Pope Innocent II has a lot to answer for. After his elevation to the papacy in 1130, the church was deeply divided and there were actually two Popes, one of whom – not Innocent – had been supported by a majority of cardinals.
In 1139, after his competitor had died, he called the Second Lateran Council to address the divisions. The Council’s 23rd canon declared that: “We condemn and cast out of the church as heretics those who, simulating a kind of religious zeal, reject the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, the baptism of infants, the priesthood, and other ecclesiastical orders. As well as matrimony and ordain that they will be restrained by the civil power. For their partisans also we decree the same power.”
R.I. Moore’s The War on Heresy Faith and Power in Medieval Europe tells the gory story of this war on heretics, from the Cathars to the Knights Templar. The Cathar heretics, he says, may not have even existed, and the push was more about taking over land than about religion. The shades of the Templars must have been pleased to be exonerated 700 years later.
But the real significance was that the Council was responsible for the normalisation of the systematic persecution of ‘heretics’ over hundreds of years. And it continues today – in both religious and secular situations – with metaphorical rather than literal auto-da-fés.
The long memories of the religious who hunt heretics was exemplified by the recent attack on Salman Rushdie in New York State. Indeed, recently Salman Rushdie has, in effect, taken Moore forward when he warned about the danger of righteous group think, urging people to question “the strait-jacket of one-dimensional national, ethnic, religious or tribal identity” and stating that this is “the evil from which flow all the other evils of our time.”
For the woke – although not suggesting they are about to start stabbing people – he warns that “this is a historical mistake of the progressive left: the sense that people who say they’re offended have a right to have their offenders assuaged.”
After all, both the woke and the reactionaries share a common methodology in upholding their belief systems and rooting out heretics and dissidents. In the US during the McCarthy era, the FBI and the House ‘un-American’ activities committee trawled over past views and positions to expose and condemn actors, politicians and public servants.
McCarthy, by the way, was assisted by the poisonous Roy Cohn, who went on to work with the young Donald Trump.
In Australia this year, Melbourne city councillor Rohan Leppert was attacked for raising questions about the Andrews government’s gay-conversion legislation and was vilified by fellow Greens for being ‘transphobic’.
Also this year, the Greens forced out Linda Gale, a senior industrial officer at the National Tertiary Education Union, who had been elected to fill a casual vacancy of state convener of the Victorian Greens, on the basis of a 2019 paper she had written which other Greens considered transphobic.
The Age reported:
News of Gale’s election last week was met with a Facebook post by Green member and Port Phillip deputy mayor Tim Baxter, who accused her of transphobia and posted that her “(narrow) victory sends a clear message to all members of the Victorian Greens: Trans people are not safe in this party.”
Baxter criticised “hostile TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists)] and transphobes who “continue to push for their right to ‘question’ the humanity and rights of trans people”.
Sometimes it almost seems as if this type of wokeness was invented by the right to keep activists focussed on gender pronouns while corporations got on with pillaging the planet and populations.
Meanwhile, we should not forget that McCarthyism is still rampant in the United States – except with different targets. PEN America is campaigning about the removal of thousands of titles from library shelves in “an epidemic of right-wing hysteria”. PEN says:
Today, books in the US are under profound attack. They are disappearing from library shelves, being challenged in droves, being decreed off limits by school boards, legislators and prison authorities. And everywhere, it is the books that have long fought for a place in the shelf that are being targeted. Books by authors of colour, by LGBTQ+ authors, by women. Books about racism, sexuality, gender, history.
Meanwhile, a group of editors at the Springer Nature publisher has called for extending academic publishing principles to address humans who do not participate directly in the research.
… people can be harmed indirectly. For example, research may – inadvertently – stigmatise individuals or human groups. It may be discriminatory, racist, sexist, ableist or homophobic. It may provide justification for undermining the human rights of specific groups, simply because of their social characteristics.
In the past, much research on humans was all of those, but even anthropologists – who were once significant offenders – now have ethics codes which consider harms for people or groups not directly involved in a research project.
We are also seeing new attacks on dissidents as if they were modern day heretics. In British history, monarch after monarch has been booed, assailed with missiles and even beheaded or sodomised with a hot poker. George IV – and his mistresses – faced catcalls whenever they went out in public.
Now, anyone dissenting from the required Elizabethan mourning, or daring to criticise the Royals, is facing criminal charges. Even verbally attacking the awful Prince Andrew is enough to get a Bobby arresting you.
In Australia, it’s the same with NRL’s integrity unit, serving former Jillaroos representative Caitlin Moran with a breach notice over a social media post about the Queen.
But, then, let’s be realistic: dividing the world into the righteous and the heretics may be what defines us as humans.
In his 1935 book, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, anthropologist Gregory Bateson argued that human beings define themselves and each other through a process of ‘schismogenesis’. The term is derived from the Greek which refers to the ‘creation of division’ – a method of self-differentiation and group identification.
Innocent II would have agreed.
This article was originally published on the author’s personal blog here.
Photo by Slices of Light on Flickr