Tales of Absolute Morality (2)

Pedro de Garza, 1480 AD

Don Hernan, a low ranking nobleman, arrives weary and distressed to the country home of a well-to-do fellow knight, Don Alberto, who is just sitting down to an evening merienda in the courtyard.

Don Alberto: Hernan! What is the matter with you? Something awful has happened! Sit, let me pour you some wine.

Don Hernan (sitting, listlessly accepting a cup of wine): Awful… You remember Don Pedro de Garza?

Don Alberto: The marrano lawyer? Heard he ran into some trouble with the Inquisition.

Don Hernan: He was executed this morning.

Don Alberto: Executed? Poor bastard. I figured he would just confess to whatever they were accusing him of, pay a fine, do his penance, and go back to cooking the books for the Duke.

Don Hernan: Seems he did not.

Don Alberto: But Hernan, I’ve never seen you so shaken. One marrano more or less…

Don Hernan: They burnt him, Alberto. Of course he passed out from the smoke and the heat before he really got cooking, but… I’ve seen executions, Alberto… nothing like this.

Don Alberto: I thought you hated Don Pedro.

Don Hernan: Por Dios! Of course I hated that cerdo marrano, I’m a true Spaniard, aren’t I? My people are originally from Asturias, never conquered by the Moors!  My ancestors fought with Alfonso VI and El Cid! Of course I hated watching that bastard working for the Duke and dressing his wife in silk while I, a knight, have to scrape for every dollar… but I didn’t want to see the man dead. Not like that. Not really.

(The two men sit in silence for a while)

Don Alberto: Well, the marrano was a wealthy man. His poor children: since this was a capital case, of course, his property is now forfeit to the King…. He could have avoided it with a confession. Why do you think he didn’t confess?

Don Hernan: I don’t know. I’m sure they tried to rack a confession out of him… When they led him out of prison, you saw a shadow of a man: he was pale and thin. The common folk jeered. The mayor and Don Sancho, that fat cuervo of a priest, those two looked happy as pigs in shit. Only the Duke looked sorry.

Don Alberto: The Duke was sorry not because he cared about the marrano, but because he did not have the power to protect his own employee. The Duke is not a popular man in court nowadays.

Don Hernan: Really? What would I know. Too far above my head… But, Don Hernan, the things Don Pedro said. The Duke let him address the crowd… he acted for all the world like an innocent man.

Don Alberto: Naturally, he would act innocent.

Don Hernan: No, he spoke as if he were as innocent as you or I, as if he were a Spaniard. He said: My ancestor Issac bar-Jona arrived to Spain from Tunis in the times of Alfonso X, and lived in the service of that great king. My family has always lived under the protection of the kings of Spain. I have always boasted that I am a son of Abraham, (you can imagine the reaction of the crowds to that!) and count as my ancestors the very Patriarchs! Not only are the Patriarchs and Prophets my kin, so too is our blessed Lord and Savior! As too is the blessed Virgin, and Santiago Mata-Moros, and all the Apostles!

My great-grandfather received the waters of baptism by the hands of Vincent Ferrer himself. My maternal uncle served as Bishop of Valencia. Though I am not a knight, and have little training in arms, as a young man I rode against the Moors and killed one with my own blade in action outside Cordova. Though I am as much a sinner as any of you, never in my life have I missed a Mass or Holy Day. They accuse me of being a Jew in secret: I am openly a Jew in blood, a proud member of that noble race! But, doubly blessed, I am a Christian in faith! And it is as a Christian that I forgive you, my persecutors.

The crowd would have torn him to pieces right there had the Duke not been present with soldiers. They staked him, torched him, and the soldiers had to force Don Sancho to hold up the Cross so Don Pedro could look upon it as he died… the only thing Don Sancho hates more than real Jews are marranos. And the mayor, with his stupid peasant grin; never would you have thought death could make a man so happy.

Don Alberto: Well, the mayor would rather kill the Duke, but since he can’t, he will have to settle for the Duke’s marrano… Hernan, you believe the marrano was innocent? Well, no man is innocent… I mean, as innocent as a man can be?

Don Hernan: I don’t know… I believe that where there is smoke there is fire. I know that Jews are stubborn and black-hearted enough to put up with torture and go on pretending to be decent Christians even while staring death in the eye… Still, I hope King Ferdinand knows what he is doing.

Don Alberto: Hernan, I have always loved your straightforwardness. I too believe that the King knows perfectly well what he is doing.

16 comments

  1. Don’t get it. Why absolute morality? Did you tape the original conversation in 1480 so we can prove that these two people had exactly the same concerns about rights and wrongs as we do now?

    1. The Spanish Inquisition was an interesting case of mass hysteria, racial paranoia, and cynical politics. The vast majority of Spaniards thought it was a good thing.
      But that does not mean that there wasn’t enough information on the ground for someone to see what was really going on, especially for people who had political connections.
      The point being that 90% of the people thinking something is right does not necessarily make it so. Moral discernment is possible.

      1. I’m just not clear how this adds anything to your point of view or illustrates anything that contradicts that ‘nonsense morality label’ point of view.

  2. Another well written piece.
    I, also , am not quite sure what point, if any, you are trying to illustrate.

    But this certainly demonstrates the real danger of having anything but a secular humanist ‘government’ holding the reins of power.

    That such politically motivated acts had religion as the basis makes it even wore.
    A world without religion would be a much more pleasant place to live – and certainly back then in the ‘ good ol’ days.’

    1. I think the point is (1) if morals are completely relative to culture, then we have no grounds to criticize such an inhumane thing as the Spanish Inquisition, but (2) if morals are not completely relative to culture, then even people caught up in the mass paranoia of the Inquisition should have been able to perceive that something was wrong.
      Personally, I am happy with a small ‘s’ secular gov, but any governing ideology can be twisted to perverse ends.

      1. I have the feeling this is a potential minefield.
        I will , however, opt for 2.
        I believe they were aware that a LOT was wrong but fear kept them from reacting ”morally”.

      2. From what I know of the Spanish Inquisition, it was very popular. Traditionally in Spain Jews and marranos were protected (and exploited) by the upper nobility and the bishops, while the lower nobility, commoners, and lower clergy wanted them dead or expelled. Eventually the kings found it more expedient to side with popular opinion. Ferdinand expelled the Jews and set up the Inquisition to terrorize marranos (second and third generation coverts to Christianity from Judaism) for fear that they were secretly practicing Judaism. Ironically, there is no evidence to suggest that the persecuted marranos were anything but good Catholics.
        (Any info I have is derived from Benzion Netanyahu’s “The Origins of the Spanish Inquisition”, a long book but worth the effort.)

      3. I would suspect that the popularity stemmed from the fact it was someone else at the stake and not them, as yu piece illustrates

        Once more, this was legislated murder in the name of religion.
        The ‘hated’ Jews’ has/had a religious foundation.
        Without this n
        Nonsense we would have one less thing to concern ourselves with.

        And again, fear in such instances is a great motivator to cheer from the sidelines or merely keep quiet.

        I would venture that a large part of religion is basically immoral because of the ulterior motives.

      4. Anti-semitism predates Christianity in the Mediterranean world; Christianity just added a religious narrative, changed the foundation if you will.
        But in Spain, the focus changes: it is not enough for the Jew to become a Christian. The Christian Jew is still considered an enemy. This is not a religious foundation, but a racial one.
        Anyway, none of this is meant to directly contradict what you are saying, maybe just help refine it a bit.

      5. I am aware that anti antisemitism predates Christianity.

        As you note, Christianity merely helped refine it, although I would venture more than a bit,especially if one takes the likes of ”dear” Adolf into consideration. And it still prevails today, due in no small part to the subtle yet erroneous Christian reminders that the Jews were responsible for the death of their god man.
        Maybe when the Jews finally announce to the world (officially) the Torah is nonsense and especially the Pentateuch they will clear the path toward removing a lot of the enmity they have incurred.

      6. There is allot to unpack here:
        I don’t deny that Christianity was a powerful factor in the development of European anti-semitism. But the Spanish version took it beyond the realm of religion and made it a question of race, not religion. The Nazi version was similar, though it was even less dependant on religion.
        I have known Christian anti-semites; they are generally from (surprise!) Spanish speaking countries. Hispanics have a tendency to paranoid conspiracy theories.
        Contemporary anti-semitism is mostly found among Muslims, (“anti-semitism” here being used analogously since I guess arabs are technically semites) which is a new thing since for most of their history Muslims have not been particularly anti-Jewish. It is easier to blame their 20th century backwardness on Jews/Israel than themselves.
        It is also found among contemporary secularists who have a hard time distinguishing their critique of modern Israel from hating on Jews. Someone who criticises the state of Israel for doing things that any other country would do in a similar situation is an anti-semite.
        As for your suggestion that the Jews should “officially” drop the Torah (as if all Jews secretly think alike on religious questions)… isn’t that just blaming the victim?

      7. You seem to edging this conversation toward a possible clash of heads.

        I did not say race was not a factor, but religion is the core, for without the religious element there would be no racial element.

        As for the Israeli issue, there are some well known Jews who do not consider there is an inherent right to the land they currently occupy and on the face would gladly negotiate a settlement.
        The trouble with this, of course is by denouncing the Torah the whole Abrahamic god question is suddenly brought into question. Somehow I don’t think the Christians are ready just yet, and you can bet your backside the Muslims sure as hell aren’t.

        And the only reason there are political &, racial issues is because of the religious one in the first place.
        And the moral dilemma facing Christians in particular over support for Israel should the Jews eventually denounce their own religion is going to be very interesting to watch play out.

      8. Edging towards a clash of heads… funny, in my last response I had some choice comments about Marcion and his modern acolytes, but I thought better of it. I’m not in the mood today.
        I’ll limit myself to some more narrow observations: 1) Modern Israel is a largely secular project. The claim is not based on religion but on history. I doubt history grants modern Jews a right to occupy their historical territory, but that abstract argument is moot because the state of Israel does in fact exist.
        2) In settling negotiations, it takes two: the general ineptitude and bad faith of the various Palestinian factions is probably the main obstacle to peace.
        3) “Christian” support for Israel should probably read “American” support, which is fairly well distributed among the populace. Only the far right and far left in America resent the support for Israel, but the far left, which tends to be secular, makes more noise about it. Most non-English speaking Christians I know are sort of indifferent, or even hostile to Israel.
        4) Again, what is this about “Jews denouncing their own religion”? Judaism does not have an internal authority like a Council, Synod or Papacy and the levels of faith and modes of practice are quite diverse. Unless there is some secret meeting of Elders of Zion I should know about?

      9. Historically, Judaism and the State of Israel hinge largely on the Pentateuch.

        There are many Jews who regard the Pentateuch as nonsense and have written about it, including Rabbis.
        It is not even taught at state school other than as myth.
        But there is a strong element that is continually resisting this, especially Jewish orthodoxy and the fundamentalist element of Christianity who assert the Exodus was an historical event and Moses was a real person.

        Imagine, if you will, the Pope were to announce that everything pertaining to Catholicism was Hokum and he was going to commence the dismantling of the Catholic Church immediately?

        Envisage a similar scenario with Judaism.

        Now try to imagine the reaction of Christians and Muslims.

        No religion of Judaism, no Yahweh.
        And there goes any argument for morality being from ”God”.

        Now that would be very interesting.

      10. Some some Jews don’t believe the Pentateuch, others do? Yeah, that has been true for a few centuries. Back to my point: there is great diversity of belief among Jews and no central religious authority to impose one. The Jews don’t have anything analogous to a Pope.
        If the stories of the OT were nothing other than post-factum justifications for the development of the Jewish people, then what bearing does that have on the modern state, which is a secular project? Can you name any Orthodox Jews among the founders of the Israeli State? I can’t.
        Orthodox Zionism does exist, but it has only been around for a couple of decades, because only for the last generation have Orthodox Israeli Jews been asking themselves if they ought not be trying to be good citizens of the secular Israel. As such it represents a conscious break with traditional Orthodoxy.

      11. I think you are missing the point, or trying to avoid it.
        If here is a general acceptance of the fallacious nature of the Torah and there is political as well as religious acceptance, then the religion of Judaism will fall away, leaving only a minority of fanatics.
        In a generation or two…or three this number will be insignificant, and this will signify the beginning of the end for the Abrahamic religions as we currently know them. This will obviously have long term ramifications for the whole of the middle east, not just Israel. ( and let’s remember where that name originated from)
        And there are Jews/Israelis who are working toward this aim.

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