When religion really is to blame

As anyone who reads FSTDT will know, Yahoo! Answers provides rich pickings when it comes to bizarre, crazy and downright wierd religious viewpoints. While idly browsing through it, I noticed a question asking “During the middle ages, how many were killed because they questioned the loving and kind Catholic Church?” (See original question thread)

Having a passing hobby interest in medieval history, this question appealed to me, so I read through some of the answers. A lot were standard Yahoo-fare, for example the “best answer” claims 150 million died, which seems a bit odd compared to the population of Europe in the middle-ages.  While sources are a bit made up, Wikipedia claims the population of medieval Europe peaked at about 100 million in the early part of the fourteenth century. This requires some interesting mental arithmetic to make the two sets of numbers add up, even if the 150 million deaths were spread out over 300 years.

However, the one that caught my interest the most was from Misty0408, and it makes quite a few points I would like to address here: [emphasis mine throughout quotes]

Crusades or Inquisition?

It’s easy in hindsight to judge a time and society we no longer experience or understand.

I agree with this to an extent as our ideas of what is “right” and “wrong” do change over time. This is not always a path from a “bad past” to a “good present/future” though, sometimes we take a few steps back. Crucially, there isn’t any real point to judging the past – we cant change it and we cant (for example) punish the Romans for keeping slaves.

I may have misread the question, and know nothing of the person who asked it, but I didn’t really think it was trying to judge the past. This made me think that Misty0408 might have a few axes to grind.

The Crusades were a series of defensive battles against Muslim attacks. They were not organized and run by the Church, but tended to be upstart groups of Catholics who took things into their own hands. Many non-believers joined in to reap the benefits of pillaging. There was no telephone, email, text messaging, etc. to get word out and tell people to stop. It took time for the Pope to know what was going on, and time for word to get back to those who had run amok.

Interesting. This also seems pretty much 180 degrees from the history lessons I remember. So much so that this cant be a simple lack of education, this is someone wilfully taught an incorrect sequence of events.

Pope Urban II instigated the crusades. This is the fairly famous quote he made in the call to arms:

All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion!

All the crusades were blessed by the Papacy. This is a far cry from the idea that the pope was busy running around trying to put a stop to the brutality.

It strikes me as a bit dishonest to claim that the church was not the organiser of the Crusades – yes the Crusading nobles will have gone through the actual logistics, but the Pope ordered them to and offered forgiveness for all their sins if they went.

The Inquisitions were also driven, in part, by the society and times in which they happened. Civil law and Church law were linked. If you spoke heresy you were condemned by civil law to die…not by the Church. In fact, in many cases the Church worked to get people to recant their heretical statements to save them from death. Death sentences were carried out by the civil authorities.

Again, some reasonable truth mixed with weirdness. The inquisitions were indeed driven by the time and society – however this society was intrinsically Catholic. Civil and Church law were mixed, yes, but this didn’t mean secular rules got mixed in with the religious ones. It basically meant that the Church set the law. The idea that heretics were condemned to die by secular authorities and not the church is batshit insane. Yes the Church worked to get people to recant, but not to save them from death. If the Church hadn’t declared some statements heretical (and demanded death as the punishment) I would agree they were not complicit in the torture. How on Earth can heresy even be a crime by secular standards?

While death sentences were indeed carried out by the civil authorities, they were given the moral authority to do so by the Church. The Church can not wash its hands of the crimes because the pope did not burn each heretic personally.

Its true, that at that time, the Church thought that a good way to deal with heretics was to torture them, and force them to recant. The Church has since apologized for this.

That makes it OK then.

But again, we see this error in hindsight. The medieval times were violent times for the entire society. Most punishments for breaking the law involved sentences we consider barbaric today. People were hanged in public, drawn and quartered etc. This was the society.

So why did the church apologise? How does this sliding scale of moral values lie with an inerrant word of God being handed down to the heads of the Church?

If the Church felt it was in keeping with Scripture at the time, what has changed?

The Spanish Inquistition was state ministry, not papal organization. Blaming Popes for deeds of Spanish Inquistition is incorrect. However kings of Spain used Dominicans (catholic order) as judges etc. because clergy (especially mentioned monks) were genarally far more educated than ordinal people.

Wow. An even bigger dose of madness wrapped around a kernel of truth. The Spanish inquisition was indeed instituted by the secular Monarchy.

First off, it was based on Papal Inquisitions (which were remarkably similar); secondly its purpose was to ensure people upheld the Catholic Church’s doctrine; Thirdly it was established by a Papal Bull from Pope Sixtus IV. Crucially, the Catholic Church could have stopped it, but chose not to.

Seems like the Catholic Church has to shoulder a fair amount of the blame for this.

The Church, even though the true Church of Christ, is not made of perfect people. She is protected from ever teaching heresy, but this protection does not give those in charge a crystal ball, or the power to know more than the current times in which they live.

Wow. Huge dose of irony there. The Catholic church can never teach heresy, but because there is no crystal ball its teachings may change and even contradict previous ones.

You’ve got to love the logic that belief grants you…

As far as the actual numbers of those killed, no one has a real count. But we do know that over the years the number has increased in direct proportion to the number of anti-Catholics. Those who claim in the “millions” are way off base. Not even close, more likely in the thousands. But just to give you an idea:
The Spanish Inquisition, assuredly the most vigorous and corrupt of the various inquisitorial bodies that existed in Europe, held 49,000 trials between 1560-1700 and executed between 3 and 5,000 people.

Again, it starts off well but then gets all conspiracy theory.

Worryingly, Misty0408 seems to be implying that because the numbers killed were “only” in the thousands this makes it OK. The idea that any people were tortured to death on the orders of a “loving” church is monstrous.

Bit of number crunching: I assume Misty0408 got the figures from Spiritus-Temprois.com, which doesn’t break down by year. If we assume each year was equal, that means there were 350 trials a year. Almost one a day. 350 people tortured each year. Just because these only resulted in between 21 – 35 executions each year doesn’t make it better. For most the period in question, Spain had a population in the region of between 5.4 and 7.5 million (source: The Population of Europe, Table 1.1, p8, by Massimo Livi Bacci, Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen, Carl Ipsen). This means that around 1 in 20,000 people were tortured by the inquistion – that is the equivalent of 3000 people a year in the modern UK, or 15191 people in the US – being put on trial for heresy each year.

This may seem trivial when compared with modern incarceration rates (which may be as high as 1 in 136 people in the US), but these people were in addition to all the “normal” criminals. Their only crime was not following the Catholic Church’s orthodoxy.

Yes, they may have been imprisoned under the orders of the Secular monarch, but it was done for, and with at least some blessing of, the Catholic Church.

Too often religion claims to be cause behind people doing good deeds, but then when bad things happen the nature of “Man” is blamed. This is a massive fallacy. The atrocities of the Crusades and Inqusition may not have been carried out (entirely) by uniformed members of the Catholic Church but it is fully to blame for them. Its doctrine lead to these acts. Its leadership endorsed them. Its priesthood encouraged them.

It really is to blame.

Put them in the stocks

The average person is not a criminologist. This is as obvious as saying that the average person doesn’t have many skills in dentistry. You’d think long and hard before you asked a random person in the street to fill one of your molars.

So, I’m pretty gobsmacked by a cracked new plan to give the public the opportunity to vote on punishments for convicted criminals.

Research carried out by the Cabinet Office has persuaded her that greater community engagement would not encourage vigilante activity or excessive punishments. (from the Guardian)

Yeah, right.

The mad ministers supporting this plan are keeping it for minor offences, because they know full well that letting rabid local prejudices determine the penalties for more serious crimes would lead to some horrific outcomes. But this implies that people found guilty of minor offences are likely to get less fair treatment than people convicted of major crimes. They might have the details of their offences posted online, for instance.

Smith feels that although the police are becoming better at informing local people about the progress of prosecutions, too many people “disappear” into the criminal justice system. She argues that “justice seen is justice done” and is backing plans for courts to set up local websites informing people of the fate of criminals and cases.

So, commit some minor offence and it is posted on the net for your friends, family, boss and any potential employer to find forever. If you assume that one offence of disorderly conduct should ruin your chances of getting employment for life, then fair enough. However, I thought that the possibility that people could incur a penalty and return to normal life after paying it was inherent in any concept of justice.

Anyone who thinks that it’s OK that getting found guilty of any minor offence means that you’re branded a criminal for life had better get used to there being a huge marginalised group of people with less than no chance of ever getting legitimate work. So, basically, forced to commit crimes to survive.

There are so many things wrong with this plan, I could rant for days. For example, penalties would be decided locally, so would clearly vary from place to place. Sentences are supposed to “reflect communities’ interests”. What if you lived in an area where most people oppose your race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, style of dress, or whatever? Would you get fair treatment. Or where you are really popular with the local “community leader”? Or vice versa.

What sort of people will feel they have a right to vote on the penalties for petty crimes? Smug bigots, busybodies, self-appointed community leaders, Daily Mail readers and so on. Is their thirst for vengeance going to be assuaged or fed by getting the right to lord it over petty offenders? Obviously not. They’ll see no reason why their solomonic wisdom shouldn’t be applied to more serious offences. And it’s hard for the government to argue that it’s OK to go down the medieval route for low-level crimes but that serious criminals should be protected by 21st century laws.

The government is already treating the opinions of people with expertise and training in dealing with petty offenders – the probation service – as irrelevant. On 30 December, the Probation Officers Union NAPO expressed unease with the government decision that people doing community service should wear reflective jackets that announce that they are serving a sentence.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said organisations, including churches and charities, that offer unpaid work placements for offenders had become wary of using the vests after incidents of offenders being abused by the public, including missiles being thrown at them. “Many of these organisations are faith-based groups who believe it is not their role to oversee humiliation,” he said, adding that in one area a group of youths had chanted “nonces, smackheads, lowlifes” at one work group. (from the Guardian)

Well, yes, public humiliation is not actually acceptable as a penalty. I am pretty sure that the EC Human Rights Act and international law say something about “cruel and unusual” punishments. And that’s in terms of NOT using them.

The justice minister, David Hanson, fuelled the debate last night by saying he rejected the results of the Napo survey and expected all 42 probation areas to implement the introduction of the high-visibility clothing. “The public expects to see justice being done, and this is what the jackets achieve,” he said.

Hmm. NAPO claim to have evidence that offenders are being bullied and that charities don’t want community service workers to be stigmatised BUT the “justice” minister won’t accept this. He’s not interested at all really. When it’s a question of buying the Daily Mail reader vote, centuries of painfully developing a more humane justice system can go by the board.

“The public expects to see justice being done,” my arse. Is there any evidence for this, at all? Must we assume that the same imaginary people who are badgering Jaqui Smith for the opportunity to have an ID card are also badgering the Justice Minister to provide visible evidence that people convicted of minor offences are being punished? If this is the public’s expectation, it hasn’t been met for a good few centuries. The public used to get to see criminals thrown to the lions in Ancient Rome and to see public executions in pre-modern Europe. Is a public execution a reasonable expectation? Many people were so enraged against the parents of Baby P that they would have felt that execution was reasonable . Would they have the right to watch this over the internet if the death penalty was restored? Failing that, surely the public won’t be satisfied until they can watch Baby P’s murderers in jail on 24 hour webcam over the Internet.

Would this be OK with the minister, if the public’s need to see justice being done is so paramount?

Comically ironic that the case involving a search of a Tory MP’s office (over systematic leaks by a senior civil servant) has had most of Parliament enraged at the shocking suggestion that they could be subject to the same laws as everybody else. The incident seems to have well nigh destroyed the career of the police officer in charge, in sharp contrast to the very limited career damage suffered by senior police officers after the mere shooting of an unarmed Brazilian. Ironic also that the Blair era cash for honours investigations managed to go absolutely nowhere but brought complaints about the waste of public money on pointless police investigations… .

Silly me. There is one rule for MPs and another for the rest of us. So, I would like to share with MPs the mantra of the onward march of UK repression “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear.” 😀

Fairytale Castle

Well, despite the massively predictable bank holiday weekend weather here in the UK, a visit to Bodiam Castle was well worth it.

Bodiam castle is a National Trust property located in Sussex (not far from Hastings). It was built in the late 13th century as a “fortified home” for an English adventurer returning from France. It could well be argued that it isn’t really a castle, as it was more of a “manor house” with a moat and crenelations… This picture shows the front entrance of the castle – if there is interest / time, I will upload more pictures in the future.

Bodiam Castle - Front Entrance - 07 May 07

One other odd thing, was a strange looking duck. Being a City Dweller, I am not really up to speed on what water fowl look like, so this one caught my eye. Can anyone confirm what it is please?

Strange (to me) looking water fowl at Bodiam Castle

As always, feedback welcome.