What about the Crusades?! And the Inquisition?! Etc.?!

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When people try to dismiss Christianity or belief in God by asking, “What about the Crusades?!,” this is my first reaction:

  1. You don’t judge an ideology by those who violate its tenets.
  2. I make it a habit not to apologize for things that a) happened 1,000 years ago and b) I didn’t do. 
  3. If there is no God then there is no moral grounding to criticize the Crusades or anything else.
  4. None of those things disprove the central claims of Christianity, such as the physical resurrection of Jesus, his divinity, etc.

Many critics try to use issues such as the Crusades, the Inquisition or just run of the mill hypocrisy as trump cards against Christianity. If people did the opposite of what the Bible teaches then at worst they were not Christians and at best they were, at least temporarily, bad ambassadors for Christ.  Those issues are serious, of course, but they have zero impact on whether the Bible is true and whether Jesus is the the only way to forgiveness of your sins, reconciliation with God and to eternal life. 

The same goes for other religions and worldviews: We need to understand what they really teach to judge them properly. 

Another possible response is to say that you’ll take responsibility for the thousands of people killed by “Christians” provided that the atheists take responsibility for the one-hundred million plus killed by Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, Hitler and others.  (It is probably best just to think that and not say it, as it probably won’t take the conversation in the direction you want to go). 

Also, if someone wants to claim that Christianity isn’t true because of bad things done in Jesus’ name, then they would need to concede that the vast number of good things done in his name would be evidence for Christianity. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should gloss over bad things done in Jesus’ name.  Those are serious issues and an embarrassment to Christianity.  We can respond to them and use them to express Biblical truths.

Was the Inquisition wrong?  Of course!  It is completely un-Biblical to think you can or should force someone to believe something.  When the rich young ruler walked away sadly after being told he must give up everything to follow Jesus (Matthew 19), Jesus didn’t run and tackle him.  He didn’t even offer to take half.   The text says that Jesus loved the young man, but He didn’t force him to believe.

Mainline Christian denominations have caved on important Biblical concepts regarding sexuality – easy divorce, promiscuity, abortion and various perversions.  They abandoned essentials of the faith such as the deity, exclusivity and sufficiency of Christ as well.  They have grossly misinterpreted the Bible, but that doesn’t mean Christianity isn’t true.  It means people have drifted from or abandoned Biblical teachings.  Ideally, people wouldn’t judge Christianity based on what those people do and say. 

Some “Christians” abused scriptures to justify slavery (maybe they were really Christians, and maybe not . . . that was between them and God).  But what critics typically forget is that Christians who properly interpreted scriptures, such as heroes like William Wilberforce, were the ones who helped end that type of slavery.

Yes, self-proclaimed Christians have done many bad things.  But what is the answer – that Christianity is false?  Of course not.  The answer is more Christianity, or more specifically, more authentic Christianity. 

Biblical illiteracy is part of the problem.  The more people know about what the Bible really says, the more quickly they can stop heretical movements.   

Are bad actions done in the name of Christ a problem for Christianity even if the perpetrators may not have been true Christians and the acts were un-Biblical?  In a moral sense, no.  Again, you don’t judge an ideology based on the actions of those who violate its tenets. 

But in a practical sense it is a problem for Christianity, because these issues can be a stumbling block for non-believers.  We need to be sensitive to those who were wounded by Christians (real and fake) and be prepared to explain the truth in love. 

Also see Christianity’s Real Record for a more thorough analysis.

29 thoughts on “What about the Crusades?! And the Inquisition?! Etc.?!”

  1. Great post.

    Done a lot of reading on Christian history over the years & to be honest I’ve come to the conclusion that true Christianity ceased to exist when Constantine made it the official religion. From then until now it seems to be more of a platform for politicians, church officials, scholars (I use that term loosely), & various assorted sundry crackpots to exercise dominance over others. Even the lives of Luther, Calvin & other reformers are filled with blood in the name of forcing people to submit to a belief system.

    I know there have been pockets of true believers & those that practice true Christianity over the centuries, but compared to the vast spectrum of history they have been few & far between. If I had to give an example of true Christianity today, I think the Amish would be about the only place I could point. At least they practice what they say they believe.

    Sorry if I sound a little cynical folks. We’ve been searching for a new church for a long time & have yet to find one where people actually seem to practice what they preach. We’re actually giving serious thought to a home church.

    Just one person’s opinion folks.

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  2. Home churches are an interesting concept. I know some are concerned that you might not have seminary-trained pastors leading them and that the doctrine could go off track. But then I recall what kind of liberal theological garbage many seminaries have been turning out for decades and I laugh out loud!

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  3. Actually, the fact that they don’t have seminary trained clergy may be a strong selling point. Just everyday people trying to face the daily struggles & put what Jesus taught into practice without getting hung up in the theological & doctrinal nonsense.

    Forgot to mention before. When talking to non or new believers, I like to tell them not to confuse the Bible with Christianity.

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  4. Good line! I used something similar when speaking at the Kairos prison ministry this weekend. I quoted my wife and told the convicts: “Don’t confuse organized religion with a personal relationship with Jesus.”

    The theme was focusing on building your relationship with God through Bible study, prayer, etc. We are part of the body of Christ so church is important, but parts of the church are flat-out wrong and many people have been wounded there. When in doubt, focus on Jesus and the Bible.

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  5. Well said.

    Have a great day.

    (ps: You’re wife sounds a lot like mine. I do all the talking. She quietly lives the life that shows what she believes. I thank GOD for her everyday.)

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  6. Have to be careful in including Hitler among the atheists. I did this recently and got taken apart. He started out as a Roman Catholic and ended up believing in a sort of pseudo deity that embodied what he regarded as German National Characteristics. He certainly made very disparaging emarks about Jesus and Christians, but while teh atheists will own up to Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin, they won’t own up to Hitler.

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  7. Hi Terry – Hitler and some of his henchmen pretended to be Christians at times. But if atheists want to claim that Hitler was a sincere Christian then that is a joke. But hey, if they’ll own up to Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin then that is 100 million murders or so right there. I’d concede Hitler to some sort of separate perverse category in that case.

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  8. Would someone explain the difference between Hitler & many of the Popes (Cardinals, Bishops, etc., not to mention many Protestant leaders) in terms of the slaughter of people throughout the centuries. If anything, in my mind the religious leaders were worse because they did it in the name of Jesus. Look @ the number of Native Americans that died @ the hands of the missionaries because they refused to be converted.

    If you ask me (and you didn’t), there’s enough blood to go around on both sides.

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  9. Woz, you know your opinions are always welcomed here! I think we agree: Murder is bad, and murder in Jesus’ name is worse because it adds the sin of bearing false witness. Doing things in God’s name that He doesn’t command is a bad idea.

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  10. Understanding and discussing historical Christianity doesn’t need to lead to a sweeping condemnation or apologies for perceived injustice and dishonest use of scripture and the cloak of religion down through the centuries.

    The Crusades were primarily an attempt to curb Islamic imperialism, and not an attempt to Christianize the world, like the PC version of guilt trip history would say.
    The Inquisition was a fine example of a less than spiritual use of God’s name to bring other’s to heel.

    Christianized, Western man has generated more wealth, technology and quality of life than any other civilization. In the modern era of the world, less people go hungry, die early, wasted lives and live with much greater security than at any time in history.

    That’s changing. Europe, the cradle of modern Christianity, is dying, and along with true spirituality, the youth of the continent embrace the secular welfare state or Islam, or both.

    America isn’t nearly as vulnerable as the Euro’s, primarily because there are still honest efforts to be true to scripture, to be held personally accountable for action’s, and a willingness to spread the gospel. Finding a church home and applying your God given talents musn’t be neglected.

    I work to avoid blaming anyone else’s activities for my lack of action or committment. Accepting a minor ecclesiastical difference of opinion among believers should be graciously allowed.

    Thanks Neil,

    Hank

    Woz, I agree: Roman Catholicism has spawned more communists, far left loonies and deviantly behaving individuals than any other group I’m aware of.

    “If you ask me (and you didn’t), there’s enough blood to go around on both sides.” What’s the other side your referring to?

    ps Woz, don’t stay away from church because of the hypocrites, there’s always room for one more. 😉

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  11. Hank,

    Christian v. non-Christian, believer v. non-believer, us v. them, good guys v. bad guys, etc. There’s always two sides.

    I agree that we’ve generated wealth & technology, but @ what price. Look what we’ve done to the planet God gave us. I’m also not sure that they were achieved because of Christian values & morals. The Native Americans lived in harmony with God’s creation for thousands of years. We came over with our Bible & in about 500 years have managed progress ourselves to the point where we barely have clean air to breathe or clean water to drink.

    As for quality of life, I agree that we have all the material things a person could want. But what price have we paid mentally & spiritually. We no longer know our neighbors nor do we want to. And even if we did they don’t want to know us. We have more mental illness than ever before. Teenage suicide is epidemic. Adultry is commonplace. Pornography is the norm. Sexual behavior of any type is now culturally acceptable. Churches are afraid to preach the truth for fear of offence. The list goes on & on. But we keep smiling Sunday morning.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to give up indoor plumbing or frozen pizza. But we (wife & me) are seriously thinking about how to significantly downsize our life & get back to the real meaning of happiness outside of wealth & technology.

    I’m not staying away from church Hank, I’m staying away from religion. I’ve been a hypocrite enough years. I gotta stop sometime.

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  12. “Woz, I agree: Roman Catholicism has spawned more communists, far left loonies and deviantly behaving individuals than any other group I’m aware of.”

    By Roman Catholicism, I would hope you mean ‘Catholicism’, as there are, after all, no doctrinal differences at all between the Roman rite and the other 22. [Procedural differences only.]

    But anyway, I have one thing for you to remmeber.

    Catholicism spawned the Protestants and Orthodox too [by your logic].

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  13. Woz,
    I’m not sure what I would do if I kept the history of humanity in the front of my mind, along with what I perceive as disgust mixed with false guilt about the whole thing.

    I think you drastically overstate conditions of US drinking water, air quality and the success of environmental control and cleanup efforts.

    I agree that casual divorce, untreated mental problems, use of less than appropriate, distracting, and self destructive outlets has led to great difficulty for many people.

    I’m reading from your words a seriously personalized, exaggerated, and hopeless outlook on the world around you. All you need to do is toss in blaming God for your perceived nightmarish vision, and you make a complete case for atheism.

    I would look candidly and honestly at my life. Somehow, counting your blessings, and appreciating that many have things much worse, has escaped your appraisal. To begin seeking a way to serve your fellow man for God, making other peoples problems your problems, and learning to enjoy being used by God to do good in the lives of others would offer you some sense of purpose.

    The teens who end their lives are no puzzle to me, if they share your rather hopeless view of reality.

    If, for whatever reason, you feel gluttonous or greedy, repent and start using your wealth to help those without. Volunteer, tithe, put other peoples interest ahead of your own, and watch the crust melt and new life flow into you and your family. You’ll just have to trust me on that.

    The hypocrite/church thing is an old joke.
    Another:
    I was in a church in New England years ago, and there was a sign in the coat rack area ” Watch your coat. Not everyone who attends here is converted”

    Hank

    ps I don’t know my neighbors either, at least not closely.

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  14. Hidden One,

    My comment had more to do with what’s right with Catholics than not.

    Many of America’s leading citizens, commentators, business leaders, politicians, and hard working, salt of the earth type folk who make America great are Catholic.

    I credit their intense achievenment, values and personal discipline to their Catholic training. I have serious ecclesiastical differences with the belief system, but I appreciate the benefit of answering to a higher power than one’s self, as well as a sense of responsibility to family, community and country.

    Misguided use of the tool’s developed by faithful practice of ones religious beliefs is universal. Islam comes to mind, for instance.

    I intended no blanket indictment of Catholics in my statement.

    Hank

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  15. Actually Hank, one of my closest friends is a recognized expert in the environmental field & his opinion is that we are fast approaching the point of no return. I also have a nephew in the environmental field & my son is an environmental engineering student @ a major university. My information may be second hand but it’s from sources I trust.

    I really don’t dwell on history but also realize how easy it seems to be to ignore the parts that don’t seem to fit our vision of our own greatness. I always remember the quote about how those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I don’t believe past achievements are any guarantee of future success.

    My opinion of the current state of affairs comes more from reading the daily papers & several news websites. The statistics regarding many of the issues I mentioned (adultry, pornography, teen suicide, etc.) speak for themselves. I hardly think I exaggerated the situation but again, it’s an opinion. Blaming God never occured to me. I’m not a Calvinist :>). Actually, with the current situation in America Romans 1 comes to mind.

    As for my “wealth”, I’m using it to raise my 5 kids to face the future we’re creating. Unfortunately they’re going to be the ones that have to clean up the mess.

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  16. Thanks for another great post Neil.

    Woz, if you can stand it I think there is something to be said for staying in church, but you have to think of your kids first. In fact, that is how I became a Sunday School Teacher, I couldn’t stand some of the things my sons were being taught. I don’t know why they let me keep teaching, but I guess nobody else wants to do it.

    It is true that many of the strongest Christians have left the church I attend. I myself have been on the verge of leaving several times, but this is where I have been called and God has not seen fit to let me go yet. If I left, who would support our pastor, who would try to be a good example, and who would keep on speaking the truth to the one’s who need to hear it.

    I should also add that despite the very vocal non-believers (who currently dominate our church leadership). There are also many Christians at various stages of their walk here.

    You just have to pray and go where the Lord calls you.

    God bless you and guide you and your family.

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  17. Thanks, SST. I really appreciate people like you who are staying in such challenging situations. My church has some of those issues, but not nearly as badly. And we appear to be heading in the right direction with four Bible-believing pastors (Isn’t it sad that “Bible-believing pastors” should be a redundancy?) .

    Keep the faith! I’ll pray for you tonight.

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  18. We came over with our Bible & in about 500 years have managed progress ourselves to the point where we barely have clean air to breathe or clean water to drink.

    I find it odd that is is the 3rd world countries that have the most problems with air and water mentioned above. I’ve heard from people who have traveled the world, that the United States is the cleanest nation there is. As I have no trouble breathing clean air and drinking fresh water, I just tend to believe them.

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  19. Great post!

    “When people try to dismiss Christianity by saying, “What about the Crusades?!,” this is my first reaction: I make it a habit not to apologize for things that 1) happened 1,000 years ago and 2) I didn’t do. I’m just funny that way.

    Another possible response is to say that you’ll take responsibility for the thousands of people killed by “Christians” provided that the atheists take responsibility for the one-hundred million plus killed by Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, Hitler and others. ”

    I don’t apologise for former slaveholders, on account of being white; I don’t apologise for what atheists do, on account of not being religious; I don’t take credit for Gandhi, on account of us both being vegetarians; and I don’t expect men to apologise to me for things that men did to women hundreds of years ago. To do so is to undermine the fundamental notions of free will and responsibility: if we can apologise for each other, we can control each other (thus negating free will), and we cannot truly be responsible for ourselves.

    The Native Americans lived in harmony with God’s creation for thousands of years.

    Actually, there’s a lot of evidence that they stripped the Southwest of most of its natural resources. That tends to undermine the “noble savage living in harmony with Earth” worldview, but it is worth considering.

    Have to be careful in including Hitler among the atheists

    Also, among the vegetarians. He ate meat, although his doctor ordered him not to. He also thought he would appear more peace-loving and holy if he abstained, so he just did it in private (or ate meat ravioli).

    As for owning any particular group – personally, I think that the Stalinists, the Nazis, and the rest of them belong only to the group of murderers, for that is the only group that accepts their creed.

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  20. Wow, what a thread y’all got goin’ here! I was reading Woz’s comments, and in my opinion they reveal the spirit of fear that Satan works so hard to put into all of us. Woz, I’m willing to concede for the sake of argument (and who knows, you might be right!) that the world is just plain going to hell in a handbasket. Then again, since the Fall, it always was, wasn’t it? Of course our planet and our species is headed towards an endpoint (or a new-beginning-point, however you see it): Revelation makes that much clear. But as Christians we have the hope and joy that Christ gave us, and that goes beyond the trials of our physical lives. Woz, don’t give up on your fellow Christians (what people call “religion” is just the fellowship of Christians worldwide): our strength is in numbers. When I get discouraged by the church (and what clear-eyed person doesn’t?) I try to remember that Christ spoke of it as His bride. We should be “married” to it as well, and work to make it better.
    P.S. I always give the disclaimer that I am a big old sinner who swears a lot. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m trying to be righteous or holier-than-thou!

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  21. Enjoyed the post, and thought I may offer an apologist’s view about The Crusades. Now, there is no way to justify the acts of extreme violence that The Crusaders participated in – with the blessing the Roman Church, however from a political context The Crusades were in many ways a counter-attack against agressive Islamic expansionism into the West.

    From its inception Islam was a religion that combined with tribal prejudices – some rather valid – created a force that had to expand. While many of the expansionists may have had a religious basis for this expansion is doubtless if you consider some of the primary sources which are available from that era, but to discredit the likelihood that many ambitious men chose to use the religion to further their own desire for influence and power would be foolish.

    Following its agressive spread through the Middle East and areas of North Africa Islam spread rapidly through the Balkans and reached towards the Danube – where a series of sharply fought wars – some of the more brutal of the era checked the rising tide of Islam in this region.

    During the same period Islam was expanding agressively in Spain, and had reached the point of dominiation of the Iberian Peninsula. However, the movement was checked by Frankish Nobles lead by Charlemagne at the Battle of Tours, which is one of the most significant battle in the history of mankind, particularly with the outcomes it yielded for Western Civilization. It is probable that Islam would be the dominant religion in the world, including the Americas, but for the victory of the original “Christian Coalition”.

    Islam rapidly faded in the Iberian Peninsula during this time, no small part of it was a very strong insurgent movement by dispossessed nobility, who cooperated with Charlemagne and his allies. However, the threat of Islam was still real, and many historians believe that The Crusades were as much about changing the strategic initiative as much as they were about the overtly stated goal of securing the Holy Land under Christian control.

    The actions of the political and religious forces with regard to holding on to gains made in the Middle East region, particularly the Holy Land may lend support to the view that rather than hold on to the tactical objective of the Holy Land, discomfitting Islam’s agressive posturing by making them commit resources in a defensive posture, thus disabling them from ever taking strategic initiative again was the true goal of The Crusades.

    Hope this added to the discussion.

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  22. Thanks, Voice. That is an excellent summary of a complicated topic. The MSM soundbite for the Crusades is roughly translated as, “Christians were bad.” But there is a lot more to it than that.

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