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The Inquisition: Fact vs. Fiction

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Medieval Inquisition

Medieval Inquisition


The godless Left trots out the Inquisition every day on social media to fabricate a false equivalency between Christianity and Islamic terrorism or between Christianity and Secular Humanism's murderous crimes in the last century. Allow me to set the record straight for you: In 500 years, the Inquisition killed fewer people than did the militantly Atheist Socialist regimes of Josef Stalin or Chairman Mao on a given afternoon.

The Inquisition was as often as not a political tool to maintain unity. A house divided cannot stand. How many kingdoms were conquered whilst in the throes of divisive infighting? To vilify the Inquisition is to criticize man's inhumanity to man—not the Body of Christ's cruelty to man.

The idea of punishing heretics—those with beliefs not approved—is to prevent the spread of an infectious disease. Bad ideas ought to be stopped before they proliferate and damn the souls of many in our beloved community. Eternity is at stake.

Spanish Inquisition

Spanish Inquisition

The First Inquisition

The targets of the first Inquisition were the Cathars of Languedoc, France. Five thousand of them were burned at the stake over a period of 50 years. The Cathars were a cult that declared Jesus had never been a man nor was he crucified. In their view, the men who wrote the gospels were delusional. The Cathars also praised suicide, preached that Holy Matrimony was evil, and celebrated sodomy. The problem was that they professed to be Christians while embracing such paganism. That is what makes it heresy. This is not the same as the Koran instructing Muslims to murder all infidels—unbelievers in Islam. Heretics are inside Christianity or claiming to be.

Before the Inquisition, heretics were judged by local leaders the same as those accused of theft or vandalism. Sin was a crime, and crime was a sin. There was no difference between political and religious law. They were the same. But heresy was a capital crime, viewed as treason against God and king. The problem was that local lords were often not experts in heresy, false accusations were not uncommon, some people did not receive a fair trial, and mobs sometimes set upon the accused.

In 1184, Pope Lucius III established the first Inquisition so that bishops would judge heresy. The idea was to stop innocent people from being abused and provide a path for genuine heretics to be taught the error of their ways, repent, be absolved, and rejoin the Church. And that is what happened with most of them. The Inquisition saved lives and saved souls. The Church did not burn heretics. Those who refused to repent were handed over to secular officials who sometimes did.

Pope Gregory IX launched an inquisition in 1233 against Luciferianism. He appointed the Catholic Order of Preachers known as the Dominicans to the task. They would become famous for translating Bibles, compiling encyclopedias, writing about theology, and being the ‘Secret Police of the Middle Ages.’

Twenty years later, the Roman Catholic Church officially sanctioned torture for the first time. It had been a tool of governments since time immemorial.

An accusation was often enough to assume guilt, and the accused were tried in secret without the benefit of counsel. If the accused confessed, they were let off with the confiscation of their property—a fine way to finance the expenses of the Church. Those who did not willingly confess were, in some cases, unmercifully tortured until they did. Tragically, there were times when those who did not admit their sins even under torture were burnt at the stake.

Inquisitors would first encourage the accused to name anyone they felt held "mortal hatred" against them. If they successfully identified their accusers, they would be set free and the charges dropped. In contrast, their accusers could face life in prison. That is how serious the Church saw false allegations, our modern-day equivalent to fake hate crimes.

As historian Thomas Madden writes, "The Inquisition was not born out of a desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions. Yes, you read that correctly. Heresy was a crime against the state. Roman law made it a capital offense.”

The Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada

The Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada

The Spanish Inquisition

Pope Sixtus IV approved a request for the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. It was to last for three hundred years. The critical truth to know is that this Inquisition was not, in essence, a religious institution but a political one. It was not under the control of the Church but of King Ferdinand. The primary purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was to act as the intelligence service of the king and his queen. Ferdinand personally attended many burnings and is said to have enjoyed them. The monarchs wanted harmonious solidarity in their kingdom, which required political, moral, and religious unity.

The pope’s decree read in part, “Many true and faithful Christians, because of the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other low people—and still less appropriate—without tests of any kind, have been locked up in secular prisons, tortured and condemned like relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and properties, and given over to the secular arm to be executed, at great danger to their souls, giving a pernicious example and causing scandal to many.” The Church demanded a stop to it.

The most famous inquisitor was Tomas de Torquemada (1420-1498) of Catholic Spain. He was a close friend to Queen Isabella and her confessor and political adviser. During the 16 years Torquemada, himself secretly a Jew, served as Grand Inquisitor, fewer than 2,000 souls were burned at the stake.

Notwithstanding the Black Legend—anti-Catholic Protestant propaganda that blossomed later—the crown only prosecuted around 150,000 people during the three-century Spanish Inquisition and executed about 5,000. Not “millions.”

Ninety percent of the victims appear to have been Jews who had been baptized but secretly still practiced Judaism, which had been outlawed in Spain. Arrestees were held in secret prisons and not allowed contact with the outside world. They could not know the names of their accusers or witnesses, nor were they allowed to see any documents pertaining to their case. Still, all they had to do was confess their sin and do penance to be absolved and return to life as usual.

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The Spanish Inquisition would, for a time, focus on Muslim converts to Christianity after Granada, a province of Spain, was reconquered from the Muslims in 1492. About 500,000 Muslims were allowed to remain in Spain and practice Islam. Their response to this kindness was to conspire with foreign countries to foment revolt against the crown, “involving the stoning, dismembering, beheading, impaling, and burning alive of Christians.”

Most Muslims pretended to convert to Christianity when Ferdinand and Isabella cracked down on the insurrections, hoping for immunity from prosecution and expulsion. The Spanish Inquisition's mission was to separate true converts from pretenders.

It was Muslims who gave Spain the idea. As Raymond Ibrahim notes in his book Sword and the Scimitar, “In the preceding centuries, Muslims tried countless Spanish converts to Islam by torture, deported them to African slavery, or killed them outright, on the belief that they were not true Muslims but fifth columnists aiding their Christian coreligionists of northern Spain.”

Torture was rarely used. There were strict rules placed around it. One could not be tortured for more than 15 minutes, no blood could be drawn, a person could not be mutilated or maimed, and a physician had to be present. A confession under torture was not taken as proof of guilt unless the accused was beforehand proved to be guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.

All the crimes investigated by the Inquisition did not involve heresy. For example, approximately 500 cases of sodomy resulted in convictions. Almost all of them involved adult men forcibly raping teenage boys.

We would do good to recall that at the time, Spain was the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth. However, the Protestants of northern Europe had something Spain did not have: the printing press. They used it to print pamphlets and books by the score that greatly exaggerated the Spanish Inquisition and Spain's treatment of natives in the New World. The aim was to make Catholic Spain, which was making war on Protestants, look unnaturally vicious, depraved, and evil. That is what is meant by the Black Legend.

Protestant Burned at the Stake by Bloody Mary, Catholic Queen of England

Protestant Burned at the Stake by Bloody Mary, Catholic Queen of England

Roman Inquisitions

Other inquisitions were launched by the Roman Catholic Church, primarily against Protestants during the 16thcentury. These inquisitions were restricted to Christians only. They could not prosecute or even investigate persons who identified as Jews, Muslims, or members of other religions. It seems they involved 50,000-75,000 cases that led to 1,250 persons burned at the stake.

The Inquisition was not to blame for the 40,000 witches burned in Europe across the centuries—again, not "millions" as anti-Christian feminists’ howl. It was local mobs and secular authorities who tried and executed witches. The ones incinerated refused to repent (to express remorse and vow to change their ways).

The Catholic Church recommended that no one be put on trial because of the accusations of others, but rather only if they insisted they practiced witchcraft and were darned proud of it. The Church prohibited the torture of suspected witches. It banned the death penalty for women who practiced the black arts. It sought redemption instead, as it did for all sinners.

During the entire history of the Inquisition, no more than 32,000 souls were burned at the stake. Some believe up to a third of them were Jews who had feigned conversion and were killed not by the Church but by the State. Three hundred twenty-one thousand other people were punished and their property confiscated by various kings and queens, or by the Church.

United Soviet Socialist Death Toll

United Soviet Socialist Death Toll

Modern Inquisitions By Other Names

Twentieth-century dictators would employ the Inquisition to far deadlier effect. Socialist inquisitors began their nasty work in 1917, animated by hatred of Christians. They would murder almost 150 million innocent human beings. That is nearly 30,000 times the death toll of the Spanish Inquisition.

The Inquisition lives on today in the United States as the Thought Police patrol the public square, itching to catch someone uttering a politically incorrect opinion. Such a villain will be punished if not excommunicated from society. A careless word or a mistimed joke can ruin your life if an inquisitor finds out about it. They also censor and vilify anyone against mask-wearing or lockdowns or—heaven forbid—against the gene-editing jab.

Anti-Christians put bakers, florists, photographers, wedding planners, bed & breakfast owners, and T-shirt makers on trial for obeying God. The woke cancel culture Inquisition seeks out heretics—good people who do not share their ideological dogmas. In particular, they seek to persecute Christians for holding biblical views on sexuality.

A definition of ‘witch-hunt’ is “to seek out and punish people for their beliefs” rather than for anything they have done. This is a new Satanic Inquisition. And it is all about sex. No one is threatening Christians because they are against stealing or murder. The culture war, in the words of Mary Eberstadt, "has not been conducted by people of religious faith on one side, and people of no faith on the other. Instead, it is a contest of competing faiths: one in the good book, and the other in secularist orthodoxy about the sexual revolution."

Dr. Charles Kesler says, “There's an inquisition, there's an index of forbidden thoughts which you're not supposed to think. There is a strict moral patrol to make sure that you are not caught thinking things you shouldn't be thinking or saying things you shouldn't say.”

Attorney General William Barr declares, "One of the ironies, as some have observed, is that the secular project has itself become a religion pursued with religious fervor. It takes on all the trappings of a religion, including inquisitions and excommunications. Those who defy the creed risk a figurative burning at the stake, social, educational and professional ostracism, and exclusion waged through lawsuits and savage social media campaigns.”

As reported by City Journal, George Packer laments that his little white daughter was "shocked and a little disappointed" to discover that the actual Founding Fathers were white—and that his children "sobbed inconsolably" when Trump was elected, a reflection of indoctrination by our government schools. Packer admits to being confounded by the pseudo-religion of the authoritarian Left. This religion skips over salvation and goes straight to Inquisition, "with heresy hunts and denunciations and displays of self-mortification. The atmosphere of mental constriction in progressive milieus, the self-censorship, and fear of public shaming, the intolerance of dissent."

Death Toll of Chairman Mao, Favorite Philosopher of Anita Dunn, President Obama's Communications Director

Death Toll of Chairman Mao, Favorite Philosopher of Anita Dunn, President Obama's Communications Director

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