August 5, 2008

Analogy to the Inquisition...

I got another e-mail on the subject of the Inquisition, in response to my post here.

...I'm OK with people calling some beliefs heresy, but killing people for it just feels over the line, especially for someone saying they are fully authorized agent of Jesus. If that's what being a Catholic is, that's a deal breaker for me. Is it still OK to kill heretics?...

No. Absolutely not. And to a considerable extant it never was. I don't think this was ever a part of Catholic dogma or doctrine.

What you have to realize is that until recently religions were the "political" groups. And a person who secretly believed something different from the state religion was often a political danger. Someone who would fight in a rebellion, or assassinate the monarch. If you read a bit about the Wars of Religion, you will see a lot this. There was back then no concept of a "loyal opposition." (In the religious sphere that's actually something that developed in the 17th and 18th Centuries out of the bloodbath of the Thirty Years War.)

And many accounts of the Inquisitions don't give you that context. They leave you to imagine that a bunch of cruel Dominicans were simply imposing their religion on peaceful folk, when in fact the real movers were usually governments worried (often with good reason) about fifth-columnists.

There is something of an analogy in what the Communists in the earlier 20th Century were to us. A Communist back then was NOT just someone with a different philosophy, he was often a secret agent for Lenin or Stalin. For the Comintern. If an American "converted" to Communism, there was a good likelihood that he would no longer be loyal to our country, and might work actively to subvert it. A splendid book to read, to understand the period, is Witness, by Whittaker Chambers.

This justified measures that were not normally acceptable in American tradition. It has never been right in America to blacklist or harass people because of their political beliefs. The "McCarthy Era" is often portrayed by liars as if it were just that, but in fact it was about hunting down people who were secret agents of a totalitarian conspiracy. One that was responsible for at least 100 million deaths in the 20th Century. Of course many of those who were harassed were not working for the Soviet Union, and had no real desire for the triumph of tyranny.

Innocent people were persecuted. BUT, the responsibility for this rests entirely on those traitors who concealed themselves among those who were, as you might say, "loyal communists." If someone was dragged in to testify before HUAC, and maybe had their career ruined, they usually are portrayed by liberal historians as people who were crushed by America, by cruel red-baiters, etc.

Bullshit. The responsibility rests with those who were hiding among them, using them as cover for their attempts to destroy our country. The most famous of these of course was Alger Hiss. And due to the fall of the Soviet Union we now have access to archives that show that Hiss was in fact a Soviet spy. But for 50 years he was pictured by cynical leftists as an "innocent victim" of men like Chambers and Richard Nixon. In fact the opposite was true. Hiss was guilty as hell, and was working hard to give us our own American Gulag Archipelago. And Chambers and Nixon were true American heroes, fighting ugly subversion with necessary roughness.

The "McCarthy Era" is usually portrayed as a period of madness, and analogized to the Salem witch trials. (Or the Inquisition!) The difference is that in the 20th Century there really were witches, and if they had achieved their ends people like you and me might be routinely rounded up at gunpoint and sent on that long march to nowhere....

Posted by John Weidner at August 5, 2008 12:31 PM
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