We all know that a Tenth Crusade benefits us all. You kill as many of us as you can; we’ll kill as many of you as we can.
Let’s keep the machine of war well-oiled, then spoil some virgins together in the afterlife and count our coins. And all that jazz.
The Pentagon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Pat Robertson, Senator Cruz, et al.
This evening, I was contemplating the bizarre events of the Fourth Crusade, and how Christians intent on “liberating” the Holy Land made a pit stop in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1204 and proceeded to sack the city, raid the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia, and rape and murder fellow Christians in such a bloodthirsty manner that more than one historian has described these events as the worst crime spree in recorded history.
One could argue that it’s senseless—even perverted—to rank massacres. Even so, I imagine that historians who know something about the Rape of Nanking might challenge the assessment that the Fourth Crusade is the “worst crime spree” of all-time.
Yet what makes the Fourth Crusade—any of the Crusades—more vile, to my mind, is that they were inspired by religion; whereas, the Japanese military that inflicted horror upon the Chinese residents of Nanking during World War II was secular. Um, except for that whole “we serve at the pleasure of the immortal emperor” part.
Then again, another historical take on the Fourth Crusade could be that it was never designed to secure the Holy Land. Instead, a bunch of Venetian Dick Cheneys decided to wreak Haliburton havoc on a wealthy metropolis and at the same time restore a distant relative to the Byzantine throne. And the easiest way to get Normans and Scots to march east across Europe was to promise them the prospect of murdering Mohammadeans who were pooing on Christ’s tomb. Besides, what Bourges peasant could tell the difference between the Bosphorus and the Sea of Galilee?
Wait. So are there religious wars or not? Or are there just power-mongering psychopaths at the helm of every military who know the effective motivation of a divinely-inspired invasion?
Let’s take a moment to consider the Religious Soldier. Be he (or she) a 13th-century Knight Templar with a broadsword or a Syrian jihadist with a killer Twitter following, it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking: “Well, I’m about to go slaughter some innocent folks. I know God doesn’t approve of this at all, but there’s really nothing that can be done about that.”
Instead, they believe wholeheartedly that God orders followers to circle Jericho, to beat their breasts, then to put every women and children to the sword once the city walls crumble down.
(There are few Dietrich Bonhoeffers, the World War II-era German theologian who believed that even though assassinating Hitler would be immoral, it would be worth the risk of eternal damnation.)
It’s so easy for the warmongers to manipulate us through religion. You call the Immortal Creator of the Universe a different name than I do! And you wear weird divine couture, as opposed to my weird divine couture. Not to mention your idea of painful eternal damnation isn’t my idea of painful eternal damnation! Plus, you kill young children and drink their blood!
(This is what Romans thought early Christians were doing when they celebrated the bread and wine of the Eucharist, by the way. No wonder the emperor had an easy time getting his fellow Romans to approve of tossing Christians to the lions.)
You and I both know that religious differences are a stupid reason to go to war. But our entire global economy—plus several billion religious fanatics—seems to wait with bated breath for Hindu to rise against Muslim to rise against Jew, and for the Christian Crusaders to drone on in and raze all in the name of Doge Enrico Dandolo and black crude. About the only thing we haven’t seen yet is the blue-button Amish taking up arms against the black-button Amish.
But how could anyone really think this way? How could such a perverted and absurd economic system rise?
In his essay “Inventing the Enemy,” Umberto Eco tells us:
From the very beginning, however, the people who become our enemies often are not those who directly threaten us…but those whom someone has an interest in portraying as a true threat even when they aren’t.
I think Eco is correct. And I think that the key to that truth is the word “someone.”
Someone somewhere, right now, is busy manufacturing our enemies. Because without enemies, the military industrial complex fails. Without enemies, the next yacht payment will bounce.
Previous archenemies of Uncle Sam include the Native Americans, the unionists/socialists, the Nazis, the Communists, the drug czars. Now, the Terrorists.
But the Terrorists are different. The Terrorists are special. Religion was sometimes forced into the equation of previous enemies. But the bonfire of religious hate can burn like magnesium.
And defense contractors and military manufacturers the world over know that a Christianity vs. Islam Epic Rap Battle Tenth Crusade will keep everyone in yacht payments for decades.
Personally, I just wish God would show up in a cloud somewhere totally unexpected like over Terre Haute (who would expect God to appear over the skies of Indiana?), wait for camera crews to show up, then announce:
I’m only going to say this once, so listen up. I do not endorse killing in my name. PERIOD. [sounds of terrible forces majeure] I don’t care how valid your reasons seem—trust me, I’ve been watching you screw around with each other for quite some time, and don’t even bring up Dresden—but from now on, any horrible act you commit has to be in your own mortal name and cause. Okay, I’m the middle of a celestial gin rummy hand; I’ve got to go back now. Just knock that shit off. Seriously.
Then, going forward, “someone” would have to come up with better excuses for declaring someone else the enemy.
Such as: “You’re the enemy because your people group has mired my people group in poverty for centuries.”
As screwy as it seems, I have a feeling society weighs secular violent messaging more carefully. (Maybe this is why there were more protests against the Vietnam War than the Bush Wars?)
I’m no expert on the immolation that spring-boarded the Arab Spring, but it appears that Mohammed Bouazizi acted not in the name of religion, but in the name of his own desperate humanity. And people listened.
Then again, no one listened to the Unabomber. But Ted Kaczynski wasn’t really endearing himself to anyone by picking off perfect strangers with nail bombs.
I’m not endorsing secular violence. But perhaps expressing a problem in human terms is the best way to determine whether a cause is worth dying for.
After all, if the Venetians had told Western European peasants that they wanted to rape and sack Byzantium in order to get Philip of Swabia’s nephew back on the throne, it’s hard to imagine anyone would have rallied to the cause.
And to put that in perspective, imagine George W. Bush addressing the nation and saying, “Everybody, we’re going to Iraq for oil and so the Vice President’s company can build shit.”
Instead, we all know the real reason we were so collectively willing to cowboy up to the Middle East: “Someone” told us that Muslims had flown planes at Christians. Just as “someone” had told the terrorists that Christians were threatening Islam.
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