Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Terrible Sincerity


(fm the BC thread "For their own good")

What I always wondered about since I was 12 and I first read Satan's boast in Milton is what was in it for all the other Rebellious Angels? It may be better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven but sure seems better to serve in Heaven than to serve in Hell. If I was junior Demon Umptysquat who had just traded in a job waving a fan at the Big Guy in Paradise for an eternity if listening to the loser whine and bluster I would have been a mite perturbed. If you aren't going to pull off the big scam and grow a head as big as Al Gore then why not settle for quiet career pontificating before undergraduates and seducing graduate students? Power is pleasant but getting involved in actual policy is dangerous. Most academics are afraid of being judged, that is why they are there. Eight or nine years before Ghostbusters made the line famous I worked for a future Nobel Laureate who said to me "I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."


When I taught about the Inquisition and the incredible bloodshed unleashed by Wars of Religion and schisms, that eventually lead to the waves of Reason, Romanticism, Secularism, Socialism and Totalitarianism, what I stressed was the sincerity of those involved. The Inquisitor operated according to a strict code. First he would use reason and exhort you to repent, then he would warn you. He would have you brought in and he would show you the instruments of torture. He would plead with you to spare him the necessity of using such horrible things. Only at the end would you be tortured. If you were found guilty of heresy the Church would turn you over, they said you were relaxed, to the Civil Authority for execution. The same people who tortured you would then pray for you. The only explanation is that all concerned believed that immortal souls were at stake. These modern fanatics can no more be swayed from their path then their spiritual ancestors could have been persuaded to look through Galileo's telescope, or care about what it showed. There was no Comfy Chair in the Spanish Inquisition.

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