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?