The TV taught me about The Crusades

When people discuss church-sponsored violence, inevitably, The Crusades come up as an example of violence done only for the sake of, and in the name of, Christianity. I usually counter that it is politics and human nature that are violent; religion gets hijacked to garner supporters for violent campaigns.

Got all that confirmed this week when I watched this cool History Channel special about The Dark Ages and learned an interesting tidbit about The Crusades that I didn’t know. According to The History channel, one of the reasons the church endorsed The Crusades was to defer and deter violence against “their own” — Western European peasants. Supposedly, soldiers who had been employed to stave off Viking and Barbarian attacks were now aimless and employed instead by feudal lords who used their new employees to plunder peasants.

The church leaders recognized this as a human rights issue and had regular meetings with these lords and their minions to tell them how much God and the Saints disapproved. They even became desperate enough to try to set all kinds of rules on raids (aka: how about not Christmas week, Lent or Sundays? Can you leave the widows and children alone?)

So, when the Byzantine Empire asked for a church blessing on rampart expansion into Muslim territory, it seemed like a win-win solution to also get the warriors off the locals’ backs and take a futile stab at reclaiming Jerusalem. Isn’t it interesting that the plight of the common man and human rights had a hand in The Crusades? Ain’t life complicated?


  1. I haven’t seen that yet Mike, but I will have to put it on my list. Yeah, Luke. That book can justify anything one needs. Blessing and curse.

  2. Did you watch the Terry Jones series? They were awesome, and I remember being being a little surprised at that premise — that the Crusades gave all these warring barons an outlet that didn’t disrupt trade, production, and church revenue (in Europe). He also has a great bit about the cannibals of Ma’ara…

  3. Need a justification for war? Look in the Bible and build a theology around the passages you find… like all of the book of Joshua and the “I come to bring a sword” Jesus quote that is misused all the time (he was talking about family dynamics).

    Need justifications for nonviolence? Look in the Bible and build a theology around the passages you find.

    Crusades are an incredibly complex series of events that are tied with theology, land rights, empire, competing religions, fear of science (muslims had it, europe was afraid of it), and all sorts of things.

  4. Like too many causes, good intentions (by some folks at least) gone seriously astray.

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