What is stunning about Sam Harris’s chapter on the Inquisition is all the misinformation. Scholars of the Inquisition note that it is often hard to separate fact from fiction in the area of the Inquisition and around the 19th century, a lot of works came out documenting the events of the Inquisition and the claims in them were quite simply false. Harris lists, for instance, taking a pilgrimage to the holy land as a punishment. That one was news to me. The same applies to the forms of torture. The ones he mentions simply were not the ones used.
Please note in this that I am not justifying everything in the Inquisition. In some ways, it was a force for good, but it did a lot that was wrong also like many forces of good do. This was covered in our look at Eckhart Tolle and Christianity. There are many things that we as Christians should stand up about even in our own past and say “Yes. That was wrong.”
Harris blames this on the OT saying that it requires heretics to be put to death. Those ignorant of the biblical context will forget that this was being spoken of in a theocracy. Do you see it in the NT when there is not a theocracy? Not at all. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 5 to excommunicate the immoral brother from the church. He talks about handing heretics over to Satan. He doesn’t talk about destroying them himself. He leaves it in the hands of God.
He also says that as noted earlier, Deuteronomy was the preeminent text in every inquisitor’s canon. I’d like to see where that was noted.
Furthermore, he says that if someone came to tell an Israelite to worship other gods, they were to be put to death, even if a member of one’s own family. However, he goes on to say that anyone to squeamish to take part must be killed as well and cites Deut. 17:12-13. Let’s look at that text in context.
8 If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the LORD your God will choose. 9 Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. 10 You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the LORD will choose. Be careful to do everything they direct you to do. 11 Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. 12 The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. 13 All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.
The crime that is punishable in this case is contempt, since the judge represented God and it was contempt for God. Is there anything in this portion about worshiping foreign gods? Not at all. That was handled in the start of chapter 17 and ended with “You must purge the evil from among you.” Verse 8 goes on to start a new section. Quite frankly, Sam Harris got the reference wrong.
Friends. I noticed this just by opening up the Bible and looking at the passage for as soon as I read it, it struck me as something I wasn’t familiar with. Thus, by just a quick look, the whole argument was dismantled. Did Harris not bother? It could be simply that he hasn’t done the research. If he didn’t check this simple reference, why ought I to trust him on others?
Note also that on that same page, page 82, he speaks of Christ coming and saying that we fulfill every jot and tittle of the law. This is simple false. Jesus said he came to fulfill the law. He doesn’t tell us to fulfill every jot and tittle. Harris also says Jesus seemed to have burning heretics in mind in John 15:6 with the branches of the vine being cast off into the fire. This is some hideous eisegesis. Jesus was talking about salvation. He was not telling the apostles methods of dealing with heresy.
On note 12 in this chapter, Harris also goes into “Bible Contradictions.” These are incredibly laughable though and shows that Mr. Harris has most likely never been to a Bible College or Seminary and cracked open some commentaries. An example. Jesus was crucified at the third hour and crucified at the sixth hour. Simple study shows though that one time is the Roman standard and one is the Jewish standard. Also, one such as “Christ is equal with God vs. Christ is not equal with God.” No verses are given to back these either. A reference is given, but one wonders how much context is really being understood in these verses.
I’m not going to deny there are passages hard to understand and that require much work, but some are simple and don’t require much and Harris has chosen those as blatantly obvious contradictions.
He also notes a number given of 40,000-50,000 witches killed in over 300 years of persecution. I’m highly skeptical of this number as the death toll has been reported by some scholars to be in the thousands only and witchcraft was only mentioned for a very short period.
He then moves on to the holocaust with anti-Semitism and makes a remarkable statement:
“Anti-semitism is intrinsic to both Christianity and Islam. Both traditions consider the Jews to be bunglers of God’s initial revelation. Christians generally also believe that the Jews murdered Christ, and their continued existence as Jews constitutes a perverse denial of his status as the Messiah.”
What Christians is he talking to?
I can’t think of one who thinks that the Jews tampered with the OT we have today. I do admit there were re-translations of it in Greek by Jews, but deliberate alteration of the Hebrew text? Not at all.
Also, I can’t think of one who thinks the existence of the Jewish state is what Harris takes it to be, at least on the Christian side. Let the Muslims defend the attacks on their faith their own way. Some sources would have been nice.
Finally, anti-semitism is intrinsic? Yeah. Our Lord was born in a Jewish family, lived as a Jew, died and rose again a Jew, and had apostles go out who were Jews to reach Jews.
The whole thing is brimming with hatred for Jews.
It really makes you wonder what kind of Christianity Harris is talking about.
On page 95, Harris claims that the obsession with the Virgin birth was to deal with the church’s anxiety about sex and is a mistranslation of the Hebrew. Someone needs to get a copy of Robert Reymond’s “Jesus: Divine Messiah.”
He also states that Paul apparently believes that Jesus is the son of Joseph according to Romans 1:3 and says “Born of the seed of David, according to the flesh.” Very convenient he left out the next verse:
4and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is nothing there about Jesus being the Son of Joseph. Paul even has to say “According to the flesh”, which would mean a contrast in what he’s saying about the Spirit. This is seen as speaking of Jesus’s divine origin and his human origin both. He then states Galatians 4:4 and says “Meaning that Jesus was really human.”
Okay. I get really irritated at this point. It is HERESY to deny that Jesus was not human! Harris says there was no mention of Mary’s virginity. (When one thinks when listing something, the father would definitely be listed.) Why should Mary’s virginity be mentioned at all here though? It’s not central to the point and Paul’s epistles were not meant to give information about the historical Jesus but to give the ramifications thereof.
On pages 97-98 we have a list of Christian beliefs about Jews. Little problem though. Not a single source is listed.
On page 99, he tells us that the doctrine of transubstantiation was formally established in 1252 at the Fourth Lateran Council. Must be news to NewAdvent.org as well as Harold O.J. Brown’s book “Heresies” as both of those have the doctrine being formalized and the council taking place in 1215 as well as Geisler’s Systematic Theology Volume 4. (To be fair, Brown’s book only mentions transubstantiation specifically.)
Again, one has to wonder about his research….
Interestingly, when speaking of what happened in Nazi Germany, Harris says “There were, no doubt, innumerable instances in which European Christians risked their lives to protect the Jews in their midst, and did so because of their Christianity. But they were not innumerable enough.”
Not innumerable enough?
How do you get more innumerable?
How many beyond innumerable is required?
A paragraph on page 106 ends “Whenever you hear that people have begun killing noncombatants intentionally and indiscriminately, ask yourself what dogma stands at their backs. What do these freshly minted killers believe? You will find that it is always–always–preposterous.
Good idea! Let’s name a few….
Hmmm. Anyone see any similarities in these names?
Oh yes! Regimes founded on atheism!
And I agree! It is preposterous!