf, or who has a growth in his eye, or who has a boil-scar, or scurvy, or crushed testes...but he shall not enter behind the curtain or come near the altar, for he has a defect. He shall not profane these places sacred to Me, for I the LORD have sanctified them.” (Leviticus 21.16–23 JPS)) had been significantly extended to make these people subject to onerous social stigmas, ostracization and discrimination.
The blemished or disfigured condition of the disabled was understood to profane the Temple's holiness.
This trend started in the Old Testament itself, outside the Torah, for example in 2 Samuel 5:8, in which King David prohibits the disabled from entering God's Sanctuary and expresses his hatred for them:
David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house [of God].” (2 Samuel 5:8)
Saul M. Olyan, Professor of Judaic Studies at Brown University, explain in his study, The Exegetical Dimensions of Restrictions on the Blind and Lame in Texts from Qumran:
"Several Qumran texts exclude the blind and the lame from the vicinity of the deity or that of his angelic servants. In 11QT 45:12-14, the blind may not enter the holy city...and are excluded from the temple city forever, and their power to pollute Jerusalem is given as the reason for their exclusion...
According to 1QSa 2:3-9, the blind and the lame, among others with bodily imperfections or impurities, may not present themselves in the congregation...Each of these proscriptions has its basis in particular biblical texts, yet each reflects exegetical reworking of those texts."
Characteristic examples are the Qumran Community Rule, which forbade the disabled from the congregation and placed them alongside "fools, madmen" and "imbeciles":
Fools, madmen, simpletons and imbeciles, the blind, the maimed, the lame, the deaf and minors, none of these may enter the midst of the community (CD 15.15-17)
And the so-called 'Messianic Rule', which says that the Messiah of Israel will sit at the head of a table of the whole people of Israel but excluding the disabled again:
6 - The Messianic Rule
They shall gather for the common table, to eat and to drink new wine...Thereafter, the Messiah of Israel shall extend his hand over the bread, and all the Congregation of the Community shall utter a blessing, each man in the order of his dignity
[But] no man smitten with any human uncleanness shall enter the assembly of God...No man smitten in his flesh, or paralysed in his feet or hands, or lame, or blind, or deaf, or dumb, or smitten in his flesh with a visible blemish; no old and tottery man...
We know from the Talmud that such views were not limited to Essenes and priestly Sadducees, for the Mishnaic passage (representing the views of the Pharisees) about the exclusion of blind and lame from the temple is found in Hagigah 1.1:
All are subject to the command to appear [before the Lord in His Temple] excepting a deaf-mute, an imbecile, a child, one of doubtful sex, one of double sex, women, slaves that are not been freed, a man that is lame or blind or sick or aged
The first century Roman Jewish historian, Josephus, also tells us that at least by his time: 'Anyone who touches or lives under the same roof [with a leper] is regarded unclean' (Contra Apionem 1.281) and that such people were kept away from normal society (Antiquitates Judaicae 9:74). 'As an attack on the skin [...] leprosy threatens or attacks [...] integrity, wholeness and completeness of the community and its members' (Carter 2000:199; cf. Pilch 1981:113).
OK, so that was the common Judaean understanding at the time. What about the Greco-Romans? Infanticide of disabled people was very common in their civilization.
The Twelve Tables, the constitution of Rome which underpinned its legal system, included a law that said disabled or deformed children should be put to death by their own fathers, usually by stoning:
A father shall immediately put to death a son recently born, who is a monster [or 'seriously deformed'], or has a form different from that of members of the human race.
Despite this some disabled did live into adulthood, and indeed the Emperor Claudius had a pronounced limp. But they were the exception to the rule. If the Romans didn't kill the disabled or deformed, then they often kept them as amusements to entertain guests.
In this respect, the Roman first century historian Plutarch (46 - 120 CE) tells of a separate area in the slave market which he calls the τεράτων ἀγορὰν, or the “monster-market”, a sale of deformed and disabled slaves to be used by wealthy Roman patrons for entertainment purposes, to amuse guests:
Plutarch, De Curiositate 10/Moralia 520c:
“Therefore just as at Rome there are some who take no account of paintings or statues or even, by Heaven, of the beauty of the boys and women for sale, but haunt the monster-market, examining those who have no calves, or are weasel-armed, or have three eyes, or ostrich-heads,.”
There is a sort of people at Rome who, being unaffected with any thing that is beautiful and pretty, either in the works of art or nature, despise the most curious pieces in painting or sculpture, and the fairest boys and girls that are there exposed to sale, as not worth their money; therefore they much frequent the monster-market, examining those who have no calves, or have distorted limbs and unnatural shapes, of three eyes and pointed heads, and mongrels, where kinds of unlike form oft blended be into one hideous deformity.
All which are sights so loathsome, that they themselves would abhor them were they compelled often to behold them. And if they who curiously enquire into those vicious deformities and unlucky accidents that may be observed in the lives of other men would only bind themselves to a frequent recollection of what they had seen and heard, there would be found very little delight or advantage in such ungrateful and melancholy reflections."
Another passage describes the practice of confining slaves in cages with the painful result of deformed limbs and shrunken bodies:
Longinus De Sublimitate 44.5:
“And so, my friend adds, if what I hear is true that not only do the cages in which they keep the pygmies or dwarfs, as they are called, stunt the growth of their prisoners, but their bodies even shrink in close confinement"
Neither the Greeks or the Romans had a word for ‘disabled’ but the term that they often use is ‘teras’ (for the Greeks) and ‘monstrum’ (for the Romans). These are the same words they used to describe mythological monsters, which I think says it all."
The great Stoic philosopher Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65), a contemporary of Jesus Christ, condemned the mocking of people with disabilities that was common at the time, as part of his wider teaching about never mocking another person and treating others as we would want to be treated (Seneca Minor, Epistulae Morales 47.11).
However, he also said that a man called Vatinius who suffered from gout and swellings on his face, "was born to be derided and hated" (Seneca, De Constantia 17.3) and contradicted himself by writing an entire political satire called "the gourdification of the Divine Claudius" in which he depicted the Emperor Claudius as a human monstrum (monster) and extensively mocked his physical disabilities, as did other authors of the time such as Suetonius (Claudius 30), indeed calling him 'a thing': "at the first glimpse he got, he was really much taken aback, although not all the monsters in the world could frighten him; when he saw this kind of object, when he looked closer the thing seemed to be a kind of man" (Seneca, Apocolcyntosis divi Claudii 5).
Elsewhere, Seneca defended the morality of the Roman constitution's command to kill disabled infants, referring to it as a practice of reason intended to sift the sound from the worthless:
"We put down mad dogs; we kill the wild, untamed ox; we use the knife on sick sheep to stop their infecting the flock; we destroy abnormal offspring at birth; children, too, if they are born weak or deformed, we drown. Yet this is not the work of anger, but of reason - to separate the sound from the worthless"
- (Seneca, Lucius Annaeus (1995). Seneca: Moral and Political Essays. Cambridge University Press. p. 32. ISBN 0-5213-4818-8. Retrieved November 2, 2013.)
In terms of the ancient Greeks: Plato and Socrates thought that the government should care for the health of the strong, the weak should be left to die and those with little intelligence could be killed, to quote from Plato's Republic:
Socrates: These two practices [legal and medical] will treat the bodies and minds of those of your citizens who are naturally well endowed in these respects; as for the rest, those with a poor physical constitution will be allowed to die, and those with irredeemably rotten minds will be put to death. Right?
Glaucon: Yes, we’ve shown that this is the best course for those at the receiving end of the treatment as well as for the community. (409e-410a)
Based on the evidence, therefore, I think it is fair to argue that Jesus was considerably more progressive and open-minded than the vast majority of his contemporaries when it came to including and caring for the disabled.