If you don't pack your brain

On this date in history, October 21, 1096, the “People’s Crusade” was crushed by the Turks at the Battle of Civetot. It’s one of those episodes that seems to prove religion can make you stupid, although a better lesson may be being human can make you stupid and if you expect God to provide you should try to meet Him half-way. It’s like asking God to rescue you from a flood then refusing to swim to safety as a mark of faith.

In case you haven’t been subjected to this particular outburst of foolish and unstructured religious enthusiasm, it happened as Pope Urban II was organizing the First Crusade, which was a proper military expedition with religious motives that paid attention to mundane things like logistics, weapons, knowing how to fight and having sensible leaders. But while it was brewing this clown called Peter the Hermit, a charismatic monk who claimed to have not only a commission from Christ but an actual letter, went around encouraging people to march on Jerusalem armed only with their faith.

A surprising number felt that this proposition made good sense, including women and children and a few actual soldiers including Walter Sans Avoir. He is often miscalled Walter the Penniless but in fact his name comes from being the lord of Boissy-sans-Avoir. Although common sense was one thing he did not apparently avoir and he died at Civetot when he acquired as many as seven arrows express delivery from the Turks.

The entire People’s Army lacked many other things, from food to sense to decency. Part of their plan to liberate Jerusalem from Muslims involved slaughtering Jews in Germany, something the Church tried hard to prevent them from doing. Then they wandered south-east, puzzling and plundering people who didn’t want to seem inhospitable or impious but also didn’t want these vagabonds eating all their food before falling in the river or having their heads cut off with scimitars.

It ended about the way you’d expect. They finally blundered into battle with the Turks in as tactically hapless a manner as you’d expect and were mostly slaughtered, although the victors generally spared women, children and those who surrendered (not spared in the sense of let them go, of course, but in the sense of let them be slaves) while a few thousand managed to hole up in an abandoned castle, withstand a siege and eventually be bailed out by Byzantine soldiers who knew what they were doing. As for Peter, he slipped away for more supplies and lived on for decades as an increasingly minor celebrity and died in obscurity.

So yes, religious enthusiasm without structure can lead to disaster both practical and moral. But nobody said God wanted you to be an idiot… except people who don’t believe in God. So don’t be an idiot.