The received understanding of the Crusades is that the Church brutalized peaceful Muslims at the high point of Islamic culture and were motivated by sheer greed, barbarity and a religious triumphalism that sought conversion at the point of the sword. Osama bin Laden and many other jihadists regularly refer to the Crusades, and in innumerable discussions I have had about Christianity the Crusades have been offered as evidence of the true motivation and nature of religion and Christianity in particular.
It is such received “wisdom” that it has become the accepted explanation of the Crusades. Rodney Starks in his book, God’s Battalions: The Case for The Crusades, says, “Excuse me, but I think I have a different and better explanation.” Prof Starks is not a religious nut job writing curriculum for Christian homes schoolers. He is a respected academic. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He left Berkeley to become Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington. In 2004 he joined the faculty of Baylor University. He has published 30 books (see them here) and more than 140 scholarly articles
Hear Rodney Stark interviewed here.
Author Stark identifies four great lies that have become common wisdom in recent decades, all of which (he insists) are demonstrably false:
-That the Crusades were unprovoked assaults on a peaceful, enlightened, highly sophisticated Muslim civilization,
-That they were “the first round of European colonization.”
-That they were conducted for the purpose of conquest, riches, and the forced conversion of Muslims,
-That the Crusaders were brutal barbarians assaulting highly civilized Muslims who were culturally superior in every way.
In fact, with no unity of civil administration like that given by Rome before its fall in 410 AD, it was the church which stood in the gap as Islam waves of conquerors knocked at the door of Western Europe. Christian pacifists have a lot to be thankful for. The church understood the times and knew what was at stake in mobilizing Europeans to the power of arms.
There are justifiable accusations on the part of Arab peoples concerning actions of Western, Christian nations. The Crusades are not one of them. Stark has the evidence. It’s out there for all to read.
By the way, some have used such a movement of the Crusades as a call for Christendom and not just Christianity. Christendom is the culture of Christianity mixed with the power of the state, more in the Western model than the Eastern model. In the West the Pope crowned the King but in the East the Emperor chose the Bishops. But in either case Christianity had become a cultural fact and upon it was built a political, military and economic kingdom. Today the church is largely dependent upon the good will of the state. Christendom is when the state is also dependent upon the good will of the church.