If the Inquisition is Exhibit A in the case against religion and more specifically the Catholic Church, then the Crusades are probably Exhibit B.
A few nights ago BBC 2 aired the first of a new three-part series about the Crusades kicking off with the First Crusade. I was hoping for a slightly more balanced than usual presentation of this event, but was disappointed. It was as stereotypical and one-sided as usual.
Particularly disappointing was the way in which the programme presented the reasons why Pope Urban II called for a crusade in 1095. So far as the programme was concerned, Urban did so for entirely cynical reasons and he plucked the idea more or less out of thin air.
A more balanced programme would have provided much more context for his call.
For example, it would have shown the way in which the Turks had conquered almost all of what remained of the Byzantine Empire only recently and were threatening Constantinople with the next stop being Europe itself.
It would have pointed out that for four centuries Christendom was largely on the defensive against a very aggressive Islam and several times threatened the very existence of Christendom. Islam had already taken three out of the five ancient patriarchates, including Jerusalem, with only Rome and Constantinople remaining in Christian hands.
It should have made much more of the fact that the Byzantine Emperor had pleaded with the Pope for assistance.
It should have been more honest about the increased attacks on pilgrims trying to make their way to Jerusalem, and on the Holy Places. (Imagine if Christians made the route to Mecca unsafe today).
Instead it glided over all these reasons or ignored them entirely. Not good enough.