Do you realize why there was an Inquisition? That is something I think most people don’t ponder much. Most just consider it to have been a uniformly horrible thing which we happily dispensed with as the Enlightenment instructed us in the value of tolerance. To a certain extent, there is some truth to such a view, but it doesn’t cover the entirety of it.
That which we call the Inquisition started in response to the Albigensian heresy in the 12th century. If you read secular history about it, you’ll find that the poor Albigensians were horribly persecuted by the Church because they simply wanted to practice their simple faith. Ok, fine. But they also believe that sexual reproduction was inherently wrong – that the physical world was something created by an evil god and it had to be renounced so that the human spirit could unite with the good god. In other words, if the heresy had been allowed to continue, it would have ended civilization. The Church, of course, was also concerned with what happened to human souls – being rather interested in their winding up in heaven rather than hell and so looked in horror upon a sect which pretty much ensured via its beliefs a one-way trip to hell. So, there were two reasons to go after these guys: they’d imperil your soul and end civilization. That is why there was an Inquisition – to root out people preaching insane, destructive ideas.
To be sure, any institution run by human beings is going to mess up. It is in the nature of things because we’re human. Whether or not the attempt should have been made or whether or not the right methods were used in the attempt is a matter for debate. But the fact that lunatic ideas which bring death should be stopped is not something I will debate about. Lunatic ideas bringing death are bad. And bad things are to be held at arms length to the best of our ability.
But, in the event, those who argued against the Inquisition and in favor of tolerance won the debate. The Enlightenment – so called – happened. And people were free to express themselves in any way they chose. This did have the benefit of giving us the Declaration of Independence…but it also gave us the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf. Bit of an up and downside on that – and the Declaration of Independence could easily have been written by St Thomas Aquinas…the Manifesto and the Kampf, not so much…because both of those were heresies and St Thomas would have seen right through them.
Now, why do I bring this up? Because earlier today I saw a Twitter thread by a Muslim which expressed the view that Islam needs an Enlightenment. There is much merit to such an argument on the face of it. But I also immediately had my doubts.
First off, of course, is my belief that Islam is itself a heresy – Mohammed taking various aspects of Christianity (and a little Judaism) that he liked and dispensing with the bits he didn’t like. The classic heresy model – leaving something or things out. Be that as it may, if it started as a heresy, it developed rather rapidly into its own thing. And as a Christian I can and do take various issues with it. But whatever one wishes to say about it, for quite a long time it was just another part of the world tapestry. Violent as all things can be, but also beautiful, as all things can be. Yes, I can list for you a large number of Muslim sons-of-bitches but any Muslim out there can come up with a list of Christian SOBs to match – but in neither case were the SOBs the thing about the religions or the civilizations they created. I’ve read quite a bit of history of Islam and I do have to say that something changed over the ages – and the change was rather recent.
Some time in the 19th century or maybe a little earlier, the historical records start to document people of the Muslim faith acting in ways which they simply had to know were wrong. Not just in Christian ideals, but in Muslim ideals. There is a difference between fighting for your side – however brutally you may do it – and committing acts of cruelty. One early example of this is the massacre of about 50 British captives in Delhi during the Mutiny of 1857. But it got worse as time went on – acts of supreme cruelty which had no justification and which the perpetrators knew were wrong when they did them (on the simple fact that they would never want such things done to them). It wasn’t, after all, backwoods Muslim peasants who set the bombs which started the Battle of Algiers in 1956 – it wasn’t, that is, regular, old fashioned Muslims who came up with the idea of setting a bomb off specifically where children gathered so as to cause the most horrific death and injuries to people who could have in no way caused offense.
That takes a modern, Enlightened mind to come up with.
You could say that the things like the bombing in Algiers was provoked – and, to a certain extent, that is correct. The French, far more than the British, could be very brutal overlords when challenged. There were plenty of reasons for the Algerians to be displeased with the French. But it should be noted that the first serious effort of the Algerian rebels wasn’t so much to go after the French, but to kill those Algerians who were friendly to France. And kill them quite brutally, without sparing women and children. That sort of thing isn’t done in response to provocation – that is a cold blooded act of murder. So were the bombings. So, later, were acts like the Munich attack and the Avivim school bus bombing (seriously: what sort of a sick person even thinks up a target like that?). Muslims were involved in these things, but to deliberately seek to murder – usually very cruelly – people who specifically can’t fight back…no, sorry, I’m not going to say that is a Muslim thing. That is an Enlightened thing – that is what happens when people are allowed to pursue insane ideas to their logical conclusion.
Given things like bombed school buses and, well, Treblinka, I’m going to have to come down a bit against the Enlightenment – the idea, that is, that everyone should be able to proceed unchecked wherever their thoughts take them. I’m going to assert that there needs to be a corrective, here and there, which will tell the insane to sit down and shut up – before they get gas chambers or bombed buses into their heads. I think that I’d rather have to deal with the most deeply orthodox Muslims around as they deal with me, a deeply orthodox Christian. I think we’d probably get along better than modern, Enlightened folks. Even if we ended up fighting each other, it wouldn’t be a contest to see who could be the most merciless.
Anyways, this is where my thoughts are leading me these days. A sort of Endarkenment…where being a lunatic gets you a padded room rather than a tenured position or a promotion to Dear Leader.