In his new book, The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, author Jonah Goldberg delivers a more full-throated defense of Catholicism than students are likely to get in many Jesuit universities. “As a fairly secular Jew I cannot and will not speak to the theological questions, in part because I do not want to, but mostly because I do not have to,” Goldberg writes. “The core problem with those who glibly invoke one cliché after another about the evils of organized religion and Catholicism is that they betray the progressive tendency to look back on the last two thousand years and see the Catholic Church—and Christianity generally—as holding back humanity from progress, reason and enlightenment.”
“They fault the Church for not knowing what could not have been known yet and for being too slow to accept new discoveries that only seem obvious to us with the benefit of hindsight. It’s an odd attack from people who boast of their skepticism and yet condemn the Church for being rationally skeptical about scientific breakthroughs.”
Goldberg’s columns are mostly opinion pieces. Nevertheless, his first book, Liberal Fascism, was an impeccably researched epic. His latest is more of a mix of the prose of the columns and the research of LF.
Nonetheless, it provides an outlet for little known information that largely negates most so-called current wisdom. “Where the Church was strong, civilization was strengthened,” Goldberg concludes of Catholic history. “Where the Church was weak or absent—at least prior to the Reformation—mankind was more likely to operate according to its more barbaric default settings.”
Specifically, Goldberg tackles two controversies the Mother Church has worn a figurative hair shirt over for eons: the Inquisition and witch trials. “Local lords, clerks, and bureaucrats had no idea how to determine whether someone was a heretic, unless for course the heretic made things extremely easy for the official by saying something like, ‘Hey, I am a heretic!’ or driving a mule cart with a SATAN IS MY CO-PILOT! Bumper sticker: That’s why the Church was called in to provide expert advice on the question, like a theological CSIU team.”
“Most accusations of heresy under the Medieval Inquisition ended in either acquittal or a suspended sentence. Persons found fuilty of ‘grave error’ were for the most part permitted to confess their sins, perform penance, and thus be returned to the Lord’s grace.”
As for the witches, “Where the Catholic Church’s authority was unquestioned, there were fewer—or no—witch trials,” Goldberg notes. “And when they did occur, they were saner and gentler.”
“But where its authority was contested or nonexistent, there were more—and more barbaric—trials.”
“When the Church was at the height of its power (11th-14th centuries) very few witches died,” Jenny Gibbons, “an avowed neopagan scholar” quoted by Goldberg, notes. “Persecutions did not reach epidemic levels until after the Reformation, when the Catholic Church had lost its position as Europe’s indisputable moral authority.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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