October 2, 2003


A New Industry: The Inquisition (Brian Van Hove, S.J., Nov/Dec 1996, Dossier)

The present time is the "Golden Age" of Inquisition studies...

What the contemporary professionals do is compare institutions within the same period they are studying. You can take a relatively inefficient and haphazard institution, one that was always in debt, such as most of the Inquisitions, and compare it to, let us say, the British monarchy. Soon it is apparent the Inquisition was no better and no worse than the British or French dynasties. The historians, who are not personally religious, it seems to me, certainly do a lot of de-mythologizing. Perhaps they do some re-mythologizing as well, because they have their own limits. We have been influenced by post-Enlightenment publicists more than we understand, until we begin to pick apart the layers separating fact and fiction. But who will do the work? - some of the important names are good to remember.

Edward Peters, for example, goes to great pains to develop an interpretation of three layers: institution, legend, and myth. Much of what the world thought about the Spanish Inquisition came from Protestant propaganda in the Low Countries during the interminable war there in the seventeenth century. The Vietnam of the period was the war in the Spanish Netherlands. Dutch and English Protestants hesitated to attack the King of Spain directly, because they themselves had kings in an era when monarchies were less and less stable. Charles I lost his head, and Cromwell represented a sizable anti-monarchist point of view. But it was "safe" to attack Spain's religion, and you could get at the religion through the institution which supposedly promoted or represented it. Dutch Calvinists spared no effort, aided by their German and English allies, in painting a picture of the religion of Rome in the most negative of terms. The Black Legend was the result of Protestant propaganda, according to Peters and other historians. Even if there was a Catholic version, a sort of White Legend, have you ever heard of it?

Peters goes beyond legend to the material used for myth. That is, long after the war was over in the seventeenth century, the same accusations could be re-cycled for new and different circumstances. You could always haul out of the historical attic, as it were, the grand ol' Inquisition if you were nervous about the Catholics. Even if German Catholics or Polish Catholics had never had an Inquisition, they might as well have. But this has nothing to do with original documents, or professional history, or a cool reading of an institution in its context. [...]

Last August, The New York Times reviewed Benzion Netanyahu's new book of 1384 pages. Some Americans were confused because they were familiar with his son - Benjamin, leader of the Likud Party in Israel, often interviewed on Nightline by Ted Koppel, and now Prime Minister. But the book is by the father, not the son.

This is no time to enter into an exhaustive analysis. I defer to the experts. But Dr. Netanyahu does not cite Peters in the bibliography, except for one article from 1978. He cites Kamen's work, but the older version, ten years before the revision. Henningsen and associates are not mentioned. His use of nineteenth-century historians seems disproportionately heavy, given their well-known shortcomings. He has amassed a mountain of original documents, which perhaps he and five others in the world are qualified to judge and sift through. He does admit in the introduction: "I do not delude myself that the conclusions of this book will be speedily accepted by all the scholars in the field." In other words, he has sharpened the debate, and he invites whatever responses are possible.

Netanyahu's thesis is that the Inquisition was a tool of a racist conspiracy against the Jews, and perhaps others. I will leave you with a rather interesting quotation, which perhaps illustrates the inefficiency of the Inquisitions so much noted by other historians:

One final remark is called for about the conclusion of these historical struggles. In Germany racism gained total power, and could therefore steer its course toward its aims. But in Spain it never became fully independent, and therefore its advance was often hampered by the sanctions of the Church and the restrictions of the Crown. Hence the importance the racists ascribed to the Inquisition, whose manipulation was, at least partly, in their hands, even though it had to abide by the Church's rulings and the King's commands. Hence also the difference in the final outcome. Thus, while in Germany racism achieved its goal, in Spain it fell short of its mark. To be sure, it managed for long periods to segregate most New Christians from the majority of the Spanish people; it inflicted great losses on the Marrano population and caused it terrible damages and hardships. But in the long run it failed in its effort. It could not prevent the final fusion of most conversos with the rest of the Spaniards. In Spain, therefore, it was not the racist movement but the Catholic Church that won the ultimate battle - the Catholic Church and the majority of the conversos, who sought assimilation into the Spanish people.

When the psychology of atheists leads them to reject God it is unsurprising that they grasp for justifications. So they seem to carry around a little pamphlet with a list of generally obscure things they can blame religion for--their favorite, because folks have actually heard of it, is the Inquisition. Tragically, the reality does not conform to their perfervid delusions.

-EXCERPT: The Primary Cause of the Spanish Inquistion (Benzion Netanyahu, Toward the Inquisition: Essays on Jewish and Converso history in late medieval Spain )

Few events in the history of the world have been so beclouded and misrepresented as the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition. Marginal influences and questionable factors, let alone secondary causes, have vied with myths and groundless conjectures for the title of the primary cause of the Inquisition. It is not our purpose here to determine the reasons for this enormous distortion of truth, which has penetrated all branches of literature, including the scholarly, on all levels. This task has been reserved for another study of much greater complexity and broader scope. In the following pages we shall confine ourselves to the examination of some well-known theories espoused by leading scholars to explain the rise of the Inquisition. We shall also try to arrive, by a process of elimination, at the heart of the issue under consideration. What then brought about the establishment of the Inquisition, and what made it work the way it did? Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, few authors doubted the answers that had been given to these questions by historians. The essence of these answers was clear and uniform: The Inquisition was established to uproot a heresy which was spreading subversively among the Marranos [i.e., converted Jews or conversos]; its carriers were devotees of Judaism who were, as the Catholic Kings put it: "Christians in name and appearance only." They had to be stopped before they advanced further, and this is what led to the Inquisition's actions. To be sure, some claimed that these actions were brutal, cruel, and harsh beyond justification; others maintained that, though extremely harsh, they were necessary to cope with the problem at hand; while a number of authors denied altogether that the Inquisition employed rigorous measures, some of them arguing that it was, on the contrary, humane, considerate, even merciful. I may say, in passing, that I consider the latter view unhistorical, or plainly untrue. But this is not what I now seek to stress. What I wish to point out is that, regardless of the variety of opinions expressed concerning the Inquisition's methods, there was unanimity concerning its goals. In fact, for centuries all scholars agreed that the Inquisition had but one aim: the stamping out of a clandestine Judaic heresy among the Marranos. [...]

This is not the occasion to describe the course of anti-Judaism in the Iberian Peninsula. I shall merely say that Jewish history in Spain proceeded along the same cycle of development noticed in most countries of the Diaspora. It had its rise, climax, and decline, and in each of these stages the relationship between the Jews and the host people or, more precisely, the majority population assumed a different character. It moved from friendliness and cooperation through competition and great tension to bitter hostility and mutual recrimination. The period of decline of Spanish Jewry, like that of the Jewries in other countries, was accompanied by massacres and sharp limitations of rights. But in Spain something peculiar occurred, something that distinguished its Jewish community from all other Jewish communities in the West. In the course of the massacres and oppressive legislation, hundreds of thousands of Jews went over to Christianity, and thus the majority seemed to have been saved from either death or expulsion.

Now the big question is what happened to those Jews÷that is, what happened to them religiously÷after they had formally accepted Christianity. For a long time most scholars, Jewish and non-Jewish, offered one answer to this question: the Marranos, when converted, were Jews at heart, and on the whole, they remained Jews at heart for the next ninety years. As these scholars saw it, then, nothing was essentially changed by the conversion, because the conversion was merely formal. However, as we see it, a lot had changed. We agree, of course, that in 1391 or 1412, when masses of Spain's Jews were converted to Christianity, they crossed the religious border fictitiously, but we must also bear in mind that, in so doing, they crossed other borders as well, those of society and culture, and these crossings were very real. Conversion served as their "ticket of admission" to Spain's Christian society, and once they had entered that society, they did not want to leave it÷or to put it positively, they wished to stay in it. This wish, combined with the despair of a Jewish future and the religious crisis induced by the events, (56) produced a collapse of Jewish resistance on every front, including the religious.

It need scarcely be said that this development did not take place overnight. No doubt following the great wave of forced conversion÷that is, for some time after 1391÷the movement of crypto-Judaism was strong. But as the documents indisputably show, it began to decline shortly after the conversion and progressed toward total assimilation. After three generations of Marrano life÷that is, life within the Hispano-Christian society ÷very little positive interest in Judaism survived in the converso group.

But "total assimilation," as the conversos discovered, was much more complicated than they had thought. To be sure, where the "conversions" involved small numbers, the converts, though disliked, managed to assimilate÷first culturally, then ethnically, and finally vanish altogether. But in Spain after 1391 their number was large÷certainly too large to pass from view in a relatively short time. They formed compact groups within the cities, and their ethnic fusion proceeded slowly. They kept being recognized as a group apart÷or, rather, as the same Jewish group, distinguished by its own peculiar characteristics, whose members were still seen by the Old Christians as outsiders÷ex illis, and not ex nobis. The basic distinction between "us" and "them"÷that is, between "us," the people of the country, those to whom the country really belongs, and "them," the others, not of that people÷was felt strongly as before, or even more so. There was a difference here, a great difference, between the condition of the Jews and that of the conversos÷and it worked to the latter's disadvantage.

This leads us directly to the consideration of an issue that seems to me of the utmost importance. The Jews were virtually opposed as aliens, if not de jure at least de facto, and the Christians could press for legal measures limiting their freedom of action. Similarly, foreign Christians such as the Genoese, who were disliked and agitated against in Spain, could be easily classed as aliens. But these Jewish newcomers to the Christian faith defied any definition of alienship and any distinction of identity. They claimed that their Christianity turned them overnight into full-fledged Spanish citizens, Castilian or Aragonese, exactly like the Old Christians. This was the position taken also by the Church and, more important, by the Crown; and, defended by these two powerful forces, the conversos now appeared to the Old Christians far more dangerous than the Jews had ever been, and, in the same proportion, they were also more hated. This odium, moreover, was based not only on fears and suspicions of what might happen, but on what was actually taking place, for the conversos assumed positions of authority that roused the people's ire to the point of explosion. How could they get rid of these New Christians who occupied such high positions in Church and state, and steadily advanced in all fields of activity, public as well as private? The very presence of these people in high places and the riches they acquired through their industry and enterprise were to the Old Christians intolerable. Apart from arousing their natural envy, these achievements of the conversos were seen by the Old Christians as illegal appropriation of the nation's wealth and the nation's positions of prestige and trust÷positions that by right belonged, in their opinion, exclusively to them, the Old Christians. There seemed only one solution to this problem. If Christianization saved the conversos from the Jewish status of alienship and endowed them with all the advantages they possessed, their deChristianization would deny them these advantages and put them back where they belonged.

Thus was born the idea of the false Christianity of the conversos, of their secret Judaism, and all the other accusations associated with it. We should not be surprised that such an idea could gain credence against all evidence to the contrary. Jewish history has shown that even libels without foundation÷indeed, without any foundation whatsoever÷such as the ritual use of human blood, the desecration of the Host, or the diffusion of the Black Death÷could be accepted by multitudes as unquestionable facts and repeatedly used as excuses for persecution. And when I say "accepted," I do not mean to suggest that they merely gained formal assent. Of course, there were many among the accusers who knew well that they were propagating lies. But there were also many, especially in the audience, who believed these lies, believed them fully, however nonsensical they appear to us. We know that such beliefs may be generated by propaganda (in the modern sense of the word)÷that is, by mere repetition of the falsehood÷but what is perhaps of greater importance is the receptive mood of the audience involved. Such a receptive mood, as we know, may be created by acute popular hatreds. They create the condition in which every conceivable evil, however absurd, about the object of hate may be readily believed because it satisfies a deep psychological need÷to justify the hatred and the desired end. Spain was swept by that kind of propaganda and was in that kind of receptive mood. For these reasons I have no doubt that many Spaniards of the fifteenth century actually believed that the Marranos were secret Jews, especially since this was not so great an absurdity and the claim had some foundation.

That foundation, as I have indicated, was the minority of Judaizers which, although dwindling, was still there. Upon this latter fact, which was grossly exaggerated, the solicitors of the Inquisition could build their case. The Inquisition, therefore, was to begin with an expression of a popular will, as Menéndez Pelayo pointed out, but the drive to establish it was aimed not, as he thought, at a high religious ideal but at destroying the Marrano community. The advocates of the Inquisition of course knew this, and the conversos knew it as well. Theoretically the Inquisition was supposed, as Amador thought, to weed out the "bad Christians" from among the Marranos and leave the good ones unhurt, but actually it was expected to defame, degrade, segregate and ruin the whole group economically and socially, and finally eliminate it from Spanish life. The Inquisition was, in fact, the best means that could be employed for this purpose. Since allegedly it was designed to extirpate a heresy, who could dare oppose it? It could act in accordance with the rules of a game accepted by all classes of society, but within its framework there was plenty of opportunity to use those rules in a variety of ways; it all depended on who was playing the game, how, and for what particular purpose. Above all, it depended on the feelings that inspired the actions of its functionaries.

-REVIEW: of The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain by B. Netanyahu (Henry Kamen, NY Review of Books)
His exposition is devoted instead to two major themes. He deals, first, with the complicated social struggles in fifteenth-century Spain that created the historical situation in which the Holy Office was set up. This is an absorbing story, well told, though readers unfamiliar with the subject may occasionally get lost in the intricacies of late medieval politics. Secondly, he analyzes in detail and at length the controversies of the period in which the participants debated the beliefs, status, and culture of the conversos. The central actors in his story are the conversos, or, as he usually calls them, the Marranos. We follow their history from the massacres of the year 1391, when many Jews turned Christian, to the civil conflicts between conversos and other Christians in Toledo and other Castilian cities in the 1440s. The main argument Netanyahu presents can be summarized, in simplified form, as follows.

By the latter part of the fifteenth century, the conversos of Spain—numbering, at my own rough estimate, perhaps 100,000 people—had become sincere Christians, quite distinct from the approximately 80,000 Jews who identified themselves as such. They had chosen, voluntarily or not, to convert during the years of persecution at the end of the fourteenth century. Three generations later they were fully fledged, genuine Christians, many of them occupying high political posts in the cities and in the royal governments of Aragon and Castile. Their conversion to Christianity was often called into question by political opponents. But leading controversialists, including a cardinal in Rome and the leader of a great religious order in Castile, defended the genuineness of their beliefs.

Most convincingly of all, many Jewish rabbis, mainly in North Africa, who were consulted on the question of how Jews should treat conversos, ruled firmly that they were real Christians and in no way secret Jews. The rabbis could not possibly have taken this view if they and other Jews suspected that the conversos were their brethren. Right down to the time of the Inquisition, eminent converso Christians, including prominent members of the administration of Ferdinand and Isabella, strongly asserted the Christianity of their people. There were occasional cases of judaizing, but the mass of conversos in Spain were Christians. (Indeed, after the conversos were persecuted under the Inquisition, the Jewish writings of the time, Netanyahu comments, contain "cold-blooded assertions that the Marranos got their due, an open manifestation of glee over their 'fall.' ")

These conclusions, which are central to Netanyahu's entire argument, seem to me wholly convincing. By coincidence, they are also the conclusions of another recently published study on the subject, by Professor Norman Roth of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.[3] If we accept them as correct, however, they raise a central question. Why, if there was no problem resulting from the judaizing of conversos, was the Inquisition created? If there were in fact no heretics, why invent a court to bring them to trial?

Netanyahu writes that three main factors led to the creation of the dreaded tribunal. First, by their exceptional success in public life the conversos provoked widespread enmity. Jews were non-Christians and therefore disqualified from holding public office, even though they had sometimes held other posts such as tax officials and estate administrators. Conversos, by contrast, were eligible for all public positions and honors. During the fifteenth century, conversos and their descendants rose to high office as administrators, judges, and bishops. Many entered the nobility. In some cities their success provoked continuous rivalry, particularly in Toledo in the 1440s. Their enemies everywhere struggled to eliminate them by accusing them of being secret Jews. A new tribunal was required to deal with those who were accused.

Second, the clashes during the fifteenth century between Old (non-Jewish) Christians and New (converso) Christians, as the two categories were called, gave rise to conflicts over identity. In those conflicts, Netanyahu argues, we can see the birth of racism. Conversos could not be denounced by their enemies as Christians, for that was of course no crime; they were therefore denounced as "Jews." In many cities attempts were made to exclude them from office, and the notion of "blood purity" (limpieza de sangre, in Spanish) was conceived as a doctrine to be used against them; the only pure blood, so the theory went, was Christian. Jewish blood, and by extension converso blood, was impure. In city after city, statutes were proposed which disqualified people of "impure" blood from entering universities, religious orders, and city councils.

The most important of these statutes was adopted by the city council of Toledo in 1449, and in subsequent decades other institutions promulgated similar laws. Historians have frequently referred to the existence at this time of a "Marrano problem," by which they mean the alleged tendency of conversos to secretly practice Judaism. Netanyahu disagrees. For him what was in question was "the struggle of the Old Christians to reduce the status of the New." The statutes prescribing blood purity were an important weapon in this struggle. Drawing on his studies of converso practices and writings, Netanyahu adds a very important piece of information to help us understand one aspect of the racism of the time. He points out that many of the Marranos, long after their conversion, continued to look on themselves as a "nation," separate from Jews as well as Old Christians. "The Marranos," he writes,

were viewed as a distinct nationality which, in more ways than one, was related to the Jews. Indeed, not only did their enemies so regard them, but also their friends among the Old Christians; and, what is more, they were so regarded by the Marranos themselves. The latter, who insisted that religiously they were Christians and had nothing to do with Judaism and its followers, could not help admitting their actual belonging to a separate entity, which they clearly defined.

This, obviously, created a special identity which marked them out from others and fostered racism.

Third, the crown, in the person of King Ferdinand "the Catholic," decided to fortify its weak political position by allying itself with anti-converso forces. Neither the king nor Queen Isabella was anti-Semitic. They had been friendly toward individual conversos and Jews and they would continue to be so. But their political strategy turned them against conversos generally. Traditionally, Jewish historians have identified Isabella as the malign influence. Netanyahu, by contrast, sees Ferdinand as the dominant partner, and he is unsparing in his characterization of him. Ferdinand is, for him, the real founder of the Inquisition. He did not establish the Holy Office for any religious reason; nor, as some have claimed, was it primarily his intention to prey on the accumulated wealth of the conversos. Robbery was only the incidental consequence of his anti-converso policy, not its main purpose. Ferdinand's motive was straightforward Realpolitik, an attempt to form an advantageous alliance.

These arguments are set out magisterially by Netanyahu in a smoothly linked narrative that combines scholarly evidence, careful reasoning, and passionate rhetoric. A reader with some knowledge of the history of the Inquisition might well ask: What of the thousands of cases which document the judaizing activities of the conversos? Do they not demonstrate that the inquisitors were responding to what they saw as a religious problem?

The archives of the Holy Office are among the richest sources of information available anywhere to historians. Carefully preserved by the inquisitorial bureaucracy, they offer minute detail not only on court cases but also on the private lives and practices of thousands of ordinary men and women who appeared before the judges. The papers of the Roman Inquisition are still not available for examination. But those of the Spanish Inquisition, housed in the national archive in Madrid, have for some time been available to researchers. Henry Charles Lea and all other subsequent historians of the Holy Office have relied on them. So, too, have many Jewish historians. All of them have given full credence to the trial documents, but for differing reasons. The Jewish scholars, led by Baer, accepted the evidence of the documents because they demonstrated that the conversos were indeed heretics, and therefore at heart belonged to Israel. Ironically, then, these historians accepted that there was some justification for the Inquisition.

But who in his right mind, Netanyahu would ask, could accept as reliable, without separate corroborating evidence, the documents used by a secret police organization as evidence for prosecution? And who could accept such papers as justifying the existence of that police? Yet this, in his view, is what scholars of the Inquisition have done. Not surprisingly, some other historians have had doubts about the truth of the Inquisition documents. Netanyahu rejects them as unreliable, but he does not claim that they are complete inventions. Virtually all the documents refer, he points out, to judaizing after the formation of the Holy Office. Before that date, he writes (and here the facts certainly support him), there is no reliable evidence of a judaizing movement on a scale to warrant the creation of a special judicial tribunal.

Marrano leaders and Jewish leaders said again and again that the New Christians were indeed Christians. "If this was the state of Judaism among the Marranos," writes Netanyahu, "the claim that the Inquisition was established to suppress a widespread crypto-Jewish movement in their midst must be regarded as untrue." Of course, he says, evidence of judaizing was produced after the Inquisition was established. But this was because many of the despairing, persecuted, New Christians reverted in their misery to the old faith. It was not the judaizing of the Marranos that produced the Inquisition, but the Inquisition that produced the judaizing of the Marranos.

Up to this point Netanyahu's argument makes sense. If it is generally accepted by historians, it must point Inquisition studies in a new direction and revolutionize our approach to the study of Spanish Jewry. The reasons he puts forward for the founding of the Inquisition must, however, be approached with considerable care. Spain's history in the fifteenth century has not been extensively studied, and the documentation is sparse. Netanyahu's three central arguments are entirely plausible but also raise difficulties that invite debate.

-REVIEW: of B. Netanyahu “The Marranos of Spain: From the Late 14th to the Early 16th Century, According to Contemporary Hebrew Sources” (Wayne H. Bowen, H-Net)
-REVIEW: of Netanyahu, B (Benzion), Toward the Inquisition: Essays on Jewish and Converso History in Late Medieval Spain (Miguel A. Torrens, University of Toronto)
-ESSAY: The Inquisition: The basic accusation of the Inquisition was that Jews who converted to Christianity were still secretly Jewish. (Rabbi Ken Spiro, Crash Course in Jewish History)
-ESSAY: His Father's Son: Why does the prime minister get into so many crises, and how does he survive them?The answers lie in the legacy from his father, a world-class but embittered historian. Ben-Zion Netanyahu gave Benjamin his strength, ambition and idealism, but also a disastrously exaggerated self-reliance. The result is a man who longs to be a consensus leader, but can't stop alienating even his allies. (Yossi Klein Halevi, 1998, Jerusalem Report)
-ESSAY: The real Netanyahu (Uri Avnery, 24/Sep/98, Ma'ariv)
-ESSAY: ISRAEL'S TALIBAN: The rising tide of Israeli extremism (Justin Raimondo, May 17, 2002, AntiWar)
-ESSAY: Chalmers v. Netanyahu: A Holocaust Denier uses a Jewish Historian’s work as Anti-Semitic Ammunition (Sarah J. Gleason, May 15, 2001)
-EXCERPT: In the Shadow of the Virgin: Inquisitors, Friars, and Conversos in Guadalupe, Spain by Gretchen D. Starr-LeBeau (Princeton University Press)
-The Harley L. McDevitt Collection on the Spanish Inquisition
at the University of Notre Dame

-REVIEW: of Henry Kamen. The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (Thomas F. Glick, American Historical Review)
-REVIEW: of Henry Charles Lea. A History of the Inquisition of Spain (George L. Burr, American Historical Review)
-REVIEW: of Michael Alpert. Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition (
Lu Ann Homza, American Historical Review)

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 2, 2003 1:16 PM

HA HA! No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

(Sorry. Just had a Monty Python flashback there.)

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 2, 2003 3:28 PM

That's a horrible indictment, Orrin, of your position that religion or the church balances the state. Netanyahu says, contra, that the church sold out and leagued with the state to enable the racists to persecute the conversos.

Whatever its "official" position was, in practice it was burning heretics that, if you buy Netanyahu, it knew were true Christians.

You can see how even a little bit of that would turn people off.

So if the church does not believe its own teachings; and it cannot, even for its own advantage, counterbalance the non-churchly kinds of evil tendencies in society; and it did not offer the solace of religion to people who wanted it, what was its value? Ecrasez l'infame, indeed.

Besides, the Netherlandish Inquistion was real enough and murderous enough, even if the Protestants oversold it (which is dubious, considering the whole cities that were put to the sword; and that could not have had a racial motive.

Then there was the Roman Inquisition.

Even if none of the Inquisitions had ever torched a single heretic, they were devoted to suppressing liberty and thought and deepened and expanded an already abundant misery.

Defending them is not very unlike excusing Hitler for his camps on the grounds that he did put people to work and produced good highways.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 2, 2003 3:59 PM


To the contrary; it is my position that only the church can provide any balance to the State, but that this balance is terribly fragile and frequently tilts in favor of the State, never in favor of the Church. Here we see that the only brake on the State was the Church.

WWII, the Cold War and the war on terror are all suppressions of thought. Thoughts aren't necessarily useful.

Posted by: oj at October 2, 2003 5:49 PM

I can't believe that you give any credence to the Vitz book "The Psychology of Atheism". You are as gullible as the leftists from Berkley who recently published their "research" on the psychology of conservatism. Freudianism has been discredited for some time, don't you know?

Posted by: Robert D at October 2, 2003 6:08 PM


No one said atheists want to sleep with their mothers, but the rebellion of sons against fathers has quite a pedigree and atheists are generally of a type.

Posted by: oj at October 2, 2003 6:17 PM

How many atheists do you know, Orrin, about whom you also know what their relations with their fathers was?

Me personally, I know only about myseelf. I doubt your acquaintance with atheists is any broader than mine.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 2, 2003 7:58 PM

If every man who had a daddy problem became an athiest, we would be a majority.

BTW, how does Vitz explain female atheists?

Posted by: Robert D at October 2, 2003 8:02 PM

My acquaintance is wider than OJ's.

To a man they had great relationships with both their parents. And to a woman--my wife.

Those articles are outstanding indictments of organized relgion. For without that to beat people over the head with, what else would have served? (See also, Northern Ireland, The Former Yugoslavia).

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 2, 2003 8:42 PM

Interesting. Orrin says these scholarly, subtle, complex articles prove religion checks the state. Harry and Jeff are adamant they reveal the dangerous hypocrisy of religion.

There is a third explanation. We are all out of our depth here and don't really know what we are talking about.

Posted by: Peter B at October 2, 2003 10:24 PM


People still have free will--one need not succumb to a psychological pathology.

The only significant women atheists are folks like Madlyn Murray O'Hair & Simone Beuavior and they fit the profile.


Again, I said the opposite. The Church can't check the modern State, but it's about the only institution that offers any check at all. The other is the military, but when it checks the State things have generally already hit the fan.

Posted by: oj at October 2, 2003 11:41 PM

Wow. You really like infringing copyright, don't you?

Your "excerpting" of the NY Times piece is far outside the bounds of fair use.

A simple link would suffice. You don't need to steal others' content to make your points.

They put it on the Web so that people will visit their site to read it. They don't put it on the Web just so it's available for you to steal.

Posted by: Rallied at October 3, 2003 2:25 AM

I suppose this what I will say here is obvious.

But I think that we can know, to a large extent, what we're talking about, and it's this:

That when any institution (or branch) of government amasses too much power, then that society, and its citizenry, is potentially in grave danger. Especially when such an institution might otherwise be believed to serve as a "check" on the power of government. Thus the Church wedded to a temporal power, or the Church--or mosque (or synagogue, for that matter)--acting as temporal power, had--and will always have--the potential for acting in terribly (and murderously) dictatorial fashion. And often has done so. And will continue to do so.

Unless the Church divorces itself--or is made to divorce itself--from temporal power.

This was clear to the founding fathers, because the precedents were clear. And there were many.

And further, it's also why the fathers "embedded" the tri-partite system of checks and balances in the American system: such a system of checks reflected the fathers' intense fear of concentrating power in any single (or even combined double!) branch of government. And any inefficiency created by such a system of checks was to their collective wisdom (and what wisdom it was!) was clearly offset by the attempt to prevent any branch(es) from accumulating too much power.

In this regard, it is of interest, I believe, to look at what is currently happening in Canadian politics/society/culture, where it is perceived by several Canadian commentators that there exists a disproportionate amount of power and influence in the Canadian Supreme Court as the result of parliamentary decisions made during the Trudeau years.

Proof, it would seem, that democracies too (i.e., not only totalitarian states) may fall victim to a system where a system of checks is not "adequate."

I suppose Europe need not even be mentioned.....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 3, 2003 2:38 AM

"Those articles are outstanding indictments of organized relgion. For without that to beat people over the head with, what else would have served?"

The notion that man, in the absence of organized religion, would be at a loss for reasons to be cruel to his neighbors is the most laughably naive thing I have read in some time.

Tje ancient world was a place of near universal religious toleration, yet there was no end of tyranny and oppression. The Spartans used to slaughter Helots by the bushel every few years just as a method for controlling the demographics of the state. Julius Caesar boasted that, of the three million inhabitants of Gaul, he had killed one million and enslaved another million. Agathocles, the tyrant of Syracuse, had a spy in every household and held political purges on a regular basis. And religion (or any of the modern "isms" that have taken the place of religion for so many) had nothing to do with it.

Obviously they didn't realize they had nothing to, "beat people over the head with."

Posted by: carl at October 3, 2003 8:26 AM


Good point, though I didn't say they would be at a lost for reasons. But taking one off the table wouldn't seem to hurt matters any.

Take the FYR, for instance. There are absolutely no ethnic differences between the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the region. If history had turned out a little differently and one side or the other predominated, the ethnicity would remain unchanged, but there would be no religious discontinuity.

Under those circumstances, hypothetical though they may be, do you think the region would still have fallen prey to the 90's ethnic cleansing?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 3, 2003 8:40 AM


While the extent of quotation is one factor in determining whether the use of a copyrighted article in "fair use", it is not dispositive. Under certain circumstances, an entire work can be quoted and the quoter would still have a "fair use" defense.

Besides which, copyright is evil, ideas want to be free, property is theft, up the machine, brother.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 3, 2003 8:49 AM

What Times piece?

Posted by: oj at October 3, 2003 9:28 AM

Right -- New York Review of Books, or whatever the site was. Like everyone else here, I didn't have to bother exploring the actual source, since you had already swiped the content from them and relieved us of that need.

This is bothersome to me, and should be to anyone who works in the content industry. Anyone who earns a paycheck by expressing ideas should be bothered by it. It's one thing when naive teenagers download three-minute pop songs -- it's still wrong, but at least they have the excuse of being naive teenagers. It's another thing altogether when infringement is committed by an ostensibly intelligent adult such as Orrin Judd -- an ostensibly intelligent adult who also exalts the rule of law.

The bottom line is that, David Cohen's measured comments notwithstanding, this amount of excerpting falls outside the bounds of fair use. Copyright still has meaning, as it should.

The New York Review of Books would not exist if copyright did not exist. There's the irony: The content you copied owes its existence to the very thing your copying helps water down. At some point, the efforts of you and others will help erode it all to the point where there will be no content for you to copy.

Posted by: Rallied at October 3, 2003 3:13 PM


First, I'm stunned that as a stickler for the law as you imagine it you didn't go to the original site rather than sully your eyes by reading it here.

Second, if you'd bothered you'd see that though the quote is indeed longer than we typically use it is also only a portion of a very long essay, as are all NYRB essays if you've ever read it.

Strange to argue that you know what constitutes the exact right amount for fair use when you have no conception of the original.

Your assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, all the evidence suggests that sites that print excerpts drive traffic to the originating sites. For example, we can safely assume that the Spanish Inquisition essay hasn't been the hottest page at the NYRB website can't we? It is, in fact, an older essay, which is one of the groundrules we use for long excerpts.

Lastly, our team of lawyers, with some expertise in entertainment and intellectual property law, assure us that such posts are unlikely to be actionable and that if they are the damages are minimal.

Ask yourself a simple question: did more or less people access that webpage yesterday as a result of the link? Was value added or subtracted to the NYRB?

Posted by: oj at October 3, 2003 4:35 PM


First, I'm stunned that as a stickler for the law as you imagine it you didn't go to the original site rather than sully your eyes by reading it here.

Second, if you'd bothered you'd see that though the quote is indeed longer than we typically use it is also only a portion of a very long essay, as are all NYRB essays if you've ever read it.

Strange to argue that you know what constitutes the exact right amount for fair use when you have no conception of the original.

Your assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, all the evidence suggests that sites that print excerpts drive traffic to the originating sites. For example, we can safely assume that the Spanish Inquisition essay hasn't been the hottest page at the NYRB website can't we? It is, in fact, an older essay, which is one of the groundrules we use for long excerpts.

Lastly, our team of lawyers, with some expertise in entertainment and intellectual property law, assures us that such posts are unlikely to be actionable, that if they are we have a reasonable defense, and that if they are the damages are minimal.

Ask yourself a simple question: did more or less people access that webpage yesterday as a result of the link? Was value added or subtracted to the NYRB?

Posted by: oj at October 3, 2003 4:36 PM

Orrin, the problem is that, if you are following Netanyahu, the church did NOT act as a check on the state but joined it to destroy its own members.

I am not out of my depth here, but maybe Netanyahu is. It is not hard to imagine why an Israeli would be tempted to see the Inquisition as a racial war against Jews, but how does that explain burning English merchant seamen?

Carl, people without religion have all the reasons to despoil and murder other people that religious people do, but they lack all those additional reasons (such as the difference between homoousion and homoiousion) that religious people have.

If it could be shown that religious people kill LESS for the universal reasons, then the proven additional murders they commit in the name of religion might be counterbalanced. But history says they kill as much as the non-religious and more, not less.

Orrin, you're are ducking my question again. How many atheists do you know of whom you have information about their relations with their parents? I am pretty sure the answer is 0.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 3, 2003 11:07 PM

The only athiests Orrin knows are made out of straw.

Posted by: Robert D at October 3, 2003 11:45 PM


"I am not out of my depth here, but maybe Netanyahu is." pretty much sums it up.

Posted by: oj at October 3, 2003 11:49 PM


No it doesn't. Harry had a whole lot more to say than just that sentence.

And you have fallen prey to argument from authority--that Netenyahu's judgment is unassailable because of his credentialed authority. And since Harry presumably hasn't the credentials, he also hasn't the ability to criticize Netenyahu's writings.

So rather than address the points, you belittle them because of their source's putative lack of credentialed authority. You never know, though. Harry might just be extremely well read on the subject.

Various academic conferences highlight this well. Credibility (used advisedly) at the MLA is all about credentials. Credibility at a Physics conference is all about results.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 4, 2003 10:05 AM

Yes, but we listen with the hushed anticipation of an opera crowd when he speaks on steel, because he has that advisor who won't talk to anyone else in the press because they're such dolts by comparison to Harry. Thus far he hasn't revealed a similar Inquisition expert who knows more that Kamen & Netanyahu. The fiunniest part is to hear you two ape the old Protestant line which was little more than anti-Catholic propaganda.

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2003 10:09 AM


"I didn't say they would be at a lost for reasons"

Well, you certainly suggested ("For without that to beat people over the head with, what else would have served?) that you couldn't think of any.

How about;

"They collaborated with the Turks"
"They collaborated with the communists"
"The FYR was meant to be perpetual, you can't secede"
"They are Serbs and we are Bosnians"
"They are Albanians and we are Serbs" etc...,etc...

Posted by: carl at October 4, 2003 11:20 AM

"people without religion have all the reasons to despoil and murder other people that religious people do, but they lack all those additional reasons (such as the difference between homoousion and homoiousion) that religious people have."


Men fight for status and power, and they kill for land, women, and cattle. Everything else is window dressing.

Posted by: carl at October 4, 2003 12:27 PM

The problem is that those without religion have no reason to constrain themselves from killing. They are instead halted by the State.

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2003 12:30 PM

From The Age of Faith, by Will Durant:

About 1170 Peter Waldo, a rich merchant of Lyons engaged some scholars to translate the Bible into the vernacular. On studying the translation, he concluded Christians should live like the Apostles.

Subsequently, the Archbishop of Lyons reminded Peter only bishops were allowed to preach.

Gradually, the rejected the sanctity of the priesthood.

The sect was was condemned in 1184.

In the suppression of the Albigensian heresy, thousands of Waldenses were put to the stake.

And that's just the first two pages from the chapter about the Early Inquisition.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 4, 2003 4:24 PM

Yes? No society tolerates heresy--ask the :oyalists, Confederates, the Bundists, communists, militiamen, jihadists, etc.

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2003 4:37 PM


You mean they challenged the power and status of the Bishop of Rome, who then offered his followers the land, women, and cattle of Languedoc if they would suppress this challenge.

Posted by: carl at October 4, 2003 6:18 PM