This was a book I wanted to read because of educational reasons. What happened for real in the crusades? This book gives the gory details of the Muslim Conquest of the Holy Land and as far as Spain, France, and Italy. It gives the details of Europe’s response. The gigantic question for many Christians like myself is; “was it a Christian response.” Some are quick as I myself often am to say, “NO”! Violence is never a Christian response. However, that is not Rodney Stark’s conclusion. Rodney sticks to a sociological perspective. We can not judged one time period with the 21st Century presumption of what is right or wrong. But I think its interesting to see Rodney, now a Christian himself toeing a line where Christians have always sought to judge right and wrong based on what Christ would do or what the bible would say. Certainly there is a lot of criticism of the crusades. However, much of it brought about during the “Enlightenment” by strong figures such as Edward Gibbons, an influential historian and writer who sought to vilify the Catholic Church for centuries of what is referred to as the “Dark Ages”. A period in which the church guided the whole of Europe into ignorance and stinted progress. (It was completely the opposite). The other criticism comes during the missions movement during the 20th century. When missionaries began attempting to reach Arab nations with the gospel of Christ. Certainly in order for Western Missionaries to be effective in Arab nations, apologies may open a door. So that is to say both Christians and Humanist Historians convince the masses that the crusades were almost entirely the fault of barbaric Europeans forcing their backwards way of life on peaceful, tolerant Muslim cultures. To use Rodney’s Words, “Nonsense”. No apologies needed. However, maybe apologies are something that help us build relationship with Arabs. You decide.
Maybe there could be one practical take away from the criticisms that happen when we think of the crusades. Maybe we could decide not to judge Europe’s response any differently then we judge the Muslim Empires conquest of Christian and Jewish lands. That the conquest done by Muslims of north Africa and all of the Mid-east is barbaric and cruel. With a close look Muslim conquerors were not peaceful tolerant regimes but oppressive. That Muslim conquerors were not more culturally advanced then Europe. In fact in order to navigate the seas and build the ships they needed Egyptian ships, and Coptic Christians to navigate them. The Highly acclaimed Arab architecture also turns out to be of a Persian and Byzantine origin. The reason the architecture of both the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher resemble each other is because both were achieved by Byzantine craftsmen. The many intellectual books written in Arabic did not make them Arabic. Most often such scientific and medical books were the work of Christian Persians and Jews. Even considering mathematics. “Arabic Numerals” were entirely of Hindu origin. “Arabic Medicine” is actually Nestorian Christian work mistakenly attributed to Arabs because the works were translated into Arabic. Not to say Arab Muslim culture attributed nothing progressive or intellectual but must often what is attributed to them is done so because they conquered lands and people and laid claim to what they liked, or most often needed. Like ships, navigation, physicians, bankers, accountants, scientists, military technology, and agriculture.
As always there is plenty from Starks work that can offend good Christians, and offend those who are annoyed by Christians. Its a challenging book to read because you have to face some realities of history that some Christians and non-Christians alike would not wish to engage with. Fun stuff. Check it out.