on March 1, 2013
The word "Inquisition" harkens back to ancient European history - Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Catholic Church. But in Cullen Murphy's frightening account, that repressive past was only prologue: The self-propagating bureaucracies of the modern world contain the seeds of inquisitions potentially far vaster and more destructive than anything wrought by the Catholic Church.
Murphy seamlessly traces the 700-year history of successive Catholic Inquisitions to expose their underlying mechanisms, to highlight the fundamental similarities between then and now. The "enhanced interrogation" practiced at Guantanamo is not so different from the Roman rigoros esamine (rigorous examination), he explains. Indeed, modern interrogation techniques as outlined in a U.S. Army manual are eerily parallel to the sophisticated inquisition techniques first outlined in a manual from the 1300s.
Murphy, himself a Catholic, encourages us to broaden our historical lens to see that inquisitions need not necessarily be religious. They can occur any time members of a dominant group - whether religious, political, corporate or national - appoint themselves "God's jury," believing that they alone know the true and right path. The "inquisitorial impulse" springs directly from moral certainty. Think about the inquisitions over the last century alone, just in the United States: The Palmer Raids (an early Red Scare led by the young J. Edgar Hoover in the 1920s), The Japanese internment, Cointelpro, the Patriot Act. The McCarthy Era alone was more far-reaching than any church inquisition, he argues.
But inquisitions demand certain tangible assets, and it is these that the modern world possesses in abundance:
A bureaucratic machinery: Bureaucracies are self-perpetuating and expansionistic. They require no evil conspiracy at the helm. Take the Transportation Security Administration, whose methods since 9/11 have grown ever more "invasive, mindless, and routine": "An individual's name can be added to the official U.S. terrorism watch list as the result of a single tip that is `deemed credible.' That list, which holds some 440,00 names, is secret, and people cannot discover if their names or on it." Repressive regimes are, at base, record-keeping regimes.
Surveillance: As far back as 1796, philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte noted that "the chief principle of a well-regulated police state" was the ability to identify its citizens and know their activities and whereabouts. Murphy shows how the modern surveillance state has expanded to new heights in the wake of 9/11, especially in the United States and in England. As a British surveillance leader defends it, "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear." Surveillance, he says, is forever ratcheting up, so that what was heretofore unimaginable is constantly becoming the new normal.
Censorship: Just as the Vatican has its catalogues of banned books (which Murphy spent time examining), the Internet has its "choke points" that can be manipulated to deny the public access to information. Less obvious but no less sinister are today's "mobious strips of the like-minded," a form of "epistemic closure" in which people are increasingly able to avoid exposure to information that might challenge their assumed realities.
Whereas both the targets of an inquisition and the motives of the inquisitors can shift with time and place, these tangible underpinnings - proof of identity, efficient record-keeping, a network of informers, surveillance, denunciations, interrogations - remain constant. And they are all ubiquitous in the modern world.
The history lessons in God's Jury owe in part to the Vatican's decision to open its archives (although only up to 1939) to outside scrutiny, an unprecedented boon to scholars. Murphy is a fluid writer, and his descriptions of the archives and their contents contain so many riveting nuggets that the book's pages pretty much turn themselves.
The message of God's Jury is unsettling. But Murphy does offer a ray of hope. Just as the inquisitions of yester-year were extinguished by the Enlightenment ("the intellectual equivalent of habitat destruction"), Murphy maintains that there is a remedy for contemporary inquisitions. He does not believe they can be legislated away, although more power to those who are valiantly trying to place legal limits on repression. Rather, he believes that "the most effective ally" against inquisitionism is the "seventh virtue" of humility. Inquisitions can only occur, he argues, when a group in power comes to believe with absolute certainty that it holds the one and only absolute truth, and that everyone else is wrong.
Here is another thoughtful and endlessly engaging book by Cullen Murphy. God's Jury is subtitled The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World. Nowadays the word Inquisition actually has a somewhat humorous sound to many people thanks to its caricature by Monty Python. Murphy's account, while making it clear that the Inquisition in its various forms (Spanish, Roman, etc.) was a deadly serious and tragic development in European history, also demonstrates a sort of black humor based on irony. Even more importantly, Murphy draws comparisons between the Inquisition and its modern counterparts which serve to illuminate present day follies.
God's Jury is part history, part travelogue, and part commentary. I was fascinated to learn of the many remnants the old Inquisition has left behind: buildings, prisons, and above all the records. Murphy makes the good point that the Inquisition was more than any thing else a bureaucracy, self perpetuating and aggrandizing as are all bureaucracies, dedicated to preserving records of the most trivial offenses, some of which caused even the Chief Inquisitors to write dismissive notes on their pages. Even more interesting were the parallels Murphy draws between the Inquisition's practices and those of our own time, including an amusing comparison between an Inquisitor's questioning of a man caught in a sexual dalliance and the Starr Report. More troubling parallels are drawn between Inquistorial practices and those of our own modern surveillance society and between the Inquisition's fear of conversos and the post 9/11 distrust of Muslims.
This is rightfully disturbing material and Murphy handles it with appropriate seriousness, leavened with his ability to tell a good anecdote and relate an amusing misstep, whether its one of his own or one that happened hundreds of years ago. God's Jury is an important, challenging look at what has been happening to our society in the early twenty first century, with abundant warnings of what may lie in store for us.
God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy is a fitting examination of one of the darker episodes in human history. While not the same as the Holocaust, and certainly with different aims, the period of the inquisition marks a low point the history of the Catholic Church and the administrators that managed the affair.
One point worth making is that I'd never really thought of the inquisition as something that needed to be managed and administered, an activity that generated enormous piles of records that need to be stored and preserved. Murphy writes:
"At the time of my first visit, the Inquisition archive--officially, the Archivio della Congreazione per la Dottrina della Fede--splled from room to room and floor to floor in the palazzo's western wing, filling about twenty rooms in all. "
Again making my own comparison to the Nazi regime, I am stunned at the amount of record keeping activities such as the inquisition and the extermination of entire populations generate and the compulsive nature of man to record such activities.
Murphy does a good job in explaining the two inquisitions, Spanish and Roman. I'm not a historian and certainly not an expert in this area, so finding out that there were two inquisitions is an eye opener for me.
The reader is introduced to the library of the inquisition, the dungeon and torture chambers and left to ponder the purpose of these activities. The Spanish Inquisition commenced in 1492 when the Jews of Spain were told to convert to the Catholic faith or leave Spain. The activity of the Inquisition was to root out those who openly converted but continued to practice their old faith.
Murphy's purpose in writing God's Jury is to force the reader to look at later periods where those in power arrested, detained, tortured, and murdered those who might disagree with whatever power structure exists. He's not bashful about including the recent detentions of combatants in the post 9/11 period. I do see a difference between those who quietly operate on a different belief system (innocent Jews in Spain) and those captured on the battlefield bearing arms and engaged in combat. I also believe torture in wrong in all it's various incarnations, but I don't see a straight comparison. Just my opinion!
God's Jury is an intensely interesting read. Murphy's ability to do effective research is apparent on every page and his ability to effectively convey what he has found also top notch.
on April 10, 2012
...do not make it "God's Jury."
If you want to learn about real history, there are a number of recent books by recognized scholars on the Inquisition. Henry Kamen's The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision and Edward Peters' Inquisition, for example, stress that there was no "The Inquisition," rather there were a number of local inquisitions that began as a response to different local reasons and developed over time in an ad hoc fashion. Ironically, recognized scholars agree that the various inquisitions were generally more "advanced" in terms of legal procedure and the protection of the accused, and as impossible as it is for those who are raised on the "myth of the inquisition" to believe, sentences were more lenient than those handed out by secular powers. Nonetheless, the "myth of the Inquisition" lives on despite the facts, and scholars like Peters and Kamen spend substantial ink exploring and correcting that myth.
Murphy's book attempts to set this project back by a century. Murphy admits that his principle interest is not in the actual history of the Inquisition. He admits up-front that most books on the Inquisition grow out of a polemical purpose, and for Murphy that polemical agenda grows out of the "the Vatican's attempt to silence or censor a significant number of prominent theologians." (p. 24.) From this starting point, Murphy proposes to use the Inquisition as a lens for looking at the dysfunctions of the "modern world" and the dysfunctions of the modern world to examine "the Inquisition," and, rest assured, it is "the Inquisition" for Murphy. Notwithstanding the fact that he interviewed Peters and Kamen, and occasionally cherry-picks their books for quotes, he seems not to have noticed that there was no "the Inquisition." See p. 24 ("The advent of the Inquisition offers a lense.")
Murphy's project is an exercise in all kinds of rhetorical fallacies that ought to insult an attentive reader. The book is replete with appeals to "guilt by association" based merely on placing Bad Things next to each other in adjacent sentences. Thus, we have a reference to the 1252 papal bull Ad extirpanda which "justified and encouraged the use of torture in the Inquisition" (Bad Inquisition!) welded in the same sentence to a Department of Justice memo during the Bush administration permitting "enhanced interrogation. (Bad George W. Bush!) So, Murphy gets the benefit of smearing the Bush administration with the Inquisition and smearing the Inquisition with the Bush Administration, depending on which is viewed as being more odious at any particular moment. These kinds of "guilt by association" constructs continue throughout the book with nary an effort ever being made by Murphy to provide context for any of the things that are just known to be bad based on his ideological first principles.
But along the way, Murphy just butchers history. As a real historian, Robert Louis Wilken, observes, "every act of historical understanding is an act of empathy." Murphy doesn't want people to understand because he most definitely doesn't want empathy; he wants people to hate the things he hates. So, he doesn't provide context; things just happen because the actors are evil or ignorant or venal or corrupt, all of which could be true, but hardly exhausts the sum total of historical experience.
Let's go back to that juxtaposition of the Ad extirpanda with the Bush memo on "enhanced interrogation." Murphy tells us that Ad extirpanda "justified and encouraged the use of torture." But this was the 13th Century, for heaven's sake! It wasn't the 21st, where torture has to be covered up with evasive language about "enhanced interrogation." In the 13th Century, torture didn't need to be "justified and encouraged"; it was a commonplace feature of every judicial system in the world! With that kind of context one might suspect - with a little empathy providing a motive for ...what's that word?...curiosity! - that Ad extirpanda was doing something more than "justifying and encouraging" the use of torture, and, by golly, if one checks, one would find out that Ad extirpanda did something unusual for the world before modernity - it limited the use of torture compared to the norm in secular courts!
It isn't in Murphy's polemical interest to point this out - without sneering at such efforts as ineffectual and hypocritical - but he ought to know better. He ought to know better because he spends pages talking about the 19th Century historian of the Inquisition, Henry Charles Lea. If he had read Lea's work with a certain amount of empathy, he would have read the following from Lea's History of the Spanis Inquisition, vol. 3, Book 6, Chapter 7:
"We shall see that occasionally tribunals abused the use of torture, but the popular impression that the inquisitorial torture-chamber was the scene of exceptional refinement in cruelty, of specially ingenious modes of inflicting agony, and of peculiar, persistence in extorting confessions, is an error due to sensational writers who have exploited credulity. The system was evil in conception and in execution, but the Spanish Inquisition, at least, was not responsible for its introduction and, as a rule, was less cruel."
Jeepers! Scenes of torture being used by "sensational writers" who want to "exploit credulity" in readers for polemical purposes. Who would do that? Well, Murphy for one, with his listing of unusual names for instruments of torture - Brazen Bull, Iron Maiden, Pear of Anguish (p. 86) - virtually all of which were invented in the 18th Century to satisfy the curiosity of credulous museum visitors for sensationalism. (If you are curious about this point - Murphy wasn't - search for "Five Common Misconceptions about the Middle Ages".)
And to return to Lea:
"No torture-chamber in the Inquisition possessed the resources of the corregidor who labored for three hours, in 1612, to obtain from Diego Duke of Estrada confession of a homicide--the water torture, the mancuerda, the potro, hot irons for the feet, hot bricks for the stomach and buttocks, garrotillos known as bone-breakers, the trampa to tear the legs and the bostezo to distend the mouth--and all this was an every-day matter of criminal justice."
We await the book on how it was secular power, and its use of torture, which was somehow mysteriously involved in ...you know.."making the modern secular world."
At times, Murphy's approach to history makes for silly anachronism; at other times, it makes for questions as to his sincerity. For example, Murphy tells us that notwithstanding "older estimates of the number of people put to death by the Inquisition range to upwards of a million; the true figure may be closer to several tens of thousands," before launching on a story about how arguments about body count quickly become pointless and distasteful because the commandant of Auschwitz insisted that he had killed "two million," not "three million," and thereby adding yet another example of "guilt by grammatical juxtaposition" to the well stocked inventory in his book.
So, apparently, we aren't supposed to question Murphy's claim about "tens of thousands of deaths" because we certainly don't want to look like a Nazi. The problem, though, is that "tens of thousands" is high by several magnitudes of error. Murphy does not offer a citation for his "tens of thousands" figure, but Edward Peters says that the "body count" in Spain for the period between 1550 and 1800 was around 3,000. (Inquisition, p. 86.) If we generously add the approximate 3,000 deaths estimated by Murphy for the earlier, more active period when the Inquisition was founded in Spain , over the course of over 300 years, Spain - the most reviled Inquisition - comes nowhere near to the "tens of thousands" of deaths claimed by Murphy, who doesn't offer a citation to back his claim. In fact, though, 6,000 is still high by a factor of 100 percent; The number of executions according to Helen Rawlings The Spanish Inquisition was actually closer to 3,000! Also, Peters - a real scholar as Murphy concedes - points out that the Inquisition handed out a far smaller number of death sentences than comparable secular institutions. (Id.) The "body count" issue seems like one that is pretty important, providing the quality of "horror" for the Inquisition, yet all Murphy does is "hand-waive" about "tens of thousands" and tell a story about a Nazi, yet he offers no scholarly support for his "tens of thousands" number, and the actual scholars entirely, categorically and absolutely disagree with him.
Murphy has every reason to desire vagueness on this subject. The most notable finding of Inquisition Revisionists is how few people actually fell within the purview of any Inquisition. Approximately 3,000 deaths over nearly 400 years is hardly working up a sweat; heck, twice as many Catholic priests and nuns were killed by the Spanish Communists during the Spanish Civil War (which Murphy doesn't think worth mentioning; it doesn't fit the "narrative"), and the the French Revolution would knock off almost as many during a lazy summer (also not mentioned; it doesn't fit the "narrative.") Given Murphy's desire to make the Catholic Church - particularly conservative, ultramontane Catholics - the villain of the book, he definitely doesn't want anyone to start doing the math and making that kind of comparison.
Murphy cites to Peters' book, and even offers a brief interview with Peters, which is one of the most interesting portions of Murphy's book, but, apparently, what Peters actually wrote made no impression on Murphy because - let's repeat it - "every act of historical understanding is an act of empathy," and Murphy's book is the opposite of empathetic.
Another amusing bit of irony occurs when Murphy points out that notwithstanding the fact that Catholics in England were subjected to an Inquisition after Henry VIII, no Englishman could recognize anything that an Englishman might do as ever imaginably being considered an Inquisition. (p. 195.) But Murphy demonstrates that same mentality throughout the book! So, when he looks at bad special prosecutors harassing Presidents, he doesn't come up with Fitzpatrick's pursuit of information on the silly Plame affair that resulted in the conviction of "Scooter" Libby, instead he goes to Ken Starr and Bill Clinton. Since Clinton was disbarred for his actual perjury, but Fitzpatrick came nowhere near Bush, one might think that it would be Fitzpatrick who would get the "grand Inquisitor" label, but to anyone aware of conservative-liberal politics, Murphy's choice is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that every single example of "modernity looked at through the lens of the Inquisition" involves something done by the American Right that the American Left objects to. Like the Englishmen, who couldn't recognize "the Inquisition" in their own country, Murphy can't recognize "the Inquisition" when it is done by the Left, and for all his sighing about the "war on terror" and the Bush administration, he finds little time to mention Obama's use of drones to kill Americans as a "disturbing example" the Inquisition's "legacy to modernity."
I was torn about how to rate this book. Murphy writes well. Some of the stories he tells are interesting. I thought his point about the use of torture as presaging a more rational approach to fact-finding was an idea worth the price of admission. But what finally tore it for me was the sense that he was deliberately trying to dupe me. What kicked off that sense was when I realized the reason that Murphy had dwelt on the mob who tore down the original building that had housed the Roman Inquisition. Normally, the Roman Inquisition doesn't get featured as the villain of the Inquisitions; that honor goes to the Spanish Inquisition. The Roman Inquisition famously had its run in with Galileo, who lived, and Bruno, who didn't, but, in general, the Roman Inquisition doesn't get hit with the anti-semitism and death tolls associated with the Spanish Inquisition. And, yet, Murphy mentions several times that a mob tore down the original Inquisition building.
Searching for an answer, I ran across this statement in Henry Kamen's work, "In ancient regime Spain, no popular movement attacked the Inquisition and no rioters laid a finger on its property." (Kamen, p. 282.) This is consistent with observations by other authors about the popular support the Spanish Inquisition enjoyed, and how frequently, the Spanish Inquisition damped popular resentment against minorities.
Murphy interviewed Kamen. He cites Kamen's work, but he never mentions this point. Clearly, the idea that the hated Inquisition might have had popular support wasn't the direction he wanted to go, because that might have required some thought about whether it was human nature that is the cause of the illiberal aspects of secular modernity, rather than the Illuminati - I mean the Inquisition - secretly leaving its imprint over the modern world. So, instead Murphy dwells on the burning of the Roman Inquisition's building, which I suspect I will discover when I research the issue, had more to do with internecine Roman politics - something that is quite ordinary and well-documented - rather than anti-Inquisition antipathy, but that is just a suspicion I have based on the general bias of Murphy's book. At some point, one has to conclude that Murphy is deliberately cherry-picking the sources, and that his work is worse than incidentally and anachronistically biased; it's actually a piece of disinformation that can't be trusted.
That was the straw that broke the camels' back. I cannot recommend this book. I had thought I could so long as I gave the caveat that one should read Kamen and Peters and Lea. I understand that by posting this review, and more importantly, the one star rating, I will receive more unhelpful ratings, but the purpose of reviews is to suggest to objective readers whether they should invest their money, and, more importantly, their limited time in a book-reading project. This book does not deserve that investment. Read Peters and Kamen. After you have done that, and if you have a lot of free time, then read this book if you must.
Torture is horribly corrupting. The power and desire of secular governments to control and categorize people is fearsome. The prospect that we Americans might be trading freedom for security is real and should be a concern, but trying to make it worse because somehow it fits into the prejudices of American liberals about religion or Catholicism or the Papacy or whatever amorphous target Murphy defines as the snake that deprived modernity of its original innocence is really, really silly, and, insofar as this project is based on distortion, Murphy's book undermines whatever real lesson we could learn about the evil of torture, or of power, or of spying, or whatever it is that pulls Murphy's alarm bell.
Long story short, this is a political hatchet-job. Worse still, it insults the hard work done by true scholars who have tried to wrest the actual history of the Inquisition from the grip of dishonest polemicists.
2014 Postscript - It is interesting how this review continues to garner attention. It seems every couple of weeks I pick up a favorable vote. I don't know if those votes are from people happy to be waved off yet another stealth bit of ideological polemics or from readers who have just experienced the tendentious qualities of this book.
In any event, on the subject of "torture," I stumbled over this eye-opening book that explained why and how torture was used in pre-modern Europe - Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Regime. This fascinating book of honest history explains that the reason that torture in the Middle Ages vastly differed from torture in the modern era because during the Middle Ages torture wasn't used to elicit information, rather it was used as a kind of proof because the Continental legal systems were slowly developing the idea that "circumstantial evidence" was reliable. Suspects in the hands of medieval legal system were only subjected to torture if there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to merit the application of torture, and, in fact, that evidence might be overwhelming evidence of guilt. According to the authors, in legal systems which didn't use torture, but did allow circumstantial evidence, a person could be executed on less evidence than was required to justify torture.
Of course, all this is inconvenient for polemical use, but if someone was writing a book and interested in history, it seems careless to overlook this historical information. I know that I didn't learn any of this fascinating and surprising history from reading "God's Jury." Instead I learned myths and read political propaganda, which is the opposite of what a book purportedly about history is supposed to be about.
on February 4, 2012
Though I have been reading bits about inquisition for the last 15 years, I always thought it was mainly something that the Spanish and the Portuguese did. I also thought that it ended in the 19th century. Mr. Murphy disabused me thoroughly of both the notions. He shows how it spilled over from Europe into the colonies, as far as Brazil. I also learned that England had its own date with inquisition as did the Vatican. He does not restrict himself to inquisition proper, but also writes about witchcraft, censorship and other forms of religious persecution. Through this all, he travels to the places where all this happened and talks to a number of players. This gives a very 'current event' kind of feeling to the book.
He then goes on to show that though inquisition primarily started as a religious institution, it gradually became entwined with the State. Finally in the modern 21st century, the religious overtones are almost completely gone, and all that remains is the bureaucracy and the machine, put to effective use by the modern secular state. And this is happening the world over - from Russia to the US.
Despite the title, this book is not about religious persecution. The church origins and history of the inquisition are used to launch and dramatise the story. This helps us focus on modern realities, thinking about the intrusions of the state into our lives, and where it might all lead us. Those who do not learn from history are....
Mr. Murphy is a journalist and it shows in the readability of his prose. He also is very good at dovetailing events across centuries and drawing parallels. The writing is very live, and it is difficult to put the book down. There is an enormous amount of information and delicious tidbits for people interested in inquisition per se. And there is a lot to chew on for others who are concerned about just how much the government and corporations intrude into our privacy and personal lives. Mr. Murphy is a modern Catholic, very perceptive and his insights are invaluable.
The hardcover edition that I read was bound quite nicely, with good paper and a readable type face. There is a useful index, though somewhat stingy in terms of references, considering the amount of information in this book. There is a bibliography, as well as notes.
All in all, readable, thought provoking, informative writing and a great book!
It's easy to regard the Inquisition, redolent as it is of medieval dungeons, burnings at the stake, and other things utterly alien to American readers, as not merely historical but antiquated. Yet, as Cullen Murphy points out in his new book, the Inquisition became possible, both intellectually and strategically, because of developments that are, however different their context, recognizably modern. Legal reforms encouraged the idea that the discovery of truth could be put into the hands of men instead of being left to God, raising the question of how far the search for truth should go-- and opening the door to torture. Meanwhile, centralization and increased record-keeping allowed the Catholic Church to track and punish heresy as never before, creating for the first time professionals and an institutional structure devoted to the enforcement of orthodoxy. And the influence of these developments would reach beyond the Inquisition itself to shape national policies and attitudes down to the present day. The legitimacy of torture, while hardly taken for granted as it was by the Inquisition, remains a subject for debate, and extensive government surveillance and record-keeping around the world are largely taken for granted. These modern parallels (however diluted) to Inquisition methods, particularly American ones, are as much Murphy's subject as the history of the Inquisition itself. Covering so much ground in a book of 250 pages (plus notes, bibliography, and index) has its drawbacks, both for the medieval material and the modern, but this is nonetheless a readable history of the Inquisition for general readers with little to no knowledge of the topic.
After a stage-setting introductory chapter, the second through fifth chapters of the book deal with various forms of the Inquisition: the early phase devoted to rooting out Catharism from southern France; the famous Spanish Inquisition, which concerned itself primarily but by no means solely with Jewish and Muslim converts who were suspected of backsliding; the Roman Inquisition, which controlled the Index of Forbidden Books and was responsible for the trials of Giordano Bruno and Galileo; and the global reach of the Spanish Inquisition, which maintained a presence in Spanish and Portuguese colonies, including what would eventually become the state of New Mexico. That's a lot to deal with in 160 pages, and the space available is further reduced by the exploration of modern parallels and by the author's penchant for digression. Descriptions of his travels in the places where these events occurred and his meetings with scholars of the period are not without interest (and give a sense of the enduring weight of history), and a certain emphasis on interesting trivia over scholarly focus is inevitable in a piece of popular non-fiction. But here the attention to the course of history is a little too loose, and I found myself wishing at times for a more rigorous and detail-oriented approach. Other readers, though, will welcome the book's breezy accessibility, and even I found much that was fascinating, most notably the unexpected history and impact of the Inquisition in New Mexico. I also enjoyed the occasional bits of dry humor.
The sixth and seventh chapters extend the parallels drawn in the historical section, dealing with the Inquisition's effect on post-Reformation England, its influence on the surveillance and censorship infrastructure of many later states (Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany, and contemporary Russia, Great Britain, and the United States), and the continuing efforts of the Catholic Church to ensure doctrinal conformity within the clergy. Murphy's greatest emphasis throughout the book, however, is on American parallels, from the Red Scares of the 1920s and 1950s to the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II to the present era of debates over Guantanamo Bay, Cordoba House, and birthright citizenship. From a strict perspective of historical comparison, this is too limited a focus: greater emphasis on Nazi and Soviet policies, where the parallels are stronger at least with regard to ruthlessness, would be more revealing. For a general audience less likely to be surprised that "bad" countries can be compared to the Inquisition, however, the American comparisons are perhaps more worthwhile... insofar as they're forceful. At times the similarities Murphy isolates are broad enough that they arguably reveal more about human nature than about the legacy of the Inquisition. But part of his point is about parallels of mindset, and many of the connections he makes are at least intriguing. I'm not sure this book will have much worth as a political argument: supporters of contemporary American policies may well bristle at being compared to the Inquisition and read Murphy's attempt at a balanced tone as disingenuous, while opponents of those policies might find that tone frustrating when allied to what strikes them as a powerful argument. Murphy acknowledges at the end of the first chapter that he, like all historians of the Inquisitions, has agendas and concerns, and they shape his presentation in ways that have the potential to frustrate.
Books arguing that some occurrence was vital to the shaping or is vital to the understanding of the modern world are common enough, and most readers know to take their arguments with a grain of salt. Like any moment in history, the Inquisition simultaneously points backward to the era it grew out of and forward to the one that grew out of it. The orthodox zeal from which it rose can still be found among certain followers of religious and political ideologies, but by and large the unquestioned approval of violence that made it so powerful has faded away. Guantanamo Bay aside (and it's no small exception), the intellectual conformity and hostility to difference that Murphy identifies is non-violent. The manner in which "peaceful" coercion has replaced physical cruelty could be the subject of a valuable discuss, but in its absence there's something feeble about linking, however loosely, the rack and water torture to ugly rhetoric and the firing of a magazine editor. But whatever the limitations of its argument, God's Jury is a solid popular overview of the Inquisition, and especially appropriate for audiences who like their history with a touch of travelogue and digression.
Santayana famously wrote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". Cullen Murphy's latest work is an examination of the Inquisition (or inquisitions as there were at least three historical episodes of the Inquisition) in light of the current war on terror and the methodologies used. His thesis is that we are currently in the midst of a modern inquisition and that by not remembering the past, we are engaging in a secular persecution that mirrors the Catholic Inquisition.
There can definitely be parallels drawn between many of the current methods used in the war on terror and the historical inquisitions. However, all of our modern culture is shaped by the past, sometimes subtly and sometimes in ways that are blindingly obvious. Torture as an interrogation technique certainly predates the inquisition as there is ample evidence of the use of torture by ancient greeks and romans. It was hardly invented by the Catholic church. Our current use of torture could just as easily be a remnant of our shared greco-roman heritage. I found the simplicity of this argument annoying. In general, the tone of the book was antagonistic to the current Catholic church. As an aside, I am not a Catholic so I do not feel personally affronted, however the heavy handedness of the argument bothered me. The argument felt very ham handed, I was expecting nuanced history and instead got the political commentary of a pundit. The arguments felt loosely tied together and disjointed. There were spots where the writing was compelling and interesting and large areas that were a slog to get through. This book would have benefitted from a more in-depth treatment of the historical episodes and the psychology and culture that was behind the Inquisition. A more nuanced examination of our current methodologies and the motivations behind them would have vastly increased the value of this work. Although I largely agree that the methodologies behind our current war on terror will be remembered as grave mistakes, I do not believe that those who disagree with me are modern "Torqhemadas". Both sides of the current issue have deep and often very nuanced reasoning behind their views. A more even discussion would have elevated this book. As is, I was disappointed.
on January 27, 2012
I bought this book in a way that I don't usually -- normally I look at the reader reviews, and use the opinions of other readers to decide whether or not I want to buy a volume. Instead I used an NPR interview to decide that it was a good read. BIG MISTAKE.
Note that I do not disagree with any of the author's opinions -- I think that using torture to elicit information is a stupid idea, not to mention that it's anathema to my moral precepts.
The problem is that this book is not a history of what happened in the 15th century and following years, but rather a combination of history and political polemic. I'm what most people consider pretty left wing, but I like my history to be an exposition of facts. This book has some of that, but also a large amount of opinion, and a lot of material that has little, if anything, to do with the Inquisition. I didn't do a word count, but There is a lot of material about Guantanamo, not a subject that I wanted covered in a book about the Inquisition.
In summary, this was a waste of money and a waste of time and effort. If I had wanted to read a book that editorialized against torture as a way of eliciting the truth, I could have gotten it for a lot less money than what I paid for this.
"God's Jury" is not the first history of the Inquisition which I have read, but it is certainly among the most entertaining. The author goes deeply into the roots of the Inquisition (and explains that actually there were several different Inquisitions") and often supplies vivid details that really make the subject come alive. And he devotes a great deal of attention in pointing out the parallels between the Catholic Church's Inquisition(s) and more recent secular equivalents intended to root out enemies of the state or subversives or terrorists. If you are looking for a scholarly work which lays out the Inquiaition's history in precise detail, this is probably not the book for you. But if you are looking for one that perhaps brings it into sharper focus, then this is a good starting point.
on May 16, 2016
If you hate political correctness, as you should, you will want to avoid this book. It is also sloppy scholarship, in fact, it isn't scholarship at all, it is that horrible genre of narrative nonfiction. I urge you to read the negative reviews, many of them are quite intelligent. I was against the Bush administration policy of torture also but I still don't like this book. Good books and other information on the Inquisition and mysticism can be found here:
Midwest Independent Reseach