Human beings, no matter their belief, will use their power making others cower. The Spanish Inquisition is one of innumerable historical episodes displaying people’s depravity. Usurping rule, abusing authority, creating fear, promoting group hatred is the progression of every hostile takeover of any human institution. “Fear is of course a wonderful fool for consolidating the power of an increasingly authoritarian state. Successfully embedded, this fear can always be invoked, in the name of the war of good against evil, against targets that pose an economic or political challenge” (77). Green joins the ranks of many researchers who remind us atrocities perpetrated against people for their beliefs is always a blow against freedom. Inquisition: Reign of Fear is a display of how the institutional becomes personal.
One feels the dread of the average citizen in his attempt to steer clear of suspicion. Anonymous accusations led to misleading evidence prompting psychological conditioning creating lie-upon-lie all because of authorities’ weak compliance. Exported through New World discoveries, the inquisition flourished in distant lands whose inhabitants were subjected to bloody evangelism. Detailed accounts in Green’s book are impressive. Fifty pages of endnotes demonstrate the depth of research.
The reader learns that the papacy did not condone the inquisitors. Weak kings allowed special interests to usurp control of institutions. Indeed, the Spanish church authorities are an aberration within The Church itself. A powerful argument could have been created by Green to make more of hijacked belief. There is a huge difference between The Inquisition—detoured doctrine, a deviation from its Source—and the worldwide results of totalitarian dictatorships. The former shows the ends of undeterred, untethered minority control, the latter is an inevitable consequence of a group’s presuppositions. To equate inquisitors with murderous East German stasi or Mao Zedong’s killing fields is a memorial insult to hundreds of millions of people who lost their lives because of Communism (355).
Macro-motivations for the inquisition are also absent. Islamic invasions are unmentioned. Protestant persecution is muted. One is left to wonder why power was usurped at this time, in this place. Green’s consistent truism is once the match is lit, the fire is hard to contain. For example, “The inquisitional state of mind helped to sew [sic] the seeds of the rebellions which at away at Spanish power and its role in the world” (140-41). But a full examination of inquisitional fallout would bolster the argument.
Lord Acton’s famous statement “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” applies to The Inquisition. Green has done a service to everyone by reminding institutions that special interest groups within their own organizations can create adversarial, sometimes deadly, climates. But everyone must never forget their personal susceptibility toward abuse of power.
Toby Green. 2007. Inquisition: The Reign of Fear. New York, NY: Thomas Dunn Books. Reviewed by Dr. Mark Eckel, Dean, Undergraduate School, Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN. [Originally published online in the Englewood Review of Books.]