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God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy

April 5, 2012 by  

Established by the Catholic church in 1231, the Inquisition was designed to make people adhere to the teachings of the church and make them toe the official church-approved version of Catholicism. And if Cullen Murphy’s book God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World stuck to describing the 700-year history of the Inquisition, it might only hold interest for historians who wish to explore how the church functioned as a medieval political power.

Instead, Murphy’s larger purpose is to show how large organizations filled with small-minded bureaucrats can terrorize a population when they have willing foot soldiers to do their bidding. The Inquisition, as Murphy sees it, was just a taste of what big governments would later accomplish when they set their minds to trying to control both how people behave and how they think.

And Murphy points out that today’s technological marvels of communication and surveillance allow government inquisitors to record and track personal behavior in ways the old-time Inquisitorial powers could only dream of. He points out, though, that if you subtract the technological aspects of our modern inquisition, it shares a lot of similarities with what the Catholic church implemented.

Retaining Power

The basic tenet of a bureaucracy, whether it works for the Federal government or a church, is that “Institutions do what they must to retain power. Isn’t it that simple?” That’s a quote that Murphy takes from Eamon Duffy, a historian who has tracked the bloody changeover of England from a Catholic country to a Protestant power in the 16th century.

Murphy shows how the tools of today’s bureaucratic governments are outgrowths of past measures to keep power: “Motivations may change, targets may shift, but the infrastructure builds by increments. Proof of identity, record-keeping, informers, surveillance, denunciation, interrogations: these are the basic instruments. And as medieval kingdoms remade themselves into modern states, the instruments became better and were applied in a more systematic way.”

The transition from the Inquisition to the modern police state picked up steam in France in 1790. It was then that France invented the passport and the identity card. Napoleon and his head of secret police, Joseph Fouche, formulated summaries of all the intelligence, news, rumors and gossip they could gather to make sure they stayed ahead of efforts to depose them.

Later, the Russian Czars modeled their secret police after the French undercover agents. And when the Communists took over Russia, Lenin made the Czar’s bureaucracy into what would later become the KGB. Today the KGB has morphed into the FSB. The FSB, if you can believe it, is even more powerful than the KGB ever was. As Murphy points out, at least the KGB had to report to the Communist Party. Today the Communist Party is gone and the FSB has no one to restrain it.

Preemptive Action

In the United States, Murphy says, these types of efforts at control led to the so-called Palmer raids in the early 20th century. At that time, the attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, organized raids “led by the young J. Edgar Hoover, (that) rounded up targeted individuals by the thousands.” As The Washington Post noted in 1920: “There is no time to waste on hairsplitting over infringement of liberties.”

Later, the FBI, led by the same Hoover, would gather files on 25 million Americans. Today, as the Federal government collects more and more information on its citizens under the USA Patriot Act, untold numbers of electronic files are being collected.

Murphy believes that single-minded organizations, whether they are inquisitions or modern police states, are misguided by their belief in their infallibility. He quotes Samuel Johnson’s observation about a man who “seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong one.”

A bureaucracy that wants everyone to behave like obedient sheep is likewise enslaved to one idea that is a wrong one. But as long as we stay vigilant and fight back against that wrong idea, there’s hope for a freer future.

Bob Livingston

is an ultra-conservative American and author of The Bob Livingston Letter™, founded in 1969. Bob has devoted much of his life to research and the quest for truth on a variety of subjects. Bob specializes in health issues such as nutritional supplements and alternatives to drugs, as well as issues of privacy (both personal and financial), asset protection and the preservation of freedom.

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  • cawmun cents

    The American inquisition?
    I am impressed Bob.
    Outstanding commentary.
    The knitpicking going on at so many levels is devastating.
    These people who believe they run the show today,are as destructive to our republic as the Spanish Inquisition was to organized religion.I dont think they even comprehend how much damge they are doing to America,and by proxy the world.
    The sad part is that they think they are doing right by us.Right now as we post,the world is undergoing the Inquisistionary Period of the Secular Humanists.
    The Ivy League we-know-whats-good-for-you’s have decided to use their vastly superior intellect to browbeat us into submission.But what they do not see is how destructive they are to their own agenda,In their huge arrogance,they are planting the seeds of their own demise.Their Maoist vision of the world has been run by the uber elite for decades,and as the conditions of the world deteriorate,it seems as if they will attempt to rely on bullying to get their progressive measures incorporated into the American Lifestyle.
    I dont think its working.
    But they will try very hard nevertheless,because some folks like their idealism having been indoctrinated by the marxists in the educational institutions.They enjoy the height of their power now as all the ingredients are in place to make their agenda stick.But the conditions change to rapidly for them to hold sway over the populace at large,so they grasp at straws to see if folks will bite on the hook of progressive bait and switch tactics.
    Eliteism being the core of their administrative body,they fail to represent the common man,so they push to represent the differing demographics of society.
    You must pay an indulgence fee to be a member of their click,and those who cannot put up,must shut up.Since the common man is not involved,they act like priests do in catholicism,by doing the work for you,supposedly.They believe themselves to be intermediaries between the common man and secular humanism.
    But make no mistake…theirs is a nouveau riche environment,the likes of which the commoner is not meant to take part in.Setting themselves apart to be held in esteem when there is no particular reason to hold them in esteem,they preach their quasi-religion to the mass of degenerate socialists which come from their own devisive instruction.
    They await the extinction of the old American idealism so thet it can be replaced by their faux-philanthropic messianic view of themselves,in an adoring public.
    I gotta love how they thrive on their arrogance though.
    I’d shed a happy tear for them if it werent so damn tragic.
    Eventually there is always a piper that must be paid,andnd the rats who are led to their destruction sway to the symphonic release.

    • Robert Smith

      Used to be the Maleious Malificarum…

      Now it’s the tax code.


  • Doc Sarvis

    Modern large corporations have the same traits.

    • vicki

      With one CRITICAL difference. Unless the corporation is part of the mafia or the like you the customer and you the employee can walk away if you are dis-satisfied.

      Regrettably there is one other entity that closely resembles the mafia when it comes to it’s relationship to people. Big Government. Just like the mafia, if you say no they come after you with guns.

  • fred stegemiller

    we r in the same place nearly 800 years later and the reason this country was founded because of religious persecution wake up people u need 2 learn how 2 vote vote for the middle class or we will b gone

    • eddie47d

      Sadly for much of history it was the church doing the persecuting.Comply or die! They made Hell seem very real and could control every aspect of your life.

      • Thor

        It was not the church that was persecuting in Bolshevik Russia…it was not the church doing the persecuting in Revolutionary France…it has not been the church since 1300! It has always been government in the hands of the power hungry, either clothed in church robes or anti-religious secular garments of the time! You are beating a horse that has been dead some seven centuries now. If you want to be an atheist…be one! But allow others their beliefs as a right every bit as sovereign as your own. Everything you dislike you cloak under the same mantel…right wing religious zealotry…an entity with an absolute loss of power almost a century old now in this country! And it is the loss of that old, traditional, conservative Christian morality that has this globe in the shape it’s in now! Enough already, eddie….coin a new term will’ya!

        • RichE

          Sounds like you’re denying church history while affirming power corrupts. Just because the church hasn’t been corrupt since 1300 doesn’t mean it won’t do it again.

          Yes, power corrupts and even the power against the corrupt is corrupt. It’s sad.

      • Jay

        eddie, you need to be more specific when using the term “Church”.

        In original Greek, the word ‘ecclesia’ means ‘called out’. The people who are called out by Christ are called ‘the Church’. This is universal; all Christians wherever they are are called ‘the Church’.

        I think that what you meant by Church was in reference to the middle ages, the catholic church, married to Monarchies, Kings, the State – the only recognized church of the time, of course, and to go against the Vatican, was in essence treason against the state, which carried a promise of death and torture – comes the Phrase ( you are going against the church). With respect to the Vatican, nothing has changed. But Scriptures reveal that the true Church are believers, not a building, or a organization, but the believer(s)!

        In many respects, the contemporary church in America looks more like a large corporation than like anything described in the New Testament. Even church leaders
        sometimes bear a closer resemblance to CEOs and corporate executives than to humble, tender shepherds. Sadly, the good news — that a sinner can find forgiveness for sins before a holy God by placing his trust in and committing his whole life to Jesus Christ — is often eclipsed by “success”-oriented programs and an interest in the bottom line. This of course, is not, the true Church. I hope this helps…

  • littlebill24

    you said it all the people need too wake up and take a good look at what Obama and the others are doing to this country trying to get complate control of the people thats why all this home land securty the T.S.A.the N.D.A.A.the C.I.A. the F.B.I.the FEDERAL RESERVE and mandtory checken deposit by the government in order to get in to everybody account with out a court order or your knowlage or put on a debit card so they can charge you every time you use it and how much you can spend of it every mounth when it bills up they can come in and take it for overpayment and put it in there pockets right now you can’t hardly do anything with cash any more because it’s hard to keep track of cash deals that’s one big freedoms of our rights they are taken away every day just nouthing but big government control eveybody in the military has always been paid in cash but has changed becuse they could not track it this way buy puting it on debit cared payment they can charge you for useing it and get bac what you are paid now thats what all these czars in our governmet are doing and Ron Paul been telling everybody for twenty years and it keeps falling on alot of deaf ears but alot of people are begaining to hear and see whats going thats why i’ll support and for RON PAUL

    • vicki

      As much fun as it might be to blame obama (or Bush if you are liberal or stuck in the past), this problem has been growing slowly for a loooooong time. Progressives have been working like termites to undermine what is good and right since before most/any of us were born.

      They understand the parable of the boiling frog. I was actually happy that obama was elected along with the super majority in the House and filibuster proof Senate (There is at least 1 rino in the Senate) cause I knew that the progressives would get excited and try to move too fast.

      Only time will tell now if it is too late for the frog.

      • steve

        if more people would of done thier home work on obama you wouldnt even be here . to many people listen to his words and not pay atten to his real marxist socialist beliefs , look at who he listen to , bill ayers, aka weather underground saul olinsky and man who wants to end capitalisim now and 30 years ago. if you dont belive that obama is a muslum then you did dot listen in his own words that he was , he can not tell the truth and if you people would tread more then n.y times or watch cnn you would see the real aginda the new socialist demacratic party has. being progressive wel be mild. its just the beginng of the end to the america we new because of the librial teaching and brainwashing that is happenning right now in our schools and universitys. the lazy kids who think goverment should pay for all ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,when your g.d.p is 300 percent just to pay all the lazy peoples programs, and when we do not have a milatery then we well be just like europe weak… and some country well walk in and it be finished.america wake up or you will die like rome. 1100 years for that to happen were at 230 or so…. but you are progressives abunck of brainwashed dumb ass , who cant see down the road……get a job

  • RichE

    I wonder what God thinks.

    • Vicki

      I know the answer I received when I prayed about it.

      “First Principle. Your Creator gifted you with life and free will.
      How you use those 2 gifts and how you honor these gifts in others,
      is how you shall be judged.”

      Thus all of those bureaucrats who forced people to see things their way will have some explaining to do when they meet their creator.

      • RichE

        That doesn’t seem fair. If you were only given the gift of life and freewill, but no rule book how would you know right from wrong?

      • Vicki

        Hmmm…. Rule book. Commandments. You mean that rule book?

        Actually the rules are inherent in the simple statement. You ask how to tell right from wrong.

        Let us try some examples
        You want Fred to believe in evolution. Fred doesn’t want to. You invite him to an inquisition. He declines. You send your minions to take him against his will. CLUE!!!!

        Joe thinks you should be burned at the stake. You decline. Joe shoots you. CLUE!!!!

        In the first case you forced your will on Fred thereby depriving him of his Creator’s gift of choice/freewill.

        In the 2nd case Joe deprived you of your Creators gift of life.

        Now lets take the case of Jim. Jim wants to have sex with me preferably when I am dead (Yes. One of those people). I decline. He tries to force the point with a knife. I shoot him. He does NOT survive.

        I have guarded and protected MY Creators gifts of both free will and life. Jim gets to explain to his Creator why he tried to deny me those gifts.

        Lets take the case of John, Mary their kids and Ted and Frank. Ted and Frank break into the house of John and Mary. Ted rounds up the kids and Mary and takes them into a room to have some fun. Frank finds John and MrSmith and MrWesson. Frank tries to subdue John with a knife proving the adage that you should not bring a knife to a gunfight.

        Ted hears the shots and grabs Mary to use as a shield. John enters the room and promptly shoots Ted between the eyes.

        John has guarded and protected the gifts of life and freewill given to him and the gifts of life and free will given to Mary and the kids. Frank survives and gets to explain to the judge. Ted does not and gets to explain to his Creator sooner than Frank.

        That enough examples for you?

        • RichE

          I understand Moses made God create the Ten Commandments. I don’t think God intended humans to have stone rules. Besides, not all humans have these.

          Maybe examples is the manner. I seem to remember something about the Jews being examples. Good examples, bad or both I don’t know. Seems like the process would get bogged down in examples.

      • Jay

        RichE: I understand Moses made God create the Ten Commandments.

        No Rich, on the contrary, you understand very little. Moses made God create the Ten Commandments? Come on Rich, could you possibly make a more idiotic statement?

        Rich: I don’t think God intended humans to have stone rules. Besides, not all humans have these.

        You don’t think? That may be the only true statement in your comment. If by stone rules, you mean, rigid, then yes, God intended exactly that. The ten commandments are perfect and flawless, and by which, all persons and societies should rule themselves. Do you not agree that children should respect their parents, or that you and i, and everyone, should respect their neighbor/people, by not stealing, murdering, coveting, lying, and so forth…In case you’re unfamiliar, this is the whole of the ten commandments you appear to abhor. Can i safely assume you abhor our justice system, a system who’s foundation are the ten commandments.

        Rich: Maybe examples is the manner. I seem to remember something about the Jews being examples. Good examples, bad or both I don’t know. Seems like the process would get bogged down in examples.

        I’m quite certain that, not even you could explain, or make sense of your last paragraph. Care to try?

      • Vicki

        RichE says:

        I understand Moses made God create the Ten Commandments. I don’t think God intended humans to have stone rules. Besides, not all humans have these.

        All humans do have these rules. The Bible has been translated into every popular language and if your language is not there you will find many scholars willing to learn your language and then translate.

        Maybe examples is the manner. I seem to remember something about the Jews being examples.

        Jesus found examples to be very useful. They were called parables btw.

      • Vicki

        The only way the example process would get bogged down is when trying to share parables with small children and willfully ignorant adults. Everyone else usually gets it with just a few.

        Have you heard of the golden rule (the real one about human interaction)?

  • TIME

    Dear Bob,

    Yet again a very fine blog, how strange that so many can’t see the tree’s from the forest.

    Peace and Love

  • Jay
  • http://www.betterbusinessandeducation Dr Erin Neill

    This sounds as though it is a very important book for people to read. I am yet to find anyone who realizes the power of bureaucracies and the severe restrictions they put on the human beings subject to them.

  • Jay

    Interested in knowing how to create a totalitarian state? Just follow the simple instructions presented in the u-tube video below.

  • Thor

    Rich E, I am well aware of church history and with the history of the world since writing was invented. I am also aware of something you seem to have missed: blaming political developments like wars, the social milieu, revolutions and so forth on the church and the morality at the core of it is like blaming a loosing season on the color of the uniforms. Neither the Christian Church nor its morality has ever been the actual cause or motivation for human suffering. Differing moralities–sect versus sect, denomination versus denomination, secular versus religious–are all simply means of establishing sides in what are actually conflicts over access to material wealth and natural resources. There never was a face that launched a thousand ships; there was only Agamemnon and greed. The Islamic East versus the Christian West threat of terrorism is dwarfed by the thirst for oil. It isn’t about religion or the church or church morality or ontology or any of that. Secularists in charge of government on both sides are the engines behind the present conflict. And I stand by the observation that the so-called Christian Right-wing extremists haven’t been in charge of anything in this country since Prohibition.


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