Saturday, December 12, 2009

Do the Crusades Show Christianity to be a False Religion?

A few years ago, I was engaged in conversation with a friend concerning Christianity. During the conversation, he made the charge that Christianity is flawed. His charge revolved around the Crusades and other activities carried out in the Churches’ past. The point he was trying to make centered on not just a flawed religion, but whether or not Christianity is valid. What exactly were the Crusades? How did they come about? Most importantly, do the Crusades show Christianity to be a false religion? Are my friend’s comments valid by calling Christianity into question because of the Crusades?

The sentiment held by my friend is also found among those skeptical of Christianity. Anin Maalouf, a Muslim, puts the blame squarely on Christianity by saying the taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders was, “The starting point of hostility between Islam and the West.”[1] A scholar within the Muslim community (John Esposito) also blames Christianity for the Crusades. Mr. Esposito accuses the Christian Crusaders for destroying “Five centuries of peaceful coexistence”[2]between Muslims and Christians.

Similar to many Muslim’s charges are those espoused by individuals skeptical of Christianity. Skeptic Alan Woods, like many others blames the Christian community for all the atrocities of Middle age violence. He indicates that Christianity is the sole blame for the development of the Crusading time period. “The true brutal face of Christian Europe was seen in the bloodthirsty escapades known as the Crusades.”[3]

Even Presidents are not immune from calling out the Christian Crusaders. In a speech given to Georgetown University, President Clinton recalled the past act of the initial Crusade by saying, “"In the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was a Muslim on the Temple Mount. I can tell you that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it."[4] Clinton goes on to say; “The contemporaneous descriptions of the event describe soldiers walking on the Temple Mount, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees.”[5]

It is no wonder that Christianity is marred in some way when the most powerful person in the world puts Christianity in such a negative light; however, the real question that must be asked is, Are the Christians really the sole reason for the evil that many perceive? Additionally, what exactly took place during the Crusades, and more importantly, what led to the development of the initial Crusade?

Pre-Crusade History

One of the major themes often left out when the subject of the Crusades concerns the history that preceded the Crusades. A different picture arises when this aspect of history comes to light.

The Crusades did involve an often-bloody conflict between the Christians of Europe and the Muslims of the Middle East. In order to understand one of the reasons for the Crusade, Islam and its founder, Muhammad, must first be examined. From the beginning (7th century), Muhammad was able to rally the Arab people to the cause of Islam. Islam spread rapidly in the Middle East and started to push its way out. The primary means for the spread of Islam was often by a brutal take over of the lands conquered. Thomas Madden, a historian and scholar of the Crusades, states, “From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword.”[6] Many of those who were conquered or put to the sword were the Christians. The initial conquest, by force, was an area saturated by Christians. The spread of Islam by force was so rapid that two-thirds of the Christian world had submitted to the aggression of Islam by the beginning of the 11th century.[7]

The spread of Islam by force is consistent with the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Justification for holy wars or Jihad is explicit within the Koran. For example, Surah 2:244 calls for Muslims to, “Fight in the cause of God.”[8] Surah 9:5 is even more forceful, “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them; seize them and besiege them, and wait for them in every ambush.”[9] Lastly, Surah 47:4 calls for Muslim action on the unbelievers by saying, “Smite their necks until you have wounded them heavily and routed them.”[10] Clearly with language so hateful, it is easy to see why Muslims were inspired to conquer by way of the sword. Authors Geisler and Saleeb summarize the Koran’s view of holy war nicely by saying “Such war on and persecution of enemies on religious grounds-by whatever means-is seen by most critics as a clear example of religious intolerance.”[11]

The often-overlooked history preceding the Crusades sheds light on the situation that the Christian community found itself in. Islam never intended to slow in its endeavor to continue to conquer by force. The spread of Islam by force is what prompted the call for help within Christendom. The Crusades, though offensive in many ways, was much more of a defensive stand against the brute force spread of Islam. Even those skeptical of Christianity can see that, “The most immediate cause for the Crusades is also the most obvious: Muslim incursions into previously Christian lands. On multiple fronts, Muslims were invading Christian lands to convert the inhabitants and assume control in the name of Islam.”[12] Reasons exist for the purpose of the Crusades, and when the sole blame is placed on Christians and embellished by a President and others, it is easy to see why some would take offense toward Christianity. As far as Jerusalem’s streets being filled with blood, Madden states, “No historian accepts them as anything other than a literary convention.”[13]

The Crusades: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The first crusade was called in the late 11th century. Pope Urban the II commissioned the first crusade in response to Muslim aggression in the East. In reality, Urban was responding to a call of help from the Byzantine Empire. Madden comments that, “He (Urban) called the knights of Christ to take up a war of liberation. The Christians of the East must be free from the brutal and humiliating conditions of Muslim rule.”[14] Constantinople was the Capitol of the Byzantine Empire to which the Crusaders responded in an effort to help.

The first Crusade, in many ways was the most successful. The Christians were able to capture Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land that had been taken from them in the past. The divide between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church was patched somewhat during the early Crusade. There were still theological differences between the two groups, but this marked a breakthrough whereby the two could work together for a common cause. Islam was halted temporarily from spreading further into the Christian community. The Christian Crusaders did experience victory, though many times the odds were against them. Also of interest, were the perceived miracles that seemed to have occurred during the first Crusade that lifted the spirits of Christendom.[15]

After the first Crusade, the Christian community had a hard time maintaining some of the momentum and unity that had developed. Even during the first Crusade problems had arisen. The first Crusaders to camp in Constantinople started to pillage for food before setting out for Jerusalem. Also of note, was the attack on various cities of Jews along the Rhine River. Albert of Aix described the killing of Jews along the Rhine: “They killed the women, also, and with their swords pierced tender children of whatever age and sex.”[16] The Crusades were not immune from the ugly. One of the saddest moments came about during the fourth Crusade. It was in the town of Constantinople, which first appealed to the Christians of the West. This was perhaps one of the greatest atrocities that occurred during the Crusades. In 1204, the fourth Crusading army sacked Constantinople. Though the Byzantine Empire lasted 192 years later, the divide between the Catholic Church of the West and the Eastern Orthodox Church of the East was severely damaged. The differences where only enhanced and a further wedge was driven between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church after the fourth Crusading army’s destruction of Constantinople.

Long before the sack of Constantinople problems developed within the Christian community. Jerusalem fell 88 years after its recapture and the entire Christian influence had collapsed in Palestine some 192 years after the first Crusading victory. There were many victories and defeats during the Crusading years. Power, greed and the inability of the Christian community to unite for a common purpose ultimately destroyed the efforts that were initiated by Pope Urban II. If one victory can be claimed during this time, it has to be the fact that the crusades slowed considerably the advance of Islam by force into Christendom.[17]

There is much to be said about the history of the Crusades. Much of the history is comprised of both good and bad. Because the focus of the Crusades involves warfare, many have raised the question that revolves around justifiable warfare. What exactly is a just war?

Is Just War Just?

A just war involves “The justification of how and why wars are fought.”[18] The principles of a just war, of which there are six, are referred to as jus ad bellum. The six principles include: just cause, right intention, proper authority and public decleration, last resort, probibility of success, and proportionality.[19] Although this criteria may not be agreed upon by all to be universally true, most would agree on just cause and last resort as being the foundation for which a just war is fought. There are many who would vehimently disagree that war can ever be justified. “Against the just war (justum bellum) are those of a skeptical persuasion who do not believe that morality can or should exist in war.”[20]

Looking at the Crusades, how exactly can they be justified? First and foremost, the Crusades were implemented due to the fact of Muslim incursion by force upon Christendom. The Christians were certainly justified in their cause to defend themselves. “By the eight century, Muslim expeditionary forces were crossing the Pyrenees and marching into the heart of Catholic Europe.”[21] Pope Urban described the atrocities that were upon the Christian Community:

They [the Turks] have completely destroyed some of God’s churches and they have converted others to the uses of their own cult. They ruin the alters with filth and defilement. They circumcise Christians and smear the blood from the circumcision over the altars or throw it into the baptismal fronts. They are pleased to kill others by cutting open their bellies, extracting the ends of their intestines, and tying it to a stake. Then, with flogging, they drive their victims around the stake until, when their viscera have spilled out, they fall dead upon the ground. They tie others, again, to stakes and shoot arrows at them; they seize others, stretch out their necks, and try to see whether they can cut off their heads with a single blow of a naked sword. And what shall I say about the shocking rape of women?[22]

From the description of Pope Urban and the relentless drive of the Muslims into Christian Europe, a strong case can be made for justifiable warfare.

In modern times, similar wars have been justified by Heads of State to stop the atrocities of others. President Clinton hailed the Americans past involvement in World War II, in a speech he made in May of 1999. Speaking of the past, the President remarked, “The World War II veterans here fought in Europe and in the Pacific to prevent the world from being dominated by tyrants who use racial and religious hatred to strengthen their grip and to justify mass killing.” President Clinton also justified why Europeans and Americans needed to rise up to confront the atrocities of then President Milosevic of the former Yugoslavia. “If the European community and its American and Canadian allies were to turn away from and therefore reward ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, all we would do is to create for ourselves an environment where this sort of practice was sanctioned by other people who found it convenient to build their own political power.”[23]

The Crusaders were justified in defending themselves. Justification can also be made for the taking back of land that the Christian communities were living on peacefully in the past. The reconquista (reconquest) of Spain was just a part of the reason for why the Crusades could find justification. One of the criteria for a just war, as listed above, includes, “As a last resort.” When peering back into history, a strong argument can be made that the Crusades were justified against the brute force spread of Islam.

What the Crusades Were Not

Many have the impression today that Crusaders were blood - thirsty monsters that indiscriminately killed for sport. Not only did they kill the innocent, but they were after the Jews as well. This view as expressed by Clinton and Woods could not be further from the truth. The Jews that were killed during the Crusades were never a direct target of the Crusading army. In fact, Pope Urban II and others spoke out strongly against such atrocities. Also, those Jews that were attacked were not attacked from the primary armies that were formed. Those who did the attacking were offshoots of the main Crusading army.[24] Concerning the first Crusade to capture Jerusalem, Clinton was incorrect in his description of blood filled streets and an indiscriminate massacre of all. The facts show that though much life was lost, not every person was put to death. Some individuals were set free.[25]

Clinton also referred to a common misconception that the story of the Crusades is still being told, and we are paying for those past mistakes, as if the Christians are the sole bearers of blame. Again, Clinton is drawing from a modern, historical interpretation that does not square with actual historical accounts. It is only in recent history that the Crusaders were viewed in such a dark light. The Enlightenment brought about harsh scrutiny focused on not only the Crusades, but Christianity as well. According to Madden, “During the Middle Ages you could not find a Christian in Europe who did not believe that the Crusades were an act of highest good. Even the Muslims respected the ideals of the Crusades and the piety of the men who fought them.”[26] It is now easy to see why individuals, like my friend, would question the validity of the Christian faith. With a constant reinterpretation of the Crusades through the years, the actual historical story has been turned upside down, putting the Christian community in a defensive position. Madden, states: “The Muslim world remembers the Crusades about as well as the West–in other words, incorrectly. That should not be surprising. Muslims get their information about the Crusades from the same rotten histories that the West relies on.”[27]


Jesus said: “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6). The point is that there will always be wars, as well as rumors, but not all rumors bear the truth. The reinterpretation of Crusading history has served in many ways as a continued attack upon Christendom. Sure, those who called themselves Christian committed atrocities, but it should be remembered that the Christian community did not initiate the Crusades without purpose. The Crusades were launched as a call to help and to defend themselves from the aggressions of Islam.

Much has been said in error to put the blame on Christianity and to even discredit the faith, but what has not been done is to show that Christianity is false and left wanting. Christianity has survived 2000 years of attacks and still stands strong. Attacking Christianity by way of the Crusades through a reinterpretation of history is about as intolerant as it can get.

Jesus once chastised one of his closest followers for striking another with a sword.[28] Christianity, based upon faith in Jesus, is a religion that advocates peace. The Crusades were fought as a just war, by helping fellow Christians and defending themselves against Islam. If Christianity is ever to be proven false, it will happen with the discrediting of Jesus and the story of Christianity, not the Crusades.

Works Cited

A Struggle for the Soul of the 21st Century, Available on-line from:
Accessed 14 March 2008

Al-Jibouri, Yasin T. (editor). The Koran. Lake Mary, Florida. United Muslim
Foundation. 2005

Cline, Austin. Causes, History, and Violence of the Crusades. Available on-line
from: Accessed
14 March 2008

Geisler, Norm and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam. Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Baker Books. 2002

Hammond, Dr. Peter. The Crusade and Jihad. Available on-line from: Accessed
13 March 2008

Madden, Thomas F. Crusade Myths. Available on-line from:

Madden, Thomas F. The Real History of the Crusades. Available on-line from: Accessed 14 March 2008

Madden, Thomas F. The New Concise History of the Crusades. Lanham, Maryland.
Rowan and Littlefield. 2005

Moseley, Alexander. Just War Theory. Available on-line from: Accessed 18 March 2008

Orend, Brian. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – War, Available on-line
from: Accessed 18 March 2008

Thompson, Frank Charles (Editor). Bible – New International Version.
Indianapolis, Indiana. 1990

Transcript: Clinton Justifies U.S. Involvement in Kosovo. Available on-line from:
. html. Accessed 18 March 2008

Woods, Alan. George W. Bush and the Crusades. Available on-line from: Accessed 14 March

[1] Hammond, Dr. Peter, Accessed from:, Acquired 13 March 2008
[2] Ibid
[3] Woods, Alan, Accessed from:, Acquired 14 March 2008
[4] Assessed from:, Acquired 14 March 2008
[5] Ibid
[6] Madden, Thomas F., Accessed from:, Acquired 14 March 2008
[7] Ibid
[8] United Muslim Foundation, The Koran, P. 28
[9] Ibid, P. 131
[10] Ibid, P. 375
[11] Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, P. 179
[12] Cline, Austin, Accessed from:, Acquired 14 March 2008
[13] Madden, Thomas F.,, Acquired 14 March 2008
[14] Madden, Thomas, The New Concise History of the Crusades, P. 8
[15] Ibid, pp. 24-34
[16] Ibid p. 18
[17] Ibid, P. 244
[18] Moseley, Alexander, Accessed from:, Acquired 18 March 2008
[19] Orend, Brian, Accessed from:, Acquired 18 March 2008
[20] Moseley, Alexander, Accessed from:, Acquired 18 March 2008
[21] Madden, Thomas, The New Concise History of the Crusades, P. 4
[22] Ibid, pp. 8-9
[23] Accessed from:, Acquired 18 March 2008
[24] Madden, Thomas F., Accessed from:, Acquired 8 April 2008
[25] Ibid
[26] Ibid
[27] Ibid
[28] John 18:36

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