Philosophy Hammer
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Long Time Going:
Religion and the Duration of Crusading

Original Article By: Michael C. Horowitz
International Security Fall 2009 vol 34 no 2
Major Topic: Politics
Minor Topic: History


         With globalization, which reduces the individual's attachment to a geographical area, an increase in the role of religion relative to the nation state in forming identities may increase the roll of religion in warfare. The author wants to know whether behavior changes when religion is used to justify war. The author's thesis is that “The ability of religion to infuse believers with a certainty of purpose and the promise of something better in the afterlife can influence decision making in the military arena in ways that, for a believer, can make war a good in itself, rather than a means to an end. Given the non-material motivations for fighting, religiously motivated warfare can therefore last longer and impose higher costs than other kinds of warfare.” (page 163)

         As a case study, the author asks us to consider the 700 year history of the Crusades. Despite many failures and high material costs, the fact that Crusades and or Crusade institutions lasted so long hints at a non-material motivation.

         The ideas people believe and the identities they form can affect behavior. This is true (perhaps especially true) for religion too. The author defines religion as: “a set of beliefs generally regarding the supernatural and involving practices designed to explain and justify existence.” (page 167) Considering this definition, religion will: 1) demand a higher priority for religious action than action deriving its purpose from some worldly source such as nationalism or culture; 2) in a cost benefit analysis, religion will give greater weight to non-physical values, such as the after life, to a degree that behavior becomes more risky or unnecessary. In this way religious motivations may alter the value of fighting and the point at which it would be proper to give up the fight.

         In the cost benefit analysis, religious belief can (depending on the content) make it much harder to make compromises and it can make adherents value a territory for reasons beyond the material benefits.

         Other reasons for the increased length of warfare inspired by religion include 1) a blindness to new information that may challenge the world view of the religion; 2) the belief in spiritual rewards often gives incentives to continue or resume fighting; 3) failure often becomes a call for more faith and therefore greater effort.

         Studying the Crusades is useful because as people move in the direction of less identification with a nation state, religion will fill the vacuum. This trend will help better explain some of the current and future conflicts. In particular it may also give some insight into how religious campaigns have ended.

         Consider the Crusades as a case study. The author defines a Crusade as: “...a specific type of military mission called for by the Pope. A Crusade was a modified armed pilgrimage that offered participants the remission of all sin – a plenary indulgence also known as the Crusading indulgence – in exchange for serving God.” (page 174) By this definition the first Crusade began in 1096 and the last full fledged Crusade began 1580 (some of the religious and military orders of the Crusades lasted until the 18th century). For non-material benefits the Crusaders were given an indulgence for the forgiveness of sins. Crusading was often a very expensive proposition so eventually The church tried to help financially with the sale of indulgences – this soon became an institution.

         Some evidence that non-material benefits were a primary motivation were the facts that 1) during the first Crusade the soldiers often fasted for three days at a time and preformed other acts with religious connections but with dubious military benefits; 2) Crusaders settled disputes with the church before they left; and 3) Crusaders often had to pay for the “privilege” of Crusading to the point where it was, in most cases, materially detrimental for them and their families; 4) despite the high losses and poor record of success the institution lasted almost 700 years.

         The author claims that it was the competing ideas of Protestantism and nationalism coupled with a sober non-religious look at reality that finally ended the Crusades.

         Considering some other explanations the author considers: 1) the external threat posed by Islam. However, the Crusades started with a decrease in external threats and died with an increase in external threats. 2) Perhaps as a result of the relative peace and prosperity, expansion was sought for economic growth. However, the various historical documents do not support that, rather they suggest that people crusaded for spiritual reasons and that they lost money in the process. 3) The futility of the Crusades was kept hidden or new traveled slowly so people did not know of the previous failures. However, it was failure that often was used to justify a new Crusade. 4) Demographic law may have had a hand in that the primogeniture system gave everything to the first born son and successive sons had to find a way to make a living. However, it seems that there was not any dis-propositional number of second sons over the number of first sons.

         Religion in some cases seems to have a very high level of influence on when people go to war, how they fight and how they end the fight. It will take a long time to overcome strongly held religious beliefs and it seems that these strongly held ideas will not be changed by material factors but rather by new ideas. In our day and age it may be better to think of winning the war on terror in terms of threat curtailment rather than threat removal.

Added on: 2010-02-11 02:37:04
Précis by: James Jeff McLaren
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