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Most of us know instinctively that the Taliban have not changed.

Unfortunately, our leaders probably do not.

A few days ago, a musician was murdered and women’s voices have been banned from the airwaves.

On Sunday, August 29, the Times reported on both (emphases mine):

Taliban fighters have shot dead an Afghan folk singer after it outlawed music and women’s voices on television and radio in the bellwether province of Kandahar, laying the ground for a nationwide ban in an echo of the brutal Islamist regime of 20 years ago.

When the Taliban come calling, it’s not for a friendly chat:

Fawad Andarabi was dragged from his home and shot in the head in the village of Andarab, north of Kabul on Friday, his family said. The murder has provoked an outcry and fuelled fears of a return to the repressive regime of the 1990s since Taliban fighters overran Kabul two weeks ago.

Andarabi was famed for playing the ghichak, a bowed lute, to accompany folk songs about the mountains that surrounded his home, which lies near the Panjshir Valley, the last bastion of resistance to the Taliban takeover.

I wrote about the Panjshir Valley, the home of the new National Resistance Front, on Wednesday, August 25, two days before Fawad Andarabi’s murder. No doubt, this will give the resistance movement added momentum:

Masoud Andarabi, the former interior minister, condemned the singer’s murder. “Taliban’s brutality continues in Andarab. Today they brutally killed folk singer, Fawad Andarabi who simply was bringing joy to this valley and its people,” he wrote on Twitter. “As he sang here ‘our beautiful valley . . . land of our forefathers’ will not submit to Taliban brutality.”

As for ‘female sounds’ on television and radio:

The order from Kandahar also confirms fears that women will be forced out of the media and off the airwaves, crushing a vital opportunity for educated, professional women that has flowered in the 20 years since the first Taliban regime was overthrown

One female reporter in the province said: “The Taliban’s ban of female journalists from TV and radio is not a surprise for me. It was expected as the Taliban started stopping women from work in media, banks, activism and other jobs before they took Kabul. Today, no female presenter or anchor were seen on TV in Kandahar. It’s very sad. I know many female journalists who are in hiding or have fled. There is no space left at all for working women in Afghanistan.”

How terribly sad.

I wonder if the Taliban will still allow kite flying, which they had banned until Western troops began their occupation.

An American author and physician, Dr Khaled Hosseini, who was born in Afghanistan, even wrote a book about it. The Kite Runner developed into a play and a film. Hosseini says the plot is fiction, but it does draw on other Afghans’ memories of growing up under a regime of religious brutality, including male sexual assault.

It looks as if the bad old days are here again. Perhaps they never truly disappeared, despite the West’s best efforts.

Taking a break from the news in Afghanistan, I have noted with dismay the news that Marks & Spencer will no longer be stocking men’s suits.

The famous British department store chain is now selling elastated trousers but said that it still has suits to buy online for those who cannot find them in their local store. What man would want to do that?

On August 29, the Times reported (emphases mine):

M&S said it still had a large collection of suits available online and either delivered or collected from 700 locations. Almost all of its clothing stores still sell shirts and ties.

That’s good to know (sarc off).

Customers returning to normality after coronavirus restrictions do not care much for M&S’s new normal:

One customer, Steve Jackson, who appeared to have moved back from abroad, wrote on Twitter: “The local Marks & Spencer no longer sells suits. How long was I away?!”

Another customer, Lisa Shaw, was disappointed after visiting a branch in Bristol, saying: “We went to Marks & Spencer today to buy my husband a suit. They have no suits! Smart trousers but no jackets.”

Katie Saint tweeted: “We’ve been to several of your shops around Leeds and Bradford and none seem to stock many/any of your range of suits.”

How unfortunate.

The American habit of casual dress for the office has taken root in the UK over the past 20+ years. What used to be ‘dress down Friday’ here has become a daily norm. Working from home over the past year and a half has put a nail in the coffin of sartorial elegance.

A Kantar study showed that suit sales have slumped:

British shoppers bought two million men’s suits in the year up to last month, compared with 4.3 million five years ago and five million a decade ago, according to new research from the analysts Kantar.

Women’s wear is moving in the same direction:

Sales of women’s suits have fallen less sharply from 600,000 a year in 2017 to 500,000 today. M&S said that in the year to April, sales of formal wear were down by 15 per cent online and 72 per cent in stores compared with a year earlier. During the same period, sales of casualwear were up 61 per cent online.

If it were just M&S dropping suits, that would be fine. However, men’s clothiers were suffering even before lockdown:

The suit chain TM Lewin shut all 66 of its UK shops last year, while Moss Bros reported pre-tax losses of £7.4 million for the year to January 2020 and was delisted from the London Stock Exchange last year after a drawn-out takeover process.

Any man wanting an M&S suit and cannot find one in his local shop will have to go online where he can receive a consultation, says Wes Taylor, director of M&S menswear:

we still want to be the go-to for a great suit whatever the occasion. Lots of men want help buying a suit from an expert so during the pandemic we also launched online video consultations.

How sad that a male rite of passage has died out. M&S first produced suits in 1939, initially out of woolen flannel.

Harry Mount, a journalist and author, feels at home in a suit. He wrote about M&S’s decision for the Daily Mail and noted that fewer than half of the company’s stores now stock them:

it emerged this weekend only 110 of its 254 clothing stores still stock suits — that’s well under half of them.

Very much an Englishman, Mount regrets the demise of the suit:

Workers returning to the office are opting for what the fashion world has recently termed the ‘broken suit’ — in old parlance a jacket and trousers.

GQ magazine recently ran an article about the ‘broken suit’ talking about combinations which suggest effort and care, as well as a touch of ‘studied carelessness’.

Sounds very like smart-casual to me. And just as confusing. Care and carelessness at the same time? Smart and casual?

In 2019, Goldman Sachs, the huge American bank, announced a move to a ‘flexible dress code’; JP Morgan, another American bank, now asks its workers to wear ‘business-casual’ — another indefinable mystery for the petrified man dressing in the morning.

These banks, I suppose, are emulating the scruffy dress code of the big tech companies, exemplified by Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief who’s almost permanently in a T-shirt or hoodie and jeans, and the late Steve Jobs, the Apple supremo, clad in black turtleneck and jeans.

Zuckerberg says he wears his grey T-shirt every day because he believes that thinking about clothes is ‘silly’ and ‘frivolous’.

But, surely, he’s the silly one. The great joy about the suit is that men don’t have to think.

It removes the question of what you should wear each day — apart from your choice of shirt — and equips you with the most stylish outfit known to man.

Mount gives us a history of the modern suit:

Here was not just affordable tailoring for the masses, but history made cloth.

The M&S suit is a descendant of the 18th-century British riding coat, which mutated into the morning coat (similar to what you might wear at a wedding) in the 19th century.

In around 1900, that long coat morphed into the Deeside coat, which was still pretty long — it had four buttons down the front.

The British dropped the fourth button just before World War I, and the modern suit was born. The Americans copied us after World War I, going for three buttons. Then, after World War II, the Americans introduced the two-button suit.

For a century, then, from World War I until now, the British suit has ruled the world.

True, there have been changes over the years. Suit trousers and lapels became very thin during the Mod years in the 1960s.

They became regrettably flared and wide in the 1970s. Suits turned boxy and shaped in the 1980s before reverting to their classic form in the 1990s, where they have hovered ever since.

Materials changed, too. M&S branched out of that original 1939 flannel suit into tweed, wool, linen and — God forbid — polyester.

But, still, at heart, the suit’s DNA stayed essentially the same: matching trousers and jacket with lapel, cuffs, a breast pocket and two side pockets.

British rock ‘n’ roll stars popularised the suit for new generations of young men. The Beatles wore them in their early years, as did the Rolling Stones. Throughout his life, their drummer, the late Charlie Watts, bought bespoke suits in Savile Row, at Huntsman:

Watts’s suits remained timelessly cool.

At one time, Bryan Ferry was the face of M&S suits. And who can forget David Bowie in his?

Mount tells us that the word for suit in Japanese is the pronunciation of Savile Row: ‘Saburo’.

He says:

British suits are literally synonymous with formal wear across the globe. How sad, then, that we are now waving goodbye to one of our greatest inventions.

I couldn’t agree more.

Will the great British suit ever make a comeback? Only if our rock ‘n’ rollers start wearing them again.

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 1:15-17, 23-24

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?

23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

——————————————————————————————

In last week’s verses, Paul defended himself against false accusations by saying that he and Timothy had acted in holiness and with godly sincerity.

In today’s verses, he explains his travel plans, as he wanted to return to Corinth.

However, the false teachers at the church in Corinth told the congregation that Paul was vacillating in his decision to visit them.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

He was being attacked on the issue of his integrity. That is to say that you couldn’t trust him, he wasn’t truthful. That was the attack. And, of course, that – that is a very, very important thing if you’re going to discredit him. If you can get people to believe he lies, doesn’t tell the truth and isn’t trustworthy, has no integrity, then you can discredit him entirely.

Recapping last week’s verses, MacArthur says:

in verses 12 to 14 he had already given a general defense of his life on the basis of a clear conscience. He said his proud confidence was the fact that his conscience affirmed that he was living in holiness and godly sincerity. So he went to the highest human court which is conscience. Conscience from the human level knows more about us than anybody else, and his conscience was clear. So he gave a general defense of his life from conscience side.

He also hoped that he and Timothy could boast in a godly way of the Corinthians and they of him.

Because he was sure of that, he wanted to visit the Corinthians first so that they could experience divine grace a second time (verse 15). Some translations use ‘blessing’ instead of ‘grace’, which makes the meaning clearer. That blessing would come through his preaching and teaching.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant by that wording with regard to his intended visit:

the purpose of it, according to verse 15, was that they might receive a charis, a grace, a favor, a benefit, a benediction, a spiritual blessing. And he frankly says my intention was to come to you and give you double blessing in this confidence – at the beginning of the verse. What confidence? The confidence expressed in verse 14, that – that you are as proud of us as we are of you. In other words, that we have a real relationship. It was on the assumption that we really have a relationship, that there really is trust and there really is love, and there really is care and that there’s something that we mutually hold with respect and pride toward one another, a godly pride. And it was based on that assumption, that I’m as important to you as you are to me, that I made my plans. It was born out of loyalty, not selfishness.

Paul says that his intention was to visit Corinth on his way to Macedonia and on the way back, after which he would be going to Judea (verse 16). He was going to Judea with a donation for the poor church in Jerusalem, to which he hoped the Corinthians would contribute as had the other churches in Asia Minor and Macedonia.

However, the first visit did not take place. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus. And that circumstance was ammunition for his accusers.

He asks whether he has been vacillating (verse 17). He says that he has not been vacillating:

18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.[d]

He said that to indicate that he had good reason for altering his travel plans.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He was not to be accused of levity and inconstancy, nor a contradiction between his words and intentions. Note, Good men should be careful to preserve the reputation of sincerity and constancy; they should not resolve but upon mature deliberation, and they will not change their resolves but for weighty reasons.

Paul then uses an oath to express his sincere reason for not going to Corinth as originally intended; it was to spare the Corinthians of his righteous anger with them (verse 23). Instead, he chose to absent himself and show kindness to them in that way.

Henry says:

He knew there were things amiss among them, and such as deserved censure, but was desirous to show tenderness. He assures them that this is the true reason, after this very solemn manner: I call God for a record upon my soul–a way of speaking not justifiable where used in trivial matters; but this was very justifiable in the apostle, for his necessary vindication, and for the credit and usefulness of his ministry, which was struck at by his opposers.

Paul emphasises that he, Timothy and Silvanus (Silas, Acts 15:22) have no intention of lording themselves over the faith of the Corinthians but want to work with them in their joy as they stand firm in their faith (verse 24).

Paul continues on that train of thought in the first verses of 2 Corinthians 2.

As for what happened with Paul’s visit to Corinth, MacArthur says:

By the way, the two visits that he intended to make eventually became one long visit. First Corinthians 16:7, he hoped that he would come and see them not just in passing but to remain for some time. He really wanted to spend time with them and he would spend time with them, it was just this little triviality of whether he made two visits.

Paul was a man of his word.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:1-4

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 29, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,

7:2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.

7:3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;

7:4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

7:6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

7:7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

7:8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:

7:15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

7:21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,

7:22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

7:23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in the ministry of Jesus comes after the events of John 6, which concluded last week.

John MacArthur explains:

We have just come from some events in the ministry of Jesus that mark the peak of His popularity. A sort of peak event is described in [Mark’s] chapter 6, the feeding of the, let’s say, twenty-five thousand people. Jesus created fish and crackers out of His own hands, fed them all, and they collected twelve baskets to feed the twelve apostles. It is a miracle of power, creative power, and a miracle of amazing precision. Just exactly enough and twelve left over to feed the apostles.

This massive miracle stunned the crowd. And according to John – all four gospels record that miracle. According to John’s gospel, they were so overwhelmed by this that they wanted to make Him the king by force. This is the apex of His popularity. He refuses that shallow, superficial, self-interested effort to make Him king so that they could continue to benefit from His powers without necessarily believing His message. He refused that. And He said, “I would rather talk about the bread of life, spiritual things far more important than these physical things.”

They wanted nothing to do with that. In that same chapter in John, it tells the story of them wanting to make Him a king, ends with the comment that many of His disciples left Him and walked no more with Him. They went away when He told them the issues that He was concerned about were spiritual and not material. They were materialists. They were religious materialists. Their religion was superficial, not from the heart. Superficial religion doesn’t change the heart. They were materialists at heart and they were supernaturalists in their ceremonies. But in any case, they did not love God nor worship Him from the heart. They didn’t hate their own sin, they didn’t embrace Jesus as the Redeemer and the Savior

His popularity then begins to fade, and the work of the scribes and Pharisees to discredit Him is beginning to gain momentum. In fact, we know the timing of this because John 6 says it was around the Passover that He fed that crowd, probably preliminary to the Passover. So we know it’s a year now from His death. The Galilean ministry is coming to its end. During that last year of ministry, He spends His time training the twelve.

Well, here a conflict occurs that probably happened a lot – a lot. We can’t assume that this a rare occasion but more likely this is a common occasion. Maybe the issue shifted a little bit. Maybe it was on this issue as well other times, but He was in constant conflict with the leaders of Israel embodied in the scribes and Pharisees.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes came from Jerusalem to gather around Jesus (verse 1).

MacArthur surmises that the Galilean leaders wanted support from the temple:

Very prestigious group, no doubt requested by Galilean counterparts who needed some help to discredit Jesus and wanted the experts from Jerusalem to show up. They are legalistic, self-righteous, external, hypocritical, phony, religious members of the establishment. They are of their father, the devil, full of hate for the truth, hate for the Son of God, purveyors of lies. They are the darkness and they hate the light. They come from Jerusalem, which means they have more prestige than anybody else. They want Jesus dead, and they’re looking for more ways to make sure that can happen, things for which to indict Him. And the battle intensifies. This is a head-on collision between true and heart religion and false and external religion.

The leaders from Jerusalem pointed out that our Lord’s disciples had not washed their hands before eating (verse 2).

The Jews had many traditions about hand washing (verse 3), including under what circumstances and what implements (verse 4).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that these traditions had added to the hygiene requirements specified in Scripture and enforced them as vigorously:

There were many cases in which, by the law of Moses, washings were appointed; but they added to them, and enforced the observation of their own impositions as much as of God’s institutions.

MacArthur tells us how these traditions originated and developed. One rule for washing one’s hands included a ritual involving the fist:

They were not nearly so concerned about Scripture as they were their tradition. They had made their tradition equal to the Scripture.

… It all started – Moses gave the oral law at Sinai and then the law of God was written down, the Pentateuch being the primary law, and the rest of the Old Testament came. The Jews were concerned about the holiness of the law in external ways and they wanted to protect the law.

So when the law was handed down, there were some of the leaders of the great synagogue at Jerusalem who said, “We need to build a fence around the law. We need to make sure that that law is kept. And in order to make sure that law is kept, let’s put a fence around it away from it, and if people stop at the fence, then they’ll never get close to violating the law.” So the fence consisted of generation after generation of rituals and rules and ceremonies and behaviors of all kind, prohibitions, precepts to protect, supposedly, the law of God. And that’s the accusation. Not that Jesus broke the law, but that He violated the traditions.

When the Jews came back from captivity, they did want to protect the law. They wanted to keep the law. Remember Ezra? Ezra studied the law and observed the law and taught the law, and you remember he got up and read the law, and there was a great revival. The law was recovered when they came back at the end of the seven-year captivity. And so Ezra was the first of a group of men known as scribes, and their job was to study the law and explain the law so that people would know what the law was and they would be able to avoid violating God’s holy law.

Well, hypocrisy was already everywhere soon after Israel came back, and so they decided that in order to assure that people wouldn’t break the law, they’d just put up more and more and more and more and more barriers. A massive amount of material developed, I mean massive, called the Tradition of the Elders. In fact, 200 A.D., not long after the life of our Lord, Rabbi Jehuda pulled together all of this material, and it was an eclectic array of material, some of it sort of authoritative teaching by rabbis, some of it scribbled notes by students. It was all kinds of material, good, bad, and indifferent, ranging from things that were stupid and foolish and crazy to things that were more sensible. This mass of material was all collected together, put in one form, and it was called the Mishnah and that means “to repeat.” It represented the total accumulated content of Jewish tradition. It contains the decisions of wise men and the musings of idiots and everything in between. But the idea was to elucidate and interpret the law. The material is full of books, tracts, treatises, headings, chapters, paragraphs.

For example, Mark tells us they had all kinds of laws about the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots. Actually, there are thirty chapters in the Mishnah about the ceremonial ritual cleansing of pots and pans. Come on, thirty chapters? Because it wasn’t about sanitation, it’s about ceremonial ritual cleansing. So it takes thirty chapters for you to follow the minutia and the prescription of this kind of ritualistic cleaning of a pot or a pan.

Well, there’s one whole volume on rinsing your hands ceremonially, and that may be where the fist comes in. I’m not sure just how that worked. Well, it was discovered that the Mishnah needed clarity, the Mishnah needed supplementation, and so commentaries were written explaining the Mishnah and they were called Gemara. At first they were oral, and then they began to be collected. Gemara means complete. So you have the Mishnah and then explaining the Mishnah, you have the Gemara. The rabbinical school at Jerusalem then took the Mishnah and the Gemara and put them both together and came up with the Talmud. Have you heard that word? That’s all of that stuff. And then the rabbis at Babylon wrote their own Talmud four times larger than the Jerusalem Talmud. Now, no wonder Jesus said, “You bind heavy burdens on people, they can’t even carry them.” How could you eve get through that stuff?

Then they didn’t have enough, so then came the Midrash. The Midrash was all the rabbinic commentary on the books of the Bible. So you had this mass of material that totally covered up the actual Scripture

With this in mind, such as it was at the time of this confrontation, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus why His disciples were not obeying tradition and washing their hands before eating (verse 5).

Jesus responded, referencing Isaiah’s words about the Jews of that time honouring God with their lips only and not their hearts (verse 6).

Henry elaborates:

They honour me with their lips, they pretend it is for the glory of God that they impose those things, to distinguish themselves from the heathen; but really their heart is far from God, and is governed by nothing but ambition and covetousness. They would be thought hereby to appropriate themselves as a holy people to the Lord their God, when really it is the furthest thing in their thought. They rested in the outside of all their religious exercises, and their hearts were not right with God in them, and this was worshipping God in vain; for neither was he pleased with such sham-devotions, nor were they profited by them.

MacArthur points out:

They didn’t say to Jesus, “You broke the law of God.” They said, “You” – what? – “You violated the tradition.” This is the point of attack …

Jesus said that their worship was in vain because they were placing human precepts — traditions — above Scripture, as if they were the law that God gave to Moses (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

After condemning them from the text of Isaiah 29, “You honor me with your lips, your heart is far from me,” this is empty worship, He says, “You neglect the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

After addressing the leaders from Jerusalem, Jesus turned to the crowd and called them to listen carefully to what He had to say (verse 14).

He said that nothing entering a person can defile him, only what comes out of that person’s mouth can defile him (verse 15).

MacArthur explains the word ‘defile’:

… you have a form of the word “defile” from the verb koinoō. It means to be dirty, to be unclean, to be impure, to be corrupt, to be defiled, used often in the New Testament, very frequently in the New Testament. Even more frequently, the Hebrew counterpart of that word chalal in the Old Testament used probably over 225 times. Why? Because impurity and purity is a biblical issue, because it’s an issue with God. Throughout Scripture we are told to be able to distinguish between what is impure and what is pure. So it’s a common theme and, therefore, it’s a common word.

Jesus listed the many sins that defile: fornication, theft, murder (verse 21), adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly (verse 22).

Jesus said that these sins come from within a person and defile him (verse 23).

These are incredibly widespread sins today. Many people make excuses for themselves as they commit them. Even worse, our lawmakers and social experts make excuses for people committing them.

We question a monogamous relationship. I heard a television discussion on that subject on Friday, along with advocates for polyamory.

Our laws are not being enforced. Shoplifting is punishable in Britain these days with a mere fine. Police do not want to investigate larger thefts of private property. They are too busy.

People who steal or cheat ‘cannot help themselves’ because of a difficult childhood. Judges are lenient.

Yet, we are bound up in pharasaical preoccupations with eating ‘clean’ foods, smoking bans and a new temperance movement. Our bodies have to look good, as if we were all celebrities.

The truth is that many ‘clean’ living people are but whited sepulchres on the inside. They look good, but they ignore God at their peril.

Following on from yesterday’s post about Britain’s presence in Afghanistan, today’s entry has more.

On Tuesday, August 17, Strategic Culture posted ‘Afghanistan: Whatever the Future Brings, One Thing Is for Sure, Britain and the U.S. Should Stay Out’.

While I disagree with the general premise, the article did have interesting historical information about the UK’s involvement in Iraq and Libya based on questionable intelligence by a security chief who promoted the Russian dossier nonsense during the 2016 US presidential election. Emphases mine below:

All the blood and treasure spent, yes that is a tragedy, but not because of how it is ending, but rather how the War on Terror was started.

That is, that the Iraq and Libya wars were both based off of cooked British intelligence, which resulted in the attempt by the British people to prosecute Tony Blair as a war criminal for his direct role in causing British and U.S. troops to enter an illegal war with Iraq. This prosecution was later blocked by the British High Court claiming that there is no crime of aggression in English law under which the former PM could be charged. It seems there is no law against being a war criminal in Britain.

And it was none other than MI6 chief (1999-2004) Sir Richard Dearlove who oversaw and stood by the fraudulent intelligence on Iraq stating they bought uranium from Niger to build a nuclear weapon, the very same Sir Richard Dearlove who promoted the Christopher Steele dossier as something “credible” to American intelligence.

In addition, the Libyan invasion of 2011 was found to be unlawfully instigated by Britain. In a report published by the British Foreign Affairs Committee in September 2016, it was concluded that it was “the UK and France in March 2011 which led the international community to support an intervention in Libya to protect civilians from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi”. The report concluded that the Libyan intervention was based on false pretence provided by British Intelligence and recklessly promoted by the British government. This is the real reason why David Cameron stepped down.

This is what caused the United States to enter both wars, due to, what has now been officially acknowledged as fraudulent or deliberately misleading evidence that was supplied by British intelligence.

Now onto Afghanistan. After the horrifying weekend of August 14 and 15, Britain’s Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, tried to enlist NATO allies’ help to fill the gap from Joe Biden’s withdrawal:

UK Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, has been actively trying to call on NATO allies to join a British-led military coalition to re-enter Afghanistan upon the U.S. departure! Wallace states in an interview with Daily Mail:

I did try talking to NATO nations, but they were not interested, nearly all of them…We tried a number of like-minded nations. Some said they were keen, but their parliaments weren’t. It became apparent pretty quickly that without the U.S. as the framework nation it had been, these options were closed off…All of us were saddened, from the prime minister (Boris Johnson) down, about all the blood and treasure that had been spent, that this was how it was ending.

This has left the UK in a tailspin, although, as of August 26, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Britain would remain in Afghanistan to complete evacuation efforts.

However, some of our brightest commentators are fumbling to come up with reasonable solutions to America’s withdrawal. Andrew Neil said that we should ask France to partner with us. Hmm:

Meanwhile, Biden acts as if everything is fine.

On August 20, he said that the US gave the Afghans ‘all the tools’ they need. This is the tally over the past 20 years:

Nigel Farage has disparaged Biden in recent days:

It’s not so much the withdrawal itself but how it is being done that is the worry. Troops should be the last to leave:

As if that is not bad enough, the Biden administration has supplied the Taliban with the names of people who helped the US effort. One could not make this up:

Johnny Mercer MP (Con), himself a veteran, posted the video:

But, then, according to his fellow Conservative MP, Tom Tugendhat, the British did the same thing. How is this even possible?

The Times article says:

Foreign Office staff left documents with the contact details of Afghans working for them as well as the CVs of locals applying for jobs scattered on the ground at the British embassy compound in Kabul that has been seized by the Taliban.

The papers identifying seven Afghans were found by The Times on Tuesday as Taliban fighters patrolled the embassy. Phone calls to the numbers on the documents revealed that some Afghan employees and their families remained stranded on the wrong side of the airport perimeter wall days after their details were left in the dirt in the haste of the embassy’s evacuation on August 15.

The fate of Afghans who worked alongside western diplomats and troops, and who may face reprisals after being left behind, has become an emblem of the West’s retreat from Afghanistan.

Such was the British surprise at the speed of the capture of Kabul that the embassy’s evacuation protocols, necessitating the shredding and destruction of all data that could compromise local Afghan staff, their families or potential employees, appear to have broken down.

The article mentions Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was on holiday in Crete on August 14 and 15. He was supposed to make an important phone call, which he delegated to Lord Goldsmith. On the face of it, that wasn’t a bad idea, because Goldsmith is close to Carrie Johnson and could have had direct access to Boris through her. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the phone call was never made. I’m still not sure whether it was as crucial as the media make it out to be, because the media are anti-Boris anyway. More will emerge in the weeks to come, but this is what we know for now:

The discovery of the documents comes after Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, rejected a request to speak with his Afghan counterpart to discuss the evacuation of interpreters who worked for Britain two days before the fall of Kabul. It suggests that staff at the British embassy were careless with the lives of Afghan employees in the rush to save their own.

Labour now have a real issue with which to attack the Conservatives:

Labour said foreign secretary Dominic Raab has “serious questions to answer” and that the destruction of sensitive materials should have been a “top priority”. Lisa Nandy, his opposite number, called on the government to “urgently assess” the individuals who may have been identified by the breach and whether operations may have been compromised. The Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is now set to launch an inquiry.

I hope that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is committed to sorting this out:

Reacting to the revelations this morning, Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, said the blunder was “not good enough” and would be investigated. Wallace said that the prime minister “will be asking some questions” about how the documents came to be left on the ground.

Wallace gave an interview to Sky News Friday morning. Contrary to what the British public understood yesterday from Boris about the evacuation efforts continuing, they will be coming to a close shortly, possibly by the time you read this:

Tom Tugendhat chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, so my expectations for the upcoming inquiry into this security breach are high:

Tugendhat spoke about the American withdrawal:

Sorry, but the withdrawal debacle is a military defeat.

I feel very sorry for British — and American — troops. They are still heroes, as Johnny Mercer, who served in Afghanistan, says:

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel visited a refugee centre:

She is preparing the British public. We will be taking in 20,000 or 25,000 Afghan refugees over the next five years. However, the British are also concerned about the number of illegal immigrants coming in from France across the English Channel:

Nigel Farage urges caution over the refugee programme:

The Daily Mail article says that Ben Wallace was satisfied that the man on the ‘no fly’ list was not a threat. However, the Mail states that some security checks have been taking place once the military plane is in the air:

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today insisted security checks at Kabul airport are working after it emerged a person banned from Britain under a ‘no-fly list’ was able to travel to the UK as part of the Afghanistan airlift. 

In a potential security breach, the individual was cleared to board an RAF plane before checks in mid-air revealed they were barred from coming to this country.

In a sign of the challenges facing British soldiers at the airport – who are already on high alert amid fears of terror attacks – it emerged last night that a further four people on the no-fly list tried to board mercy flights to the UK, but were stopped before the planes took off.

Mr Wallace defended the security checks, telling Sky News: ‘The watch list, or the no-fly list, pinged and the individual was identified so that is a plus side that it worked.

‘I wouldn’t be as alarmed as some of the media headlines are about this individual and I would also take some comfort from this process is working and flagging people.’

It came amid fears that more than 1,000 heroic Afghan translators, staff and their families could be left behind by the frantic evacuation operation.

Ministers have outlined plans to extract a further 6,000 UK nationals and eligible Afghans, but sources said there were 7,000 who Britain would ideally like to rescue.   

The Home Office said yesterday a ‘security assessment’ of the individual who arrived in the UK revealed they were no longer considered a threat by the security or law enforcement agencies. Sources said there would be no further action taken against the person, whose nationality is unclear.

But the development raised concerns over security relating to the airlift.

That was the state of play on August 23.

On August 26, another report emerged, this time from The Telegraph. The British public will not find this reassuring:

The Twitter thread received comments of astonishment and concern, such as these:

The men coming across the English Channel are also unlikely to have their papers, creating one terrible mess in the months and years to come.

In closing, today’s main story in the UK is that the British evacuation in Afghanistan will end this weekend:

Ben Wallace always maintained that some Afghans would be left behind. Where possible, more will be airlifted:

What a terrible ending after 20 years.

Parliament returns in early September. Both Houses will have a lot of questions for the Government.

It’s hard to know whether the British government was truly surprised by the fall of Afghanistan, particularly Kabul, 11 days ago.

On Thursday, August 19, Stuart Crawford, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Tank Regiment, wrote an excellent analysis for The Scotsman: ‘Afghanistan fell to Taliban because West underestimated its enemy and lacked commitment’.

His article begins with a short précis of British involvement in the country (emphases mine, unless otherwise stated):

We British are no strangers to disasters in Afghanistan. In past centuries, Britain fought three wars there with the dual purposes of expanding its control from its Empire base in India and opposing Russian influence there, the latter part of the so-called “Great Game”.

None of them ended satisfactorily. At the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Afghanistan was independent, the British withdrew, and the Afghans entered a period of special relationship with Soviet Russia.

Eventually that relationship soured too, leading to the Soviet invasion in 1979. The Russians left ten years later with their tails between their legs having suffered 15,000 dead. Not for nothing is Afghanistan known as the graveyard of foreign armies.

This brings us to the present day:

And now we are witnessing the end of yet another military adventure, this time the US-led Nato invasion in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. What sets this newest withdrawal apart from the others, however, is the speed at which the Afghan government has collapsed.

Things looked good nearly 20 years ago, three months after US and UK forces invaded Afghanistan:

… the western powers entered Afghanistan in 2001 and drove the Taliban from power thereby denying al-Qaeda a safe base of operations there. It only took three months, with many Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives fleeing across the border into Pakistan.

However, Bush II switched priorities to Iraq whilst maintaining a presence in Afghanistan, as counterterrorism expert Malcolm Nance recently explained to talkRADIO.

Stuart Crawford recounts the losses by the US and the UK during the fruitless adventure of trying to turn Afghanistan into a Western-style nation:

Over the next 20 years, the US and its allies poured billions of dollars into military operations to counter a resurgent Taliban and into reconstruction and civil aid projects. When the main fighting died down in 2014, the Americans had lost roughly 2,500 servicemen and women, the UK around 450, plus many other casualties from allied militaries. Estimated losses for the Afghan security forces are approximately 69,000.

Crawford outlines the reasons for the West’s failure:

First and foremost, the West was naïve in assuming that the Afghan people would welcome a western-style liberal democracy

Next, we made the unforgivable sin – in military circles – of underestimating the enemy. After the rapid successes against the Taliban in 2001, it was all too easy to dismiss them as “a bunch of blokes in open-toes sandals on motorbikes”, but they were and are good at what they do.

They are still there and we are leaving.

Also, what we probably didn’t understand or chose to ignore is the long-established Afghan practice of negotiated arrangements between opposing forces in conflict, whereby there are agreements not to attack or interfere with your enemy.

Finally, it was an overall tale of too few resources committed too late by the West. After the initial invasion in 2001, little attention was paid to nation building for the next five years. When focus was shifted to it, the horse had already bolted. We were always playing catch up from then on in.

It also has to be said that, despite the impressive numbers of troops deployed during the height of the military campaign, they were always too few for the task in hand. Some pretty poor tactical decisions were taken on the ground, not least by the British army in Helmand.

When British troops were allocated Helmand in 2006, their intended role was to provide safety and security for various reconstruction projects. But their arrival there provoked a furious reaction from a reconstituted Taliban. Our soldiers found themselves in very different circumstances to what they expected.

What is difficult for Westerners to understand is how complicated and fluid Afghan alliances are internally. They do not think in terms of good guys and bad guys. Crawford writes of:

a network of tribal and kinship ties which sometimes saw members of the same family supplying soldiers to both sides. This to some extent guaranteed some element of safety and amnesty for the vanquished.

Part of the reason, therefore, that the Afghan government forces have collapsed so quickly – after, it has to be said, fighting hard for many years with us in support – is that such arrangements have been in place for many years.

Corruption, lack of resources, and poor leadership added to the mix, and many Afghans must have wondered exactly what they were fighting for. The Taliban, on the other hand, knew exactly what they were fighting for and sought to achieve.

In Helmand province, the British were spread too thinly and ended up needing help from the Americans:

only 9,700 troops were expected to secure an area of over 58,500 square kilometres containing over 1,000 villages and settlements with a population of over 1.5 million inhabitants. It was a hopeless task, doomed to failure from them outset.

For reasons never properly explained, the decision was taken to spread British troops across 137 bases and checkpoints, dispersing forces and literally making them hostage to fortune as the Taliban were attracted to attack these small, isolated outposts as bees are to honey.

After much bravery and heroism against a more numerous foe, and despite the advantages of superior technology and air power, the British army had to be rescued by the Americans. This military defeat, added to the similar debacle in Basra in Iraq, did much to tarnish the British army’s hard-won reputation.

Even worse, the United States has been defeated:

The biggest takeaway from the whole Afghan affair, however, is that potential future adversaries now know how to defeat the USA.

Today, the airport in Kabul was attacked. The incident killed at least 60 people, including 12 American soldiers. Later in the afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a COBRA meeting; the British evacuation efforts will continue.

Earlier on, James Heappey (pictured below), Britain’s Minister for the Armed Forces, warned of an attack on the airport:

The news has not been well received by Guido Fawkes’s readers. The last two comments follow from Guido’s thread about the airport in Kabul, which ends with this (emphasis in the original):

Despite these stark warnings, crowds of people remain outside of Kabul airport waiting to be processed. Britain has now evacuated over 11,000 Afghans with a suspected 400 people left to process. The countdown continues despite the ordered evacuation…

I have edited the spelling and grammar in the following comments.

Here’s the first one:

UK caught well and truly with their pants down, and why, because they believed Biden would never be as stupid as he turned out to be. As the UK media, indeed the Western media, decried Trump at every opportunity, they praised Biden as the sensible, reliable face of American politics, now they scramble around like floundering fish trying to defend his mass genocidal decision to leave Afghanistan in the way he did. They would rather blame everyone else than accept they got it wrong. Well, the bloodshed that’s about to happen will be on their hands as much as it is on Sleepy Joe’s. Meanwhile Europe is bracing itself for another mass flooding of refugees. WE have to seriously consider is America an ally to NATO or not.

This is the second:

“Terrorist Attack Imminent……” What absolute tosh, why would the Taliban carry out an attack at Kabul Airport at all? They have what they want, western powers scuttling out of Afghanistan!.

What the politicos do not want is pictures showing 1000s of Afghans ‘stranded’ at the airport as the last flights leave so what better way to prevent this than by warning them to stay away form the airport area by suggesting “a terrorist attack is imminent….”

It is hard to disagree with either of those analyses.

On Wednesday, August 25, Professor Paul Cornish, who has visited Afghanistan twice during the past 20 years, wrote an article for Cityforum: ‘The Rout of Kabul’.

He has high praise for James Heappey, much less for successive British governments:

In the UK, with one or two notable exceptions such as James Heappey, the Minister for the Armed Forces, who manages to combine a sense of empathy with honest political realism and a soldier’s instincts for problem solving, we have had the embarrassing spectacle of high-level politicians, public officials and very senior military officers showing just how disconnected they are from this looming strategic reality. Keen to convince the media and the electorate that this is a temporary politico-military malfunction, from which ‘lessons will be learned’ before the normal service of strategic mastery is resumed, we are assured repeatedly that the Taliban surge was unexpected and unpredictable. Really? Ten years ago, following the second of two visits to Afghanistan, I made the following observation at a conference: ‘withdrawal – whenever it happens – should be seen not simply as the desperate ending of the intervention but as the most complex and dangerous part of the intervention. If this is mishandled or rushed, then we might be talking in five years’ time not just of the resurgence of some very unpleasant extremist and criminal groups, but of a regional conflagration.’ My sense of foreboding was premature by five years but if a visiting academic/think tank analyst could see things in this way then plenty of others, in more influential positions, will have come to a similar conclusion. And if the capture of Kabul was indeed so unexpected, why was there not only a ‘Plan A’ for the evacuation but also a ‘Plan B’? Was the capitulation unexpected, or were we preparing for it? As well as presenting a wholly confused, if not disingenuous analysis, the UK’s strategic leadership has also demonstrated an unbeatably inappropriate choice of actions and words: the Foreign Secretary remaining determinedly glued (some have alleged) to a sunbed in Crete while the crisis grew; or the UK Chief of Defence Staff insisting that the Taliban, an implacable enemy of Britain’s armed forces for many years, ‘has changed’ and that British troops are now ‘happy to collaborate’ with them.

He discusses the toxic mix of the Taliban, terror, Pakistan and China, concluding with this on the West’s failure in Afghanistan:

In this dismal context, uncomfortable questions must be asked about the West’s reputation as a global strategic actor, about its ‘strategic ambition’ and about the relevance of its vision for the world. Both the US and the UK have presented themselves as expert in the high strategic art of combining ‘hard power’ (i.e., the power of coercion and compulsion) with ‘soft power’ (i.e., the power of attraction and persuasion). Does the Rout of Kabul suggest that either of these is functioning as it should, or is as convincing as is claimed? In the UK, the March 2021 review of national security and defence offered a vision of a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’, finally achieving its destiny as a ‘force for good in the world’, a ‘soft power superpower’, and a country with globally deployable ‘hard power’. Broadly similar rhetoric was heard at the G7 and NATO summits in June 2021. After Kabul, are any of these promises, offers and assurances convincing? And who would rely upon them? Bells that ring as hollow as this should probably not be rung – at least not in public.

Returning to the state of play in Kabul, he says:

Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, August 2021: not a good look for the West, its values, its capability, its staying power, its leadership and their judgement. And it could get worse if the West’s strategic leadership insist that Kabul was a mere technical hitch, unwilling or unable to confront their mistakes and the gravity of what has taken place, and refusing to acknowledge that the West, and all that it stands for, is in deep trouble as a result.

I could not agree more.

There is currently much speculation in Britain and the United States as whose heads should roll over this debacle.

The British media want Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to resign because he did not return sooner from his holiday in Crete to ring an Afghan minister of state. That telephone call, which never took place, would not have made much difference to the final outcome. Events unfolded quickly on the weekend of August 14 and 15.

Some Americans want Joe Biden to stand down in favour of Kamala Harris, despite her poor popularity ratings. However, that would not achieve anything much, either.

The damage is done. It will take decades to recover from this, not only politically but also socially.

More to follow tomorrow on Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan.

The budding resistance movement to the Taliban is building momentum in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley.

The Panjshir Valley is three hours north of Kabul and has a geographic advantage of being bordered by the Hindu Kush mountains.

On August 22, two articles about Afghanistan’s National Resistance Front appeared in the media.

One is by veteran war reporter John Simpson who wrote ‘As Afghans besiege Kabul airport to flee — others slip away to join the resistance’ for the Daily Mail.

The other is by another specialist on Afghanistan, David Loyn, writing for The Spectator: ‘Panjshir valley and the last resistance to the Taliban’.

Loyn describes the Panjshir Valley (emphases mine):

The Panjshir valley, about three hours’ drive north of Kabul, has a mythical hold on the Afghan imagination. It is a natural fortress, a long lemon-shaped valley surrounded on three sides by 13,000-foot-high mountain ridges, with the only entrance a narrow road in a deep winding gorge to the south, cut by the Panjshir river. It is a place of stunning beauty, with green fields either side of the river laden with apple blossom in the spring, irrigated by ingenious canals. The walls between the fields, and sometimes the houses themselves, are buttressed with rusting metal war remains – the wheels of a tracked vehicle, armour plating, bridges formed of shell cases.

He tells us of the resistance movement’s origins during the 1980s, when the Soviets tried to control the country:

The war became part of the fabric of Panjshir after seven failed attempts by Soviet forces to take the valley in the 1980s, and Panjshir also held out against the Taliban in the 1990s. This week it earned a new medal of honour in Afghanistan’s long wars, as the only province still standing against the Taliban.

Ahmad Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the ‘Lion of Panjshir,’ has raised the flag of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan against the Taliban. He has been joined by vice president Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself president of the Afghan republic after Ashraf Ghani fled the country a week ago. Thousands of soldiers, who were not part of what the former US Afghan commander General David Petraeus called the ‘epidemic of surrender’, have rallied to the resistance banner, alongside irregular militias keen to burnish the legend of Panjshir.

The newly-formed forces have already pushed the Taliban out of three districts to the northwest of Panjshir. The districts, in the subregion of Andarab, are geographically part of the valley and so are perfectly suited to form a defensible perimeter. Taking the regions also showed an intent to widen the footprint of the resistance. This will not be a simple feat. The leadership of the resistance are largely untested. The elder Massoud, who died in 2001, studied and practised war all his life. While his son has a master’s degree in war studies at King’s College, London, he has no military experience.

The resistance also face a formidable challenge: they are landlocked in an area with no airfield. When the elder Massoud held out against Taliban rule 25 years ago, he also held Badakhshan province to the north, giving him access to the border across the Amu Darya river to Tajikistan. The people of Panjshir are ethnic Tajiks, and already the Afghan ambassador in the Tajik capital Dushanbe has put up president Saleh’s picture and declared himself part of the resistance. Saleh himself worked closely with the CIA in the 1990s, was later head of the Afghan intelligence service, and has good contacts in Tajikistan. It is likely that the first military moves of the resistance will be to break out to the north and control Badakhshan province up to the border.

Loyn says that the symbols the National Resistance Front chooses to adopt are important:

In the early confused days of the Panjshiri National Resistance Front, it is not clear if they are adopting the flag of the republic or of the Northern Alliance, the coalition of forces who battled against the Taliban in the 1990s. These symbols count. The Northern Alliance could be divisive as it was a Tajik-dominated force. If Saleh can promote himself as the head of a broader movement under the Afghan national flag he stands a better chance of success.

He says that it is important for Amrulla Saleh, former Afghan vice-president and the resistance movement leader who declared himself the new president of the Afghan republic, to take more territory so that fewer governments recognise the Taliban as Afghanistan’s ruling force.

That said, it is unclear how Tajikstan will respond, as Russia controls certain aspects of its security policy:

Russia still calls the shots in security policy in the region, and Russia has signalled that it will recognise the Taliban government and not support the Panjshiris this time, even though they supported the elder Massoud against the Taliban.

John Simpson says that Western nations should support the National Resistance Front:

just a week after the fall of Kabul a strong resistance movement is already taking shape in Afghanistan. At present it’s only a slender shaft of optimism, but it’s one that the West will want to grasp and nurture.

Every day, while crowds of desperate people besiege the airport in the hope of getting on a plane to safety, others are quietly slipping away to the Panjshir Valley, a hundred miles away to the north-east, to join the opposition.

Headed by Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s former vice-president who took over when the weak, broken President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, the movement has already attracted a number of generals, their staffs and some soldiers.

They, and others, are starting to plan their next step.

He is optimistic about these men, although it’s a long-range plan:

A new version of the Northern Alliance, with the tough, courageous Hazaras fighting alongside them, will emerge from the Panjshir Valley; and at some point I’m certain they will sweep the Taliban out of Kabul.

When that will happen, I have no idea.

I wish them all the best, especially if the Hazaras join the fight.

Ian Williams, a former foreign correspondent in Britain and the US as well as the author of Every Breath You Take: China’s New Tyranny, wrote an article for The Spectator: ‘China’s Great Game in Afghanistan’, which the magazine posted on August 22.

Although China will have to deal with the Taliban, with whom they have been negotiating, Joe Biden’s withdrawal of troops will leave the door wide open for further expansion of the country’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The BRI would be able to extend from China through Afghanistan directly to a BRI country, Pakistan.

Furthermore, last week, I wrote about China’s plans for global expansion, with which a more established presence in Afghanistan will certainly help, especially with regard to minerals such as lithium and copper.

Ian Williams’s article explains what could happen with a volatile mix of China, Pakistan and the Taliban (emphases mine):

Neighbouring Pakistan is the biggest recipient of China’s BRI funds – it has received an estimated £45 billion splashed on roads, railways, ports and other infrastructure. Chinese diplomats talk of Afghanistan becoming an extension of this, with Pakistan also acting as a political conduit to the Taliban. Islamabad was the group’s main backer when they were last in power, from 1996 to 2001, and harboured its leaders when out of power. But Islamabad’s influence over the Taliban is often exaggerated, and Pakistan itself has been plagued by religious extremism and occasional violence. Last month, nine Chinese engineers working on a dam project were killed in a bus explosion in the Kohistan district of Pakistan.

Beijing fears instability on its doorstep more than anything else. Ironically, it has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the stabilising presence of the US and its allies. Chaos in Afghanistan will threaten its projects in Pakistan and other central Asian states. It also fears a spill-over of radicalism into Xinjiang province, which shares a narrow border with Afghanistan, and where the repression of the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities has been labelled as genocide by the United States and many other western politicians. Beijing has reportedly sought assurances from the Taliban that they will cut ties with the East Turkistan Liberation Movement (ETLM), which Beijing blames for attacks in Xinjiang (which the Uyghurs call East Turkistan).

While Uyghur militants have appeared in Afghanistan, most independent observers believe their number and influence is exaggerated by Beijing, which uses a very wide definition of terrorism to justify its clampdown. That said, it is not unreasonable to assume the Taliban takeover will inspire opposition – even armed resistance – to oppressive Chinese rule in Xinjiang. After all, the Taliban are a bunch of militant Islamists, and Beijing’s actions across their shared border constitute an attempt to eradicate the culture and religion of an entire Muslim ethnic group and turn them into obedient Chinese citizens – the most comprehensive assault on Islam in the world today. Piles of BRI dollars have blinded Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan to that reality, but even the most pragmatic of Taliban might not so easily be bought off.

However, it would appear that China, whilst cautious, has a plan to counter potential terror, including:

a hastily arranged joint ‘anti-terrorism exercise’ in neighbouring Tajikistan, which shares an 835-mile border with Afghanistan. Chinese and Tajik forces took to the hills outside the capital Dushanbe, while in a letter to his Tajik counterpart China’s minster of public security said, ‘The current international situation is changing and the regional counterterrorism situation is not optimistic.’

Also:

it does raise the question of whether chaos in Afghanistan could lead to the involvement of Chinese security forces there and in the region more broadly. In some ways this is already happening – the Tajikistan exercises are the latest example of this. Beijing already deploys what have been described as private security contractors to protect projects in Pakistan, although these groups are far more closely linked to the state than is the case with western contractors.

One cannot help but think of last year’s reports on Joe and Hunter Biden’s previous involvement with China. Did that involvement inform Joe’s precipitous decision to withdraw from Afghanistan or was it just incompetence?

In any event, it could signal the decline of the United States as a superpower, just as the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 put paid to its superpower status. I truly hope that I am wrong with that assessment.

On Wednesday, August 18, 2021, a retired CIA man, Douglas London, wrote an article for Just Security: ‘CIA’s Former Counterterrorism Chief for the Region: Afghanistan, Not An Intelligence Failure — Something Much Worse’:

Douglas London is that former counterterrorism chief. He worked for the CIA for 34 years. Nowadays, he teaches at Georgetown University, is a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute and is author of the book The Recruiter, which details the changes in the CIA post-9/11.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Until his retirement in 2019, he was responsible for preparing security assessments for President Trump about Afghanistan. He volunteered in the same capacity for then-candidate Joe Biden.

Withdrawal — how and when?

He writes that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan has long been predicated with ‘what-if’ scenarios (emphasis in the original, those in purple mine):

The U.S. Intelligence Community assessed Afghanistan’s fortunes according to various scenarios and conditions and depending on the multiple policy alternatives from which the president could choose. So, was it 30 days from withdrawal to collapse? 60? 18 months? Actually, it was all of the above, the projections aligning with the various “what ifs.”  Ultimately, it was assessed, Afghan forces might capitulate within days under the circumstances we witnessed, in projections highlighted to Trump officials and future Biden officials alike.

He says that Biden and Trump viewed withdrawal differently, citing Biden’s speech of August 16 (emphases mine):

In his prepared remarks on Monday, President Biden stated, “But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you.  The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.” That’s misleading at best. The CIA anticipated it as a possible scenario.

By early 2018, it was clear President Trump wanted out of Afghanistan regardless of the alarming outcomes the intelligence community cautioned. But he likewise did not want to preside over the nightmarish scenes we’ve witnessed. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the principal architect of America’s engagement with the Taliban that culminated with the catastrophic February 2020 withdrawal agreement, terms intended to get the president through the coming elections. Pompeo championed the plan despite the intelligence community’s caution that its two key objectives– securing the Taliban’s commitment to break with al-Qa’ida and pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict — were highly unlikely.

Douglas London outlines the various scenarios:

Scenarios for an orderly withdrawal ranged from those in which the United States retained roughly 5,000 troops and most of the existing forward military and intelligence operating bases, to what was determined to be the minimum presence of around 2,500 troops maintaining the larger bases in greater Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Khost, as well as the infrastructure to support the bases we would turn over to Afghan partners. The larger of these two options was judged more likely to prevent Afghanistan’s collapse for 1-2 years and still provide for a degree of continued U.S. counterterrorism pressure; the smaller footprint was more difficult to assess but allowed flexibility for the United States to increase or further reduce its presence should circumstances rapidly deteriorate. (It would be valuable if commentators and news coverage included a greater appreciation of how such contingency-based assessments work rather than conflating assessments.)

Initially, even a “Kabul only” option included the retention of the sprawling U.S. Bagram Air Base and other intelligence facilities in the greater capital area through which the United States could project force, maintain essential logistical, intelligence and medical support to Afghan operated bases, and retain some technical intelligence collection and counterterrorist capability across the country. But without any U.S. military and intelligence presence beyond the Embassy in Kabul, faced with a Taliban military and propaganda offensive, and undermined by Ghani’s fractious relationship with his own national political partners, the intelligence community warned the government could dissolve in days. And so it went.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a questionable special representative

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was America’s special representative during the Trump administration’s negotiations.

In 2018, he was a private citizen who had contacts with a number of Afghans. Douglas London said that the intelligence community did not trust him because he was:

dabbling on his own in 2018 with a variety of dubious Afghan interlocutors against whom the intelligence community warned, trying opportunistically to get “back inside.” Undaunted, his end around to Pompeo and the White House pledging to secure the deal Trump needed which the president’s own intelligence, military and diplomatic professionals claimed was not possible absent a position of greater strength, was enthusiastically received. Our impression was that Khalilzad was angling to be Trump’s Secretary of State in a new administration, were he to win, and would essentially do or say what he was told to secure his future by pleasing the mercurial president, including his steady compromise of whatever leverage the United States had to incentivize Taliban compromises.

Because the withdrawal plan was popular with voters in 2020, the Biden camp also endorsed it:

Moreover, from my perspective, they appeared to believe that negative consequences would be at least largely owned by Trump, the GOP, and Khalilzad, whose being left in place, intentionally or not, allowed him to serve even more so as a fall guy. For the candidate, who had long advocated withdrawal, the outcome was, as it had been with Trump, a foregone conclusion despite what many among his counterterrorism advisors counselled. President Biden himself has said as much in terms of his mind being made up.

There was a rather naïve confidence among Biden’s more influential foreign policy advisors that the Taliban’s best interests were served by adhering to the agreement’s main points. Doing so, they argued, would guarantee the U.S. withdrawal, and leave room for more constructive engagement, possibly even aid, should the Taliban come to power.

The Taliban’s PR offensive

Meanwhile, the Taliban were becoming more aware of the importance of a PR offensive aimed at the West:

The Taliban learned a great deal about the utility of PR since 2001, and maximized their access to Western media as highlighted by Taliban deputy and Haqqani Taliban Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani’s apparently ghost written New York Times OpEd. The reality, of course, as the intelligence community long maintained, was that the Taliban’s control over the country was predicated on isolation from the rest of the world, rather than integration. International recognition, global financial access, and foreign aid were not going to influence how the Taliban would rule.

Also:

Momentum the Taliban needed to secure their adversaries’ cooperation was facilitated by a robust propaganda machine that, in many instances, successfully manipulated the media into positive, disproportional coverage from the outset of their offensive in casting their conquest as inevitable. Neither the Afghan government nor the United States could ever effectively counter the Taliban’s persistent and savvy media efforts given the need to protect sources and methods, legal restraints, and an unfortunate lack in investment and imagination.

For Afghan politicians, money talks

Greasing palms is part of Afghan life among those in power locally and regionally. Money can also determine one’s political alliances, which can be fluid:

U.S. policy makers were also cautioned that the broad coalition of Afghan politicians, warlords and military leaders across the country benefiting from the money and power that came with a sustained U.S. presence were likely to lose confidence and hedge their bets were U.S. military forces and intelligence personnel to withdraw. Further, that President Ashraf Ghani’s stubborn resistance to the Afghan political practice of buying support and his dismantling of the warlords’ private armies would weaken their incentives to support the government. Switching sides for a better deal or to fight another day is a hallmark of Afghan history. And U.S. policy to impose an American blueprint for a strong central government and integrated national army served only to enable Ghani’s disastrous and uncompromising stewardship.

On that topic, Britain’s talkRADIO has been interviewing another seasoned American counterintelligence specialist, Malcolm Nance, who said that, over the past year at least, the Taliban were co-opting other Afghans, including those from the country’s Western-backed army.

He said that it did not have to be that way, since he went into Afghanistan in November 2001. The US could have done the job in short order, had Bush II not switched priorities to Iraq:

Keeping the money aspect in mind, Douglas London describes how the 2021 debacle unfolded. Al Qa’ida also played a part:

The clock began to accelerate when US military and intelligence elements withdrew from Kandahar on May 13, and thereafter closed remaining forward operating bases and “lily pads,” the term used for temporary staging areas under U.S. or coalition control. By the time Bagram was closed on July 1, the United States and NATO had also departed Herat, Mazar I Sharif, Jalalabad, Khost and other locations I am not at liberty to name. The Taliban was moving in even as we were packing up. They were quite likely joined by the many al-Qa’ida members (some of whom had enjoyed Iranian sanctuary),-if not direct operational support, augmented further by recently released comrades the Taliban set free from Afghan detention at Bagram and elsewhere.

Policy makers were also aware of the Taliban’s effective use of a parallel “shadow government” structure maintained since losing power that provided for reliable lines of communication with local elders across the provinces, as well as government authorities, often owing to shared family or clan connections. To an American it might be surprising, but it was nothing out of the ordinary for an Afghan military commander or police chief to be in regular contact even with those faced daily in combat.

The Taliban was thus well positioned to negotiate and buy rather than fight their way to successive conquests, itself an Afghan tradition. Moreover, the Taliban was prepared to quickly rule and provide services in the territories coming under its control. And by prioritizing the periphery to secure borders and the lines of communication required to sustain an insurgency, striking first from where they were defeated in 2001, the Taliban clearly learned from history, whereas we still have not. But where did the money come from to finance this campaign?

Persuading low level government fighters and functionaries to turnover their weapons and abandon their posts was well within the Taliban’s means, but it was undoubtedly more expensive securing the cooperation of senior officials with the authority to surrender provincial capitals. Layer on that the need to pay the surge of their own fighters, many of them essentially part-time and seasonal. Payroll and care for the families of fighters killed and wounded is often the greatest expense for the Taliban and its terrorist partner groups, and in Afghanistan, likewise the most important incentive to attract fighters.

Where Taliban money comes from

The Taliban finance themselves from a variety of sources, from drug trafficking to donations from other foreign countries:

The Taliban’s finances are complicated, more so by a structure which is not monolithic, and heavily dependent on the vast international criminal network operated by the Haqqani Taliban Network in the East, and somewhat autonomous regional commanders in the West. Revenues are variously drawn from taxes imposed on locals, narcotics trafficking, foreign donations-largely from Arab Gulf countries, real estate (some of which is abroad), the extortion of mining companies operating in areas under their control–many of which are Chinese government parastatals, and other foreign governments. Pakistan has long been a principal backer, but Russia and Iran increased their investments to court the group in recent years. Moreover, both benefited decidedly from the Taliban’s swift, bloodless conquest that expeditiously purged and humiliated the United States, and minimized what might have been a violent, prolonged fight that increased regional instability and the flow of refugees.

Dichotomy between US Department of Defense and CIA

Douglas London noted the disparity of opinion between the Department of Defense and the CIA:

in grading their own homework, the U.S. defense establishment only exacerbated the problem. While it’s little surprise the Department of Defense was unwilling to objectively evaluate the resolve and capacity of those they trained, equipped, and advised to resist a forthcoming Taliban offensive, their rose-colored depictions of achievement over 20 years flew in the face of reality, and was consistently challenged by the CIA’s more gloomy, albeit realistic projections.

Conclusion

He concludes:

there was no intelligence failure by the agency in warning either Trump or Biden as to how events would play out. Operating in the shadows and “supporting the White House” will prevent the intelligence community from publicly defending itself. But the failure was not due to any lack of warning, but rather the hubris and political risk calculus of decision makers whose choices are too often made in their personal and political interest or with pre-committed policy choices, rather than influenced by (sometimes inconvenient) intelligence assessments and the full interests of the country.

It is difficult to see how the Afghanistan debacle can ever be rectified now, especially after 20 years.

As to what happens going forward, unfortunately, the grim possibilities are endless.

More on Afghanistan tomorrow.

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Paul’s Change of Plans

12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity[a] and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

——————————————————————————————–

Last week’s verses were about the severity of Paul and his companions’ persecution in or around Ephesus.

Today’s are about Paul’s preoccupation with the false teachers in Corinth who were denigrating him with no basis in fact. Paul’s change of plans will be the subject of next week’s verses.

John MacArthur describes their slander (emphases mine):

Paul is writing this epistle to defend himself against the assault of some false apostles. These false apostles had come to Corinth, his beloved Corinth. They were tearing his church up. These lying false apostles were trying to turn the church against Paul. They really wanted to teach satanic doctrine and so they had to undermine Paul who was the paragon of truth. They had to destroy the Corinthians’ trust in Paul, so they began to attack his virtuous character, his integrity, his credibility, tried to undermine his authority, then take his place and replace the truth of God with their satanic error.

The whole epistle – actually, the last of four letters that he wrote to Corinth, two of them in the Scripture, two of them are not. But the whole letter is really written to give a defense of his integrity against this outrageous attackthey were accusing him of embezzling money, doing what he did for sexual favors from women, lying about his statistics and his ministry effectiveness, teaching error, you name it. And throughout this letter of 2 Corinthians he will deal with the various elements of their attack, their assault.

Referring to himself and probably Timothy, Paul begins with an honest ‘boast’ of the testimony of their consciences that they have acted in simplicity — holiness — and godly sincerity, and very much so towards the Corinthians, not through their own abilities but through the grace of God (verse 12).

In 2 Corinthians 1:11, he asked the Corinthians to pray for him and his companions who had been persecuted.

MacArthur says that verse 12 is another way of saying:

we’re really worthy of your prayers, not your criticism. We’re worthy of your intercession, not your abuse. Why? Because our conscience is clear.

MacArthur offers this analysis of the verse and use of ‘boast’:

What do you mean our proud confidence? That sounds a little much, doesn’t it? Kauchēsis in the Greek, a very much used word by Paul. It’s used about 60 times, a little less than 60 times, maybe 55 or so times in the New Testament. Twenty-nine of those here in 2 Corinthians. And it means boasting. It means proud confidence. It means glorying. But it can be negative or positive.

If it’s used negatively, it refers to an unwarranted boast, an unwarranted confidence, a boast in one’s own achievements and merits. If, on the other hand, it is used positively, it refers to a legitimate confidence in what God has done through one’s life. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? There’s nothing wrong with a proud confidence not in what I’ve done but what in He’s done – in what He’s done

He and Timothy could boast of what God had done through them. It wasn’t bragging, but the legitimate testimony of the Lord’s power in their life and they had a clear conscience. The testimony of our conscience. The word “testimony” means witness. It means evidence. The basis, the ground, the witness, the reason, the evidence for my confidence is my conscience.

Matthew Henry points out the importance of God’s grace:

Concerning the principle they acted from in all their conversation, both in the world and towards these Corinthians; and that was not fleshly wisdom, nor carnal politics and worldly views, but it was the grace of God, a vital gracious principle in their hearts, that cometh from God, and tendeth to God. Then will our conversation be well ordered when we live and act under the influence and command of such a gracious principle in the heart.

MacArthur explains ‘simplicity’ and ‘sincerity’ in the original Greek:

… here his conscience says that he is conducting himself in holiness and godly sincerity. Holiness, a unique word that means sanctity. There is a lesser attested reading – and some Bibles pick it up – called “simplicity.” Sometimes you see the word “simplicity” here. It may even be in your edition. That’s not as good a choice as the original word, hagiotēs, which basically means sanctity, or holiness. The idea is moral purity in contrast to the immorality and the corruption of which he was being accused by the false apostles who lived like that.

And then he mentions godly sincerity. The word “sincerity” is a marvelous word. In the English, sincere comes from two Latin terms, sine cera, which means “without wax.” And that connects up with the idea of the Greek word eilikrinēs, and that word means “to be tested by the sun.” heilē is sun, krinō is to judge, or to examine. To say that someone was tested by the sun simply meant they were held up to the light for inspection.

if you were to purchase a pot, you would take it and hold it up to the sun because unscrupulous potters would – would have a crack in their pot after it was fired, and they’d want to sell it anyway. So they’d fill it with wax and, of course, as soon as you heated it the wax would melt and everything would run out of the pot. It was useless. And so you held the pot up to the sun and moved it around to see the sun shine through, and it would reveal the wax. You wanted to make sure it was eilikrinēs, tested by the sun and proven to be of high quality, that it was without wax.

And Paul is saying that about his life. There aren’t any flaws being covered up. There’s nothing that’s covered. You can take me out and hold me up to the sun and you’re not going to find any wax. A godly, personal sincerity or integrity went along with purity of life. He was not immoral. He was moral. He was a pure, godly man. He was a man who could be taken out in the – in the sunlight and tested. There were no skeletons in his closet.

Paul says that he and Timothy are not writing to the Corinthians anything they do not already know and understand (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

both the word “read” and “understand” are forms of ginōskō, with prepositions on the front of them which have to do with knowledge. You could read it this way: We write nothing else to you than what you know and I hope you will know deeply or understand deeply until the end just as you also partially did understand us.

What’s the point here? This is a sweeping testimony of answering the second category of accusation against him for his supposed relationships. Did Paul use people? Did he have foul personal selfish motives? Did he fake loving them in order to take advantage of them? Was he a deceiving manipulator? This is exactly what they were saying. Over in chapter 7 verse 2, he says, “Make room for us in your hearts, we wronged no one.” We corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. That was what they were saying. And so, he answers that several places.

Paul says that he hopes that on the day of judgement, the Corinthians will boast of him and Timothy the way the two evangelists boast of them (verse 14).

The word ‘partially’ is used in that verse, which MacArthur explains:

In other words, there’s continuing information. When I taught you, when I wrote you, you read, you understood what I said. It was partial, that is there was more to reveal. And as I’ve written more and said more, it’s unfolded and you’ve continued to understand, and I hope you’ll understand perfectly. I want you to have the deep knowledge of what the Lord says to you and I want you to know that’s all there is, folks. That’s all there is. There isn’t anything else. And my relationship to you is that honest. I just want you to understand the things I write and the things I say. That’s all.

As for the boasting, Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he has a deep spiritual affection for them, which he hopes is reciprocated.

MacArthur tells us:

They should be so proud that they can’t wait till the day when they’re both together in the presence of Jesus Christ and they can embrace each other in eternal and perfect friendship. It should be for them an honor to be associated with Paul, as it was for him to be in a – to be in association with them. He loved them. He rejoiced in them. He wanted them to feel the same toward him, particularly at that moment when the Lord Jesus came. I want to be as proud of what God has done – I want you to be as proud of what God has done through me for you as I am of what God has done through you for me, particularly in the day of the Lord Jesus.

That’s the day when we face Christ. That’s the judgment seat of Christ. That’s the day when God will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts and then each man’s praise will come to him from God, 1 Corinthians 4:5. The day when the Lord takes His own and gives them their eternal reward, the day when everything becomes clear. And he’s saying I just want you to feel about me the way I’ll feel about you. The point that I want to make is that he was looking forward to the coming of Christ. A man doesn’t do that if his relationships aren’t right.

Paul was anticipating the coming of Christ because he knew it would be joy for him and he wanted it to be joy for them. And he knew his attitude was right and his heart was right and the joy would be his, and he wanted theirs to be right so that the full joy would be theirs. His conscience was clear with the Lord. His conscience was clear with them. His conscience was clear with himself. He had no fear of any earthly accusation and he had no fear even of the return of Jesus Christ. That’s how clear his conscience was.

MacArthur has a long sermon on the conscience, something which the Church has been downplaying in favour of psychology.

He begins with the story of a jet that crashed into a mountain in Spain in 1984. When investigators played back the recording in the black box, they heard the plane’s automatic warning system work as expected, but the pilot ignored it, just as people sometimes do with their conscience:

… several minutes before the fatal impact, a shrill computerized synthesized voice from the plane’s automatic warning system told the crew repeatedly in English, “Pull up, pull up, pull up.” The pilot inexplicably snapped back, “Shut up, Gringo,” and switched the system off. Minutes later, the plane smashed into the side of a mountain and everyone died. That’s a perfect parable of the way modern people treat the warning messages of their conscience. The conscience is there by God’s designed, built into the fabric of every human being as a warning system.

Everyone has a conscience and even a secularist can obey his in the correct way. It is God-given:

God designed the conscience into the very framework of the human soul. The conscience is the ability to sense in your own heart if there is sin there, if there is something wrong there, if there is guilt and shame. That is a great gift from God. Like the gift of pain which – which warns you that you are hurting your body so you don’t kill yourself, the gift of conscience warns you that you are killing your soul. The conscience is the soul reflecting on itself. Both the Greek term, suneidēsis and the English one “conscience,” have the idea of knowing yourself, having an internal sense about the reality of your spiritual condition.

In Romans chapter 2, let me show you two verses, verses 14 and 15, “For when the Gentiles who do not have the law” – that is the written law of God, the pagans without the written law of God – “do instinctively the things of the law, these not having the law are a law to themselves.” The point is, they may not have the written law but they have innately built into them a sense of right and wrong and a sense of morality. And, instinctively, there is a soul-warning system that produces guilt when there is sin and iniquity. In fact, verse 15 says, “Their conscience bears witness and it either accuses them or defends them.” Conscience either affirms that you’re doing right, or it accuses and warns that you’re doing wrong.

However, many churches today adopt popular psychology which tells us to ignore the conscience and, should something go wrong for us, that our shortcomings are not our fault:

We live in a culture today that is systematically endeavoring to silence conscience, to eliminate guilt, to eliminate shame, and to tell you your problem isn’t sin, and your problem isn’t guilt, and your problem isn’t shame. Your problem is somebody did something to you for which you’re not responsible. You’re really not to blame at all. Or, you just have a lack of self-esteem

This tragic sad legacy that we have today in contemporary Christian counseling that is trying to silence conscience is deadly. The apostle Paul spoke so very often of conscience. Looking intently at the Council in Acts – Acts 23:1, he said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” Wow. He was very sensitive to his conscience, to that voice within him. In Acts 24:16 he says, “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience, both before God and before men.” Writing to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul said, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”

And I’ll tell you there is a damaging, destructive, deadly force in the church today in this self-esteem stuff that is endeavoring to silence conscience and eliminate guilt and eliminate shame. And people are going to continue to crash and burn from the highest points to the lowest, from the pulpit to the pew. No believer has a right to violate the conscience. Then Paul – remember this? 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 and Romans 14 says not only do you have no right to violate your own conscience but you don’t have a right to violate what? Somebody else’s conscience. Be sensitive to those things which would offend others.

To get the best out of our conscience, we would do well to study the Bible and pray frequently, developing our relationship with our Lord:

… if you want to get the most out of your conscience, you have to inform your conscience at the highest level, and that means you submit yourself to the Word of God. And as you fill your life with the Word of God, the standard keeps going up and up and up. Whatever moral law you know innately by virtue of your humanity is only a start.

As you take in the Word of God and you learn more about the Scripture and more about the Word of God, your knowledge begins to give a higher standard and a higher standard and a higher standard and your conscience will hold you to that high standard. To reject the voice of conscience is to court spiritual disaster. You cannot reject the voice of conscience with impunity. It’s a sad and tragic thing when a whole society of people endeavor to do that

When you violate that, conscience will warn you. When you violate the standard, it will condemn you. It will trigger feelings of shame, anguish, regret, consternation, anxiety, and even disgrace. Sometimes it will make you weep, make you fall on your face and plead with God for forgiveness. And that’s as it should be. That’s a fully functioning conscience reacting to the full knowledge of God’s truth. On the other hand, when we know God’s truth and we obey it, conscience will commend us, conscience will bring us joy, it will affirm us. It will grant us peace and gladness and contentment.

Ignoring our conscience repeatedly can turn it off but leave us in danger:

after constant violation of a conscience, the conscience finally falls silent. You throw the switch and you’re left flying blind; you’ll crash and burn. The annoying warning signals may be gone, but the danger is – is certainly not gone.

He says that the conscience is like a skylight:

To give you an illustration, the conscience functions like a skylight, not a lamp. It doesn’t produce its own light. It just lets light in. Its in – its – its effectiveness is determined by the amount of pure light we expose to it and how clean we keep it. You keep yourself under the pure light, keep the conscience clean, the pure light shines through. That’s why the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 3:9 about a clear conscience, the skylight through which the light of truth can pass. And he warned in 1 Corinthians 8:7, again in Titus 1:15, that you should never allow anything to defile or muddy your conscience.

It functions in the same way as a physical stimulus does in the body:

To look at it another way, the conscience is like the nerves on the end of your – your fingertips. Its sensitivity to external stimuli can be damaged by the buildup of callouses and so wounded for so long that it’s virtually impervious to any feeling. Paul wrote of the dangers of that in 1 Corinthians 8:10, the calloused conscience. He wrote about the wounded conscience. And then in writing to Timothy, 1 Timothy 4:2, the seared conscience, covered over with scar tissue and without any feeling. Learning the Word, meditating on the Word day and night is the beginning. And then listen to your conscience. You can trust it. It’s there as a gift from God. And if it’s properly informed as to truth, it will give you the right information. Don’t yell at it and switch it off or you’ll crash.

The believer experiences an additional benefit, the assurance of forgiveness:

Your conscience when you’re saved becomes sanctified. Faith tells the conscience he’s forgiven, she’s forgiven – it doesn’t matter. To borrow the words of God Himself, “I’ve removed your sins as far as the east is from the west, buried them in the depths of the sea, and remember them no more.” The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses the conscience so that it no longer accuses, but it tells us we’re pardoned, we’re forgiven. That’s a marvelous gift.

He also has a bit about hell:

Jesus came to save us from sin. And that’s got to be our message. And if people don’t listen to conscience – listen to this – don’t listen to conscience in time, they will listen to it in eternity. No one’s conscience will be silent in hell. In fact, I – I would go so far as to say the single greatest torment in hell will be from conscience. In hell the sinner’s conscience will turn on him with fury and remind him that he alone is responsible for the agonies that he is suffering eternally

As John Flavel wrote in the seventeenth century, “Conscience which should have been the sinner’s curb here on earth becomes the whip that must lash his soul in hell. Neither is there any faculty or power belonging to the soul of man so fit and able to do it as his own conscience. That which was the seat and center of all guilt now becomes the seat and center of all torment.”

Conscience will make the sinner acutely aware that he deliberately, freely and gladly chose the life style that led him to hell, that he is there because of his willfulness and obstinacy …

In other words, conscience accuses him rightly and justly. As if this were not horrifying enough, the castigation of conscience will be uninterrupted. The sinner will have, according to Revelation 14, no rest day or night. As never before he will discover the truth of God’s Word, “There is no peace for the wicked.” How frightening. Non-Christian and Christian alike, listen to your conscience.

That has to be one of the best descriptions of hell I’ve ever read.

Choose the Lord’s ways and pray for His grace as well as His forgiveness.

Next week, Paul explains his change in travel plans.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:15-17, 23-24

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