Cullen Murphy’s God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World ranges from historic persecution to contemporary definitions of acceptable torture with chilling precision. Murphy has explored archives in the Vatican and WikiLeaks online, tracking the response of governments and the Church to heresy and unwanted immigrants, scanning today’s headlines for incidents of ethnic cleansing and redacted security reports for details of interrogations.
It is depressing but fascinating reading. From the grave of Galileo Galilei to Guantánamo, Cullen’s first-person reporting shines a light on events you are likely to know nothing, or too little, about. 1492 was a record year for the Spanish Inquisition. Ferdinand and Isabella ousted the Muslim leadership from the Alhambra, forcibly uniting all Spain under Catholicism. Shortly thereafter, they approved Columbus’ petition for an expedition—one that would spread the faith to a New World, with the now-entrenched practices of the Inquisition to follow. While Columbus was making landfall in the Indies, the monarchs expelled all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity from Spain. Those who stayed, conversos, were frequent targets of the Inquisition. Most of the events of that ignominious year are never taught in school.
The Inquisition was not one unified effort. It adapted itself to the countries where elaborate bureaucracies developed to manage it. Its shadow loomed over Europe and parts of the Americas from 1231 to 1826 and its legacy can be seen today in systems of state control, government spying, imprisonment without charges, habeas corpus or representation, military incursions into civilian populations—even Internet monitoring and censoring. God’s Jury is less a story than a warning. Every line that is crossed leads to the next line and there is seldom, if ever, any turning back. Suppressing scientific inquiry and discovery and burning people at the stake was pretty horrible. But so are extraordinary rendition and the relentless legal erosion of privacy.
The Inquisition had its Torquemadas and we have our McCarthys and our Abu Ghraibs. The mindset exists to accommodate alienation and interrogation. It was put in place to standardize and organize a pre-Modern world, to make it more efficient. As the prototype of contemporary bureaucracy, the Inquisition worked brilliantly. It failed utterly to contribute a shred of progress to enlightenment. Read dusty archives, today’s paper or Cullen Murphy’s book to see how far we haven’t come.
God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World Cullen Murphy | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012