Sunday, May 20, 2007

Beating (Not So) Dead Horses

"We can no longer blame the favorite institutional scapegoats beaten to death by our master thinkers of the last two centuries. These beasts of burden have all collapsed long ago, just like Nietzsche's famous horse in Turin. One can go on beating dead horses for several decades, no doubt, especially in graduate seminars but, even there, there will be an end. No one can really believe that our families, the class system, the male gender as a whole, the Christian churches, or even a repressive university administration might be responsible for what is going on." - René Girard

"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" -- Monty Python
PBS, that refined repository of rehashed secularist orthodoxy, is running a series called Secret Files of the Inquisition. Natch, it ratchets up the anty in the area of "evidence" against the big, bad Catholic Church as a certifiable target for abuse, scorn, and general destruction. "We've got a live one, boys!" one can almost hear. The usual historiographical drivel is trotted out and paraded. From Father Neuhaus's blog,
“It’s the usual recycling of the juvenile pap about ‘The Black Legend,’” [Neuhaus' friend] said. I surfed onto five minutes of last night’s episode, and she is right. There was a Franciscan friar preaching to an apparently clandestine gathering of village folk and the voice-over declaimed: “He spoke to them in their own language rather than the Church-approved Latin, which was considered utter blasphemy.” That would have come as a surprise to St. Francis, the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), and the thousands of others engaged in preaching missions throughout Europe.
But rather than merely defend Mother Church, perhaps it is better to remember a different set of facts. During the entire 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition fewer people
died (perhaps 4,000) than during a single day of the American Civil War. Crocker notes:
"The comparison isn't flip, for the issues were similar -- defining what it meant to be a Spaniard (or an American) and the limits of dissent (either in religion or in the right to self-determination, states' rights, secession, and slavery) ... Between 1551 and 1600, for example, the Spanish Inquisition claimed an average of four lives a year -- making Spain by far Christendom's safest haven in this time of religious strife. [228-229]
By comparison, more than 150,000 of the peasantry died in two years of German peasant religious civil warfare between 1524-1526 -- sixty-five times the number of deaths the Spanish Inquisition claimed in its first ten (and by far its worst) years [Ibid, 249].

This is not to allay the wrongs and wrong-headedness of the Inquisition, but to point out that the hellfire that Martin Luther set loose in Germany deserves at least as much historical attention as the Inquisition (which examined future saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross for their orthodoxy).

But somehow, I don't expect PBS to do that. The Da Vinci Code has shown the true Victim of our age, and all modernism's slings and arrows are pointed at Mother Church.


Porthos said...

Good post. I also followed some links from Amy's blog and saw informative posts and comments. There are also interesting comparisons with Jansenist massacres. Hmm.

This was something I felt a duty to delve into during my coming over to the Church period and was certainly surprised at the real numbers and dates. Even the BBC got this right in a documentary in the 1990s.

Going out on a limb, I think I can guess what PBS might be up to. It's hard to believe that people who are paid to do historical series are actually ignorant of the best, most up to date secular historical data (such as that used by the BBC). So, no, I figure the makers and promoters must know at least partly how grossly inaccurate it is, but are banking on the iconic power of the Inquisition meme. This automatically plays against defenders: "Are you saying that the inquisition was GOOD!?!?" "No, I'm just saying look at the real figures and the time period and--" "Oh, so you're saying it's OK to kill people as long as it's not too many?!?!" "No, I'm just saying, hey I mean look at what was going on at the same period in--" "Oh, so everyone was doing it, so it's OK?!?! Huh? Is that what you're saying!?!?" "No, I just--" And on and on.

With all that iconic reflex stacked deliberately against you, it's a heads they win tails you lose situation. Could this actually be designed to provoke defenders of the Church into those kinds of exchanges? Wouldn't put it past them.

In my case, it has been arguments with hard core fundamentalists of the Dave Hunt school and (rather more successful) engagements with Girardians who didn't know the real dope but were willing to concede when confronted with it.

But, let's keep plugging away. Your post is a good contribution.

I hope readers are planning to sit comfortably during the next PBS pledge drive!

Porthos said...

From Bill Donohue of Catholic League:

Athos said...

Thanks, Porthos. Of course, the other -- and via salvation history our common biblical family -- prime Victim on the world stage is ... need I say it?

Essential reading at Not a Fish (Read parts one and two first).

Porthos said...

Read it before (I believe at your recommendation). It's good.