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In the Boston Globe this weekend, the economist Peter Leeson argues that trial by ordeal—testing guilt by, say, forcing the hand of the accused into a vat of boiling water to see whether it burned—was a pretty effective way of judgment.

It’s a wild, and goofy, and interesting essay—but what struck me, on a first read, is how no religious intellectual these days would dare make that argument, even in a semi-facetious way. In fact, as Leeson notes, one of the main causes in the decline of the effectiveness of trial by ordeal was that the Church turned against it. But, still, the fear of the charge of medievalism is too great to allow any theologian to write the interesting thing that Leeson has produced.

I certainly wouldn’t have tried it—and I’m actually fascinated by similar questions about things like the effectiveness and social effect of trial by combat and code duello , or the arguments in favor election by lot that Cicero, as I recall, mounts.

But, then, I’ve internalized the Enlightenment critique and can’t shake free of it.

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