The Modern Equivalent of the Inquisition

There is a priceless line that has been restored in the Complete and Annotated Edition of A Course in Miracles. When I first saw it in Helen’s Notes it really hit me, as I think it hits everyone. The line is this: “The analysis of the ego’s ‘real’ motivation is the modern equivalent of the Inquisition.” Actually, this potent line is the beginning of an equally potent paragraph that we have restored, which I’d like to first quote and then comment on:

The analysis of the ego’s “real” motivation is the modern equivalent of the Inquisition, for in both, a brother’s errors are “uncovered,” and he is attacked for his own good. What can this be but projection? For his errors lie in the minds of his interpreters, for which they punish him. (T-12.I.6:1-3)

What the Inquisition did is exactly what this passage says. As we point out in an accompanying footnote, its “purpose was to uncover the error of heretics and then, often through torture, impel them to confess their sin and do penance, so that their souls could be saved.”

This strikes us now as unthinkable. So we’re torturing (and sometimes burning at the stake) their bodies to save their souls? What kind of archaic superstition would let us believe that such barbaric cruelty could lead to anything good, let alone holy? Thank God we don’t do that anymore.

Yet, of course, the point of this paragraph is that in essence we do. Here is how our version goes.

We are all on the lookout for various forms of evil lurking behind the smiling faces out there. How do we uncover this evil? Through a sophisticated “analysis of the ego’s ‘real’ motivation.” Armed with psychological tools it has taken us a lifetime to collect, we engage in a complex analysis of what was really driving the person who attacked us. She said she didn’t mean it, that she just had too much to drink, but we know that she was really trying to humiliate us in order to boost her own low self-esteem (rooted, no doubt, in her childhood).

Still in the role of the well-meaning therapist, we now confront her with the results of our analysis, so she can see the error of her ways, feel suitably chastened, and be motivated to change. Isn’t this in essence what the Inquisition was after? As the Course says, “In both, a brother’s errors are ‘uncovered,’ and he is attacked for his own good.” The Inquisition is not dead; it lives in us.

There’s more. Don’t we have an image of the inquisitor being wracked with secret guilt, which he hoped to expunge by punishing evil in someone else? We are this inquisitor, for we too project our own guilt onto the person we are analyzing, hoping that if we can eradicate the darkness in her, we ourselves can be cleansed.

Jesus’ method here is obvious. By likening our modern, psychologically sophisticated behavior to the antiquated barbarism of the Inquisition, he hopes to get us to drop it altogether. He hopes that we will recognize that, in the end, searching for the error in another, rubbing her nose in it, and punishing her for it does neither one of us any good. No one is healed. It is a form of attack that, like all attack, simply wounds. Only love heals, and love rushes past error in its need to see and celebrate the radiant worth in the other.


[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]