Today in this country, we pretty much take it for granted that we’re free to worship any god we want…or no god at all.
But as you’re probably aware, that is a relatively new concept in human history. And in many parts of the world, this freedom still does not exist.
What you might not know is that the novel Don Quixote had a profound impact on religious liberty. The book takes a very critical view of the Spanish Inquisition, which ordered—often under the penalty of death—nonbelievers in the Spanish colonies to convert to Catholicism.
As Universidad Francisco Marroquin Professor Eric Graf explains in the new Learn Liberty video below, Don Quixote alludes to the Spanish Inquisition by using the burning of books as a metaphor for those burned alive for failing to comply with Catholic orthodoxy during the Inquisition.
Here’s how the scene plays out in the novel: The character Don Quixote is driven mad by reading acts of chivalry. His friends want to save him by burning the books that they think are making him crazy. Though they originally have a criteria about what to burn, they abandon caution quickly and end up burning all of his books in their haste.
It’s a biting commentary about how the Spanish Inquisition ended up killing human beings indiscriminately through attempts to control individual thought and expression. And while it might have gone over the heads of Spanish censors, it has influenced millions of readers since.
“We all have a right to our own thoughts and beliefs,” says Professor Graf. “And this is what this novel is about.”

Photo Credit: LearningLark under CC by 2.0