Friday, February 26, 2010

Hunter Baker: Stop Apologizing for the Crusades!

Just came across this terrific post at the First Things Evangel blog by my former grad assistant, Hunter Baker (PhD, Baylor 2007), who is associate provost and assistant professor of government at Houston Baptist University. Writes Hunter:

Perhaps a better title would be something like Don’t Allow the Crusades to be Thoughtlessly Added to a Parade of Christian Horribles without Knowing More about It, but I wanted to get your attention. 
Rodney Stark’s God’s Batallions is an outstanding book designed to help the educated reader (not only the academic reader) understand the Crusades. You know the routine. You want to talk about Christianity and the village atheist wonders just how you are getting past the horrors of the Crusades and the Inquisition. This book answers the question with regard to the Crusades. Stark brilliantly explains how the Crusades started, what happened in the course of events, and why they finally ended. All in all, the western church comes off pretty sympathetically. Readers who know Stark find it easy to trust him because he always questions excessive claims and makes sure to back his own assertions up with data. 
What becomes clear is that the Crusades failed for three reasons. 
First, despite the fact that the westerners regularly decimated their Muslim rivals in combat thanks to superior tactics and technology, they were always on the wrong end of a numbers game. The western armies arrived in the Holy Land already diminished from disease and harrying attacks along the way. They never had large enough armies to begin with. And whenever they secured their objectives, a substantial number of troops and/or nobles would return home leaving ridiculously small numbers to hold on, which amazingly, they did for decades at a time. 
Second, Crusading was expensive. Although it has been suggested the Crusades were about wealth, nobles didn’t get rich on them. They borrowed, scraped, and imposed heavy taxes just to be able to afford equipping, paying, and feeding their armies. When they captured an area, the land was not revenue-producing in the same way their European farm land was.
Third, the Byzantines never came through with the help they promised. Crusaders regularly expected help from the Comnenus family of rulers which began the Crusades by appealing to the pope for help. But the help was virtually never forthcoming. Had the Byzantine empire allied itself with the Crusaders, the Holy Land might still be in Christian hands today.
Read for yourself. I found the book highly enjoyable. Rodney Stark [Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences, Baylor University] has reached the point to which many academics aspire. He writes about things that interest him for a mass audience with the aid of a major publishing company (Harper). And the books come to us rather than sitting staidly in university libraries.


Mo said...

The Crusades didn't fail. They're the reason we're not all speaking Arabic and worshiping Allah right now.

Francis J. Beckwith said...


I think Hunter and Stark mean that the Crusades failed in their ultimate goal of returning the Holy Land back to Christian hands. They do not mean that the Crusades did not result in any goods.


Hunter Baker said...

Wait for the now standard reply from Eastern Orthodox folks that the sacking of Constantinople revealed the bankruptcy of the hearts of Crusaders. I will go ahead and tell those folks to read the book, because the matter is well addressedd.

RD Miksa said...

Good Day Mr. Beckwith,

Your post sparked some funny insight that I acted upon and wrote about on my blog. Please take a look at:

If you think it is funny, please pass it on to other Catholics.

Take care and God Bless,

RD Miksa