So, apparently there was a Prayer Breakfast on Thursday. As a blog meant to be built on faith (and highjacked by politics) I have to admit I feel a bit bad for having missed this. Thankfully, we have the internet and that means I can get video of it after I hear about it.
Unfortunately, what I have heard is ignorance.
President Obama made an about 25 minute speech. Not bad, as speeches go, but he did say something that has gotten a lot of people up in arms. Again, not bad. If you talk for 25 minutes and you don’t piss someone of, you probably haven’t said anything worth listening too. Probably. Namely, he equated the violence of Christians during the Crusades and the Inquisition as the same as Isis, as were slavery and Jim Crow.
Here’s the full speech:
Here’s the relevant part:
Now, you would probably think that a Heathen blog is the last place you’d find any sympathy towards Christian violence, and Gods know I have taken them to task on it a number of times. But I’m going to look at these four examples and show how equating these things to ISIL is misguided at best, and horrible at worst.
Let’s start with the most commonly discussed, the Crusades. To get the full story, we actually have to go all the way to the Roman Empire, which grew to control territory from Brittan all the way to the Arabian Sea.
In the 5th century, the Roman empire had grown too large to govern itself from the central location of Rome, so it split into two empires, the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire.
You will notice that inside the Byzantine empire is the area known to Christians, Jews, and Muslims as the Holy Land, where the state of Israel is located. In fact, if you look at both maps you will note that it had been in the possession of the Roman empire for over three hundred years. In fact, according to das wiki, Rome occupied Israel in 63 BCE and would all the way up to the invasions of the Muslims Invaded in the 7th century. So, for over 600 years did that area belong to the Roman’s and their Empire. That is twice as long as America has existed, roughly.
So when you hear about the Crusades being about Taking Back the Holy Land, well, they aren’t joking, they aren’t wrong, and they aren’t being a bunch of racist white jingoists. That was land held for 600 years. A comparable example would be say if in another three hundred years, aliens invade the USA and take DC and surrounding areas, and then the Canadians and Mexicans, upon request from the people of the USA, swept down to drive out the aliens, crying out “take back the land!” Because that’s pretty much what the Crusades were, people from the former Western Roman empire, under the guidance of the Pope (who was essentially the king of Rome) gathering up and coming to the aid of their fellow Roman Empire to retake land that had been Roman for 600 years.
Somewhere along the way we in the West have just come to believe that the Lavant was Muslim owned. It was “their land.” It had always been “their land.” And the Crusades were an invasion. This simply is not true. The Muslims invaded and the Crusades were an attempt that lasted several hundred years to drive them out of lands they had invaded. The attempt failed, for a number of reasons, and the Muslims continued to conquer lands all the way up through modern day Turkey, wiping out the Byzantine empire. They then later on continually attempted to invade the rest of Europe, including a drive that got as far as Vienna Austria in the mid 1600s.
As for the Brutality of the Crusades on the part of the Christians, this did not occur in a vacuum. In fact, barring the lack of modern weapons, the Islamic invasions of the Byzantine Empire (and the lands leading up to said Empire) you saw warfare much the same as you see practiced by Boko Haram and ISIS. To give further perspective, Mohammed’s active prophetic life started in 610 ce. Caliph Umar Ibn Al Khattab accepted a surrender of Jerusalem in 637 ce. Meaning that Islam had gone from one man and his followers in Saudi Arabia to a kingdom reaching all the way to the Med in 27 years.
One does not do that without an insane amount of violence. Though reports are spotty, rape, murder, forced conversions, terror, and so forth were the acts of the day. Indeed, there was at the start of the Crusades a group of Christians who were made up largely of children and unarmed, or underarmed, people. They were slaughtered and enslaved to a person by the Muslims. The stories making it to Western Europe of Muslim barbarities and inhumanities equaled, if not surpassed, what we hear today of Islamist groups like ISIL and Boko Harram.
Is it any wonder then, that the Crusaders were willing to commit such brutal actions in an attempt to stop the Muslim invaders? Imagine if you heard of young women being raped and sold into sex slavery, young men being beheaded, villages burned, children slaughtered, and you got to go over there and make them pay. You got to go over there and stop them. No twitter campaign, no #bringbackourgirls, you got a weapon, a bunch of comrades, and you go to go over there and put an end to it. You got to be the one to “bring back the girls,” Drive ISIS back into the dessert where it came, and make the world safe.
How brutal would you be, to stop such monstrous acts, especially as while you were doing it, they were killing your friends, you got to see the dead and the raped and the burned not on a tv screen, but with your own eyes. You had to hold a child and tell him “i’m sorry, but your daddy is dead and your mommy’s broken, raped, and butchered corpse that you’ve held onto for three days has to go away now, and you are going to be all alone in the world.”
How brutal would you become?
Because that’s what the crusades were. A bunch of people from Western Europe fighting off a monstrous horde of brutal rapists and murderers, on the request of people they knew, who they traded with, and who were being slaughtered. And if they became monsters, it was because they were fighting monsters.
Now we get to the Spanish Inquisition.
Most people have heard of the Spanish Inquisition. Most people have heard of it’s brutality, savagery, and the lengths it would go to to end Heresy.
But a few events actually happened at the same time as the start of the Spanish Inquisition. For example, do you know when the Spanish Inquisition started?
See, a few things of note happened that year, in addition to the Spanish Inquisition. Columbus sailed the ocean blue, looking for a way to India. And Ferdinand and Isabella had just ended over 700 years of Muslim Occupation that had started with invasions in 711 ce.
To give you an idea of what it was like for the Spanish, imagine if you will that Saudi Arabia invaded Florida. They killed all the Pagans down there, and made all the Christians and Jews second class citizens, made them pay a tax every year for not being a Muslim, took away all the rights women had, kidnapped and raped non-muslims because they could, and insitutued Saudi Arabia’s legals system. Then, a little while later, Iran came over and invaded, saying that Saudi Arabia’s Islam is too soft on the infidels, imposes harsher fines, more brutality, confiscation of property and persons, harsher laws, etc.
Then Al Quida shows up, and does the same thing to Iran, saying “you are too soft!” and then imposes harsher laws, more taxes, more brutality.
And then ISIS shows up and tells the AQ that They’re to soft, to kind to the infidels, and goes even harsher and harsher.
That, essentially, is the history of Span under the Muslims. One group after another invading, deeming their predecessors to have been too soft, not Islamic enough, and need to be replaced by a truer, more violent, more strict Islam. Starting in 711 ce to 1492 ce.
So you can understand the native Spanish being a little…upset. And worried. They had just barely managed to push out the Muslims, and they were littlerally right across the street. All of North Africa was under Muslim control by this point. Not only that, since they had taken over the Byzantine Empire at this point, the Muslims controlled all trade with the far east, something that the Byzantine empire used to do. Prices on goods that were needed and wanted were insane, and it all went into the pockets of people trying to invade Europe in general, and Spain in particular. Spain needed money, it needed a way to cripple its enemies financially, and it needed it fast.
We all know the story that Columbus was laughed out of every country except Spain, who gave him three leaky, barely held together ships to go on his mad journey around the globe. Only a nation completely desperate, completely out of options, would do something like that. After all, ships got lost just going up and down the coast, to sail across a vast ocean with no land for an unknown number of miles? That was as good as writing them off as dead the instant they left the port. But they did it. Because it was really their only option.
And they started the inquisition. Now, we know about the Spanish Inquisition mostly for hunting down Jews. Those are the stories we always hear. But the original mandate was Jews and Muslims. That’s the part we never really hear about. But when you think about it, over seven hundred years, where the Jews and Christians were likely played against each other for their Muslim Masters, would no doubt breed bad blood. And of course it makes sense to hunt down Muslims at that point. Any Muslim had profited from the Iberian occupation, and any Muslim could be a spy, saboteur, or potential combatant for when, not if, the Muslim Empire would return. To protect their sovereign state, no, to protect their people, any length, any gamble, any risk, and any action, no matter how monstrous, was acceptable.
Now some historians will quibble, they will say that life under the Muslims was not so bad, that the second class citizenship wasn’t nearly as monstrous as it was made out to be. That is a view that will be debated until the end of time. Regardless, being made a second class citizen in one’s own land, living with the fear that comes with subjugation, that would drive any people to desire their freedom and sovereignty. Even if it was not as bad as what Christians suffer under Iran or Saudi Arabia, much less Isis, it would not be a stretch to say it was at least as bad as Jim Crow.
So yes, the Inquisition was taken in the Name of Christianity and executed by Christian Priests, but that would be as much because the Catholic Church had the resources, manpower, and training to engage in a nationwide counter espionage and anti-terrorist campaign, on behalf of a newly formed, struggling, and weak government. No different, really, than when the US provided intelligence and military support to the newly formed Iraqi government (and look what happened when we pulled out too soon).
Most people don’t realize it, but Rome and the Catholic Church was arguably the wealthiest and one of the most powerful nations for much of the middle ages. It only saw it’s true decline with the rise of Empires, started by the Spanish with Columbus. Up until then, it had the most capital and the highest trained government officials, compared to much of Europe. And it had been fighting Muslim invasions, pirates, and other attacks since the start of the Crusades, on the Easter, southern, and western sides of the Med for centuries. Imagine if 700 years of America’s existence we had to fight, none stop, all over the world, ISIS and nations like it, right on our borders. How much money, manpower, and brutality would we accept committing if we had to prop up a Mexican government to prevent the USA and Canada from being invaded and subjugated by ISIS?
Next we come to slavery.
Slavery, really, is a mixed bag. Yes, there were Christian elements used in the practice of Slavery in the West. Both to justify, and to encourage the slaves to obey their masters. How successful that was, or how much of it actually effected slavery is a matter for debate. Slavery had existed for as long as human history has existed, though most slavery had not been for life at that point.
But like all things, we cannot look at it alone, we need to look at it in terms of events happening around it. Did you know that the Muslim Empires engaged in slavery from Africa as well? In fact, it is estimated that they took twice as many slaves as the European nations did, during the same time period, though it is likely they had been engaged in the slave trade long before, and continued after we stopped.
But the growth of slavery occurred with the discovery of the Americas. As I noted in the Spanish Inquisition section, Columbus sailed and discovered the Americas the same year that the Spanish regained their homeland. Knowing of the 700+ year occupation and subjugation of the Spanish, their brutality in the new world, raping it of anything of value makes more sense, since we know they were in a stated o economic desperation and war. Nearly overnight though, they became the first superpower to exist in Europe since the Fall of the Western Roman Empire! The Spanish armada went from a few leaky ships to the most powerful navy the world had ever seen in all of history. In just a decade or two, they went from one of the weakest nations in Europe, in the world, to a Pan-Global Empire! Spain went from needing to fear being conquered to being the conqueror, but they never forgot the menace at their gates, so they eagerly piled more and more wealth and power into their pocket. They were all power.
Suddenly though, this upset the balances. Span not only kicked the ass of the biggest military, they made themselves bigger. They had opened up the Lands to the the West, shown routes to the East that would cripple the Muslims, potentially curbing their ability to to continue their 700 year war to invade all of Europe (because they hadn’t stopped in the east. Men like Dracula were fighting them off there, tiny nations with tiny armies using the mountains to hold off an implacable foe the best they could. It is a war that often continues on a small scale to this day.
As Spains hungry eyes roamed the world, those nations who had managed to make something of themselves did not wish to fall to foreign powers. Some, like the French, were ready and eager and jumped off the boat (so to speak) and took vast areas of the New World. England started off small, but quickly found success. Other nations pulled themselves together in Europe, such as Germany as time progressed or the Austro-Hungarian empire, who was waging its own war with the Muslims ever so often.
But the New World was not like Europe. In fact, it wasn’t like we know it today. We have terraformed much of America to suite our needs, but back then it was wild, forests and swamps were the word of the East Coast, and nearly as many people died as came over. The only way to sustain the nations were colonies, the only way to sustain the colonies was work, and only the living could work. The Carolina for example, known for their rice plantations, were little more than swamps in those areas and only one group of people proved capable of surviving the mosquitoes: Africans. Same in the Caribbean, and else wheres. So with their new ships, the nations of Europe went to Africa looking for labor, and they found markets ready for them, where African sold African, eager to get his enemy away. Because that’s how much of slavery went. Tribes went to war, and the why kill the captives to keep them from rising up at no profit, when you could sell them for the price of a new car today and they still would never trouble you again? Which meant you could buy better weapons, to defeat more enemies, to sell them off and take more lands?
Now, religion did play a part in slavery, for its faults Christianity was not the source, nor even the framework, of slavery. Was it used to ease the minds of some slave holders? Yes. Was it used to try and keep converted slaves more obedient, Yes. But ultimately, it did play a part in their freedom and being given equal rights under the law as well. But the driving force behind slavery was ever economics, not religion, and the desperate need to make sure one’s country was not going to be conquered.
Lastly, we come to the Presidents claim that Christianity had to do with Jim Crow.
If I had to rank his examples by order of strength to his point, I would put the Inquisition at the top, and this one flatly at the bottom.
Jim Crow, frankly, had little to nothing to do with Christian Dogma or Belief and everything to do with Resentment.
See, America had it’s Civil War (which was as divisive and far more bloody than Marvel’s Civil War, although, ironically they were about similar ideals).
To the South, the Civil War was about the freedom to dictate their own lives and have their right to possession respected. “We make our own laws, we will not be dictated how we should live by the whims of a foreign populace, even if they’re from the next state over.” Yes, the issue was over the owning of slaves, but the southern economy was based on a pre-mechanical agricultural complex. Without slave labor, the cost of labor was going to be higher than any amount one could make on the crops grown. The removal of slave labor would not just devastate the economies of southern states, it would annihilate it. On top of which, each slave was worth the same value as modern car, between $20-50,000 dollars in today’s money. Given some plantations could have a couple hundred slaves, anti-slavery legislation meant that you instantaneously lost $7,000,000 on average instantly, not counting the loss of labor and other expenses. Or the equevalent of going to modern large scale farmers and saying “global warming is bad, so we’re taking away all your equipment that you need to farm all this land and feed and cloth the country.”
And even some poor families might have a slave. Imagine if one day you’re barely living on minimum wage, trying to work two jobs, and the government says “btw, we’re taking your car because we need to stop global warming.” Well, you’d lose your two jobs, probably your home, and end up on the street. That’s not a bad equivalency to what the poorer folks were facing. So it is little wonder that the South was ready and eager to fight.
To the North, the Civil War was about two reasons. Some wanted to preserve the Union. The South was the breadbasket of the the USA at that point, losing it meant higher food prices, higher clothing costs, and several other increases in trade prices. To others it was about the morality of Slavery, that no man should live in Bondage. And since Slavery = Evil! is a better slogan than “My jeans cost ten dollars more!” For getting people to go kill each other, Slavery became the theme for the North.
And, long story short, the North won. The slaves were freed, and the Southern economy was wiped off the face of the earth. Lands once known for their beauty and wealth would transform into areas that today can still pass for third world countries. People who had known the finest things in life suddenly couldn’t even buy a crust of bread. Those who had barely been scraping by suddenly realized that what they thought was poverty (and was) was a pipe dream of luxury. Suddenly, millions of slaves who could count on a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food in their bellies were even worse off than the white people, because they had been trained in professions that no longer existed.
And the triumphant North said it had been done for one reason only. “Whites were evil, slavery was evil, and we did it for the black people.”
Suddenly, the driving engine for your economic success is the reason you have nothing left in your life. That was of course going to build a massive amount of resentment. Suddenly, life was harder and you were competing with millions of new laborers, and you “knew” who was responsible, you knew whose fault it was, and so you passed laws to try and help your fellows try and get back on their feet, by denying chances, opportunities, and rights to those you were told were responsible for your suffering.
That’s where Jim Crow got started. The economic, social, legal, and educational disparities were not examples of religious belief, but attempts to help the innocent and punish the guilty, so to speak.
This by no means is to say that Jim Crow laws were right, or acceptable. They were wrong, and violated the Constitution of the USA, which from the start guaranteed equality to all citizens in letter of the law, if not practice of the courts. But, given that Southerners were told “you are suffering because of black people,” it is truly little wonder they sought to pass that suffering on. Might they have used their Christian religion to try and justify? Sure, but at its heart, the issue came from human and economic reasons, not from Christian dogma.
In conclusion, three of the examples President Obama gave can be traced back to Muslim Aggression taken in the name of Islam. Islam, from its start in 610 ce took only one hundred years before it was waging war from the Atlantic in the West to the Buddhist nations in the East. To put this in perspective, Christianity took 300 years to become the national religion of Rome with barely any warfare.
The first two examples he gave of Christian Violence were nothing more than immediate responses to Islamic violence. Not Islamist violence, but Islam as is recognized by all Muslims. The Third example resulted as a direct result to prevent further Islamic violence and conquest. The fourth, arguably, had nothing to do with religion.
Are there examples of religion in violence? Yes. Had Obama spoken of the Germanic Crusades, he might have had a point. Had he spoken of the Viking Raids, he could have had a point, except that those were sparked by the Bloody Verdict of Verdun, a perfect example of violence done by Christians in the name of religion. He could have mentioned the many acts of forcible Christianizion of the Celts, Norse, or attempts on the Lithuanians. But he did not mention these things.
Ultimately, even if the Crusades and Inquisition was violence taken in the name of Christianity, it was done so as a violence of self defense. As much as I loath Christianity and its many violent and evil deeds to my people and our ancient ways…even I cannot begrudge them the violence they do in defense of their own. And to equate such violence, no matter how brutal it was, to the actions of ISIS and Boko Haram, is an insult to all. ISIS arose from a desire for religious supremacy and the feeling that Islam was not being practiced faithfully, just like every Islamic terrorist. Same with Boko Haram. Islam did not stop waging war until the European Empires literally laid waste to the Islamic Empire, tore it to pieces, and forcibly suppressed Islamic violence. Islam did not start from economic pressures, or by being subjugated. It started by slaughtering Pagans, invading Pagan lands, subjugating, raping, and forcibly converting Pagans, till it ran into the Christians, who rallied behind their God as a way to put waring tribes and nations at ease enough to face a common, bloodthirsty, foe. Now that the end of the Age of Empires it is here, it is hard for me to say that Isis is not the true face of Islam, because it is at least the historic face of Islam.
But the Violence of Islam, and of those like ISIS, however religious it is…is not on the same level as the Violence of the Crusades or the Inquisition. Because Violence in the name of Aggression is not the same as violence in the name of Defense. Nor is trying to retake conquered lands the same as conquering lands. Killing a murderer is never the same as a murderer killing.