Friday, July 27, 2007

Reason run amok

It sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it, boys and girls? Reason sounds so civilized, so Enlightenment, so, well, "reasonable." How could reason run amok?

In fact, Spotty, weren't Voltaire and his contemporaries champions of reason, especially in their criticism of the divine right of kings?

That's true grasshopper. But there were a couple of others, who preceded the Enlightenment by a couple of hundred years, who also used reason or rationality in the pursuit of somewhat less noble—sorry, bad pun—ends.

First, Spot will mention the Inquisition as launched by Pope Gregory in the thirteenth century:

The Inquisition was a Roman Catholic tribunal for discovery and punishment of heresy, which was marked by the severity of questioning and punishment and lack of rights afforded to the accused.

While many people associate the Inquisition with Spain and Portugal, it was actually instituted by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) in Rome. A later pope, Pope Gregory IX established the Inquisition, in 1233, to combat the heresy of the Abilgenses, a religious sect in France. By 1255, the Inquisition was in full gear throughout Central and Western Europe; although it was never instituted in England or Scandinavia.

Initially a tribunal would open at a location and an edict of grace would be published calling upon those who are conscious of heresy to confess; after a period of grace, the tribunal officers could make accusations. Those accused of heresy were sentenced at an auto-da-fe, Act of Faith. Clergyman would sit at the proceedings and would deliver the punishments. Punishments included confinement to dungeons, physical abuse and torture. Those who reconciled with the church were still punished and many had their property confiscated, as well as were banished from public life. Those who never confessed were burned at the stake without strangulation; those who did confess were strangled first. During the 16th and 17th centuries, attendance at auto da-fe' reached as high as the attendance at bullfights.

It was the Dominicans who got the job. They were a cheerful band of bureaucrats:

The Dominican order of preachers is one of the two major monastic groups of Roman Catholic friars, the other being Franciscans. It was founded in 1216 in France by Saint Dominic, and sanctioned in the same year by Pope Honorius III.

The order began as an attempt to convert the Albigenses, a Christian sect named from Albi, a city in southern France. They [the Albigenses] dared to be different in a time of conformity when the Church claimed political control. The Dominicans were charged by the Pope to destroy this "heretical sect".

In 1233, following several failed armed attempts at eliminating the Albigenses for the previous 30 years, the Pope ordered the formation of the now infamous Inquisition. The Dominicans were in charge of the torture and persecution.

According to John Ralson Saul writing in Voltaire's Bastards, the Inquisitors were the first to formalize the idea that to every question there is a right answer. What could be more rational than that? Of course, the Dominicans were in charge of the right answers. Can't you smell the burning heretics? Although their tribunals were secret, apparently the inquisitors were careful to make a record with a notary and document their proceedings. In re heretic Gaston – Judgment: roasting on a spit. Something like that.

There were people who questioned the technocratic, blind logic approach. Jonathan Swift was one, and an obscure Italian academic, Giambattista Vico, writing in 1708, was another:

[Today] . . . only criticism and judgment are admired. The subject itself has been relegated to the last row. . . . They say that men are capable of judgment, one need only teach them a thing and they will know if it is true. But who can be sure to have seen everything?

[another quotation from Voltaire's Bastards, paperback edition at pp. 53]

Vico was saying, boys and girls, that we can get so caught up in the process that we fail to make a meaningful examination of the precepts upon which the process is based. Spotty says that's a big problem for social conservatives. They get caught up in burning the heretics, but they fail—or are unwilling to—make a critical examination of the grounds for burning them in the first place.

The second person or institution that Spot will mention is Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits. Iggy was a professional soldier. Almost, and some think in fact, emasculated by a cannonball, he had a conversion experience:

During the time he was recovering, Ignatius read a number of religious texts on the life of Jesus and the saints and became fired with an ambition to lead a life of self-denying labor and emulate the heroic deeds of Francis of Assisi and other great monastic leaders. He resolved to devote himself to the conversion of non-Christians in the Holy Land. Upon recovery, he visited the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat (March 25, 1522), where he hung his military vestments before an image of the Virgin. He then went and spent several months in a cave near the town of Manresa, Catalonia where he practiced the most rigorous asceticism and studied at the ascetic Collège de Montaigu of the University of Paris, where he remained over seven years. Although Íñigo is actually Basque for Ennecus or Innicus. In later life, he was often called "Master Ignatius" in recognition of his final academic credential.

Iggy turned into a real kick-ass Christian! He was the guy who came up with the idea of soldiers in Christ. Ran the Counter-Reformation. He and his new order also got so caught up in process that they failed to examine their basic philosophy and criticisms of it, too.

[update] Spot is going to develop the use of reason by the Jesuits a bit more later. Spot also wants to more directly recognize the parentage of John Ralson Saul's Voltaire's Bastards for the examples of the Inquisition and the Jesuits. [/update]

For social conservatives, the sense of purpose and belonging often overwhelm a critical examination of core beliefs. The psychic reward is just too great. It is simply too easy—and too righteous feeling—to stand on the steps of the Capitol and cry about the gays getting married. It all seems so rational.

In coming days, boys and girls, we will examine some examples of "religious decision making."

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