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December 31, 2009



I'm not at all sure that state-organised persecution is less murderous than the freelance variety: compare for instance the death counts in Fascist and Republican Spain, or the numbers that Stalin's purges managed to rack up. Mobs are awful things but I think it's normally only when the legal or military authorities become involved, even if only on a nod-and-wink basis (as for instance with the killings of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi's assassination, or many of the massacres in the Indonesian coup) that the real slaughter happens.


My recollection is that the Spanish Inquisition was - comparatively speaking - on the side of the Angels as far as witch trials went (having, as it were, other fish to fry). But the SI was a uniquely Spanish institution. Catholic witch hysteria in Germany or France, where no Inquisition existed, was not very different to protestant witch hysteria in, say, Germany or Scotland.

In any case, I don't think that the analogy between protestant witchfinders and Mr Copeland is an exact one because most executions took place with the sanction of the law and the approval of the local clergy.


"Far more people died in Protestant witch hysteria than at the hands of the Catholic Inquisition".

Sounds remarkably similar to the Catholic apologia for priests abusing kids, doesn't it? "Loads of other religions do it too, look, look over there". If this is the standard of moral advice being handed out by the clergy I'm glad I'm a third generation atheist...


IIRC, the Inquisition was comparatively uninterested in witches and was much more concerned with finding Protestants - it was an inquisition into heresy, not paganism wasn't it?

Richard J

Not so much Protestants, more Jews and Muslims who'd only faked conversion.


That last would be the Spanish Inquisition specifically. Note that the Inquisition existed long before Protestantism did and hence heresy, rather than Protestantism, was its target.

I don't know what the estimated death count for the Inquisition was, by the way: I couldn't find one on Wikipedia, though I did find a range of 40,000-100,000 for witch-hunting. Any ideas?

Richard J

True, but IIRC, it was only in the peculiar circumstances of Spain that the Inquisition acquired its particular blood-thirstiness; as far as I can recall, in the rest of Catholicism, it never had the whole-hearted support of the local rulers that it did in Spain, and so was limited in practical impact. Look at how the Austrian Hapsburg domains were cleansed of Protestantism - heavy-handed oppression and much ruthlessness, but surprisingly little in the way of outright executions.

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