Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: Defending the Crusades with scholarship

Myth-buster Rodney Stark sets the record straight on the great endeavor of the Middle Ages

By Steve Weatherbe
Oct 17, 2013
The Christians
Jerusalem taken: Sacking and slaughter was standard practice by Muslims too.
 Jerusalem taken: Sacking and slaughter was standard practice by Muslims too.             
             Nobody debunks bad history better than Rodney Stark. In an impressive and readable series, this sociologist of religion has thoroughly exploded the treasured Enlightenment myth that the Middle Ages were a benighted period when freedom of thought, science and progress were suppressed in Europe, while flourishing in nearby Islam. Stark synthesizes recent scholarship to show Medieval Europe was a place of innovation, in science, production and health, was better off without the classics, and was already moving ahead of Islam and China thanks in large part to Christianity.

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades focuses on “the prevailing wisdom” displayed by U.S. presidents such as George W. Bush, Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther, and atheists such as Richard Dawkins, that “during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam.”

 The Muslims started it
 The Middle Ages prepared the West to lead the world.
Author Stark: The Middle Ages prepared
the West to lead the world.

“Not so,” writes Stark. “The Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places.”Was Western Christendom after power and wealth? On the contrary, the effort impoverished individual knights and lords and bankrupted Western kingdoms throughout the Crusading era. Money only flowed eastward.

What about the Crusaders’ sack of Jerusalem when they took it from the Muslims, when the streets reportedly ran ankle-deep with the blood of innocent Jewish civilians? And what of the sack of Constantinople from the Byzantine Christians? Counters Stark: Sacking cities which did not surrender was a standard of medieval warfare, and he cites plenty of examples of Islamic brutality to make his case.

As for Constantinople, The Fourth Crusaders captured it after helping a pretender to the throne, who thereupon reneged on payment, leaving the expedition starving and broke. According to some accounts, the victorious crusaders tried to slaughter all Jews In Jerusalem, but Stark presents evidence that they were treated no more brutally than its Muslims. However, he does not deny that in Europe, Crusading zeal frequently turned into murderous anti-Semitism. But the Crusades were not a papal effort to convert Muslims by the sword. Once the Holy Land was under Crusader control, Muslims were allowed to practice their faith.

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