An “inquisition” is the process of using a self-proclaimed authority to seek out and eradicate those who deviate from an inquisitor’s principles. New modes of “inquisition” are unfolding every day. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up with institutions and organizations that are “inquisitory” by design. They’ll foster control and domination rather than growth and liberation.
Today’s inquisitions express themselves in the battles to take control away from women having control over their bodies, ban books and the teaching of critical theory, suppress voting rights, overthrow our government, install “Christian Nationalism,” and undermine the concept of “public health.”
As these “forms of inquisition” have been flashing across my television screens, my mind turned to a book we read in my book club in 2012, “God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World.” Cullen Murphy’s 2012 book is a history of religious and secular inquisitions.
Power & Control
Despite their claims to moral and political principles, all “inquisitions” are about power and control.
The inquisitors maintain their dominance through the structure of their organizations and institutions.
Murphy focuses on “the bureaucracy” as one example of an institution that has been able to conduct and reinforce “inquisitions.”
Examples abound about we use our “true faith” to include or exclude. Religious regimes and so-called “secular governments” forge separate and collective agendas to control our lives in sinister ways.
“State inquisitions,” independent of religious ones, seek to protect the state and its interests.
“Economic regimes” – communism, capitalism, and fascism — all use “inquisition-type techniques” to ensure the perpetuation of those in power.
Race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin become sources of exclusion rather than inclusion.
While we were reading Murphy’s book in 2012, we also witnessed the rise of the Political Right in the United States. They were using our local, state, and federal governments – and the courts — to force their agenda on all Americans as they wanted to deregulate our economic lives and regulate our social, cultural, and religious ones.
Today in 2022, this view has become more entrenched and sinister than ever.
Control For Control’s Sake
All societies need some form of “social control.”
However, Murphy notes that at some point, “control” can move beyond “social” and become “control for control’s sake.” Consequently, “social control” causes us to distrust our neighbors. The institutional values of these mechanisms instill “fear” of friends, family members, and “others” (racial, ethnic, religious, language, etc.)
Fundamentalism & Ultimate Truth
Murphy suggests that “fundamentalism” – religious, secular, or economic — stems from people taking their “ideas” as “ultimate truths.” “Inquisitions” ground their positions in ideas they don’t have or want to test.
When we’re part of an inquisition, we believe in things we don’t understand. “Superstition” becomes our way. We become “cult-like.”
In an “inquisition,” ideas and institutions unite to thwart individual and group expression.
A “social machine” submerges individuals and groups to its dictates. These machines perpetuate co-option, fear, and force.
Knowledge Advances By Disproving
A counter to a “superstitious” approach is a “rational or scientific” one.
Knowledge advances by “disproving” ideas in a scientific or rational method.
Therefore, if we assert a belief, we must be able to establish the criteria to falsify our “truth.”
Consequently, fundamentalists “take a beating” under this criterion because there’s no room for them to question their belief system.
“Reason” trumps “myth.” But “blind faith” fights back continuously.
Counter-Inquisition Organizational Design Principles
After reading Murphy’s book, we gain a deeper understanding of why for example, (i) we need rules of social organization that separate church and state; (ii) the accused should be able to confront their accuser, and (iii) a citizen should not have to establish their innocence and the state, or any inquisitor, must prove our guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Don’t Believe in Things You Don’t Understand
Here’s our conundrum: We need beliefs. They are essential guides. But, when we start having blind faith in our ideas, we set ourselves to become “inquisitorial,” no matter who we are.
What’s the solution?
For Murphy, it’s adopting the organizational, institutional, and individual values of humility, transparency, and accountability.
This combination of values creates a “social cocktail” that boosts our immunity to our inquisitional tendencies.
That cocktail fortifies our capacity to break the perpetual cycle of “man’s inhumanity to man.”
It helps prevent us from becoming “inhuman” in the name of a set of “humane” ideas.
It keeps us from killing each other (metaphorically and actually) in the name of a state, god, or idea.
Have Beliefs, But Don’t Believe
Andrew Boyd’s Guide Number 326 in his “Life’s Little Deconstruction Book, Self-Help for the Post-Hip reminds us to “Have beliefs, but don’t believe.”
That’s our challenge.
When we meet it, we’ll be able to create organizations and institutions that are hierarchies of growth and liberation, not of control, domination, and destruction.