Christine Caldwell Ames suggests that the idea of punishing wrong belief is not just a thing of the past.
I think what’s crucial for a modern person looking at the medieval inquisition is to ask oneself, what do you think is worthy of punishment – in our world, in say the modern West? What is worthy of punishment in terms of action or also belief? And certainly there are many ways in the modern West in which we try, say, to shape other’s beliefs, in which we try to live in community, in which we try to have community norms that can potentially be punished in different ways, whether it’s social approbation or something stronger than that.
And so I think what is most important is to come back to this very medieval idea, the consequences of wrong belief – the consequences that are social in terms of community, but much more importantly are significant for the believer’s eternal life. And so I do think that, again, a modern person should be asked precisely this: what do you think is insupportable in your community? And try to apply that thought, that understanding, to people in medieval Europe.