Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Oh Yeah? Well, What About the Inquisition?"

The Inquisition -- and a couple of other topics like the Crusades and the Galileo affair -- tends to function as a convenient conversation stopper for those who have an animus against religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. The sad thing is that most people who invoke the specter of these topics have no idea of the historical facts behind them except the stereotypes and caricatures they picked up from ignorant or bigoted college instructors or from the popular media. Basically it is a handy stick to beat Catholics with when one is getting the bad end of a discussion about religion. All one needs to say is, “Oh yeah? Well what about the Inquisition?”

Well, what about it? This is actually one of my favorite topics, because once you learn the facts and the historical context surrounding these times you find that, despite its excesses, the Inquisition actually made a lot of sense for the people that had to live in those times (even if it might not to later generations who tend to judge people in the past by standards of which prior generations had no knowledege). In fact, I’m one of those who believe that the Spanish Queen, Isabella the Catholic (as she was called), who along with her husband King Ferdinand, requested the Inquisition as a means to root out political traitors after centuries of Moslem occupation and oppression, should be proposed for sainthood (there’s a great book about her available from TAN Books, found here:

Serious writing on the roughly 300 year period in which the Inquisition was active has improved drastically as scholars, utilizing the exensive records kept by the Inquisition tribunals themselves, have revealed a far different (and less salacious) reality behind the bigoted "Black Legend" myths which originated in the polemics following the Reformation and that have been uncritically accepted as fact by even well-educated people ever since.

The only cure for ignorance is a balanced education. Here are some links to some of the best articles out there that I know of on the true history of the Inquisition, some of which I have used as handouts when I taught classes about this topic:

HT to my friend, Amy, who got me started on this by asking for some info! :)

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