Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Crusades?

I have been asked by a number of people about the President's singular statements about Christianity and the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast, an odd observation for him to make especially in a room filled with serious people of faith who, by and large, have supported and voted for him.  I am uninterested in the partisan political observations that one may make, and rather easily, about this, but would offer a few observations of my own:

1.]  Many of the observations about Christianity that are made by politicians are either, on the conservative end of the spectrum, flat and narrow and, on the liberal end, fanciful and disjointed.

2.]  I've noticed, especially when working with young people, either fellow faculty or students, that "What about the Crusades?" is a common riposte whenever someone like myself offers testimony as to the intellectual and spiritual freedom found in real Christianity.  While they tend to know little or nothing about the actual Crusades, they feel [since feelings trump knowledge in our brave new world] that this is a sublime example of Christian hypocrisy that negates all other experiences of the faith in any period of history.

3.] This limp feeling of hypocrisy relieves the faculty member or student from actually having to contemplate the reality of Christianity.  Appreciating historical context, cultural moral development, and perpetual intellectual inquiry are things that are out of fashion.  This is especially splendid when one notes that Western education, which was formed by Christian scholars, is now in the hands of spiritual puzzle-wits.

4.]  Regrettably, I have found many of the statements about religion, and not just Christianity, presented by the current administration to be obtuse or prosaic, so I'm not surprised that the President's ad-libbed remark about his understanding of the Crusades sounds like something I have heard many, many times in the cauldron of ordinary thought that is a faculty lounge, if not from an obstreperous fourteen-year-old.

5.]  Historically, the Crusades are a better example of government misusing a religious institution than of the Church running amok.  This is why I support the separation of church and state.  I only wish that politicians would observe their end of the arrangement and keep their bazoos out of theology and ecclesiastical history.

I've read several reactions from true thinkers, but I preferred some of the things said by this fellow, a retired professor of history:
So the question for the president is, why does such medieval violence persist to a much greater degree among so many Islamic extremists in the present world than among most zealots of other religions? (This is an empirical statement. Cf., for instance, the nature of recent global terror attacks in resources such as the Global Terrorism Database). And why search the distant past for examples of moral equivalence, unless the present does not offer suitable data?
Areas of Central and Latin America are as poor as the Middle East, but Christian liberation theologists, unlike the Islamic State, are not beheading and burning prisoners alive to advance their redistributionist cause. Chinese imperialists and colonialists have absorbed Tibet, but the Dalai Lama is not sending suicide bombers into China. The children of East Prussians expelled from 1945-47 are not suiting up with suicide vests to attack Poles. Impoverished Hindu extremists, angry at centuries of British colonialism, do not hijack planes and ram them into high-rises in British cities. Jews are not blowing up cartoonists and satirists in Paris and Germany who deny or caricature the Holocaust.
It would seem the current world situation requires an approach that is apolitical and deeply aware of the reality of contemporary religion.  Sadly, I'm unsure if there is any leader capable of such a response.