Thursday, June 21, 2012

Horror of the Inquisition

It is common for those who oppose Christianity to bring up the Inquisition and other questionable things done in the name of Christ. Now I do not want to excuse this type of behavior, but we need to ask what it proves about the truth of Christianity. Christians believe all human beings are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). Further, not everyone who professes Christianity is a genuine Christian (Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 3:17-19), and those who are are still imperfect in this life (Philippians 2:12-16; 1 John 1:8-10; Galatians 5:17). But we need to look more closely at the issue.

There is a natural tendency for human beings to impose their viewpoints on others by force. This is not limited to Christians or religious people. The Communists did it with atheism and made the Inquisition look like pikers by comparison.  Nor is it limited to to narrow-minded people. The Roman Empire was extremely broadminded regarding belief in whatever god you chose, and it is questionable that many among them took their gods very seriously. But they persecuted Christians for being narrow-minded and not going along with the accepted religious practices. Now every system of belief holds that following its dictates is the best thing for the individual and society. However, when a system comes into political power it will inevitably face opposition from those of differing viewpoints. What is worse, it will face defections from those who claim the same viewpoint but differ in some substantial way. There is then a strong temptation for people with generally good intentions to use political force to forward their agenda. Even those  systems starting out with convictions in favor of toleration can be sucked into this type of action in order to prevent what they have worked for from being overturned. I grew up in the 1960s, when there existed a counter-cultural movement that took its stand on freedom and characterized those who opposed it as fascists. Now the adherents of this philosophy are advocating imposing political correctness and punishing hate crimes.

Also, once a viewpoint has been in power for a time it becomes a vested interest and people support it, not because they necessarily care about the viewpoint itself, but because their power and position depend on it. Also, anything of value in a society can become a excuse for those who want to do something shady. If you want to enslave people and steal their gold, you do it in the name of whatever your society values. How does Christianity stack up on this? We started with the idea of toleration and held onto it even after we came into power. But slowly over time we were drawn into the idea of using political power to further our beliefs. But there were those among us, even before the advent of modern secular society, who opposed the idea. We certainly cannot claim innocence in this regard, but we also are not the worst offender.

What then do we do about this? What we need to do is each look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, do I believe in using force to impose my beliefs? If you say yes, your only problem with the Inquisition is the question of what beliefs should be imposed. If you, as I hope, say no, then you need to oppose this approach for all beliefs, starting with your own. But using this as a basis to throw rocks at other people's beliefs just muddies the issue.

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