Exposing Myths Regarding Slavery and the Crusades

The September 9 episode of the White Horse Inn featured an interview between Michael Horton and Jeffery Burton Russell, author of  Exoposing Myths About Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends. The following is an edited excerpt from this interview, in which Russell summarizes in layman’s terms common misconceptions about Christianity’s guilt regarding chattel slavery and the Crusades. I hope you find these to be helpful thumbnail sketches:

Horton: The moral questions–that Christianity is intolerant–if you look back at the history of Christianity, very often that criticism is wrapped up in lots of things, like getting hit with tennis balls coming out of that machine; they’re shooting at you so quickly you can’t bat them away.

[They say] Christianity is intolerant. Look at slavery; look at the history of injustice towards women. There’s just so many problems, that Christianity cannot possibly keep its promise to make the world a better place.

Russell: Yeah, let’s just mention a couple of them. Let’s look at slavery, for example. Well, it’s precisely Christians who did away with slavery. People may point out that people had slaves; well, so did everybody else! Slavery was unfortunately a worldwide institution in the ancient world. The whole movement against slavery was started by Christians: by Catholic bishops and Protestant clergy. They were the great leaders of the movement, first to abolish the slave trade, and then to abolish slavery altogether. So, Christianity’s record with regard to slavery is extremely good.

Unfortunately, we know that many of our founding fathers had slaves, but again, it was Christians, not atheists, who moved against the institution.

Then, on the intolerance question: people always raise questions about the Inquisition and the Crusades. The Crusades are somehow seen as a colonialist, Western invasion of indigenous peoples, and view it as a terrible thing. But people seem to be ignorant of the background of the Crusades.

The background of the Crusades is simply that all of the southern Mediterranean lands from Spain to all around North Africa, to as far as what’s now Iraq and Iran–these were Christian territories with Christian populations. The great cities of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch were the centers of Christian bishops, and this is a thoroughly Christian area up until the 600’s. In the 600’s, the Arabs quickly come out of Arabia. By 750 BC, the Muslims defeated the Byzantine Empire and occupied most of the Christian lands. So it’s not as if Christians were attacking these innocent people who had been there for ages and ages.

Christians were fighting a defensive war. The immediate cause of the Crusades lies in the fact that most of the Muslim rulers that previously allowed Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem,  had taken over Jerusalem, and by the 1080’s were forbidding any Christians to go to Jerusalem, and that created a horrible reaction in Europe. So the Crusades were to open up the pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.

So, in a sense, there is no doubt that a lot of the Crusaders behaved very badly. We certainly have plenty of evidence of that. But the motive of the Crusades, and the motive of most of the Crusaders were to open up the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to take back some territory that the Muslims had taken from them 400 years earlier.

Horton: So in many of these cases, one, it’s just that we don’t understand enough of the historical background; and two, that we sort of anachronistically project our standards of universal human rights on cultures that in any case–whether they were Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever—simply had no reference for what we are talking about.

Russell: Yeah. There’s a lot of projection, on the part of historians in the last forty years, of modern values and attitudes back onto the past. It used to be that our aim was to open minds to the various ways of thinking: how did Babylonians think? How did the Chinese think? Christians, Jews and so forth. But now, most teaching of history seems to be very propagandistic. Instead of opening peoples’ minds to various points of view, most historians seem to be imposing a particular ideology on their students and teaching them only one side of things.

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