Monday, September 14, 2009

Crusades of Greed?

In a recent discussion regarding atheism at Vox Popoli, a commenter made this statement:

It wasn't religion that was responsible for the crusades, 30 years war, or anything for that matter, it was peoples greed, need for revenge, pride, ego, etc etc. that did it and they just used religion as a JUSTIFICATION. So religion wasn't to blame, it was just a tool to justify peoples own selfish desires. -- Theological Discourse, 9/6/09, 5:23 PM

The above was an attempt at using atheists' logic against them. This comment followed:

At least in the case of the Crusades, greed (economic considerations) actually were the main reason. Religion was just a red herring. (Think of "Clue" the movie.) -- Duckman, 9/6/09, 5:26PM

The second utterance couldn't be further from the truth. It is debatable whether economic considerations were factors; what is not debatable is that they were not primary factors.

How does greed explain the rich nobles who sold off vast tracts of land or other significant portions of their estates -- or in some cases, virtually everything they owned -- that their followers should have food and clothing and weapons? Does this behavior stem from greed as a primary motivator?

How about the poor peasants who left home and hearth, their wives and children -- some with the anticipation that they would never look upon their loved ones again -- and set forth into a land unknown? Lust for monetary gain does not satisfy as an explanation.

Some relevant passages:

Some scholars used to make much of the idea that crusaders gained great wealth from the Crusades, and that most crusaders were motivated by greed and a hunger for power. The primary sources do not bear this out, as crusading seems to have been a hard, lonely, expensive, dangerous proposition. Few if any serious students of the Crusades accept this explanation today.


For medieval men and women, the crusade was an act of piety, charity, and love; but it was also a means of defending their world, their culture, and their way of life. It is not surprising, then, that the crusades lost their appeal when Christians no longer identified themselves first and foremost as members of one body of Christ. By the sixteenth century, Europe was dividing itself along political rather than religious lines. In that new world, the crusade had no place.


Historians used to believe that a rise in Europe's population led to a crisis of too many noble "second sons," those who were trained in chivalric warfare but who had no feudal lands to inherit. The Crusades, therefore, were seen as a safety valve, sending these belligerent men far from Europe where they could carve out lands for themselves at someone else's expense.

Modern scholarship, assisted by the advent of computer databases, has exploded this myth. We now know that it was the "first sons" of Europe that answered the Pope's call in 1095, as well as in subsequent Crusades.

Crusading was an enormously expensive operation. Lords were forced to sell off or mortgage their lands to gather the necessary funds. Most were also not interested in an overseas kingdom. Much like a soldier today, the medieval Crusader was proud to do his duty but longed to return home.

After the spectacular successes of the First Crusade, with Jerusalem and much of Palestine in Crusader hands, virtually all of the Crusaders went home. Only a tiny handful remained behind to consolidate and govern the newly won territories.

Booty was also scarce. In fact, although Crusaders no doubt dreamed of vast wealth in opulent Eastern cities, virtually none of them ever even recouped their expenses. But money and land were not the reasons that they went on Crusade in the first place. They went to atone for their sins and to win salvation by doing good works in a faraway land.

They underwent such expense and hardship because they believed that by coming to the aid of their Christian brothers and sisters in the East they were storing up treasure where rust and moth cannot corrupt.

They were very mindful of Christ's exhortation that he who will not take up his cross is not worthy of Christ. They also remembered that "Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends."

Once can argue whether or not the Crusades demonstrated a good idea brought to fruition; one even can debate the moral necessity and ramifications of such pilgrimages. But the idea that the Crusades originated in base greed is a notion not borne out by the known historical facts. Speaking of "primary," this is one of the primary areas of historical study for attracting those who enjoy spouting off, safe from the bastions of ignorance. It's right up there with the history of modern science, and the "Civil" War.

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