@mutts Great question I’m not a historian, but here are a few thoughts.
- lots of things have been done in the name of Christ that do not truly represent Christ. In fact, the Scriptures warn this will happen often. So if you want to evaluate Christianity, you need to look at Jesus - not at people who have misused His name. Ask people a simple question, “Do you think Jesus would have done that?” Try to point them back to Jesus.
- history is often more complex than the sound bites we hear. As Luna is noting, the crusades were complicated and evil was done by both sides. I’m not a historian, but I found Thomas Madden’s perspective interesting. I’d need to study more to have a truly balanced historical perspective though…
Perspective of a Catholic Scholar
Thomas Madden is a Catholic Scholar who has done a lot of work on the crusades. In the following article he debunks some common myths about the crusades. I do not know enough history to be certain of the quality of all that he says, but it is nonetheless an interesting perspective worth considering.
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. But that all changed with the Protestant Reformation. For Martin Luther, who had already jettisoned the Christian doctrines of papal authority and indulgences, the Crusades were nothing more than a ploy by a power-hungry papacy. Indeed, he argued that to fight the Muslims was to fight Christ himself, for it was he who had sent the Turks to punish Christendom for its faithlessness. When Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his armies began to invade Austria, Luther changed his mind about the need to fight, but he stuck to his condemnation of the Crusades. During the next two centuries people tended to view the Crusades through a confessional lens: Protestants demonized them, Catholics extolled them. As for Suleiman and his successors, they were just glad to be rid of them.
It was in the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century that the current view of the Crusades was born. Most of the philosophes , like Voltaire, believed that medieval Christianity was a vile superstition. For them the Crusades were a migration of barbarians led by fanaticism, greed, and lust. Since then, the Enlightenment take on the Crusades has gone in and out of fashion. The Crusades received good press as wars of nobility (although not religion) during the Romantic period and the early twentieth century. After the Second World War, however, opinion again turned decisively against the Crusades. In the wake of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, historians found war of ideology–any ideology –distasteful. This sentiment was summed up by Sir Steven Runciman in his three-volume work, A History of the Crusades (1951-54). For Runciman, the Crusades were morally repugnant acts of intolerance in the name of God. The medieval men who took the cross and marched to the Middle East were either cynically evil, rapaciously greedy, or naively gullible. This beautifully written history soon became the standard. Almost single-handedly Runciman managed to define the modern popular view of the Crusades.
Since the 1970s the Crusades have attracted many hundreds of scholars who have meticulously poked, prodded, and examined them. As a result, much more is known about Christianity’s holy wars than ever before. Yet the fruits of decades of scholarship have been slow to enter the popular mind.