The Crusades: A Different Perspective

The Crusades are one of the more embarrassing historical events that Christians have to deal with. “Dealing with them” usually means apologizing for them and declaring that the Crusades were wholly inconsistent with true Christianity. That seems like the appropriate response if these military campaigns were all about greedy, colonizing barbarians waging war in the name of God.

But along comes Rodney Stark and his new book God’s Battalions: The Case For The Crusades. I have to admit that I didn’t know that there was much of a case to be made. But Stark, a respected sociologist and historian at Baylor, says that in this book he’s simply popularizing what is already considered common knowledge in the scholarly world.

Here’s the first question and answer from a recent phone interview.

Question: You are well known as a buster of historical myths. Your latest book takes on one of what most Americans would consider a truism: that the Crusades were simply evil and irrational. Why reassess the Crusades?

Rodney Stark: Because the Crusades are often understood within a larger framework that says that Islam is the gentle faith and Christianity the violent one. Karen Armstrong would have us believe that Muhammad was a pacifist. Take Major Nidal Hassan, the man responsible for the Fort Hood massacre. Had an evangelical Christian of the nutty sort gotten up in front of Army psychiatrists and talked about how much he respected people who shot abortionists, he would have been out of the Army an hour later. But everybody tiptoes around the issue of Islam.

Several months after 9/11, former President Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he apologized for the Crusades. He said we had much to be sorry about, and we bore some of the guilt for sending those airplanes plunging into the Twin Towers. Now, Clinton isn’t a nut. He’s not an anti-American. He’s just been miseducated. He’s been told a whole lot of nonsense about the Crusades.

The notion, for example, that the Crusaders went to get loot and land and riches is made absurd by the survival of hundreds and hundreds of mortgages that have been found in the archives at various monasteries and convents. These people mortgaged away everything they owned in order to get the money to march East. They went at enormous personal cost. Most of them died. They knew there wasn’t anything out there in the sand that was going to reward them for going.

The things I write about in this book are no secret among historians of the Crusades. I’m simply bringing their work to a popular audience. I quote those scholars at great length throughout the book. It struck me that the historians of the Crusades had not reached the public, and I would give it a shot

Read the whole thing.

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