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Not being inquisitive

James Cary


Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition - not given that it was abolished in 1834. The Monty Python sketch portrayed then as incompetent moustache-twirling villains, which is funny because we know they were all ruthless violent fanatics. That's a fact. The reality is, of course, rather different from 'what we all know'. I don't propose to go into how they operated here. They had some people executed as heretics. About 4,000 people in their entire history. Or one slow afternoon for Stalin. The Parable of the Wheats and the Weeds suggests that Jesus says we are not competent to judge who is a true follower of Christ and who is not. You can't tell if someone is a Christian just by looking at them. Loads of guys have beards now.

Deaths at the hands of Christians are inexcusable. Undoubtedly, the Spanish Inquisition did harm. But its greatest harm is its legacy because somehow, they have become a stick of choice for Westerners with which can beat Christians. This is okay if it's an intellectual beating. The problem is that outside the West, hundreds of millions of Christians are being beaten with real sticks, hacked to death with real machetes, and put in real prisons by recognised governments.

This is rarely noted in the British mainstream media. There is some coverage of isolated incidents, like the bombing of All Saints Church in Pakistan, where 85 people died after an attack by two suicide bombers. Maybe you heard about the attack on the Syriac Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in 2010, leaving a total of 58 people dead. But you might not know that this is fairly common in Iraq. Since the invasion in 2003, 40 of the 65 Christian churches have been bombed at least once. And it's not just threats from Islamists. In Orissa in India, about 500 Christians have been killed by Hindu radicals, many hacked to death by machetes. Entire communities were displaced.

'Well,' say patronising Westerners. 'Religion is clearly just an excuse for underlying social problems.' Oh, go away. Only people who aren't religious ever say that. Besides, some of the worst oppression is at the hands of so-called secular governments. In Burma, strongly Christian ethnic groups are considered to be trouble-makers and have been attacked by government troops, sometimes with helicopters. In North Korea, Christians refusing to join the national cult of Kim Il Sung are believed to be living in forced labour camps. And then there's China, where Christians not part of the officially approved and controlled state church are monitored and harassed. Even the secular International Society for Human Rights says that 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination globally are directed at Christians.

And what is our response? In online articles talking about these things, the comments are very revealing. Okay, I accept that reading the comments is a bad idea. But it can give an insight into the raw, unfettered, unedited thoughts of people who are still bright enough to use computers and write in complete sentences.

In these comments, we find the argument that is essentially, 'Ah, well, remember Spanish Inquisition. The boot's on the other foot now.' Chinese, North Korean, Burmese, Pakistani Christians aren't getting much sympathy here because of deeds done by people hundreds of years ago. That seems unjust and unkind.

Our nation's conscience remains plagued by colonial guilt: 'Maybe you Christians should have thought about this before your ancestors waded into those foreign countries and tried to convert them.' Views like that have been found in recent British governments. Rupert Shortt, author of Christianophobia, has said he heard stories of senior church leaders meeting with a Labour Home Secretary, raising the question of Christians in the Middle East with figures and hearing similar sentiments.

Ultimately, our nation is doing nothing. We give billions of dollars in aid to countries that are jailing people for owning a Bible. Even the Christian community is doing very little, barely even sharing basic information on the subject. Perhaps the split of the Eastern and Western churches a thousand years ago means we feel very little affinity for Christians on the other side of the world. An Eastern Orthodox service certainly looks very different from a low-church affair in a community church, where two bread rolls from Asda and some cheap plonk can be called a Christian sacrament. Our lack of unity and communion is even more costly than we thought.