Religious torture

Religious practices may require the inflicting of pain on one's self or others, as a test, as an element of sacrificial worship, as self-mortification, as discipline or punishment, as a consequence of rituals whose purposes are purificatory or sacramental, or from customs that are binding in the community and connected with its welfare. The methods of inflicting pain may be so unusual, or the instances of its application so frequent or humiliating, as to constitute a form of torture.
Inquisition was a papal judicial institution that combated heresy in medieval and early modern times. It was Pope Gregory IX (1227-41) who authorized the use of torture by the Inquisition. Thousands - perhaps even millions - were tried, tortured and burned at the stake for their ideas.
Religious torture in modern times exists in some inhumane applications of Koranic law to its infringements such as amputations, tongue-cutting and flogging in Sudan, Iran and elsewhere, and in the rites of circumcision both in Islam and Judaism. In Christianity an ascetic strain persists, ranging from a small Orthodox sect that practices self-mutilation, and snake-bitten Fundamentalists who prove their faith by handling poisonous serpents, to cloistered orders whose Rule and daily Hours includes solitary confinement, silence, hunger, self-flagellation and sleeplessness. Religious torture occurs among tribes that tattoo and deform themselves, or slowly kill their enemies. Some new cults imprison members, brainwash and torment them. These latest forms of religious mental torture include incessant mutual criticism, mutual spying and reporting on behaviour, and sophisticated psychological conditioning. They seem to parallel ideological indoctrination techniques in general.

Constant attacks on the religious beliefs of a group or individual in an attempt to erode these beliefs can be considered religious torture. This may involve violation of dietary practices, such as forcing Hindus or Buddhists to eat meat or Jews or Muslims to eat pork. Victims may be forced to defile sacred objects, such as icons; or witness mockeries of sacred rituals. People who believe in the sacredness of human life may be forced to witness or participate in murder.

1. The medieval Inquisition was a suppressive, all encompassing, and all-powerful, centralized organ of repression maintained by the Catholic Church.

2. The Inquisition was born from the bigotry, cruelty and intolerance of the medieval world, dominated by the Catholic Church.

3. The hideous procedures of the Inquisition were unjust, cruel, inhumane, and barbaric. The Inquisition roasted their victims' feet over fire, bricked them up into walls to languish for all eternity, smashed their joints with hammers, and flayed them on wheels.

1. The Roman Catholic Church should take a clear, objective look at the Inquisition before making any grand apology for one of its darkest institutions.

2. Religious intolerance is not a unique product of the Middle Ages: everywhere and always in the past men believed nothing disturbed commonweal and public peace so much as religious dissensions and conflicts. By the Middle Ages, it had become accepted that the gravest kind of crisis was that which threatened the unity and security of the Latin Church, and not to proceed against the heretics with every means at the disposal of Christian society was not only foolish, but a betrayal of Christ Himself. The modern concept of the secular State, neutral toward all religions, would have shocked the medieval mind.

3. To 20th Century sensibilities, to speak of Holy and Inquisition in the same phrase would seem a contradiction. Never has a subject seen so much ink-slinging - or whitewashing - as the Holy Inquisition. The modern mentality has a natural difficulty in understanding an institution like the Inquisition because the inquisitorial process was not predicated on liberal doctrines such as freedom of thought, which became central in Western culture in the 18th Century. The modern mind has difficulty in grasping religious belief as something objective, outside the realm of free private judgment. Nor does the modern mind see the Catholic Church as a perfect and sovereign society where orthodoxy should be maintained at any cost.

4. In the name of religion, Moses put to death far more people than Torquemada ever did.

5. The positive suppression of heresy by ecclesiastical and civil authorities in Christian society is as old as monotheism itself.

6. Except in fiction, the Inquisition as a single all-powerful, horrific tribunal, "whose agents worked everywhere to thwart religious truth, intellectual freedom, and political liberty until it was overthrown sometime in the enlightened 19th Century" simply did not exist. The myth of the Inquisition was actually shaped in the hands of "anti-Hispanic and religious reformers in the 16th Century." It was an image assembled from a body of legends and myths, which took shape in the context of the intense religious persecution of the 16th Century. Spain, the greatest power in Europe, who had assumed the role of defender of Catholicism, was the object of propaganda that decried "the Inquisition" as the most dangerous and characteristic of Catholic weapons against Protestantism. Later, critics of any type of religious persecution would adopt the term.

7. The medieval inquisitors were combating a social, and not just theological, danger.

8. The inquisitorial procedures were surprisingly just and even lenient. In contrast with other tribunals throughout Europe at the time, they appear as almost enlightened. The process began with a summons of the faithful to the church where the inquisitor preached a solemn sermon, the Edit de foi. All heretics were urged to come forward and confess their errors. This period was known as the "time of grace," which usually lasted between 15-30 days, during which time all transgressors had nothing to fear, since they were promised readmittance to the communion of the faithful with a suitable penance after confession of guilt. Bernard Gui stated that this time of grace was a most salutary and valuable institution and that many persons were reconciled thereby. For the principal aim of the process was to draw the heretic back into the grace of God; only by persistent stubbornness would he be cut off from the Church and abandoned to the scantier mercy of the State. The Inquisition was first and foremost a penitential and proselytizing office, not a penal tribunal. Unless this is clearly recognized, the Inquisition appears as an unintelligible and meaningless monstrosity. In theory, it was a sinner, and not a criminal, who stood before the Inquisitor. If the lost sheep returned to the fold, the Inquisitor counted himself successful. If not, the heretic died in open rebellion against God, and, as far as the Inquisitor was concerned, his mission was a complete failure.

(D) Detailed problems