Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Crusades and Evangelism

I wonder about the Crusades. What to make of them. The first crusade seemed to have the hand of God on it. It succeeded because of several supernatural interventions. It was a miracle. But after that things went bad. There were 7 more crusades and none of them were entirely successful. Most of them were complete failures. So what are we to learn?

For one thing, if God does something once it does not mean He will do it again. Today's reading reminded me of that. God save Paul from the mouth of the lion. Great. But many Christians were send to the lions and not saved. Sometimes God does miracles to save us from suffering and death. More often He does not. If God prevents the first crusade from failing it does not mean they all enjoy the same. God can and did let them get destroyed.

I do wonder what the Christians were supposed to do after the first crusade. If you accept that God wanted it to happen then what should they have done after winning? My thinking was to focus less on building fortifications and more on evangelizing the Muslims. They were in an exposed position. They had a few decades of safety when the Muslims were divided. But they had nowhere near enough soldiers to defend such a big territory. So what did they do? They essentially did nothing assuming that God would protect them from any attack. They built some fortresses and created some orders of knights. But they Christian faith did not really get re-established in the area.

If they had seen the conquest of Jerusalem as the beginning of the process of making these Christian nations rather than the end of the process there may have been a different outcome. A few centuries earlier they evangelized France and Germany. They seemed to have forgotten how to do that. Christianity should grow. At that time Islam was growing but Christianity was not. It seemed like Christians were copying Muslim tactics and trying to grow by pure military power. Might makes right. But you can't use Muslim tactics to defeat the Muslim faith. You need to show how Christianity has a better story to tell.

The other think they needed to do was patch up their differences with Eastern Christians. By this time they were schismatic. The first crusade was undertaken to prevent the fall of Constantinople. But again, a military victory had the potential to lead to better relations but it didn't happen. The crusader states relied completely on western powers to protect them. But the logistics of moving soldiers from England, France, and Germany all the way to Jerusalem was one of the key reasons for the failure of many crusades. They needed allies that were closer and the Eastern Christians were the obvious choice. But often the crusaders ended up fighting the Eastern Christians as well as the Muslims.

Anyway, things got quite ugly. But the question of how to deal with an aggressive religious group like the Muslims of that time is a hard one. If we didn't fight them and eventually win they would just take over everything. But at what point do we say enough is enough? We have seen a few similar quandaries with other aggressive movements.


  1. I'd recommend Warren Carroll's history of Christendom volumes, which include coverage of all the Crusades. There was good and bad going on in them, as in all things.

    Regarding evangelizing the Muslims, bear in mind that at the tail end of one of the Crusades, none other than St. Francis of Assisi himself, near the end of his life, went to one of the Muslim leaders in Egypt to evangelize him. The Muslim did not convert, but the miracle was that he treated St. Francis with respect--so much had Francis' sanctity spread that even this man knew of him.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation on the book. There is always more to read. There was good and bad going on. Just sometimes I am not sure whether certain decisions were good or bad. It seems like if you are going to defend something as maligned as the crusades you need to be able to articulate the principles defining which acts of war were moral and which were immoral.

    The St Francis thing was cool. It was also pretty late. I think it was the 5th crusade. During war is not the easiest time to evangelize. There were times of peace. But there was not Muslim St Boniface or St Patrick. Sure the Muslims would kill missionaries on sight. But the barbarians did that too. So did the Romans. There just seemed to be more Christians willing to take those risks earlier.

  3. The challenge in defending the Crusades is the fact that a ton of events and actions occurred in each crusade, some good and some evil and some difficult to determine--you have to begin, say, at the first crusade with someone and then go through the entire thing, taking the big events and examining each one.

    Few people are willing to do that. It's easier to just accept the common notion that "the Crusades were Christians [Catholics] doing evil stuff."

  4. You need to show how Christianity has a better story to tell.

    Wow I'm hitting some old threads somehow. Anyway... the problem from the point of the crusaders is that in terms of the masses Christianity had a worse story to tell. The primary recruitment tool of Islam was the assertion of radical equality of all people. That meant no slavery and no usury. In Europe at the time you had a situation of virtual slavery where the poor had restricted legal rights based on money owed and promises called an "Oath of Fealty". Freemen which would be the equivalent of every Muslim made up the 2-11th percent.

    The crusaders being nobles wanted to export Christian society which was vastly more oppressive. People weren't (in substantial numbers) going to submit to that voluntarily. State terror was the only way to spread Christianity and they lacked the resources to pull this off in a sustained fashion.

  5. I am not really talking about an economic story. I don't really buy what you say about the economics but I can't see how it would be known and therefore relevant. Christianity has a better spiritual story to tell. It is more believable because it is based on solid evidence. It is more rational and people know instinctively that truth should stand up to rational scrutiny.

  6. Randy --

    Christianity has a better spiritual story to tell. It is more believable because it is based on solid evidence. It is more rational and people know instinctively that truth should stand up to rational scrutiny.

    I don't agree with you. When I look at the evidence I see the opposite.

    1a) We've had Christian countries conquered by Muslims. Generally the population mass converts to Islam leaving behind a Christian minority.

    1b) We've had Muslim countries conquered by Christians. Generally the population remains Islamic, even when substantial financial incentives are offered during colonial times.

    2a) Muslims living in the minority in Christian countries. Generally low rates of conversation from Islam and in some cases the there is a net grain from members of the indigenous Christian population slowly converting to Islam.

    2b) Christians living in the minority in Muslim countries. Losing ground over the last century and in most centuries where the Christians have not received outside support.

    If your standard is solid evidence I'm hard pressed to see any that masses of people believe the Christian story is better. Now conversely secularism, which makes an even stronger claim to evidence over revelation has been successful in gaining adherence in Muslim countries.

  7. Islam converts by force. It's a bit like pointing out how many people in communist countries joined the communist party after the country was taken by force. It is just a silly point.

    Christianity is actually not that effective when converting by force. It needs to do it by free choice. Like St Patrick did in Ireland or St Boniface did in Germany. When that happens the faith becomes strong.

    I don't see secularism as evidence over revelation. I would say it is neither evidence nor revelation. It is an irrational rejection of religion. I would not say it is beating Islam anywhere. Islam is gaining big time in Europe. Not sure where you think secularism is gaining.

    Christianity does tend to lose adherents from time to time. The Old Testament is full of Israel turning away from God and being called back. Same with church history. Lots of backsliding and revival. It is part of every generation being give free choice to choose God or not.