Witch Hunts In The News

Witch Hunts And Torture – Opinion

An article by Mary Zeiss Stange in today’s On Religion column in USA Today makes reference to the Malleus Maleficarum in its examination of Bush Administration torture policies. It makes for an interesting read. I’ve included a few paragraphs below, and a link to the article.

“Viewed objectively, the original witch hunts shed significant light on the current debate about the uses of torture. Conducted under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, the Inquisition, and more particularly that aspect of it known as the Witchcraze, was the most spectacular case of systematic torture in Western religious history. It lasted roughly from the 15th through the 17th centuries in Europe, and it offers definitive proof that if reliable information is what you are after, torture is not a good way to get it.”

“The inquisitors had at their disposal a handbook: the Malleus Maleficarum (‘Hammer against Witches’), which was published in the 1480s by two Dominican priests. The logic employed in this document — covering areas such as the relative merits of red hot irons as opposed to boiling water, and how to strike the right balance of food and/or sleep deprivation — is strikingly similar to that revealed in the Bush administration’s ‘torture memos’ released in April by President Obama’s Justice Department.”

“If invoking religious precedent seems an odd way to resolve the question of whether torture is ever acceptable, it is sobering to note that according to a recently released poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a majority of regularly attending American churchgoers say it is. Questioned by the Associated Press as to whether Jesus would condone torture, conservative commentator Gary Bauer has speculated that Jesus himself, being the Son of God, probably wouldn’t be a torturer, but that he’d regard as ‘morally suspect’ any of his followers who shrank from torturing for the sake of the greater good.”

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