A New History of the Crusades Obama Should Read
By Stephanie Pacheco
Steve Weidenkopf, lecturer at Christendom College’s graduate program, has written a readable, story-like book that provides a blow-by-blow account of the Crusades that simultaneously counters many of the myths that have sprung up around them. Yet he does so without ignoring the crusaders’ missteps. In the process, he makes a major contribution to addressing the myth of “fundamentalist” religious war—which perpetuates the idea that any war undertaken in the name of a faith must be prima facie wrong. A more reasonable standard would be the principles of the Just War tradition.
In The Glory of the Crusades, Weidenkopf explains how the Crusades marked an innovation in the Church’s approach to lay spirituality. Pope “Urban’s summons to Jerusalem was a ‘universal call to holiness’ oriented specifically at the laity, who otherwise believed the only sure way to contribute to their salvation was to renounce the world and enter the monastery.” Many of the crusaders professed sincere faith, and “took the cross,” though they stood to lose a great deal of wealth, if not their lives. Indeed, in the First Crusade, begun in 1096, there was an 80 percent casualty rate.
Taking seriously the faith of the crusaders, Weidenkopf deals especially well with the myths that the Crusades were land grabs or wars of conversion. The crusaders did not insist on converting those living under their control; rather they fought to defend the Christians already living in the Holy Land and those making pilgrimages there. And as for the colonization or imperialism myth, it is debunked by the reality that the crusaders held only a few cities at any one time and left hardly enough troops to maintain the garrisons let alone expand an empire. The vast majority of the survivors returned home, battered and poorer for their efforts.
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