July 23, 2015

Crusades versus Christianity

Photo: Kingdom of Heaven (2005 film)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, July 23, 2015

Crusades versus Christianity

Many persons object to Christianity because of the horror of the Crusades (c. 1096-1291). I think this objection can be diffused with four points.

First, contrary to popular opinion, the Crusades were not acts of unprovoked aggression against the Islamic world. The Crusades were in fact a belated response to centuries of Muslim military aggression. As Steve Lee points out in Apologetics Study Bible for Students, "Christian Europe had to defend itself or be overcome by Islamic invasion."
Second, though much evil occurred during the Crusades, the Crusades weren't as bad (comparatively speaking) as many think. Historical perspective is helpful. Compare the goings-on of some officially atheist societies with that of some predominately Christian ones.

The major horrors of Christian Europe—i.e., the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition—amounted to the killing of 1.4 million people. This is terrible and wrong, to be sure.

Significantly, however, the following body count under two officially atheist regimes should also be noticed: China 80,170,000; USSR 61,911,000. Total: over 142 million!

Two officially atheist regimes are responsible for 100 times as many killings than predominantly Christian societies!

(Note: The above numbers are from Rudolph Rummel, a Nobel Peace Prize nominated political science professor at U of Hawaii. Rummel's specialty is the study of genocide and deomcide.)

Third, Christianity's track record is far from wholly negative. Pros—not just cons—should be considered.

Near the end of his seven-volume A History of the Expansion of Christianity (Harper, 1945), Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette concludes as follows:

"[Christianity] has been the most potent force which mankind has known for the dispelling of illiteracy, the creation of schools, [and] for the emergence of new types of education."

Latourette adds: "The universities...were at the outset largely Christian creations.... Music, architecture, painting, poetry, and philosophy have owed some of their greatest achievements to Christianity."

Latourette continues: "Democracy as it was known in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was in large part the outgrowth of Christian teaching. The abolition of Negro slavery was largely due to Christianity. So, too, were the measures to protect the Indians against exploitation of the whites.... The elevation of the status of women owed an incalculable debt to Christianity...."

In fact, according to Latourette, "No other single force has been so widely potent for the relief of suffering brought by famine and for the creation of hospitals and orphanages."

(Recent social-religious historical work by Alvin Schmidt, Rodney Stark, Vishal Mangalwadi, and others confirms Latourette's work.

Fourth, whether the central doctrines of a worldview are true doesn't depend on the failure of adherents to live up to that worldview's moral standards.

For example, if the claim that the God-man Jesus in fact lived, died, and resurrected is true (as I believe it is), then it is not made false by my evil actions. My evil actions only show that I'm a lousy follower of Jesus.

Moreover—and significantly—whereas my wicked behaviour is condemned by Jesus' teachings, Stalin's and Mao's wicked behaviour—i.e., their murder of millions—is not condemned by their philosophies.

Stalin and Mao acted consistently with the Marxist-Leninist principle that a utopian end sometimes justifies dastardly means (such as murdering anyone who disagrees). The Crusaders and Inquisitors, however, when they did evil, acted inconsistently with Jesus' command to love others.

Yes, much evil occurred during the Crusades. But these evils are not inherent to Christianity. They are due to people who claimed to be Christians (and many weren't Christians) but didn't live up to Jesus' teachings. Christians who sin make Christianity unattractive, not false.

The objection to Christianity's truth based on the Crusades is therefore weak.

To recap, the Crusades were a response to Islamic aggression, not an unprovoked attack; the Crusades were, compared to the evils of officially atheist regimes, not as bad as many believe; Christianity has been a huge force for good in the world; the truth of Christianity centers on Jesus Christ—God come to earth as a human being—not the failings of His followers.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University CollegeThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

Further reading/ listening:

  • Paul F. Crawford, "Four Myths about the Crusades"
  • Clay Jones, "The Truth about the Crusades": blog post and interview
  • Michael Karounos, Movie review: Kingdom of Heaven

    Climenheise said...

    Generally good thoughts, Hendrik. I would note in your summary that you say "the Crusades were a response to Islamic aggression, not an unprovoked attack". That is true, but I would add the words "not simply" to unprovoked" and "among other factors" to "a response to Islamic aggression. Those other factors include some that are justifiable, and some that are not.

    In general I agree that the automatic condemnation of the Crusades is misguided. There is much to be said pro and con, not simply a condemnation of Christian aggression.

    Hendrik van der Breggen said...

    Daryl, yes, sure, there are other factors, some justifiable, some not. Sure, things aren't wholly simple. But from what I can gather, e.g., from Paul F. Crawford's "Four Myths about the Crusades," the Crusades were PRIMARILY a response to (centuries of) Islamic aggression, and thus not an unprovoked attack.