Archive for September 2005
In 1095, messengers sent by Alexius I arrived at the Council of Piacenza to request military aid from Pope Urban to defend against the frequent raids and attacks of the Turks. Pope Urban obliged, and at the Council of Clermont month later delivered a sermon admonishing the people to take up arms in the name of Christ and to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim control. He is known to have said, ‘Deus le volt! (God Wills It!)’ The response to this call was overwhelming, with a multitude joining the pilgrimage desirous of spiritual gain, as they had been promised full penance for their participation by the papacy. By 1099, after incredible bloodshed, indiscriminate among Muslims, Jews and alleged heretics, Jerusalem fell to the Christian pilgrims, and the Crusader state of Jerusalem was established. It should be noted that the context of Alexius’ request was a precedent set by the previous Pope, Gregory VII, who called for the ‘milites Christi (Knights of Christ)’ to come to the aid of the Byzantine Empire, which had been subject to unrelenting persecution and brutality at the hands of the Muslim armies. Setting aside the anachronistic norms of warfare in everyday society, and the predominance of papal theology in cultural operation, the Crusades have truly tarnished the witness of the Church of Christ to the entire world. The fact that heretical promises of penance and indulgences made by the church clearly contradict the doctrine of salvation by grace points to the distortion of the faith in its advocacy of this military campaign.
However, many a debate over the validity of Christianity in general begins with the accusation that the fact of the Crusades proves the essential hypocrisy of the faith. This is easily debunked when shown that the philosophical foundation of the Crusades was not consistent with the message of Christ. In fact, it is clear from the scriptures that the aggression of religious theology by means of warfare is in direct conflict with essential Christian doctrine. Prior to the Crusades, Augustine of Hippo is known to have said ‘One must not judge a philosophy by its abuse.’ In contrast, one can easily point out that the outrageous violations of human rights that are contemporaneous with our modern discourse were not only birthed in the atheistic mind, but were logically consistent with such a worldview. Now these arguments are simply to set aside the typical assumptions and the straw man set in front of what the discussion should involve. The question here should be why did the Crusades occur under the auspices of Christendom at the time that they did? The answer is complex but begins by understanding the cultural context of religion at the time.
It is important to remember that at this period of history, the common man had never read the Word of God for himself. The common man probably had not read anything at all, as literacy was not a cultural norm, but reserved for within the cloistered walls of the church community. Even then, however, the comprehensive understanding of and even lingual access to the scriptures was not held even by most clergy. Bible historian and scholar Daniel Wallace elaborates on this reality in his description of a typical medieval clergyman: ‘He only read the Bible in Latin, and only those portions that were important for the liturgy. He had never read the whole Bible himself—ever. And besides, his Latin skills were not very good—just enough to mutter a few prayers in church from memory (The History of the English Bible).’ The point here is that the culture, though identified and structured around the Christian church, was fundamentally disconnected with the Word. In fact, an investigation into the monarchial political structures of the time reveals that the Crusades themselves were motivated by power and sold by religion. Religion was only one element of the Crusades, yet became its label for its means of recruiting those who would ultimately carry out the bloody effort and restore power to the papacy. The people desired purpose and looked to the papal authority to point them in the right direction. Christ called His followers to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33).’ Time and time again, God warns against the elevation of worldly kingdoms and calls His people to humble themselves before Him and seek His will rather than their own. Yet, in the Crusades, we have an inherent lack of humility in leadership and a clear lust for power motivating the existing worldly kingdom, and a distortion of the Word specifically to engender consent and participation. Had only the leaders of the day heeded the warnings of Augustine, who wrote, ‘Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.’ That foundation is in an intimacy with the Word of God.
The monarchs of the time claimed divine privilege, as it was understood that God ordained the place of kings and placed the stewardship of the land and its people in their hands. While it is true that Christ himself encouraged His people to respect the worldly authority over them, implicit in this was not an allowance for authority to reap the harvest of their immorality unchecked. In fact, Jesus challenged even the authority of Pilate, the man whom would authorize his crucifixion: ‘Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ The authority of God is elevated above all human authority; His Word must be the plumb line for those to whom authority is given. The sad truth is that the authority which bolstered thousands to take up the sword did so without a Biblical basis, and had no means of checking their passions by measure of the Word. It was not Christianity which caused the violence of the Crusades, but a lack of its authenticity.
‘But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.' (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1909)
Chesterton’s quote, even decades ago, so accurately portrays the postmodern mind, forced to vacillate among disparate issues, non of which are capable of providing an adequate philosophical foundation yet many potent enough to fracture reason across the board and instill angst before essential questions can even be entertained. I might be appropriate to continue this section with a joke often invoked within a discussion such as this: What do you get when you cross a postmodernist with a used car salesman? You get an offer you can’t understand! Postmodernism is a word not easily defined, yet it is certainly a contemporary ‘buzzword’ used in many different contexts; invoked frequently in the speeches of politicians, the criticisms of works of art, the discussion of higher education, and even the cue cards of television talk show hosts. Its ambiguity of meaning allows for the ubiquity of its use, and perhaps the root of the confusion stems from postmodernism’s implicit rejection of absolutes. Postmodern theory suggests that knowledge itself is contingent upon circumstances such as time, place, and social status, through which the individual creates his own knowledge. In fact, in this framework, the concept that knowledge may arise or exist from outside the individual is inherently suspect!
According to postmodern theorist Jean-François Lyotard, postmodernism is characterized by its ‘incredulity toward metanarratives.’ The late literary theorist and philosopher Jacques Derrida concurred, and argued that knowledge could not maintain integrity without invoking an ‘original utterance,’ the logos. The idea that man would be given or have access to the ‘original utterance’ is thus called logocentrism. Critics of postmodern thought would rightly agree and point out that without being grounded in an objective standard, postmodernism can masquerade as philosophy without having to account for the logical disparities that so clearly exist when such a system attempts to be practically applied. The Christian, regardless of his philosophical or logical capabilities in argument, should be expectedly and unabashedly logocentric. The Word of God, as preserved in the Bible is the first and last word- the source of the metanarrative from which we presume objective morality, elitism of ideas, and the convictions of the individual. This is fundamental to Christian theology and has clear and logical implications upon forming a Christian worldview. As observed by a Wikipedia author, ‘Many of these critiques attack, specifically, the perceived "abandonment of objective truth" as being the crucial unacceptable feature of the post-modern condition.’ This is absolutely the case, for there can be no compatibility between a philosophy reliant upon the reality of objective truth and a philosophy that elevates agnosticism to its objective truth (essentially, to state that truth does not exist and defend such a statement as being true).
We have all encountered postmodernism in its popular form of relativism, an attitude reflected in a phrase at this point cliché: ‘Truth is relative.’ Yet it is such a pronouncement which pulls the carpet from underneath itself! If it is so, then that must include the statement itself, thereby invalidating it. If it is not so, then such a statement is meaningless in its inability to adequately reflect reality. One who claims that truth is relative speaks into an intellectual vacuum; he can neither generate worthwhile response, nor express anything truly meaningful. This is the bankruptcy of postmodern thought, and yet Alan Bloom, in his book, The Closing of the American Mind, affirms the state of things as he writes, ‘Every professor on a university campus today can be absolutely sure of one thing: that almost every student coming in for an education is confident that truth is not absolute but relative.’