Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thought crimes

Christopher Caldwell, reviewing God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy, observes that modern inquisitors use different methods but their goals are similar — confession and recantation:
The Spanish Inquisition was not run by a bunch of blockheads. It sought to root out heresy, which was a 'crime of the intellect'. Inquisitors were not interested in the blurtings of drunks or in what we would call Freudian slips. Testimony gathered under duress was admissible only if it was repeated freely on a later occasion. Nonetheless holy interrogators did feel the need, once in a while, to haul out the Pear of Anguish, Saint Elmo's Belt, the Heretic's Fork and the Spanish Tickler. These were all instruments of torture, although, as Cullen Murphy notes, 'they could just as easily be the names of pubs, or brands of condoms, or points of ascent on a climber's map'. ....

If we look not at methods but at dogmas, a more apt contemporary comparison to the medieval Inquisition is political correctness. The way Galileo was bullied by the Inquisition into a 'pragmatic accommodation' with the Church's teaching on the solar system does not have much in common with, say, the interrogation of alleged terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The interrogators who waterboarded Mohammed presumably wanted information about contacts and plans. They would have been wholly indifferent to his beliefs. Galileo has more in common with the hapless executive who, denounced for saying 'darkie' or 'broad' around the office water cooler, is offered the choice of attending sensitivity training or seeing his career destroyed. That man's persecutors really do want to extirpate his sinful thoughts, and really do require a public recantation from him. .... [more]
Literary Review - Christopher Caldwell on 'God's Jury' by Cullen Murphy
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