Malleus Maleficarum - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The above book written around 1486 by a German priest went on to play a large role in inspiring the witch hunting craze which spread around Europe for the following 300 years. During this time it is estimated anything between 35,000 and 70,000 people were executed for practising witchcraft throughout Europe. Other factors in this unfortuanate story of intolerance and persecution were tensions caused by Luthers reformation movement, the thirty years war and the basic superstition and ignorance which were common at the time to followers of all religions.
Whatever the underlying motives or explanations it was not christianities finest hour by any means.
This week one German court will attempt to redress the situation in its own way by re-opening one 400 year old case and attempting to re-evaluate the evidence.
Cologne witchcraft trial reopens after 400 years - The Local
If one long dead and unjustly executed witch (woman? witch?) can be retried can all the victims be given the same right? Should we do so before we can morally point fingers at other faiths we deem to be unjust or cruel in modern times? The last European woman (85% of victims were women) to be executed for witchcraft was commonly believed to have been in Glarus in Switzerland in 1782 however a woman was also executed in Prussia in 1811 in unclear circumstances. This may all seem a long time ago but the concept of the evil female survived a lot longer in popular memory and folklore and there are reports of such accusations being made in Spain during the civil war in the 1930's.
The defining characteristic of all the various persecutions and purges (also illustrated by Salem in 1692) is religious zealots who are convinced they are doing god's work and that the god they serve has given them the right, the duty even to persecute harmless women (unless you believe there are witches) in his name for the greater good.
This story might lead some to imagine that the treatment of women as second class citizens in society for so long and the still common disregard for their rights is largely a hangover produced by and inspired by religion. Not Islam, Judaism or Christianity specificlly, though all have their share of blame to carry, but religion as a concept as its very nature requires an evil force to counter. For too long all the worlds major religions have cast women in this role.
Many of the persecutions did occur without official church sanction and there are cases where the clergy tried to stamp out the practice. Some of the victims were chosen for motives which had nothing to do with religion. Nonetheless, the overall inspiration was religious in nature.
Should christians formally apologise and admit the error before feeling the moral superiority required to criticise others?
Should the very nature of religious beleif which at all times in all places seeks an enemy to persecute be questioned?
Or should we just carry on as we usually do, forget the whole sorry episode and pretend we're really different to any other religion which seeks to control and demonise its followers?