Ever since 9/11 we have been encouraged to keep alert to what our neighbors might be up to and to be sure to report any suspicious activity to authorities. Reminds me so much of the late Middle Ages.

Right up until the U.S. Constitution in 1787, every country had a state religion. (Some still do.) This was to fulfill the state’s responsibility to see to it that their citizens behaved themselves. Adherence to the state church was taken very seriously.

To reject the state religion was considered an act of treason because it would disrupt the whole system of morality and break down the very fabric of society.

How did authorities know if a citizen was rejecting the state religion? Often it was busybody citizens who suspected their neighbors of heresy and so reported them to the local magistrate or constable, who didn’t know beans about theology but condemned the poor citizen to the gallows anyway.

When church authorities discovered what was going on, they established courts of inquiry overseen by theologians to judge whether or not the defendant was really a heretic and therefore a traitor. If found guilty, the state (not the church) dispatched him. But if found innocent he was set free. Many falsely condemned people were thus saved by the Inquisition.

(To relate this to modern times, being a Communist in this country a few decades ago was considered treason; the Rosenbergs were electrocuted in 1953 for giving secrets to the Russians.)

In a Feb. 17 letter headlined “Christianity must repent for its historic atrocities,” the writer refers to “the horrors inflicted by the Roman Catholic Church and the Christian faith,” presumably referring to the Courts of Inquisition. I think before flinging about accusations like that, one should take a modern course in history.

(And shame on the editor who wrote the headline.)

The Rev. Joseph R. McKenna

Portland