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The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World

Isabella was not being magnanimous by partially financing Columbus’ first voyage. She had no other option. The wars against the Moors had bankrupt the empire and they had to find new lands to plunder. In the movie, Isabella comes across as this wise motherly figure which she was not. One important event, which happened few months before Columbus’ voyage and not shown in the movie is Isabella’s expulsion of Jews from Spain by the Alhambra Decree and the forced conversion of the Muslims of Granada.[1492: Conquest of Paradise]

By torturing and expelling people of other faiths, Isabella was simply acting on the guidelines set by Pope Gregory, who had sanctioned the Inquisition as a valid form of religious conversion technique. Now a new book God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World looks at the various Inquisitions that happened in history. Fresh Air had an interview with the author.

In the 13th century, after seeing that people were believing what they liked and not what was being preached, the Pope decided to act. Recognizing that this disobedience had political significance as well, Dominicans were asked to go out and use what Dick Cheney would have called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, first on Cathars who lived in the South of France.

The use of torture was approved by the Pope in 1252 CE and the torturers believed that they were saving souls. Funeral pyres were lit and the heretics were asked to confess. If they did not comply, they were burned. If they confessed, they were still burned, because the soul would still go to heaven. If you have suffered through the first fifteen minutes of Season of the Witch, you can see how this works

Manuals were written and it compares with the modern army manuals. As people were tortured, their responses were recorded verbatim. And that was just the first Inquisition. By the time of the second Inquisition started by Isabella and Ferdinand, the victims included Jews and Muslims. Elaborate public spectacles were planned; diplomatic core and nobility were invited in the 15th century version of the Taliban football stadium.

The interview ends by talking about the third Inquisition which was conducted against the Protestants. By then the printing was common and book banning, burning and censhorship was added to the list. I have not read the book yet, but in the interview there was no mention of the Goan Inquisition (see Guardian of the Dawn).

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