Much discussion about the Crusades has floated around the media after Obama’s mentioning of it in a prayer breakfast speech. This wasn’t the first time a president has mentioned the crusades. At Georgetown University in 2001, Bill Clinton gave a speech blaming the current increase of Islamic terrorist activity, such as 9/11, as fallout from the Crusades. I wrote a short article for the Apologetics Study Bible for Students over this topic. Here is a small snippet from that piece. Following that is a list of resources that are from historical experts on the Crusades that expose many of the myths surrounding the event.
“Ask any individual about the Crusades and you will probably get an answer like, ‘They were wars of unprovoked aggression by Christians against a peaceful Muslim world which were imperialist conquests interested in gaining riches and land.’ At worst, many object to the truth of Christianity based on the horrid acts of Christian Crusaders who murdered for profit and gain. That Christianity, in essence, is a violent religion.
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One must consider historical context in understanding the intent and purpose of the Crusaders. The Crusades were not acts of unprovoked aggression by Christians against the Islamic world, but were a delayed response to centuries of [Islamic] aggression, which grew fiercer than ever in the eleventh century. From Islam’s very beginning Muslims had sought to conquer the Christian world. In fact, the first three hundred years of Islam can be described as a period of military conquest. Muslim armies forcefully conquered all of North Africa, the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and most of Spain. As for unprovoked aggression, it was all on the [Islamic] side. Christian Europe had to defend itself or be overcome by Islamic invasion. As Muslim forces pressed into Europe, Pope Urban II in 1095 called for the First Crusade in response to pleas of help from the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople (now called Istanbul).
In other words, the Crusades were a defensive war, not an aggressive grab for land and loot. In fact, Crusading was an expensive and costly endeavor. After the success of the First Crusade nearly all the Crusaders went home. Virtually none of them recovered the cost of Crusading. If one wanted to get rich, Crusading was definitely not the best route to riches.
. . . .
In summary, the Crusades were not about wars of unprovoked Christian aggression against a peaceful [Islamic] world or imperialist conquests lead by the Church interested in gaining riches and land. The Crusades were defensive wars, to stop [Islamic] military advancement. Christianity was able to survive this invasion and give us the world we have today in the west. A world in which we enjoy democracy and civil rights.”
A short What Would You Say? video provides a quick response to the claim that “the Crusades prove that Christianity is a violent religion.”
Resources on the Crusades:
Scholars on the Crusades:
Thomas F. Madden – Thomas F. Madden is associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University. He is the author of numerous works, including The New Concise History of the Crusades, and The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople.
Jonathan Riley-Smith – Riley-Smith is one of the foremost crusading scholars and author of several works on the Crusades, is Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and author of The Crusades: A History.
Rodney Stark – Distinguished professor of the social sciences and co-director Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.
Paul F. Crawford – Professor of Medieval History at California University of Pennsylvania.
Andrew Holt – Professor of history at Florida State College
Quick Quotes from the Experts:
“The Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.” – Thomas F. Madden (source)
The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or coverts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions.” – Rodney Stark (source)
“All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church. The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. THe third was called in response to the Muslim conquests of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.” – Thomas F. Madden (source)
“The Real History of the Crusades” by Thomas F. Madden, Christianity Today, May 2005
“Four Myths about the Crusades” by Paul F. Crawford, Intercollegiate Review, 2011
“Crusade Myths” by Thomas F. Madden
Books on the Crusades:
The Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden
Seven Myths of the Crusades ed. by Alfred J. Andrea and Andrew Holt [NEW BOOK]
The Crusades: A History by John Riley-Smith
God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark
The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam by John Riley-Smith
Infographic on the Crusades:
This video by Dr. Bill Warner compares Islamic Jihads vs. Christian Crusades: