Summary of God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark

To close out God’s Battalions Rodney Stark draws together his research and insights into one concise concluding paragraph:

The thrust of the preceding chapters can be summarized very briefly. The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions.[1. Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 248.]

With this in mind what I find particularly interesting in the closing chapter is Stark’s very brief interaction with Karen Armstrong’s writing on the Crusades. In her Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World she completely throws the West under the bus, which is especially disconcerting given her so-called Charter for Compassion (“a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life”). Apart from selective use of history, what I find disconcerting is not that Armstrong is critical of the West–Stark is as much in this work–but the default antagonism to the West that is to me a betrayal of one’s own heritage. This default stance against the West baffles me. Compassion for Muslim victims of Christian crusaders is trendy, but taboo is compassion for Christians ravaged by Islam advancing by the sword in the centuries leading up to the Crusades. Compassion must supercede an inherit antagonism to one’s own heritage and to one’s perceived historical
“enemies.”

  1 Comment

  1. Joe Smith   •  

    I don’t know much about Armstrong or her religious convictions, but I wonder if, rather than simply giving unfair preference to non-Westerners, she—or anyone else who makes “trendy” critiques of the crusades—is engaging in the long-standing practice in the Christian tradition of critical self-reflection. I appreciate Stark’s commitment to a fair and balanced look at the historical evidence, but the fact remains that on both sides of the crusades lie theological perspectives and methods that are antithetical to the witness of New Testament Christianity. The history speaks for itself. But, following the teachings of Jesus, our judgment must begin by looking for the planks in our own eyes.

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