From the archives: The crypto inquisitors

Here’s a fairly old post (originally published May 2009) that I stumbled across while trying to find things I’d written in the past about Galileo. I’m republishing it here just because, rereading it, I decided I really liked it.

There’s a really creepy theme I’ve been noticing in Christian apologetics: an apologist will set off with an official mission to, say, show that Christianity is not responsible for the Inquisition. But as you read the argument, you begin to get the feeling he thought the inquisition was a fine idea.

Here’s how it works: if the topic of the day is persecution of dissenting sects of Christianity, you’ll hear about the threat of heresy to the social order. If the topic is what the Inquisition did to the Jews of Spain, you hear about how the Inquisition only targeted Jews who pretended to convert to Christianity, so they could avoid getting expelled from the country. If the topic is Galileo, we are told that the idea that the Church was opposing science is a slander against Christianity, and Galileo was really being punished for either insulting the Pope or trying to interpret Scripture for himself (yeah, that’s so much better).

What’s most disturbing, of course, is when the apologists express their contempt for modern democracy in a fairly direct way by implying that it’s worthless, or that whatever its worth, Christians may soon be justified in going back to burning heretics. J.P. Holding, for example (first link), says “The Inquisition’s actions would be excessive today because we have the leisure to tolerate dissent with no threat to our survival” adding a disturbing “not as yet, at any rate.” Most recently, I came across David Bentley Hart’s book Atheist Delusions, which tries to blame Hitler and Stalin not on atheism but on modern notions of liberty, which are described as “banal” and “degraded,” with religious and political freedom–i.e. the right to vote and not be killed for your thoughts–as being no more significant than getting a choice of shoes.

As far as I’ve seen, no one’s really commented on this, and I didn’t really feel the need to comment until I encountered Hart’s extreme dismissals of modern liberty just recently. Why haven’t other atheist bloggers noticed this before? And could the apologists really be too stupid to notice that this kind of rhetoric is risky? The mysteries of life…

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