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Dr. Tony Beam Christian Blog and Commentary

Kingdom of Heaven Politically Correct View of the Crusades

  • Tony Beam
    Dr. Tony Beam's Weblog
  • 2005 May 12
  • Comments

As it turns out, the disappointing opening weekend box office receipts of Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott's sweeping action epic set within the time frame of the Crusades is not the most disappointing aspect of this movie.  The biggest disappointment is the movies' poltically correct take on the Crusades. 

The character Balian (Orlando Bloom) follows his father, the knight Godfrey (Liam Neeson) to Jerusalem in search of forgiveness for his wife's suicide and his own subsequent murder of the local priest.  Upon reaching Jerusalem, Balian feels alienated from God and becomes embroiled in teh religious and political dispute between the Kurdish warrior Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) and Jerusalem's leprous King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton).  The uneasy peace between the Christians and the Muslims in Jerusalem is destroyed by the cruel actions of the Knights Templar who want the destruction of all Muslims.  Full scale war breaks out with Balian the last leader left alive to defend Jerusalem.

The movie itself is well done.  The acting isn't stellar but it certainly is worth watching.  The cinematography is breathtaking and the action scenes are creative without being overly gory.  In short, I really wanted to like this movie but the historical innaccuracies and blatant politically correct portrayal of the Muslims as innocent victims and the Christians as immoral aggressors was just more than I could stomach.  The main character in the movie to display any moral fortitude is Balian and he is basically an agnostic. The Christian faith is viewed as vindictive and stupied. 

Ask most people today what they know about the Crusades (the word Crusades isa  modern word not used by those who lived during the era) and they will tell you it was a time when power-mad popes and religious fanatics attacked innocent Muslims, taking their land and their wealth, murdering many, and forcing the survivors to convert to Christianity at the point of a sword. 

This is the version of history taught in most colleges and universites and presented by the media.  Former President Clinton, speaking at Georgetown University after 9/11 pointed to the Crusades as justification for the anger the Muslim world has against the West.  Just recently, at the World Council of Churches meeting in Agios Andreas, Greece, Archbishop Christodoulous of the Greek Orthodox Church cited the "past bitter experience" of the Western Crusades as a stumbling block to full reconcilliation between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West.

It is these historically inaccurate accounts and references of the purpose and meaning of the Crusades Christians must try to correct.  According to Dr. Thomas F. Madden, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars.  Dr. Madden says, "They were a direct response to Muslim aggression....an attempt to turn back or defend againist Muslim conquests of Christian lands."  He goes on to say, "They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world."

So, in short, the Crusades wee Christians responding to the call to defend what was left of Christian territory in the face of ambitious and aggressive Islamic expansion.  It was a war of survival to prevent the extinction of Christian culture.

Most people believe the Crusaders were power hungry money grubbers who stole land from the Muslim people and looted their possessions to fill their own coffers.  The truth....most knights were wealthy land owners who sacrificed their land and most of their possessions for the sake of defending Christendom from a very real threat.  Taking part in a Crusade was a very expensive endeavor, requiring the liquidation of assets so a knight would be able to support himself for from home, sometimes for a period of years.

Another myth about the Crusades involves the idea that Crusaders forced Muslims to convert to Christianity at the point of a sword.  Dr. Madden says, "Nothing could be further from the truth.  Muslims who lived in Crusader won territories were generally allowed to retain their property and livelihood, and always their religion."

Are Christians completely innocent of any atrocities which took place during the Crusades?  No....there were some who were overzealous, even to the point of slaughtering Jews and taking their possessions to finance their assault on Jerusalem.  But they represent a small part of a huge tapestry of events which characterize the Crusades.  In any war, some of the combatants become greedy and self-centered, losing site of the original just cause of the war.  But it is safe to say that overall the Crusades were focused on two important Christian goals; 1) to rescue the Christians of the East from complete Muslim domination and, 2) to liberate Jerusalem and the other places made holy by the life of Christ.

Just as Christians must combat the efforts of postmodern historical revisionists to erase all references to God from America's founding we must also be diligent to correct the historical misuse of the Crusades which is often employed to paint Christians in a bad light.