Recently Ambrose pointed me to one of his posts in response to a snarky comment I made about the Inquisition on Twitter. His summary goes like this: "The Inquisition was a good thing for its time. You don't even have to be Catholic to think so, if you'll just look into the facts and how it was a civilizing and taming influence in otherwise extremely brutal times."
The argument is that the Inquisition wasn't doing the torturing and killing themselves, but rather that their role was to determine who was "innocent" and who was "guilty" and then hand them over to the competent authorities who would then proceed with the torturing and killing (which they were fully aware of). Of course, the crime these people were "guilty" of was to believe differently or to not believe at all.
I'd like to point out that this isn't even historically accurate but rather a negationist opinion: the aptly named Innocent IV authorized torture as a means to extract the truth in 1252 and it was widely used thereafter. It was even later extended to witnesses. Priests were allowed to absolve each other of their atrocious acts. And most of all, it was not the Church defending the innocent against civil authorities, it was pope after pope enjoining the civil authorities to execute the sentences under pain of excommunication. It's of course all duly recorded by the Church itself. But that's besides the point: even if Ambrose was right, which he's not by very far, the whole enterprise would still be condemnable.
Let me draw a little parallel to this. During WW2, the Maréchal Pétain accepted to lead the governement of then occupied France. The apology for it was that it would be better to have a respected French soldier in place rather than to let the Nazi have full power. Of course, the Nazi did effectively have full power and Pétain's role was just to pretend to govern and make it acceptable. He and others really were convinced that they were a civilizing and taming influence in otherwise extremely brutal times. The reality was quite different. Under his rule, Jews were deported as in the rest of occupied Europe, and the French police even collaborated with that atrocious enterprise. But of course, most of the time they weren't doing the torturing and killing themselves, they were just verifying the people arrested were Jews, and then handing them over to the Nazi, with a pretty good idea of what would happen to them.
Mmmh. Reminds me of something...
The honorable path during the war was not to be accomodating but to resist the Nazi ennemy, to do everything in your power to save your fellow human beings from the monsters who would kill them only because they were Jews, homosexuals or Gipsies.
In the same way, the honorable and truly civilizing path for the Church during the Dark Ages -and they had all the power to do it- would have been to give a message of tolerance.
No, really, you shouldn't defend Inquisition and pretend it was a benevolent organization. Please, be an adult and recognize when something you or an organization you belong to screwed up. It will elevate you, whereas the defensive position brings you down to the level of the guilty. I can't help but draw another parallel here with the recent pedophilia affairs. The attitude that consists in systematically defending the Church and covering up for hideous crimes, thus perpetuating them, is just not the attitude of responsible adults.
I hold the opinion that this is in large part caused by the fact that this organization believes itself to be holy and infallible.
The second component that explains this attitude in my opinion is the very explicit segregation of Humanity that comes with all of the three great monotheistic religions. Their holy books all place apostasy as one of the greatest of all sins. They all divide Humanity in two categories: those who believe in the One True God, and those who don't. Those who don't are considered sub-human and are promised eternal fire.
Contrast that with the philosophy that underlines the Enlightenment: humanism. If you are a humanist, you consider all humans as equally deserving respect. All of Humanity has the same rights, no matter what they believe in, be it a man in the sky, the Holy Trinity, Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Zeus or even nothing at all. The pigmentation of their skin doesn't matter, nor do their sex, their sexual orientation or their political opinions.
If you are a humanist, you must recognize the atrocities that the Terror was during the French Revolution. You have to recognize the absolute evil that was Nazism: the exclusion from Humanity and extermination of millions because of their origin or beliefs. You have to recognize the abomination of Communism and its disastrous consequences and millions of victims. Just as well as you must recognize the misled atrocity of Inquisition, of the persecution of the Jews throughout the ages. All were a negation of our universal Humanity.
I cannot think of a single reason why one would unconditionally support the worst that religion has done and still does today. There are plenty of religious people who embrace humanism as something fully compatible with their faith, and who are not embarrassed to recognize evil when they see it.
Instead of apologizing for the indefensible, you should be the first to forcefully reject the parts of your own religion that are archaic, barbaric and evil. That should only reinforce the core of it, which I understand is supposed to be love. Or maybe it could open your mind to moral principles that are more universal than any religion can ever be, because they are the essence of what makes us human rather than just tradition from millenia ago.