I remember the first time I heard J. P. Moreland, Christian philosopher and apologist, speak. I was already a J. P. fan after reading his book Love Your God with all Your Mind, but this speaking engagement turned him into a didactic master in my mind. I don’t really recall what he was speaking on—something to do with philosophy and defending the faith—but I do remember an encounter he had with an antagonist to the faith in the crowd. Some guy raised his hand to ask a question. J. P. called on him. But this person was one of those guys who raises his hand not to inquire about something that is confusing him, but to stand up, take the pulpit, and wax eloquent on the subject. This guy’s statement was, for me, very intimidating. Whoever he was, he knew what he was talking about. Whatever he was saying (I could not understand a bit of it) seemed to be beyond what J. P. knew. For a brief moment it looked as if he had single-handedly dismantled over an hour of J. P.’s presentation. I was scared for J. P. However, J. P. handled this guy with finesse and power. J. P. knew that no one understood what this guy had said, and he knew that getting into an extended irenic dialogue with him would leave the rest of the audience out in the cold. So he took him out of the equation as quickly as possible. J. P. showed, in a matter of forty-five seconds, that he understood what the guy was saying, he quickly illegitimized it by referencing the idea’s source (something the guy was not aware of), and he showed why it had been philosophically rejected by virtually all scholars. J. P. flexed his muscles for less than a minute, and then returned to earth with the rest of us. The guy sat down, speechless. I felt sorry for him. I thought someone needed to go give him a hug. J. P. really made this guy look like a fool and I am sure he did not feel great about doing so. But that is what men like J. P. must do when necessary.
Shortly after 9/11, America went to war with Iraq. The reason given to the public for this war was the presence of weapons of mass destruction in this country. This was enough to get the American public on the side of the Bush administration (generally speaking). Shortly after the war began, the weapons did not turn up in Iraq. Because of this, many accused Bush of trumping up the evidence so he could go on his “crusade.” Since then, thousands of people have not been on Bush’s side, claiming that he will go down in history as a terrible president, at least in part because of this. However, I’m not sure if I buy into this. I am open to the idea that the claims about weapons were (at least) somewhat trumped up (although I am no expert at all). But I think Bush’s invasion of Iraq, while a very difficult move to make, may have been a necessary evil for the safety of America. I also think that comparing Bush’s “campaign” to the Christian Crusades, while meant to be derogatory, is a pretty decent description. . . so long as we understand both.
Now, turn with me again to the Crusades . . .
The “Christian Crusades” were a series of battles that took place from 1095 to 1291, in which Christendom waged war against Islamic aggression; their primary purpose was to take back the Holy Land, which had been occupied by Muslims since 638. You see, early in the eleventh century, a deranged Muslim ruler, Abu ‘Ali Mansur, destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Soon all Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land were cut off by Muslims. This guy was a lot like Saddam Hussein. He was crazy and no one really knew where his loyalties stood. He did not attack Christendom directly, but showed contempt for them by this act (along with destroying 30,000 churches in the Middle East). On top of that, the history of Muslim aggression against the West, their disregard for personal property and land, and their hatred of all “infidels” (non-Muslims) had people in the West a bit on edge about what the future held. Even so, it was not until Constantinople, the largest Christian city in the world, was threatened that the West decided something needed to be done. (After all, Constantinople was a buffer between Islam and the West.)
Sure, there had been smaller battles and wars before (Constantinople’s battles in Anatolia, the reconquista in Spain, etc.), but something decisive needed to take place. This something needed to demonstrate the force necessary to leave the enemy speechless (or at least to communicate that the West had the ability to defend itself and was not just waiting around for the next attack). This something was the Crusades. They were “Christian” Crusades because the West was Christianized. If the Hindus were the ones being threatened in such a way, it would have been the “Hindu” Crusades. What I mean by this is that these were not really “Holy” wars the way we often think. Yes, they were motivated by loyalty to Christ and the Church. Yes, they were rewarded with indulgences from the Pope. And yes, some of them were directly led by the church. But that is only because the church was in an unfamiliar (to us) position of having significant political authority and responsibility to protect the West.
By now, it should not surprise any of you that I am beginning to like the Crusades. In fact, I actually agree with them. Given the situation the West was in, the leaders in the West hardly had any other choice. They had to do something and this something needed to be more than simply standing their quickly diminishing ground. And negotiation was not really in question. Evil cannot be negotiated with. They had to flex their muscles, and flex them big.
Now, the main goal of the Crusades was to retake Jerusalem. Whether you believe that Jerusalem was a city that needed to be in the hands of Christians is a theological issue that is moot for what was happening. And whether or not the Pope was telling the truth about the birth place of Christ being destroyed is moot to the history of the western civilization. It is moot because we see the bigger picture. We know that had the Crusades not happened, for better or worse, we (the West) might be Muslim.
In the Crusades, the leaders needed a “poster-boy” threat because people may not have supported something that was more real but harder to explain. They could not have said, “We are going to flex our muscles by invading Jerusalem. This will keep you and your children safe in the long run.” This is really what the Crusaders did. There was a deep need to stop the aggression of Islam and let them know that the West was not going to continue to tolerate their advancements. To do this, the West was going to take the battle to them and actually take back what they had lost years ago. The whole Holy Sepulchre / land of Christ / land of the Apostles thing (all “poster-boys” to gain public support), while motivating, was secondary to the basic instinct to survive. I am not sure if even the Crusaders themselves understood this.
As an aside, I see the movements that America made toward Iraq in a similar light. Islamic aggression was a frightening thing in 1195 and it is today. I am sorry if that offends some of my very peaceful Muslim readers. I know not all of them are radical jihadis. Pre-Saladin Damascus was not jihadist either during the time of the Crusades. Then, generally speaking, the West were the hated infidels; today, generally speaking, Americans are the hated infidels. Vows of aggression are still found on much of the Islamic world’s lips, and these could be found on Hussein’s lips too. Preemptive flexing of muscles is sometimes necessary to make people sit down, otherwise they will steal the pulpit. People will only take as much as you will let them.
(Just as an aside . . . I have a fellow who is threatening my family with serious and descriptive violence. He is crazy, makes sure I know it, and says he is going to come and take my wife. He says he does not care whether he lives or dies. He has been in prison many times. Police cannot really do anything but agitate him. If he ever did anything, I am sure that all would say that I should have done something beforehand. I don’t know what to do. Killing him is not really an option, but the terror he presents to our family often makes his death attractive. On a national standpoint, is it really so different? Well, it is just multiplied by billions.)
Back to America for a moment . . .
Why Iraq? It was an easy target to accuse of weapons of mass destruction (that is, if the charges were trumped up). It struck at the heart of those who developed, taught, and spread their philosophy of hatred toward the west. It was our “Holy Sepulchre.” It presented the most viable opportunity for us to flex our muscles. Certainly criticism has come and will continue to come. I imagine the people who demonize America for moving on Iraq are the same ones who demonize the Crusades for moving on Jerusalem, Antioch, and/or Egypt. And the one thing I and those who follow my train of thought will never be able to prove is that, even with all the deception and wrong motivations that may have been present, the world is a better place because of these events. But I believe this to be the case. America has taken their share of hits and hatred. But it could very well be that America’s muscle-flexing is the reason we have not had any more attacks on our homeland since 9/11. And if the Iraq was what it took to stop the aggression, even for a time, I am all for it. This is why I support the Crusades and stand by what America did in Iraq.
I am glad that I could write this post so long after the events (both Iraq and the Crusades) so it does not seem so political. I hope it comes in the vein of theological history rather than anything else. I have only begun to be able to articulate this position due to my recent in-depth study of the Crusades and the resulting significant change in my attitude toward them.