Onward, Lukewarm Christian Soldiers

A scholar says it's impossible to understand the Crusades without recognizing that religious belief inspired its fighters.

In the Ridley Scott movie "Kingdom of Heaven," a French blacksmith-Balian of Ibelin-goes on crusade to Jerusalem, where he battles the Muslim leader Saladin. Thomas F. Madden, professor and chair of the department of history at Saint Louis University and editor of Crusades: The Illustrated History, spoke to Beliefnet about how the film handled religion.

What did you think of the movie?

Well, I don't think its purpose is to be a documentary. They paid a lot of attention to getting arms and armor correct, but they weren't much interested in portraying the way people in the Middle Ages viewed their religion, the Crusades, or the Holy Land.

The thing that struck me most was how little religion had to do with the Crusades in this movie. The only religious people in this movie are fanatics. All of the good guys either have no religion, or are openly hostile to religion.

Yes, they're sort of benignly agnostic, but certainly not very devout.


Those are concepts just foreign to the Middle Ages, either on the Christian or Muslim side.

How plausible is it that there would have been such tolerance between Muslims and Christians at that time and in that region?

That's plausible. In the kingdom of Jerusalem at that time, Muslims were allowed to practice their religion-not in the city, but everywhere else in the crusader kingdom. When the crusaders held Jerusalem from 1099-1187, they adopted the Muslim practice [whereby] Christians and Jews were allowed to keep their religion, but had to pay a special tax for not converting. The Christians reversed that-they charged the Muslims. The tax was seen as a bit of a humiliation.

There was no attempt to convert the Muslims.

The groups tended to keep to themselves-Christians, Muslims, Jews.

The movie portrays good Christians and bad Christians; the bad ones say things like, "to kill an infidel is not murder." Wouldn't the Christians coming from predominantly Christian lands want to convert or kill Muslims, and not be interested in living peacefully?

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