The Truth about the Crusades:  Part 2

Christianity, Islam, and the Historical backdrop

The Truth about the CrusadesIn the last blog post,  we discussed the reasons why the Crusades were called:

1. To come to the aid of the emperor and the Byzantine Christians

2. To help protect Christians around the world who were being persecuted and killed

3. To re-conquer the holy Land and create a safe passage for pilgrims to travel there.  Let us look at these and the historical circumstances that led up to Crusades.

Christianity & Islam

If you are not familiar with history, you may have heard or bought into a popular myth that Christianity and Islam are two similar religions, both in their history, their wars, and their evolution.  It is asserted that both religions started out dark, littered with violence and war, and over time evolved into the great religions that they are today, civilized and tolerant.  However, this is the farthest thing from the truth.

Let’s begin with Christianity, started by Jesus Christ who walked the earth forgiving sins, performing countless miracles and preaching the truth of salvation.  All of His life was one of love and non-violence.  He even loved and forgave those who persecuted Him.  Eventually, the envious religious leaders crucified Him.  He did not resist or retaliate.  Three days later He rose again in glory.  He started a Church that would continue His ministry until the end of time.  Giving His authority to the Church and commanding them to preach His Gospel to the world, the earliest Christians accomplished this with great joy, love, and peace.

Most of the earliest Christians were persecuted and martyred (killed for the faith).  They didn’t resist or retaliate but offered their lives up for their Lord who had laid His life down for them.  They never fought back or encouraged revenge.  Over the next few centuries, many priests and bishops were jailed, exiled or even killed. Even though Barbarian tribes attacked and ravaged the Roman Empire time and time again leaving it in ruins, the Catholic Church sent missionaries into the world to peacefully preach Jesus.  They converted many of these violent Barbarian tribes through their humble service to them and through their joyful witness and unity.  Certainly over the centuries (especially later centuries) there were abuses and even corruption.  However, tis was far more the exception than the norm.

In stark contrast, over 600 years after Jesus established Christianity without weapons, wars or harsh words, a man named Mohammed invented a new religion known as Islam.  Mohammed preached his new message in Arabia but was very unsuccessful at first. Mohammed was kicked out of Mecca and then traveled to Medina where he gathered a following. Unlike Jesus and the early Christians who never resorted to violence, Muhammad and his new followers began raiding villages, plundering them, and taking their booty. With his small following, he won a great battle against an army who as waiting for him.  After, he returned and raised Mecca to the ground.  He united the Arab clans from everywhere turned Islam into a great military force that would ravage the world and conquered all the surrounding lands with the sword.

Mohammad himself fought in over 70 wars, and in the first 100 years after Mohammed’s death, Islam would conquer the Persian Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and much of the Roman Empire.  In this short amount of time, they would conquer with the sword everything from Afghanistan to North Africa and then invade Europe and many islands.  What Christians had spent hundreds of years building through peace and love, Islam wiped out virtually overnight with the sword.

What did the Catholic Church do in response?  They prayed for the Muslims and hoped it all would stop.  Some kings and emperors raised forces to try to stop the invading Muslim armies, especially in Constantinople and France. Islam conquered Spain and pushed into Europe, but in 732, they were stopped momentarily by Charles, “the Hammer” Martel.

I want to make it clear that my goal is in no way to bash the religion of Islam, but merely to present the little known historical record of what actually took place.  To make mounting concerns worse, Christians loved to take pilgrimages to Jerusalem in honor of their Lord’s passion.  However, they were not always safe and this travel only got worse with the savage Muslim Turks.  In 1065, about 12,000 pilgrims were attacked on their way to the Holy Land, and about two-thirds of them were slaughtered.

So, even after 400 years of Islamic wars, invasions, and expansions, the Catholic Church had not retaliated in any way, but always responded with prayers and non-violence.  That is important to realize. However, now in the late 11th century, Islam had destroyed about two-thirds of the Christian world and two-thirds of the Byzantine Empire.  This forced the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius I to petition Pope Urban II for help.  Even though the Greek church split away from the Pope and from Rome, Pope Urban II decided to come to his aid.  He wrote a letter and exhorted Christendom to this cause.  Since the pope was also concerned about the pilgrims and Christians around the world being persecuted and killed, the Church also planned to take back Jerusalem from the Muslims and to set up a safe passage for pilgrims to travel there.   Thus, an unorganized army was raised and the Crusades began.

So, it is a complete myth that the Crusades were an aggressive and unprovoked assault on non-Christians by the Catholic Church.  The Crusades were in fact a war of self-defense, to come to the aid of the Byzantine Emperor, to protect pilgrims going to the Holy land, and ultimately, to protect Christians from being wiped off the face of the earth.

While the Crusades were a war of self-defense and a noble cause, some of the abuses that took place weren’t so noble.  In the last post, part 3, we will discuss the actual Crusades and some of the abuses and misunderstandings.