Monday, May 2, 2011

Fisking the Inquisition

[redacted] requested that I fisk the Catholic Church's official webpage on the Inquisition. I live to please*, so here you go.

Sooner or later, any discussion of apologetics with Fundamentalists will address the Inquisition. To non-Catholics it is a scandal; to Catholics, an embarrassment; to both, a confusion. It is a handy stick for Catholic-bashing, simply because most Catholics seem at a loss for a sensible reply. This tract will set the record straight.

An "embarrassment"? Yes, I'm always a little red-faced when I torture and kill people. It's on the same level as accidentally calling my boss "honey", really**.

There have actually been several different inquisitions. The first was established in 1184 in southern France as a response to the Catharist heresy. This was known as the Medieval Inquisition, and it was phased out as Catharism disappeared.

"Disappeared", huh? I bet. People do tend to do that when you kill them. Extraordinary rendition- medieval style!

Quite separate was the Roman Inquisition, begun in 1542. It was the least active and most benign of the three variations.

The Roman inquisition was a system of tribunals developed by the Holy See during the second half of the 16th century, responsible for prosecuting individuals accused of a wide array of crimes related to heresy, including sorcery, immorality, blasphemy, Judaizing and witchcraft, as well for censorship of printed literature.

Well, you can't have . . . "judaizing"? One can see why the RCC gets accused of sympathizing with the Nazis.

Among the subjects of this Inquisition were Francesco Patrizi, Giordano Bruno, Tommaso Campanella, Girolamo Cardano, Cesare Cremonini, and Galileo Galilei. Of these, only Bruno was executed; Galileo died under house arrest, and Campanella was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. The miller Domenico Scandella was also put to the stake on the orders of Pope Clement VIII in 1599 for his belief that God was created from chaos.[1]

Oh, Galileo! Got it. And execution and staking (I don't want to know) sound as benign as cotton candy and puppies.

Separate again was the infamous Spanish Inquisition, started in 1478, a state institution used to identify conversos—Jews and Moors (Muslims) who pretended to convert to Christianity for purposes of political or social advantage and secretly practiced their former religion. More importantly, its job was also to clear the good names of many people who were falsely accused of being heretics. It was the Spanish Inquisition that, at least in the popular imagination, had the worst record of fulfilling these duties.

Conversos, i.e., people desperately trying to avoid exactly what they got from the Catholic Church. But really, it's hardly worth noting. Moderately embarrassing at best. Sort of like realizing the shirt you're wearing at work is see through***. Oops!

What must be g.asped is that the Church contains within itself all sorts of sinners and knaves, and some of them obtain positions of responsibility. Paul and Christ himself warned us that there would be a few ravenous wolves among Church leaders (Acts 20:29; Matt. 7:15).

No. True. Scotsman. When I'm Empress of the Entire Freakin' World, you won't be allowed to eat until you can pass a test on logical fallacies. I'm that sick of them, particularly the No True Scotsman. I am perfectly willing to admit that some atheists have been truly awful people. That doesn't make me or any other atheist awful people, so just admit that some Catholics have been bad bad boys and move on.

But trying to straighten out such historical confusions can take one only so far. As Ronald Knox put it, we should be cautious, "lest we should wander interminably in a wilderness of comparative atrocity statistics." In fact, no one knows exactly how many people perished through the various Inquisitions. We can determine for certain, though, one thing about numbers given by Fundamentalists: They are far too large. One book popular with Fundamentalists claims that 95 million people died under the Inquisition.

The figure is so grotesquely off that one immediately doubts the writer’s sanity, or at least his g.asp of demographics. Not until modern times did the population of those countries where the Inquisitions existed approach 95 million.

Inquisitions did not exist in Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, or England, being confined mainly to southern France, Italy, Spain, and a few parts of the Holy Roman Empire. The Inquisition could not have killed that many people because those parts of Europe did not have that many people to kill!

I'm sure there is a name for this fallacy, I'm just not having any luck finding it. I've never seen anyone claim that 95m people were killed in the Inquisition. So why does the Holy See use this particular number? Two reasons. For one, it makes people discussing the Inquisition seem ridiculous, and if they're ridiculous about the number of people murdered, they're not trustworthy about any part of it, right? Secondly, it sets expectations. Once you've seen the number 95,000,000, the actual number of murdered will seem smaller. I mean, look: 1,000,000. Normally, one million is big number, but not when you've got 95,000,000 preceding it. Now 1,000,000 seems reasonable. Low, even.

Ultimately, it may be a waste of time arguing about statistics. Instead, ask Fundamentalists just what they think the existence of the Inquisition demonstrates. They would not bring it up in the first place unless they thought it proves something about the Catholic Church. And what is that something? That Catholics are sinners? Guilty as charged. That at times people in positions of authority have used poor judgment? Ditto. That otherwise good Catholics, afire with zeal, sometimes lose their balance? All true, but such charges could be made even if the Inquisition had never existed and perhaps could be made of some Fundamentalists.

Now those are red herrings, and while I do like my fish, that kind always stinks. The Inquisition proves one thing and it's a very important thing in the milieu of the Catholic Church: several popes were wrongity wrong wrong wrong. Homicidally wrongity wrong wrong wrong. See, the Pope is infallible. It isn't even possible for the Pope to be wrong about anything. If the Pope says the sun rises in the West, it rises in the west, change your compass. So, either the Pope was right to kill people for the crime of Judaizing, or the Pope was not infallible. Pick one, but either way you've broken the Catholic faith. (Reason no. 347 I am no longer Catholic.)

Fundamentalist writers claim the existence of the Inquisition proves the Catholic Church could not be the Church founded by our Lord. They use the Inquisition as a good—perhaps their best—bad example. They think this shows that the Catholic Church is illegitimate. At first blush it might seem so, but there is only so much mileage in a ploy like that; most people see at once that the argument is weak. One reason Fundamentalists talk about the Inquisition is that they take it as a personal attack, imagining it was established to eliminate (yes, you guessed it) the Fundamentalists themselves.

They identify themselves with the Catharists (also known as the Albigensians), or perhaps it is better to say they identify the Catharists with themselves. They think the Catharists were twelfth-century Fundamentalists and that Catholics did to them what they would do to Fundamentalists today if they had the political strength they once had.

This is a fantasy.

Oh, well, if the Catharists weren't like today's fundamentalists, it's totally okay to torture and kill . . . wut?! Now I feel dirty.

Marriage was scorned [by Catharists] because it legitimized sexual relations, which Catharists identified as the Original Sin. But fornication was permitted because it was temporary, secret, and was not generally approved of; while marriage was permanent, open, and publicly sanctioned.

The ramifications of such theories are not hard to imagine. In addition, ritualistic suicide was encouraged (those who would not take their own lives were frequently "helped" along), and Catharists refused to take oaths, which, in a feudal society, meant they opposed all governmental authority. Thus, Catharism was both a moral and a political danger.

Even Lea, so strongly opposed to the Catholic Church, admitted: "The cause of orthodoxy was the cause of progress and civilization. Had Catharism become dominant, or even had it been allowed to exist on equal terms, its influence could not have failed to become disastrous." Whatever else might be said about Catharism, it was certainly not the same as modern Fundamentalism, and Fundamentalist sympathy for this destructive belief system is sadly misplaced. [emphasis added]

You know, I'm starting to understand the Catholic opposition to marriage equality. If "fucking Catharists were fornicating" is a good excuse to Inquisition them, I can only imagine what they feel homosexuals actually deserve. That is just vile.

However, there is a certain utility—though a decidedly limited one—in demonstrating that the kinds and degrees of punishments inflicted by the Spanish Inquisition were similar to (actually, even lighter than) those meted out by secular courts. It is equally true that, despite what we consider the Spanish Inquisition’s lamentable procedures, many people preferred to have their cases tried by ecclesiastical courts because the secular courts had even fewer safeguards. In fact, historians have found records of people b.aspheming in secular courts of the period so they could have their case transferred to an ecclesiastical court, where they would get a better hearing.

The Catholic Church does this moral relativist schtick a lot. "Sure, we systematically protected pedophiles instead of children, but other churches have pedophiles in them, too!" No. Just no. I don't care what anyone else was doing at the time, the Inquisition was wrong, murdering people is wrong and killing the Catharists did not create civilization you fucks.

To that end, it is helpful to point out that it is easy to see how those who led the Inquisitions could think their actions were justified. The Bible itself records instances where God commanded that formal, legal inquiries—that is, inquisitions—be carried out to expose secret believers in false religions. In Deuteronomy 17:2–5 God said: "If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it; then you shall inquire diligently [note that phrase: "inquire diligently"], and if it is true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones."

That is my line! Seriously, the Holy See just pushed off blame by pointing out that the Bible itself is a horrifyingly brutal document that encourages brutality. I have nothing to add to that. They're right.

*True only for certain values of "live" and "please".

**In fairness to me, I had just gotten off the phone with my niece.

***In my defense, it wasn't see through at all at home. Stupid fluorescent lights.


  1. I literally didn't believe it would be this bad until I actually followed the link. I am just... WHAT?! I mean... o_O

    There is part of me, I totally admit, that even after reading the entire page wants to find an excuse to go, "But this isn't an official official Catholic Church page, right?!"

    I don't know if it's dumbed down or what, but at least the Church does have hordes of actual historical scholars. (Now, whether they study history from an unbiased viewpoint is a different matter. But there are many in the Church who are there partially because of the scholarly work they're able to do.) So one would have thought that they could come up with something more... fact-based than this. Does that make sense?

  2. Oh, okay. This actually seems to be a lay organization. I think I'm going to go see what I can find in the Vatican pages...

  3. Yes. Jesuits in particular worship knowledge more than any god. Admittedly, this is for public consumption, so it is undoubtedly dumbed down, but if I'm picking up 2 or 3 logical fallacies in a quick fisking, well, the Jesuits should be mopping up the floor with my ass when it comes to logic. I was taught logic by a Jesuit. He could come over here and have me begging for mercy in 30 seconds.

  4. Lulz:

    Catholic Answers began in 1979 after a Fundamentalist church in San Diego, California, decided to leaflet the cars at a local parish during Mass. The fliers attacked the Eucharist and were riddled with misinformation. Upon coming out of Mass and finding one on his car, attorney Karl Keating was annoyed and drove home with a modest goal: to draft a tract that would present basic Catholic beliefs and refute anti-Catholic charges. Keating signed the tract “Catholic Answers,” opened up a post office box in that name, and then placed his rebuttal on the windshields of cars in the Fundamentalist church’s lot.

    Because playing their own crappy tactics back at them is always the mature choice. I love it.

  5. Yeah, our high school had only a few priests who actively taught. The Jesuit was smart like whoa. The Legionary of Christ was...... creepy.

  6. I'll admit my familiarity with history mostly consists of "having played Assassins Creed", but...

    I suspect many of the Catholic Church's atrocities were less the result of it's specific teachings and more the result of it simply being a focal point for power and control: the popes weren't attached to their dogma so much as afraid of what they'd lose if they were humiliated and proven wrong. As so many dictatorships and monarchies prove, put enough power in one place and sooner or later someone will come along to corrupt it.

    I admit, some of the atrocities had to have been religously-motivated: deluded people doing evil thinking they were doing right. And on the micro-level, the individual soldiers were probably just serving authority (whether that be the authority of the powerful people or the authority of the divine god-figure). But I suspect most of them were about keeping people under control and holding onto power.

  7. I'd just like to point - Papal Infallibility DIDN'T EXIST YET, during these times. in fact, it wasn't until the end of the 1600's that it became a THANG - and even then, the Pope is ONLY Infallible when the Pope specifically STATES he's being Infallible right this second.

    NOT to defend the RCC. i'm not defending them of their fucking Inquisitions
    [but a notw: Galileo? wasn't charged for "hearsy" for saying the Earth circled the Sun - that had already been broached by earlier astronomers and no "official" stance had been taken - nope, he was taken into custody and tried on "hearsy" because he ruthlessly slandered SEVERAL other church scientists and claimed - with ZERO evidence - that comets were "optical illusions" - which, btw, was the REAL hearsy because at the time, the RCC had the stance that comets were celestial bodies. in fact, for a VERY long time, he was one arguing that the sun MUST circle the earth - and so when he was tried, that was brought up, but he changed his stance during the trial, to make those who believe earth circled sun happy and to avoid making even MORE enemies]

  8. They identify themselves with the Catharists (also known as the Albigensians), or perhaps it is better to say they identify the Catharists with themselves. They think the Catharists were twelfth-century Fundamentalists and that Catholics did to them what they would do to Fundamentalists today if they had the political strength they once had.

    Well, of course they do. By making themselves the target, it becomes a more personal battle. They can feel better about themselves for hating these other Christians. It's... Cathartic.

  9. Oh, noooo. Oh, no you did not just do that. It's TERRIBLE! >_< Heheeeee, "cathartic."

    denelian, I forgot that bit about "Okay I'm infallible......... NOW! GO!" That must be an interesting revelation to have. You go to bed one night, you're sinning along with the rest of us, wake up the next morning and *poof* can't do any wrong for, what, twenty-four hours? A week? As long as it takes to proclaim female ordination a worse sin than epidemic child abuse and rape? Oh, gotcha. Somehow the "okay, NOW!" one is even more ridiculous to me. Truly.

  10. Cynic - i ADORE puns like that!
    i have to admit - i knew who/what the Albigensians were, but didn't know about their punny OTHER name - i come here to learn, i do!

    Nymph; i don't disagree - it's INSANE. if i understand correctly, ORIGINALLY the "Infallibility" had specific safeguards, could ONLY be used for certain, specific decrees, etc. how and why that change, i don't know. but it's ALL insane - and it's where hald the ammo the fundys use against Catholics come from ["The Pope usurps God's position!"]. in THEORY, when the Pope is speaking from a place of "Infallibility", it's something God directly said to the Pope.
    given how many infallible Papal decrees *completely contradict* things Jesus said...

    yeah. but i recommend PF claim Infallible status after we take over the world. :D

  11. also...

    i have to admit, i know LOTS and LOTS of Catholics. PETE is Catholic.

    i don't know ANY Catholics who DON'T think women should be allowed to be priests. most think it should have happened during Vatican II [then again, most Catholics thought Vatican II was going to APPROVE Birth Control; BEFORE Vatican II, it had NO official standing, yea or nay. so... Vatican II wasn't what it was supposed to be, and every pope SINCE has been trying to overturn it, except the BC portion]

    there's a DEFINATE rift between the members of the RCC and those who rule it. even most PRIESTS [in the "Western" world, anyway] think women should be allowed to be ordained, that BC is a DAMNED good idea, and that abortion isn't always wrong. especially after that BS with the 9-year-old who had been raped by her stepfather [when she was 8] and was carrying twins and a DOZEN doctors said she was going to be KILLED *WELL* before any chance that the fetuses would survive - and so her mother and the doctors and nurses were ALL excommunicated. [it was in South America but i don't remember which country] some fucking BISHOP stood there and told that little girl that her "sin" [of "defrauding her stepfather and making him rape her" - and i saw PICTURES of this child, and she didn't even look as old as 8!] caused her mother and doctors and nurses to be sent to hell.

    i fucking HATE the rulers of the RCC. so far as i can tell, they are - to a man - evil.


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