Déjà Vu- Religious crimes against humanity

Religious crimes against humanity
Religious crimes against humanity

Latha Iyer

  • There is only one true God and one true religion;
  • Every non-believer has to either be converted to the ‘true religion’ or killed;
  • Arts and music are to be shunned;
  • Every form of Pagan art such as statues, scriptures, temples, monuments etc should be destroyed’; so on and so forth.

Do these diktats sound familiar? I’m sure the first name that would have cropped up in most readers’ minds is the terrorist organisation ISIS (now ISIL). Well, you are partially right because ISIL is not the only one which has issued such dictums. Turn your clocks back by a few centuries and you will find that what the ISIL is doing today is what the Vatican did centuries ago. Christian inquisition is one of the darkest chapters in the Church’s history and although the Pope has apparently ‘apologized’ for the crimes of his predecessors it is not going to wash off the fact that the Vatican has the bloods of numerous innocent people on its hands. Harsh as it may sound reality cannot be simply wished away with an ‘Ostrich’ like attitude.

Inquisition: Darkest period in human history

Jewish holocaust by Nazis was one of the worst crimes against humanity we all know of. It was a concentrated effort to exterminate Jews that unfolded between 1933 and 1945. Now if I were to tell you there was an even bigger tragedy that has escaped attention? Hard to believe right? Well the Christian Inquisition spanned centuries (roughly between 13th to early 20th century) when Pagans were termed as ‘heathens’ and systematically tortured and killed. While there is no official estimate of loss of human life it would suffice to say that ‘the inquisition was holocaust multiplied many times over’.

Jewish holocaust by Nazis was one of the worst crimes against humanity we all know of.

Christianity owes a lot to Emperor Constantine who granted it the status of official religion and thus it grew from a minor cult into the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Church used every tool in its armour to control people and contain their spirituality. Pope Gregory IX set up Inquisition as a separate tribunal with the inquisitors having sweeping powers. Inquisitors could pick up anyone according to their whim and fancy, run a shoddy trial and punish the accused without as much as giving him or her chance to defend themselves. They worked on the principle of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ with the accused neither having the right of counsel nor being given details of the crimes they were accused of. If that isn’t horrible enough one could be prosecuted on mere suspicion of being friends with a ‘convicted heretic’. The names of the witnesses were kept secret which made it easier for people to exact revenge. The entire system was heavily loaded against the accused who more often than not turned out to be Pagans in general and women in particular.

The method by which confessions were sought was so horrible that the accused preferred to accept their crime and die instead of being held under trial and tortured. There were no limits to the pain inflicted. Every conceivable and inconceivable form of torture was invented and used upon victims from dismembering, roasting people alive; burying them alive in snake pits and so many others that thinking about them sends shivers down my spine. In fact the ovens built to kill people made infamous by Nazi Germany were first used by Christian Inquisition in Eastern Europe. Women, branded as witches, were brutally tortured including being raped and sexually mutilated. Not only were so called witches burnt at the stake but their children were also liable to be prosecuted and tortured for witchcraft. The horror did not stop until 20th century by which time a majority of Europe had been converted to Christianity and several ancient civilizations like Mayans destroyed. The Church’s greed for power caused irreparable damage to ancient belief systems and affected various fields such as medicine, health, hygiene, religion and social systems among others.

ISIL: The modern day horror

In the wake of the inquisition doesn’t the rise of ISIL seem like Déjà Vu? Well that is because it actually is; only difference being now the media brings these horrors directly into our homes through graphic videos. ISIL releases videos of kids as young as 10 beheading ‘non-believers’, of people being burnt alive, dismembering and other such horrific crimes. We are shocked and numbed by such brutality and rightfully so. The terrorist outfit is also known to destroy Shiite mosques, churches and ancient and medieval sites. Destruction of cultural symbols and scriptures is a known method of obliterating a civilization; Vatican would know that because it has been involved in single-handedly wiping out Pagan civilization of Pre-Christian world.

Two sides of the same coin?

The similarities between the two are so striking that they cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence. It is not for nothing that it is said ‘what goes around, comes around’. During the Crusades and Inquisition Jews, Pagans and Muslims who offered sanctuary to them were killed by crusaders and inquisitors. This time the tables have turned and it is Christians, Jews, Pagans and basically everyone who doesn’t fit ISIL’s description of ‘human’.

Here’s why the two are similar in more ways than one:

  1. Anti-Semitism and anti-Paganism are the core beliefs of both.
  2. Just like the Church believed then, the ISIL now opines that they alone have the right to decide who is a believer and who isn’t and by extension who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Options of non-believers are limited to ‘convert’ or ‘die’.
  3. Both are guilty of ethnic cleansing; ISIL has been wiping out Yazidis, Kurds, Shiites and other ethnic minorities with alarming consequences.
  4. Women have been targeted and sexually exploited.
  5. Both claim the sanction of their respective religious texts to justify their horrific acts. The Church has, in fact, been accused of not only manipulating but also fabricating texts to suit its purpose.

Lessons to be learned

When religion becomes a tool to gain control over people it most certainly destroys humanity. It is important to realise that religion is only one of the means to an end. Every human has the right to decide both the end and the means to get there. It is my firm belief that no faith, no God demands unquestioned following and if it does then it is time to give it up. Similarly all of us were not put on this earth to behave in a monotonous manner. Each of us is unique just like every tiger has its own stripes. Wouldn’t the world be a dull and boring place if there were only roses and no other plant?

Problems cannot be solved by burying our heads in the sand and ISIL is a real threat. Unless we learn from history and nip the issue in the bud we are bound to be destroyed by it. It is high time those who care for humanity take up the cudgels to stop ISIL in its tracks and save the world from disaster because no amount of apology is going to bring back what is lost.

P.S: All references to Christian Inquisition have been taken from the book The Dark Side of Christian History by Helen Ellerbe. I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg here as far as the Inquisition is concerned and reading the book would give you an actual measure of the horrors.

Latha is a content writer, with a Masters degree in Arts (History) and currently blogs in several sites such as saffronkoffee.wordpress.com and indiancoffeebeans.wordpress.com.
Latha Iyer


  1. Dear Latha hi,
    Congrats for writing on such a crucial issues of all the theocratic, monotheistic religion. It would be great if you write in a format that is accepted by various peer reviewed Journal like JSTOR, Elsevier, Taylor & Francis with proper referencing style. It will help us the digitization of the content you are writing or referring.
    I have one comment which you can add:
    Will Durant, the famous American historian said in his 11 volume book “The Story of Civilisation”:
    “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.”

    • Hello Guha Sir,

      Thanks a lot for your suggestions. I have noted them down and will surely pass them on to the concerned authorities.


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