Crusader Talk

by Jonah Goldberg

I have received scads of angry e-mails from people furious with me for upsetting their settled opinion of the Crusades and the Inquisition(s). This email made me chuckle:

Dear Sir, I had a distant relative who participated in the Crusades. The Crusades were for profit, fame and glory.

“I cannot defend everything that was done”. Please detail what you can defend. 

“A force for the improvement of man”- I don’t believe that the elimination of millions of human beings, Jews and otherwise, by Christians “was a force for the improvement of man”.
Religions of various stripes have done more to forestall the improvement of man than anything.
Mans’ journey to justice, equality and the stars depends on man finally eschewing ALL religions. 
The funniest part is the appeal to the authority of his “distant relative.” Did this fellow’s distant relative leave him a note? Truth be told, I have a distant relative who was led out of the wilderness by Moses. So let me tell you what the Bible was really about. 
 
He also quotes a line from my column that was in the section on the Inquisitions. I can certainly defend some of the things done under the Inquisitions — the halting of witch trials, the mercy for falsely accused heretics etc. — but I can’t defend other things. The Spanish Inquisition involved some real horrors done in the name of the Church, though perhaps not on the scale implied by Mel Brooks and others. It’s worth noting that the Church is also the institution that finally put a stop to the Spanish Inquisition as well. 
 
But if forced, I can also defend some aspects of the Crusades. For starters, the effort to take back Christian lands from Muslim invaders certainly seems defensible (I am constantly amazed by the people who think Islam is a more authentically Middle Eastern religion than Christianity — or Judaism). The killing of Jews in Germany, indefensible. And so on. Medieval Europe was a pretty awful place by today’s standards, but it was in many respects a great improvement on what came before it, and that is in part thanks to the Church. Was it good for the Jews? Not so much. But, at least until the founding of America, that’s been true of most places and times for the last few thousand years. 
 
My critic simply asserts that religion holds us back. If that were true, how’d we make it this far? After all, up until the day before yesterday, it was religion all the way down. And yet, the reader himself must indict religion by insisting that religion’s crimes weren’t about religion! Note that he says the Crusades were “about profit, fame and glory.” He knows this because of his special relationship with a distant relative. But if that is the case, why the animosity to religion? After all atheists want to repeal theology and faith, I have yet to hear their program for doing away with the desire for profit, fame, and glory. And, let us remember, when humans seek profit, fame, and glory without the restraints imposed by religion, the record isn’t exactly unblemished, now is it. 
 
Anyway, this doesn’t deserve a long response, but I did think it was funny. 

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