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Live from the Roasterie: Today's Holy War Reading

Start with:

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry: Against Crusade Apologias: "Now predictably (all too predictably) comes the predictable conservative riposte...

...defending the Crusades and the Inquisition. This example, on the Crusades, by First Things, is their most liked/shared article on their Facebook page by far. I mean, look, I get it. That’s the environment I grew up in. I read young adult novels about the noble Leper King Baldwin and entertained the nostalgia about the Crusader Dream. And yes, fair enough, the Crusades were envisioned as wars of self-defense to reopen Christianity’s holy sites to pilgrims. That’s true. But also, all historical accounts agree that when the Crusaders took Jerusalem, they massacred almost everyone in the city, Christian, Jew and Muslim. Is that something you want to defend, really?

The Crusades (and not just the Fourth) were also a determinant factor in the disunity of the West and East of Christendom. The best that can be said about the Crusades is that some of the intentions were pure. But, of course, pure intentions are never enough: Christian prudence should tell us that embarking on a war with pure intentions will rarely lead to a pure outcome. So I guess the brief for the defense is pretty much: “Their intentions were good, but original sin intervened--how could they, as Christians, have anticipated that?”...

David Bentley Hart does a good job of... skewering the Whiggish narrative... but also... recognizing how the rhetoric that supported the Crusades was a striking departure from Tradition. If Catholics really must do the one, they ought to at least do the other as well. In the end, what makes Christianity different from Islam isn’t bodycount, it’s how many times we say Kyrie eleison...

Continue with: Quran: Prologue: I:1-7:

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds,
the most Gracious, Most Merciful,
Master of the Day of Judgement.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray...


Max Fisher: Let's be clear: The Obama Crusades controversy is over whether it's okay to hate Muslim: "It's easy to overcomplicate the supposed controversy...

...over President Obama comparing ISIS to the Crusades at a national prayer breakfast this week:

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Was Obama's comment downplaying the threat of violent Islamism? Drawing misguided parallels that reveal his worst biases? Unjustly (or justly) condemning religion itself? Hinting at the contours of a sophisticated counter-terrorism strategy? Obama's point was actually pretty simple. Let's not pretend that Islam itself is to blame for ISIS or that Muslims are inherently more violent, he suggested, because the problem of religious violence is not exclusive to any one religion. In other words, don't oversimplify the problem of ISIS to 'Muslims are different from the rest of us.' This point is so banal it could be an after-school special. That it has provoked national controversy goes to show that there is still a mainstream thread of thought in America that Islam is an inherently violent religion, that the world's 1.6 billion Muslims are somehow different, and that non-Muslims are superior human beings.... As Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out, the scandal here is not Obama's analogy. It's that what should have been a dull platitude against bigotry has been controversial at all:

That this relatively mild, and correct, point cannot be made without the comments being dubbed, 'the most offensive I've ever heard a president make in my lifetime,' by a former Virginia governor gives you some sense of the limited tolerance for any honest conversation around racism in our politics.

Many critics have described Obama's assertion that Christians are equivalent to Muslims as insulting to Christians. Whether this is because they believe that Christians are inherently superior or that Muslims are inherently inferior is irrelevant. It is not so different from, say, 1960s white supremacists who called Martin Luther King an anti-white racist for asserting that white and black people are fundamentally the same. Other critics have charged that Obama is ignoring the real threat: that America is at war not just with extremists who happen to be Muslim, but rather with Islam itself. This comment, given to the New York Times, is simply breathtaking in its open assertion that America should declare war on the 1.6 billion Muslims who are overwhelmingly civilians and are largely women and children:

Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University, said the president's remarks seemed to be an attempt to avoid alienating Muslims by blaming their religion for groups like ISIS. She said the remarks at the prayer breakfast will rightly bolster critics who insist that Mr. Obama should simply say that the United States is at war with Islam. 'He has bent over backwards to try to separate this from Islam,' Ms. Lipstadt said. 'Sometimes people try to keep an open mind. And when you have too open a mind, your brains can fall out.'

Amazingly, some have tried to dismiss Obama's comparison altogether by arguing that, even during the Crusades, in fact Christians were the victims and Islam the aggressor. To be crystal clear: this is not a fight over the fine-grain imperfections of Obama's historical analogy or over the implications for US foreign policy. It is a fight over whether it's okay to hate Muslims, to apply sweeping and negative stereotypes to the one-fifth of humanity that follows a particular religion. A number of Americans, it seems, are clinging desperately to their anti-Muslim bigotry and are furious at Obama for trying to take that away from them.

And let's end with the execrable:

Thomas F. Madden: Inventing the Crusades: "One of the most profound misconceptions about the Crusades...

...is that they represented a perversion of a religion whose founder preached meekness, love of enemies, and nonresistance. Riley-Smith reminds his reader that on the matter of violence Christ was not as clear as pacifists like to think. He praised the faith of the Roman centurion but did not condemn his profession. At the Last Supper he told his disciples, ‘Let him who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, And he was reckoned with transgressors.’

St. Paul said of secular authorities, ‘He does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.’ Several centuries later, St. Augustine articulated a Christian approach to just war, one in which legitimate authorities could use violence to halt or avert a greater evil. It must be a defensive war, in reaction to an act of aggression. For Christians, therefore, violence was ethically neutral, since it could be employed either for evil or against it. As Riley-Smith notes, the concept that violence is intrinsically evil belongs solely to the modern world. It is not Christian.

All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church. The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.

In each case, the faithful went to war to defend Christians, to punish the attackers, and to right terrible wrongs. As Riley-Smith has written elsewhere, crusading was seen as an act of love—specifically the love of God and the love of neighbor. By pushing back Muslim aggression and restoring Eastern Christianity, the Crusaders were—at great peril to themselves—imitating the Good Samaritan. Or, as Innocent II told the Knights Templar, ‘You carry out in deeds the words of the gospel, ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’’

But the Crusades were not just wars. They were holy wars, and that is what made them different from what came before. They were made holy not by their target but by the Crusaders’ sacrifice. The Crusade was a pilgrimage and thereby an act of penance. When Urban II called the First Crusade in 1095, he created a model that would be followed for centuries. Crusaders who undertook that burden with right intention and after confessing their sins would receive a plenary indulgence. The indulgence was a recognition that they undertook these sacrifices for Christ, who was crucified again in the tribulations of his people.

And the sacrifices were extraordinary. As Riley-Smith writes in this book and his earlier The First Crusaders, the cost of crusading was staggering. Without financial assistance, only the wealthy could afford to embark on a Crusade. Many noble families impoverished themselves by crusading.

Historians have long known that the image of the Crusader as an adventurer seeking his fortune is exactly backward. The vast majority of Crusaders returned home as soon as they had fulfilled their vow. What little booty they could acquire was more than spent on the journey itself. One is hard pressed to name a single returning Crusader who broke even, let alone made a profit on the journey. And those who returned were the lucky ones. As Riley-Smith explains, recent studies show that around one-third of knights and nobility died on crusade. The death rates for lower classes were even higher.

One can never understand the Crusades without understanding their penitential character. It was the indulgence that led thousands of men to take on a burden that would certainly cost them dearly. The secular nobility of medieval Europe was a warrior aristocracy. They made their living by the sword. We know from their wills and charters that they were deeply aware of their own sinfulness and anxious over the state of their souls. A Crusade provided a way for them to serve God and to do penance for their sins. It allowed them to use their weapons as a means of their salvation rather than of their damnation.

Of course it was difficult, but that is what penance is supposed to be. As Urban and later Crusade preachers reminded them, Christ Himself had said, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ As one Crusade preacher wrote, ‘Those who take the cross deny, that is to say renounce, themselves by exposing themselves to mortal danger, leaving behind their loved ones, using up their goods, carrying their cross, so that afterward they may be carried to heaven by the cross.’ The Crusader sewed a cloth cross to his garment to signify his penitential burden and his hope. Take away penitence and the Crusades cannot be explained...