As Johns Hopkins history professor Richard L. Kagan complained in a New York Times review of Kamen’s book. Kamen said little about how inquisitors “were not faceless bureaucrats but law graduates with varying interests and career aims” and about the “ploys, like bribes and pleas of insanity” used by defendants. All right, fair enough. But what are we to say about these failings? How is it much different from our legal system today?

And that really is the point. If all critics can respond with is that the Inquisitions were guilty of faults that ever plague man, I can rest my case. Of course, there is still the matter of torture, whose even occasional use we find abhorrent. Yet not only were the inquisitors quite civilized for their time in that area, whatever they did, they didn’t employ euphemisms such as “coercive interrogation.” It also bears mention that the very cultural relativists who would whitewash human-sacrificing Aztecs as noble savages demonstrate no such charity in their very absolutist attitude toward that age’s Europeans, whom they convict under our “values,” forgetting, to again quote Thomas Madden, that the “Middle Ages were, well, medieval.” But even this misses the mark, as it implies a perhaps unjustified sense of superiority. Note that medieval Christians would no doubt be aghast at our age’s rampant abortion, sexual promiscuity, denial of sin, lack of piety, and communist killing fields, not to mention our hate-speech laws – enforced by “inquisitions” called Human Rights Tribunals – used to punish today’s “heretics.” And, if they could consider our trespasses, perhaps the best we might hope for is that a few of them would shake their heads and say that modernity is, well, modernistic.

Selwyn Duke, “The inquisition and iniquity: Burning heretics or history?” The New American (2013, Dec 23)

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