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What about …*?

*Insert an historical event that is emotionally thrown at Christians and advocates of the Judeo-Christian west in an argument.  Typically this is the Crusades or the Inquisition.

It does not take one long to encounter an argument such as the one posited above when engaging in everything from history to evangelism.  While this argument is illogical, and is often either an ad hominem or an argument by outrage, it is extremely popular with self-styled skeptics in particular, and unfortunately some Christians have capitulated to it.  Basically, the argument asserts that because of some horrible event in the past occurred, the message is wrong or at least highly questionable.   However, in the case of the two most common events listed above, historical ignorance and modern sensibilities are in play, and the official “PC” story is far from the truth.

Historian Thomas F Madden (PH.D, University of Illinois), who is the chair of the history department at the University of St. Louis, has done much to remedy some of this ignorance.  In his article entitled “The Real History of the Crusades,” Madden provides the following facts to the chagrin of many (direct citations in quotes):

1. The Crusades were a defensive war to, “turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.”
2. Christians in the 11th century were not superstitious and paranoid, Islam was “gunning for them.”
3. “They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.”
4. Crusading knights were generally wealthy men who gave up everything in an act they perceived as an act of charity and love (of course there may be an exception here or there).
5. The reconquest of Jerusalem was not an act of colonialism but an act of restoration and a declaration of one’s love of God.
6. “It is often assumed that the central goal of the Crusades was forced conversion of the Muslim world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is only a few of the facts Madden provides.  While some may disagree with some of the theology involved here, the popular conception of blood-thirsty colonial knights invading a peaceful Muslim world is a myth.  No doubt atrocities occurred during this conflict, war has a way of bringing out the worst in men. But to use this as an argument against Christians or the west is fallacious, misses the point, and is historically ignorant. The entire article by Madden can be found here: The Real History of the Crusades.

A posting on the Inquisition is possibly forthcoming, but for some reading material to demonstrate how many misconceptions are involved, see this article: Spanish Inquisition and Christianity.

Any thoughts?

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13 Comments

  1. Julie says:

    I spent several hours listening to Christopher Hitchens lecture on his book, “God is Not Great: How Christianity Poisons Everything.” After years of compiling exhausting lists of “crimes against humanity” perpetrated by Christians, he still fails to recognize that all he has done is shown that man, by his very nature, is depraved. He has not proven or disproven the existence of God. He has not attacked the foundations of morality. He hasn’t discredited the teachings of Christ. He has merely provided irrefutable evidence of man’s need for a savior. The sort of “logic” that states that, because people are capable of unspeakable evils (which were, unquestionably, part of both the inquisition and the crusades), religion is somehow “poisoning everything” is really no logic at all. People–both christian and non–are capable of unspeakable atrocity. That simple truth is merely a statement of fact, and neither proves or disproves anything. Man is by nature a sinner–a power-hungry, self-preserving sinner–and as such, he has often employed religion as a vehicle to advance himself or his cause toward position, fame, fortune, etc. Man has corrupted religion. Thus, regardless of the “reasons” why the Inquisition, Crusades, etc. took place, the real question that must be answered is “Were these actions reflective of the teachings of Christ? Were they in line with the example He set forth for his followers?” I understand that, for Christianity to advance, it was compelled to ward off it’s enemies. Unfortunately, part of that “defense of religion” was war–the way we, as imperfect beings, tend to resolve issues. That being said, I wish we would spend more time expositing on and demonstrating Christ’s teachings, and less time defending the war crimes committed by “religious people.” Just a thought…

    I’m so glad you brought this up. This issues have been weighing on me lately….

    • Julie, I think your assessment of Hitchens is highly accurate, and I’d actually recommend a book by Vox Day called “The Irrational Atheist” that deals with Hitchens and his ilk, and at one point was able to be downloaded for free. In terms of Christian apologetics, I agree that regardless of the reasons and motives for a given event taken place, the Christian message is still intact. That is why I listed ad hominem as one of the fallacies, since it is attacking the messenger and not the argument itself. The argument, “but that was so horrible” is argument by outrage, and Hitchens is guilty of committing both fallacies.

      This being said, correcting ignorance is something we can still participate in, especially when it comes in areas such as history. When those in the polticially correct and “progressive” realm make inaccurate statements, such as the motivations behind the Crusades, we can and should correct those who perpetuate this sort of thinking. While I’m not saying the Crusades were completely in the right, I do think most moderns look at them rather simplistically and haughtily, and look for anything negative to discredit Christianity in the public arena. This is why I will defend (but not always endorse) some of the ideas behind the initial Crusades, especially when it comes to politics. My response to Jeremy contains some more on this…

    • Julie, I think your assessment of Hitchens is highly accurate, and I’d actually recommend a book by Vox Day called “The Irrational Atheist” that deals with Hitchens and his ilk, and at one point was available to be downloaded for free. In terms of Christian apologetics, I agree that regardless of the reasons and motives for a given event, the Christian message is still intact. That is why I listed ad hominem as one of the fallacies, since it is attacking the messenger and not the argument itself. The argument, “but that was so horrible” is argument by outrage, and Hitchens is guilty of committing both fallacies.

      This being said, correcting ignorance is something we can still participate in, especially when it comes in areas such as history. When those in the politically correct and “progressive” realm make inaccurate statements, such as the motivations behind the Crusades, we can and should correct those who perpetuate this sort of thinking. While I’m not saying the Crusades were completely in the right, I do think most moderns look at them rather simplistically and haughtily, and look for anything negative to discredit Christianity in the public arena. This is why I will defend (but not always endorse) some of the ideas behind the initial Crusades, especially when it comes to politics. My response to Jeremy contains some more on this…

  2. Jeremy Woods says:

    Aaron,

    The article you linked to was helpful. I especially liked the first part of his conclusion- that it is easy for us to scoff at the crusades in our century, without knowing their thought processes and worldview. Out worldview is no doubt different.

    Do we as Christians fight holy wars today? No. Should we? No! Why? Because looking at scripture and modern missions (yes, I am going to be pastoral), we can note two things. First, John 4:21-24 —

    “Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.'”

    This time has now arrived, where neither Jerusalem, nor any other place, is considered holy. Rather, our worship of God is in spirit and in truth. When Jesus died, our sin was fully and finally atoned, the curtain of the temple tore, thus giving us direct access to God through the power of the Holy Spirit (Yay Trinity!). Thus, the “Holy Land” that we are now competing for is the heart of non-Christians. In which case, war is not a desirable strategy.

    Second, let us take the modern missional example of Wheaton’s heroes Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, and Edward McCully. They did not wage holy war. They shared the gospel and gave their lives for the sake of Christ. Through a tragedy, God used that experience to bring a tribe to faith in Christ. In this example we can see God worked through the sharing of the gospel. Rom. 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

    In short, here is my point: Did the crusaders act best according to their worldview? Yes. Do I agree with their tactics? No- they were much more practical that scriptural! Would the world look different without the crusades? Probably. But God would still be sovereign, establishing his church for His people.

    All of this above would agree with your point that despite our particular theology of the Crusades (and I certainly differ from the author you mentioned in certain points as described above), it is fallacious to use it as an argument against Christianity. As Julie has said above, it shows our depravity in not always making the right choices, and thus our great need for Christ. Her post reminds me of John Newton’s famous quote:

    “My memory is nearly gone;
    but I remember two things;
    That I am a great sinner, and
    that Christ is a great Saviour.”

    Jeremy

    • I think one of the problems many people have in understanding the Crusades and the Inquisition is we all have this assumption, correct or not, that church and state don’t exist together. Scripture doesn’t provide much in terms of what a temporal Christian government should look like, unless one looks to Israel or Eschatology, both of which don’t exactly provide a parallel, as helpful as the lessons can be. Passages such as Romans 13 and others are hard to apply when the church and the state are the same, or when the authorities are the people themselves…

      With this in mind, we could ask ourselves, if we are were knights, Dukes, Kings etc…and our brothers in the east were being attacked, pillaged etc…would we do nothing? I’m not talking about spreading the gospel here, but in terms of pure political survival. In this manner, I believe some (not all) of the Crusade ideas were completely justified.

  3. Doug says:

    Can you come teach in my classroom?

  4. Doug says:

    Islam what the west needs to know dvd would go along with this.

  5. If the school pays for my ticket, I’ll gladly come teach. I agree that the DVD would go along with this topic quite well.

  6. nandrosa says:

    I’ve seen that documentary through Netflix and I’d like to question Jeremy’s assertion that we shouldn’t fight holy wars today. If that DVD is correct in claiming that the Islamic world is simply gathering strength for a renewed attack on the ‘Christian’ world, then a retaliatory ‘holy war’ for survival doesn’t seem out of the question. I guess this quickly turns in to a debate on ‘just war’ (but not necessarily one in which the army is that of a particular nation state’s).

    • I suppose the term “holy war” may carry some connotations that may be repulsive to some, but as a whole I agree that there such a thing as a just war in the repelling of Islam. While I agree with Jeremy that the gospel is of first importance, that doesn’t negate that practical politics are a necessary evil, and that involves war decisions by Christians, especially in the western world.

  7. […] and Heretics 15 03 2010 As a follow-up to the post detailing some “myth-busters” involving the Crusades, some interesting information can also be gleaned about the Inquisition, its most famous […]

  8. […] Battalions (part 1) 8 06 2010 In a previous posting, an article by Thomas Madden was introduced, which dispels some of the myths and misunderstandings […]

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