Against Crusade Apologias

Against Crusade Apologias February 6, 2015


This is so tiresome.

So, I guess the President said some historically-illiterate things seeming to draw moral equivalency between Islamic terrorism and atrocities committed in the name of Christ.

And so now predictably (all too predictably) comes the predictable conservative riposte defending the Crusades and the Inquisition. This example, on the Crusades, by First Things, is their most liked/shared article on their Facebook page by far.

I mean, look, I get it. That’s the environment I grew up in. I read young adult novels about the noble Leper King Baldwin and entertained the nostalgia about the Crusader Dream. And yes, fair enough, the Crusades were envisioned as wars of self-defense to reopen Christianity’s holy sites to pilgrims. That’s true.

But also, all historical accounts agree that when the Crusaders took Jerusalem, they massacred almost everyone in the city, Christian, Jew and Muslim. Is that something you want to defend, really?

The Crusades (and not just the Fourth) were also a determinant factor in the disunity of the West and East of Christendom.

The best that can be said about the Crusades is that some of the intentions were pure. But, of course, pure intentions are never enough: Christian prudence should tell us that embarking on a war with pure intentions will rarely lead to a pure outcome. So I guess the brief for the defense is pretty much: “Their intentions were good, but original sin intervened–how could they, as Christians, have anticipated that?”

Corruption in the Church has many sources, but certainly a major one is when Christians see themselves as the stewards not of a faith but of a particular social order, and social collective. When this happens, political/social and scapegoating dynamics take over. When this happens, we always come to believe that the ends justify the means.

In Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart does a good job of both skewering the Whiggish narrative of the Crusades, but also of recognizing how the rhetoric that supported the Crusades was a striking departure from Tradition. If Catholics really must do the one, they ought to at least do the other as well.

In the end, what makes Christianity different from Islam isn’t bodycount, it’s how many times we say Kyrie eleison.

I leave you with Simone Weil on the “Patriotism of the Church” and with Elder Zosima:

There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all.

By Ji-Elle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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  • Dennis Mahon

    But also, all historical accounts agree that when the Crusaders took
    Jerusalem, they massacred almost everyone in the city, Christian, Jew
    and Muslim.

    I don’t know what historical accounts you’ve been reading, but Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi put the death toll at 3,000 – out of a total population of 20,000-30,000. That’s the figure accepted by Professor Benjamin Kedar of the University of London.

    • Jim Dailey

      Don’t stop! Keep telling it like it is brother! Then, as now, the absolute savage, subhuman mess that is everything Isl touches ain’t our fault, and wasn’t our ancestors fault. When a big fat windbag like BO and his whiny little apologists (like this blogger) lie, call them out on it!

    • The massacre at Jerusalem was one instance, an instance of moral failure, but it was not the organizing principle for crusades. Islamic terror relies on terror – fear through brutal intimidation – as its organizing principle.

    • What about the Sack of Constantinople? There does look to have been a “Massacre of the Latins” before but that would just make it revenge.

      • The original Mr. X

        You mean as part of the Fourth Crusade, all of whose participants were excommunicated by the Pope?

  • Sophia Sadek

    It is rather pitiful when people go out of their way to rationalize atrocities.

    • BTP

      What it pitiful is when people use atrocities to advance some other nonsensical agenda. Or does Dresden make World War II an illegitimate undertaking? If not, why?

      • Sophia Sadek

        The bombing of industrial cities in Germany and Japan demonstrates that the victors were just as bad as the losers.

        • BTP

          Ding, ding, ding!! We have a winner!

          And it’s me!

  • I’ve really grown sick of this president. Can you take him to France? Check that; he couldn’t make the effort to travel to Paris when the post terror solidarity march happened. He is such a failure.

  • sez

    Obama likened the Jihadis to the Crusaders. One really big, serious, and very obvious difference is that the Crusades ended, while the Jihadis are still killing people.

    “What makes Christianity different from Islam isn’t bodycount, it’s how many times we say Kyrie eleison.” – Very true! But it is also true that we learned something back in the Middle Ages. They haven’t.

    • captcrisis

      The Crusades did end, but only after 200 years.

      • corningcm

        The Expansion of Islam beyond Arabia was entirely by force of arms, with much slaughter, slavery and subjugation in its wake through Christian lands. Islam expanded for 450 years before Christianity responded and that was after the Muslims started attacking pilgrims to Jerusalem and began threatening Europe. Also, it is not like it was 200 continuous years. There were 7 different Crusades, 4 of which the Church was directly involved. Things moved slowly then, and armies took time to build up, move, and also there wasn’t constant warfare. hardly. so it took time back and forth, with times of peace and times of warfare.

        • captcrisis

          Christianity also spread only through force of arms, the iron fist of Imperial Rome, and later through conquest, massacres, subjugation, forced baptisms and inquisitions. Neither religion can claim the high ground here.

          • Neither of these statements is true or at least not entirely true.

            Wandering merchants and marabouts had plenty to do with Islam spreading in places like West Africa and Southeast Asia. Sufi brotherhoods were not always peaceful, but I think generally to often spread Islam without army involvement.

            Catholicism among Koreans came about due to interest among lay people. They were a “Hermit kingdom” that did not receive missionaries, but Koreans heard of Catholics in China. Christianity in the Persian Empire pretty much never, or just never, had the force of arms. But there are obviously Christians in Iraq and also parts of Iran. Nestorians spread across Asia without any big “Nestorian Empire” so far as I know. Christianity in Japan predates the US occupation by centuries.

            Armies and Empires might have played the larger role, but not the “only” role. The idea either was “only” spread by arms is ahistorical and wrongheaded.

          • captcrisis


          • asmondius


  • BTP

    That’s not the best thing that can be said, really. There was a single technology for recovering Jerusalem and protecting the Christians there; that technology was a army of Frenchmen. It had certain limitations.

    But let us stop being children. To will an end is to will the means to achieve it. Smart guys like St. Bernard knew perfectly well what might happen when you send an army on walkabout and, in the judgment of that saint, the risk was worth the goal. And when it comes to Islam, and with apologies to Denny Green, they are who he thought they were.

    Or does the fact of Hiroshima and Dresden make the Second World War unworthy of defending? If not, then stop, dammit.

  • Traylor Trasche

    I like it when religious people kill each other.

    • asmondius

      I like it when societies who remove religion utterly fail.

  • You GUESS teh President said some historically illiterate things? You get it?
    But ti is not big deal – thin skinned conservatives are the problem?

    No the President of the United States may not use loose historical analogies to try to teach us tolerance. That is not acceptable – especially a President who calls us Bible clingers and wages war against the influence of the Church in the Public Square! This is part of a pattern of slandering and belittling the Catholic Church, unless it happens to agree with his agenda!
    Perhaps Dr. Madden’s view can be academically disputed, but we Westerners see Western History told through the eyes of anti-Catholic academic standards. You indeed may weary of trying to defend past behavior and maybe it is not necessary to defend against every slander, but lies that contribute to someone rejecting the Church deserve an answer. You weary of speaking this truth, what other truths will you weary of defending so that all that is necessary to shut oyu up is to repeat the falsehood a sufficient number of times. There is a major difference between a sacking of Jerusalem that killed just about everybody and one that killed a small number and let many civilians be released or left in peace. Is it Ok to slander the name of those who fought or does the truth matter. What if 50 years from now historiography relays Patton’s fierceness by alleging he slaughtered the German civilians he came across – thus equating him with the Nazis and the Soviets who actually did commit atrocities against civilians. Would that be OK? Yes the truth matters and a President MUST be held accountable or at least the truth must also be heard.

    • Jim Dailey

      Bravo! In a way, I think this guy is WORSE than BO and his lie. BO is apologetically anti-Christian, so one expects this kind of tripe from his ilk. The blogger here advertises himself as Catholic, butt can not be bothered to lift a finger to his keyboard to defend “his” Faith. I forget what king of logical fallacy this is, but frankly the word “lie” pretty much covers it.

    • 90Lew90

      I’d prefer dispassionate “academic standards” for history, out of which the catholic church cannot help but look bad, than anti-academic catholic standards, which re-write history. And it seems to have escaped your notice that the Soviets were on our side during the war, and it was they who won it, not, as has been propagated, the Americans. Nor the Brits. How uncomfortable the truth can sometimes be.

      • LucianoS

        Eh, I hear the “The Soviets won the war to the exclusion of the other allies” meme quite often and I don’t think it’s true. I’d say the war would have been quite difficult for the other two remaining allies if you made any one of the three neutral.
        For one thing, the Americans and the Brits were fighting the Japanese and the Soviets weren’t. If the Japanese had taken the Dutch East Indies and French Indochina without any resistance from either the Commonwealth or the US, they may have joined in on an attack on the USSR. At the very least, the Soviets would have had to keep more troops in the Far East. Yes, the Soviets performed admirably at Khalkhin Gol, but they would have had a lot more trouble in defending against Barbarossa if they couldn’t remove the divisions they did when they found out the Japanese would not move against them.
        For another, it doesn’t take much of a counterfactual to make the German invasion of the USSR successful. If they had reached the Baku oil fields before winter and held them long enough to exploit them, they’d probably have won. That’s why I think, if we’re going to name one country an indispensable ally, it would be Britain. The damage done to the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain may well have been enough to save the USSR, let alone sinking of the better part of the German navy or tying up the Germans for a while in Greece.
        Make the Brits neutral and the Soviet Union might have fallen, and the US would have had to content itself with a long, maybe unwinnable, Cold War. Make the Americans neutral and maybe the war would have got fairly similarly, except the Soviets would have had to liberate all of Europe themselves. On the other hand, I don’t know if you can discount Lend-Lease all that much, and again, if the Americans were neutral, the Soviets would have had to keep far more troops in a defensive posture in the Far East, which in turn might have been enough for them to collapse. Remove the Soviets from the war (which I guess would have consisted in Hitler and Stalin maintaining non-aggression) and I think the Allies would have still won once the Americans entered the war-I don’t think there was any way the Germans could have gotten around British naval dominance.

        • 90Lew90

          I got as far as “the other two remaining allies” before rolling my eyes heavenward. Britain was not a dominant naval force by the end of the war. It was crippled to the point that it couldn’t continue to dominate anything economically or militarily. The Germans owned the sky. If the Russians hadn’t defeated the Germans, most modern historians agree, presumably since it’s now safe to say, that Hitler would have won that war. It’s not a meme. See Antony Beevor, Margaret McMillan and Max Hastings to name only three specialists who are agreed on this. Speculating that Hitler and Stalin might have maintained non-aggression is just daft.

          • LucianoS

            I’m not saying “Hitler would have allowed the Soviets to remain neutral.” You make the claim that the Soviets “won the war” (implicitly to the exclusion of everyone else) and I’m positing counterfactuals to demonstrate the importance of each major ally. Just like you are positing a counterfactual that demonstrates the importance of the Russians when you say, “If the Russians hadn’t defeated Germany . . . Hitler would have won the war.” You’re picturing an alternate universe where the Russians don’t win. My thesis is that in an alternate universe where either Britain, the USSR, or the USA had remained neutral (or surrendered), the other two probably would have lost the war. You need all three, and you can’t attribute victory to any single power.
            You can’t entirely attribute it to the Soviets. As I said, they didn’t need to worry about the Soviet Far East because they had intelligence that the Japanese were going to maintain their nonaggression pact. And why did the Japanese maintain their nonaggression pact with the Soviets? Because they were busy fighting the United States, Australia, and Britain. That alone is enough to show that the Soviets needed the US and the Commonwealth.
            But there’s also the fact that Britain’s actions in late 1940-early 1941 (as I said) provided enough of a blow to the Germans (and Italians) to delay and weaken the invasion of the USSR.
            Yes, as you say by the end of the war Britain was no longer a major power. Sure. Everyone knows that by the end of the war, Britain had been entirely eclipsed by the U.S. My point is not that the British could have won the war if the Soviets had surrendered and the Americans remained neutral. My point is that if the British had surrendered after the fall of France or remained neutral, the Germans probably would have won the war.
            Finally, the idea that the Germans “owned the sky” is ludicrous. Have you never heard of the Battle of Britain?
            You should really try reading a post before you respond to it.

      • Well that is your opinion. The so-called dispassionate academic standards that rewrote the history themselves were born out of the visceral anti-Catholicism of the Enlightenment. The rewriting began with them. As for the Church being anti-academic that is another slander. The University system we have today is the descendant of that started by the Catholic Church. The Soviets actually switched sides in the war starting with the Nazis, maybe that escaped your notice and the fact that they committed atrocities is independent of whose side they were on. Yes the atrocities they committed were sometimes does after the Nazi invasion but that in no way affects my analogy that lying about what Patton did would be just that a lie. In fact I will freely admit that the Allies and the Axis committed teh immoral atrocity of mass bombing of civilian targets that in no way changes that it owuld be slander to rewrite histry to make Patton guilty of atrocities.

  • jeannebodine

    When you can’t be bothered defending your faith from a politician’s misrepresentation, unfair moral equivalence (and about 1,000 years removed), not to mention his actions – HHS mandate, etc. – even on a blog post, it;s OVER, you’ve surrendered. What’s left at this point if you won’t bear witness and fight back when the Church is unfairly compared to Islam, despite the CURRENT wholesale slaughter, rape, slavery, etc., etc,. being committed in the name of Islam ? Why not shut down & turn the keys over to someone with fire in his/her belly to speak the truth for all to hear, rather than obfuscate & downplay what’s really happening? We need truth-tellers, not appeasers if we’re going to prevail, people willing to fight and you just find it all just tiresome: sigh, like, don’t bore me, bro.

    • Jim Dailey

      Well said! Whiny, weak, apologetic Catholics do a disservice to the Faith and to humanity in general. I really do not see how these people can muster up enough nerve to even say they are Catholic. I imagine it is with an eye-roll and an apologetic shrug. Makes me want to puke.

      • MikeSnTX

        You may be a fanatic sir.

        • Jim Dailey

          I can not tell you how delighted I am that I have reduced your peurile “arguments” to name calling.

    • MikeSnTX

      So, you’re saying Islam=ISIS? And you say Obama’s remarks were unfair?

      What difference does it make how long ago the examples the president used occured? First of all, there are plenty of more recent examples as Kathy K-M points out. Secondly, the Christian fanatics across the the world right now like to not only ignore history, but seem intent on repeating it.

      • asmondius

        ‘….the Christian fanatics across the the world right now like to not only ignore history, but seem intent on repeating it.’

        Such as…..who? The Pope? The US Vice President?

    • Jasper

      Patheos is filled with sissies…

  • The original Mr. X

    “But also, all historical accounts agree that when the Crusaders took Jerusalem, they massacred almost everyone in the city, Christian, Jew and Muslim. Is that something you want to defend, really?”
    No, but I *would* defend the idea that there’s a difference between soldiers in the heat of battle succumbing to bloodlust and continuing to kill people after the fighting’s over, and the sort of deliberately-planned religious cleansing we’re seeing at the hands of ISIS. The former is a common psychological reaction to extreme mental stress, the latter is a premeditated act of brutality, and it’s fatuous to try and equate the two.

    • Jim Dailey

      Well said sir!

    • captcrisis

      It wasn’t the heat of battle. It was
      planned. The Crusaders embarked on exterminations that ISIS has yet to equal. Look what happened to Beziers in 1208, for example.

      • The original Mr. X

        You mean look at something which happened in a completely different war and had nothing to do with the siege of Jerusalem?

        • Josh

          It’s pretty commonly accepted that the definition of crusade doesn’t depend on whether or not it was launched on Jerusalem. And it’s not as if Obama’s comment loses it’s intended meaning if we accept a definition that is inclusive of the Albigensian Crusade. Nice try, though.

          Papal Legate Arnaud-Amalric: “Kill them all! God will sort it out!”

          • The original Mr. X

            Maybe you should try re-reading the statement I was replying to:

            “But also, all historical accounts agree that when the Crusaders took Jerusalem…”

          • Josh

            First note that this is a discussion about apologizing for all of the crusades, NOT JUST THE CRUSADES THAT LAUNCHED ON JERUSALEM. You’re moving the goalpost by attempting to restrict your argument to the case of Jerusalem.

            And I was pointing out that it isn’t necessarily the “heat of the battle” that motivates the atrocities when you’re commanded to “Kill them all!”

          • The original Mr. X

            Moving the goalpost my backside. I was responding to a specific example he gave, and offered a specific rebuttal of that specific point. You’re the one who’s trying to move the goalposts by bringing in the Albigensian Crusade.
            Even ignoring that, your point is still inane. Nobody, as far as I can see, is claiming that killing innocent civilians is a good thing, but it doesn’t follow that we have to ritually self-flagellate every time we speak of the Crusades or of religious violence. The bombing of Dresden during WW2 killed many civilians, as it was intended to; but it doesn’t at all follow that the Allied side was morally equivalent to the Nazis, or that their cause was unjust, or that we should never “get up on our high horse” about fighting Fascism just because our own side wasn’t perfect. Nobody is; but some sides are a darn sight less imperfect than others are, and I’m not about to start pretending otherwise just because the President of America lacks the moral sense to see it.

      • Lady Bird

        1208? Christianity has reformed since then. Christianity brought down the KKK in America and was involved through it’s priests, nuns, ministers and adherents in the Civil Rights movement. Let’s talk today. How can this rampage be stopped? One way: The good Muslims will have to make public demonstrations against these barbarians like Christians have done in modern times.

        • Ashley Osman

          Good demonstrations like blowing up abortion clinics and preaching unsafe sex in 3rd world countries, or abusing youth? How about the attacking people of the lgbt communities and advocating their murder, torture, or lack of rights in many places. All this on top of many still viewing all muslims as terrorists who should be completely wiped out, or attack those with very different faith? Christians are great, totally peaceful, aren’t they?

          • Lesley Hughes

            You do realize that Islam teaches death to homosexuals? You do realize that ISIS throws gay men off rooftops? You do realize that homosexuals in the Middle East are hanged? And yet you choose to speak out against Christians?

          • Ashley Osman

            and that magically makes Christianity better? Christians still slaughter gays and people of other faiths in places like Africa, and unlike Islam which is tolerant of transgender individuals, Christianity has no tolerance in both developed and underdeveloped nations. Both religions are mostly doing same thing. Just because the media doesn’t cover it, and other atrocities, doesn’t mean Christianity is any better. So yes, I’ll speak out against Christians and such hypocrisy, the thought that Christianity is any better is a joke, and both religions have so much to answer for.

          • asmondius

            Same old song and dance, my friend……

          • The facts do not remotely support your point of view. Christians are slaughtering gays and people of other faiths in Africa? Please substantiate the claim. Christianity has no tolerance in developed nations? Wow, that is a complete fantasy. Please provide some substantiation.

          • Ashley Osman

            Try doing some research, it seriously isn’t hard to find the reports though. Lazy. Apathy is a deadly sin you know.

          • Nice of you to get around to “responding” after 5 days. “Try doing some research” is perhaps the laziest response possible. Usually it indicates that the writer has no genuine knowledge of the topic. You assert the existence of the proof of your eccentric point of view. It is incumbent upon you to provide it – not for me to prove a negative.

          • Ashley Osman

            Ya 5 days, I don’t check constantly lol. You’re the one saying I’m wrong even though I’ve pointed that the evidence is out there, so its up to you to provide evidence that says otherwise.
   That’s just one instance from last year, but such acts have been going on for a very long time. Like I said, it isn’t hard to find the info.

          • Nice attempt. First, your link mentions nothing of gays. Second, even the Post, ever eager to slander Christians, mentions the presence of “animists” in the conflict and yet pastes the label of christian on all the non-muslim participant. Second, those labeled, rightly or not, “christian” in this conflict were reacting to attacks launched on them. You are right though, it isn’t hard to find out what is happening if you bother to try to get at truth as opposed to finding a nit you can use to support your bias. Try this:


          • Ashley Osman

            I see, so “reacting” by slaughtering innocents and children is perfectly acceptable? No. Not ever.

            Yes my link left out animists, but that’s because it wasn’t directly related to them, it was still Christians doing these things even if they had been influenced by animists.

          • Poor Ashley. You are so blinded by hatred for Christians that you would even disallow them the right to self-defense and would condemn them with the flimsiest of associations all while giving a pass to their muslim attackers.

          • Ashley Osman

            That’s it? That’s the best you can come up with? A weak generalized insult, as if you knew anything about me? How pathetic. And here I was hoping to have a decent convo, but you turned out to be nothing but another moralless troll(Yes you do lack them if you’re ok with killing in any form. As someone who was raised Christian I can definitely say that Jesus didn’t teach that shit). *moving on*

          • I know enough from what you have written that you make wild accusations, without any foundation, against people you disagree with.

          • Ashley Osman

            Funny, this popped up. but it’s only me making wild accusations right?

          • Ashley Osman

            Funny, but this popped up
            but I’m making wild accusations right? As I said, Christianity isn’t better. You have yet to prove why it is.
            It commits just as many violent acts, if not more, than Islam, and “reacting” still does not condone those actions in the article.

          • I have no need to prove anything to you. You make wild accusations and have to go looking for unrepresentative examples to try and make your case. Your statement that Christianity is committing just as many, if not more, violent acts than Islam is just nutty.

          • Ashley Osman

            …and that’s why you’re ignorant and in the dark, you don’t want to do shit. Media over covers Islam and you go ballistic, talk about gullible.

          • asmondius

            Please name the Christian church whose followers routinely blow up abortion clinics as a matter of faith.

          • Ashley Osman

            I don’t know why it has to be a church, that’s a poor excuse to deceive yourselves from the truth when we have terrorist groups like the Army of God, who attack people and clinics, and have taken hostages in the past. We have hateful organizations today like Westboro Baptist, and the Klan that were founded and supported by Christianity.

          • asmondius

            Explain to me exactly how ‘Christianity’ founded and supported the KKK – did all of the world’s Christians take a vote to do so?

      • asmondius

        ‘It wasn’t the heat of battle. It wasplanned. ‘

        From whence did you learn this?

    • Mike17

      Hear, hear. Well said. There is absolutely nothing in the way of evidence to support the notion that the Crusaders who went to Jerusalem set off with the intention of slaughtering women and children in Jerusalem.

      • Josh

        How about this?

        Papal Legate Arnaud-Amalric: “Kill them all! God will sort it out!”

    • Josh

      Oh really?

      Papal Legate Arnaud-Amalric: “Kill them all! God will sort it out!”

  • captcrisis

    Well said. Unfortunately most of the cmoments here prove your point.

  • Kathy K-m

    I’m not a fan of using the Crusades, either. Some of my atheist compatriots do it all the time. But I do understand Mr. Obama’s purpose and point.
    If he wanted to use something slightly more recent, he could have gone with the Inquisition or the mass witch burnings. Heck, he could have gone with the destruction of Native writings and cultures, in the “New World”. The forced conversions and abuses of residential schools.
    If he wanted to be REALLY current, he could have pointed to women’s clinic bombings, assassination of ob/gyn doctors or the current campaign of beatings/imprisoning/death/terror, being inflicted on LGBT folks,in Uganda. (Not necessarily Catholic, but Christian sponsored, nonetheless.)
    Even I, as an atheist, do not believe these are committed or even condoned, by the vast majority of Christendom, just as I don’t believe ISIS is anywhere close to the reality of Islam.
    But it was good that Mr Obama pointed out that Christianity has it’s own history of being used and abused, by those with ill intentions. (sometimes even those with good intentions, because I think we all know what the road to hell is paved with…)

    • MikeSnTX

      I agree with you about the many more recent examples available, but I think the Crusades were indeed an apt example as well. That is because they were not merely about “reopening” holy sites, but either converting or killing anyone who got in their way as they went. Sound a little fanatical? It was.

      As a side note, Inquisitions is plural. The Catholics enjoyed the first so much, they turned it into a trilogy.

      Any mind that believes we must all believe the same thing or die (or be conquered, or exiled, etc.) is a sick mind. Any group made up of people who think this way is a dangerous one.

      • asmondius

        Who exactly did Crusading armies ‘convert or kill’?

  • Lesley Hughes is the modern norm to mea culpa everything in history which isn’t in lock step with 100% acceptance of anybody’s behavior…I’m tired of the question,”Is that what you want to defend, really?” My answer is a resounding, “YES!” I wish to defend ancient history against holding it up to a 2015 mirror. I wish to celebrate Columbus, the courageous Father Serra and Saint Isaac Jogues. The Crusades occurred in a time period where warriors slaughtered the enemies so they couldn’t possibly rise again. So what? There is ZERO comparison of the Crusades to ISIS…zero. ISIS is NOW…based upon an unchanged cultural norm of “convert or die.”
    The Catholic Church, and 16th century Protestantism evolved with the world’s culture to abhor burning people at the stake, and decry mass murders of the vanquished. How is the Middle East culture different from itself of Crusades era?
    Therein lies the difference…and THAT is why no comparison can be made.

    There are , indeed, modern ISIS-like behaviors…the Holocaust comes to mind…and the African slaughter of non-Muslims…and the Middle Eastern countries who still behead people for converting away from Islam. Oh wait…those examples involve Christians and Jews as victims, so we cannot possibly use them as examples.

    I certainly defend history..against being twisted to serve a modern version of “tolerance”/”acceptance” of all which is sinful.

    • LucianoS

      As an Italian-American and a Catholic, Columbus is not worth defending unless you’re talking about his skills as a sailor. He made a mistake about the size of the earth and got lucky. He said he was coming to convert and he enslaved instead-in fact, clergy complained that he purposely inhibited the conversion of the natives because Spanish law forbade the enslavement of Christians and he was making money off of selling them as slaves. He was a terrible governor who alienated the natives and his own men and maimed and murdered . (This wasn’t just being a man of his time. Ferdinand and Isabella removed him as governor because he went far beyond what was lawful or normal even for his time.)

      There are Christians involved in the early encounters between the new world and the old who are admirable-Bartolome de las Casas, the Jesuit missions in South America, many of the French missionaries. Columbus isn’t one of them.

    • Josh

      “I wish to defend ancient history against holding it up to a 2015 mirror.”

      I believe that this is referred to as historicizing. And it’s not the kind of thing you want to do when defending a system of absolute truth, such as a religion. When you historicize the crusades you introduce moral relativism to explain the actions of the papal authorities that advocated killing “them all! Let God sort them out!” This merely serves to undermine the system of absolute truth known as Christianity.


      There’s also quite a lot of parallels between ISIL and the crusaders…

      • Josh

        But I suppose this historicizing is only an issue if feel that the fact that “the rhetoric that supported the Crusades was a striking departure from Tradition” represents a failure of the Tradition as a system of truth.

  • Mike

    Here’s a better article written by real historian and not an “entrepreneur”.

    • Thank you for the article. I’m still working to amend a very expensive and woefully deficient education. This helps.

    • Paul Adams

      Yes, a fine article, but it’s by the very same author (a major historian of the Crusades) that Gobry finds “tiresome.” It’s important to understand the Crusades for what they were because the romanticized fictional account popularized by 19th century novelist Walter Scott has done immense damage and because the liberal guilt of moral equivalency claims continues to be used by anti-Christian, anti-Western leaders to fuel bogus grievances and resentments.

  • Lady Bird

    Most of us not being historians or apologists for the Crusades took umbrage with President Obama for using atrocities that happened 500 years, 800 years ago – the details will remain disputed. Today and our future is what matters. Christians today are not going around the world gaining territories for their cause, raping, burning, beheading, kidnapping, etc., anyone who is not Christian nor non-believers. Countries where Christianity is the prominent faith allows Muslims and other faiths and non religious to live among them in peace. President Obama’s job as the head of our government is to protect us. We are obligated in our democracy to hold him accountable. How it’s done will vary. I choose to stay within the system and vote for a person in 2016 that has the best interests of the United States, protecting my religious freedom and views and values life from inception to death.

    • captcrisis

      Unfortunately (as some of the comments here prove, and other Catholic blogs), there is no shortage of Catholics who, even today, actually defend the Crusades. The atrocities are either defended as “unfortunately necessary”, “understandable overreaction”, “heat of battle”, etc., or explained away as “unauthorized”
      or even denied despite the clear historical evidence. One can easily imagine ISIS supporters using similar justifications.

      • asmondius

        What atrocities are you referring to?

        Don’t see how the elaborately staged immolation of a prisoner in a cage relates to any activity of the Crusades.

        • Josh

          Hey, trollface asmondius.

          Raymond d’Aguilers was chaplain during the 1st Crusade to Raymond de Saint-Gilles, the Provencal Crusader leader who was the future Count of Tripoli. So that makes him, like, pretty high-up in the ranks of Crusade leadership:

          “Finally, our men took possession of the walls and towers and wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one’s way over the bodies of men and horses. In the Temple of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies. Some of the enemy took refuge in the Tower of David, and, petitioning Count Raymond for protection surrendered the Tower into his hands. How the pilgrims rejoiced and exulted and sang a new song to the Lord! On this day, the children of the apostles regained the city and fatherland for God and the fathers…”

          So, as you can see, the parallels are pretty compelling—complete with “staged immolation”.

          • asmondius

            ‘Hey’, first of all if you want other people to take your opinions seriously, drop the childish name-calling and act in a mature fashion.
            Secondly, take a peek at your calendar. What century is this? You think an episode from Medieval times justifies what was done to the Jordanian airman or all of ISIS’ other victims? You think this is a valid ‘parallel’ ?
            Finally, if you are an apologist for ISIS I truly feel sorry for you and suggest you take your hatred of your own culture elsewhere.

          • Josh

            No disrespect intended. I call you trollface because your Disqus posts on many other websites and articles are public. Having perused these comments here and there it’s pretty clear that you’re mostly a provocateur.

            There’s no shame in being a trollface; I’m one myself.
            Think of it as a greeting, like ‘Komrade’. Komrade Asmondius… One troll can’t exist without the other.

            ‘Secondly’, you’re doing what’s called historicizing when you assert that the crusaders were men of their times. As the author himself has pointed out in another article this week, “How to Historicize the Historicizers”, this is ill-advised; and in many cases puts the belief system that you’re defending, Christianity, in a vulnerable position by introducing moral relativism into the conversation. That’s not to say that you can’t do it; but, it’s incredibly difficult to do in the case of the Crusades. Which is why I’ve come here—so that I can watch people fail at doing it.

            It’s just better to accept that the crusades are indefensible and move on.

            And yes I do think this is a ‘valid’ set of parallels. And while it’s not a useful set, it certainly is an interesting set. We wouldn’t be discussing this if they weren’t.

          • asmondius

            I’m not sure I understand what you are trying to say with the phrase ‘men of their times’. The methods and means of warfare have changed drastically over history, so of course any historic band of warriors were ‘men of their times’.
            If one says that all warfare is indefensible, then the Crusades are indeed indefensible. However, if one judges that sometimes war is an unavoidable part of human existence, then the Crusades as a movement in general are entirely defensible.
            There is no ‘moral relativism’ in reflecting history with accuracy. The inhabitants of the Middle East were once largely Christian. Various Islamic powers changed that via the sword, captured Christendom’s most holy sites (in Jerusalem) and then began war against Christian Constantinople and making excursions into Europe (for example, Saracens conquered Sicily and raided the outskirts of Rome). The very first Crusade was largely the result of the Eastern Empire asking the West for assistance against this common threat.

          • Josh

            “Secondly, take a peek at your calendar. What century is this? You think an episode from Medieval times justifies what was done to the Jordanian airman or all of ISIS’ other victims? You think this is a valid ‘parallel’ ?”

            I think I confused you when I used the phrase ‘men of their times’. What I mean to say is that you’re historicizing. Which is a really convenient way of side-stepping the issue.

          • asmondius

            ‘Side-stepping’ would be using an incident from Medieval history to establish moral equivalence with current activity.
            This type of flawed thinking leads, for example, to the USA not being able to criticize 21st slavers because the United States once legally condoned slavery.
            It is a weak and vapid argument.

          • Josh

            No, the mere act of establishing moral equivalency between these two things is not side-stepping, although you could say that I’VE failed to do that effectively.

            But no matter how you slice it, historicizing is necessarily side-stepping in the case of the crusades.

            But since you’re going to discuss US History maybe we should do that in light of an appropriately visceral representation of its reality. See link…


          • asmondius

            There is no factual equivalency, therefore no moral or other equivalency can be established.

          • Josh

            Well, if there is any equivalency, I’m not the one to sort it out.

            But, regardless, I do hope that you and every one here reads the article that I posted. Because it’s key to understanding the capacity for evil that lurks within our own borders and our own, supposedly, Christian power base.

            Here’s a quote:

            I see from the graphic in the EJI report that they appear to have documented at least 10 lynchings in West Feliciana Parish, where I live. I have written EJI for a copy of the report. I want to know who was killed, and under what circumstances. We all need to know these things, and face down what our ancestors did. These weren’t Crusaders sacking Constantinople. These were our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, doing it to the fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers of our black neighbors. Attention must be paid. That may be the only atonement available now, but it’s better than what we have had, which is nothing.

            No, the American South (and other parts of America where racial terrorists ran rampant) was never run by fanatical theocrats who used grotesque public murders as a tool of terror. But if you were a black in the years 1877-1950, this was a distinction without much meaningful difference.


            I picked these two out because I personally am aware of two such lynchings — one based on a fear of interracial sex, and the other based on a minor social transgression — that happened in my area in the first half of the 20th century, involving people (long dead) that I know. When you realize that people you know, men who were respected in their community during their lifetime, are actually murderers — well, this gets real, real fast.


          • Josh

            Actually, you had a good point. And, it’s seems like we’re both failures.

            I am not an ISIS apologist. I just want to criticize the impulse to whitewash history that exists within our own culture.

            And it leads me to wonder what purpose Obama’s comments about getting on the “high horse” at the National Prayer Breakfast were intended to serve.

            Considering the audience for this speech, It’s probably worth noting that a few Reconstructionist Neoconfederate folks, like Doug Wilson, who really do want to whitewash our own US history, were probably there in the flesh to receive his remarks. And if they weren’t there, they were listening.

            Should we fail to criticize these people to protect you from being offended?

          • asmondius

            Never said I was offended, thus your remark is a red herring.

          • Josh

            Correction: Should we fail to criticize these people to protect American Christians from being offended?

            Why are you here anyhow?

            Additionally, a thought just occurred to me: When we whitewash the messiness and the duality of our own history we rob ourselves of the benefit of discovering our own true nature. An exercise that would likely bring a certain amount of sympathy for the decent Muslims in the Levant region that were merely born into a bad situation, rather than making the mistake that many Americans make by talking about these people as if they’re all ISIL apologists. There’s obviously many shades of grey. And furthermore, the future effectiveness of gaining soft power over that region, winning their hearts and minds, is dependent on these distinctions—even as we begin to exercise our hard power over the ISIL thugs themselves by putting “boots on the ground.”

            This is why it’s important for us to take a stand against the whitewashers and the “high horsers” among us, and to refresh our memory on the things they want us to forget. And that’s allllllllll Obama was doing.

          • asmondius

            I am here for you. Good and evil are not relative concepts. The fact that many people fail to achieve an ideal does not discredit the ideal itself.
            In a very imperfect world the United States, being composed of flawed human beings, is still the most successful example of self governance and freedom to date. If you’re ashamed of that or feel that the rest of us don’t meet up with your own standards of perfection, I can only feel compassion for you.

          • Josh

            I am here for you. Good and evil are not relative concepts. The fact that many people fail to achieve an ideal does not discredit the ideal itself.

            Awe… asmondius, you give me reason to live.

            In a very imperfect world the United States, being composed of flawed human beings, is still the most successful example of self governance and freedom to date. If you’re ashamed of that or feel that the rest of us don’t meet up with your own standards of perfection, I can only feel compassion for you.

            As a democratic guardian of freedom and justice within the US, you’re like the parent whose child can never do any wrong. “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

          • asmondius

            As someone who can’t argue the points another person actually makes (see the words ‘flawed human beings’ in my post ), but rather just keeps using the posts of others as a soapbox in order to drone on about hating their very own culture, you should just publish your thoughts independently.

          • Josh

            As someone who can’t argue the points another person actually makes (see the words ‘flawed human beings’ in my post )…

            I believe you were implying that I feel ashamed of my country because I was insisting that it’s important that we revisit our own sins as a country—sins that, admittedly, you didn’t feel were relevant to the conversation. That, I believe, is one of the points that you actually made.

            …but rather just keeps using the posts of others as a soapbox…

            The lack of self-awareness is strong on this one.

            …in order to drone on about hating their very own culture…

            Again, I refer you to Proverbs 13:24. There’s nothing more patriotic than being critical of your own democracy.

            …you should just publish your thoughts independently.

            Thanks, yeah. But realize that most of your own comments are in response to someone else’s. And typically you’re disagreeing with them and doing the soapbox thing.

          • asmondius

            We don’t need to ‘revisit our sins’ in the face of an enemy, but frankly that’s about all you do – there seems to be no other side to the ledger in your opinions concerning the United States. You may think that makes one a ‘great patriot’, I think that makes just another individual who trashes the place they live in a nonconstructive manner. Incidentally, we live in a democratic republic, not a democracy.
            As far as soap boxes, I obviously don’t have one because I do directly address the comment another person has made. I don’t have the ol’ theme song going that you seem to. Your first comment was juvenile and insulting, and I see that you have now fallen back into the mode most familiar for you.

          • Josh

            I think that makes just another individual who trashes the place they live in a nonconstructive manner.

            “I think” being the critical phrase. It’s not as if you know what I have to say about the US outside of this context. The context being, discussing some bit of history to inform our sense of morality in the present.

            I believe that it’s completely constructive to call out the people that say Christians=good and Muslims=bad (and I’m not saying that this is you) as we again drift back into a conflict that is perceived by many on both sides to be a holy war. It’s important for these people to see that history doesn’t comport with their own narrative of black and white and “pure intentions.” Because these people do exist and they do wield a significant influence in national politics—especially from within the fundamentalist sects, both Christian and Muslim. Which—again—is clearly who Obama was speaking to.

            Then you might ask, what’s wrong with seeing this as black and white, as good vs bad? It’s because this war will ultimately be won with soft power not hard power. We will win the war when the majority of these people realize that the West is not their enemy. But until then, any attempt to use hard power will continue to radicalize people in that region.

            To use soft power requires an understanding of cultural differences, and a certain amount comparative historiography.

            …there seems to be no other side to the ledger in your opinions concerning the United States.

            That’s a pretty common assumption made by people on the Right about people on the Left. But understand that people on the Left are fundamentally more critical about the status quo than people on the Right, by definition. We both have our roles to play.

          • asmondius

            If you would like to have a discussion, let’s pick one item for starters and limit it to our own opinions. I’m much more adept at voicing my own thoughts rather than trying to represent huge, amorphous concepts like ‘Right’, ‘Left’, Conservative’, ‘Christian’, etc..

          • Josh

            OK. Here’s the topic as I see it:
            Is the discussion of the historiography of violence in the public sphere useful to the long-run strategic objectives of the US, either foreign or domestic, with respect to the ongoing conflict between Western and Near Eastern powers?

            I will arguing in the affirmative. You will be arguing in the negative.

            Is that an acceptable proposition?

            Note: In arguing this we may have to discuss how the opinions of others, besides just ourselves, may play a prominent role in the policies that our “democratic republic” (as you put it) chooses to pursue.

        • Guest

          Papal Legate Arnaud-Amalric: “Kill them all! God will sort it out!”

          • asmondius

            Pop Quiz – what century are we in? I can trade Medieval horror stories concerning Muslims and other non-Christians with you all day long.

    • “Today and our future is what matters. Christians today are not going
      around the world gaining territories for their cause, raping, burning,
      beheading, kidnapping, etc., anyone who is not Christian nor

      Let’s not forget that it was American Christians who funded, wrote and promoted several of the African nations’, “Kill the gays” bills.

  • pennyroyal

    Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron cites a Lojong teaching that says, “Drive all blames into one(self)”. We each become the center point for blame. The buck stops here. How am I contributing to violence in the world?

    • JohnnyVoxx

      Catholic Priest and author Thomas Merton says, “Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” You needn’t go running off to pagan religionists to find the truth. The Catholic Faith is the fullness of truth.

      • pennyroyal

        what a hateful thing, to characterize Buddhism as pagan. It existed 2500 years before Christianity. Christians don’t have a lock on the truth. My remarks were more about looking to the mote in my own eyes, which is something I try, but often fail to practice.

        • sjay1956

          More like 500 years before Christianity.

      • Josh

        Wanting to give one’s own belief system credit for being “the fullness of truth” is a bit greedy and unjust, isn’t it?

      • 90Lew90

        Comparing Christianity to Buddhism is like comparing lead to silver. Buddhism is superior in every way.

  • J.R. Baldwin

    I love this graf: The best that can be said about the Crusades is that some of the intentions were pure. But, of course, pure intentions are never enough: Christian prudence should tell us that embarking on a war with pure intentions will rarely lead to a pure outcome. So I guess the brief for the defense is pretty much: “Their intentions were good, but original sin intervened–how could they, as Christians, have anticipated that?”


  • lindenman

    Great work as usual, PEG. If it’s all the same to you, I’m going to pick up this theme and run with it, linking back to you, of course, so that my three or four regular readers will visit your site, if they’re not doing so already.

    One thing, though: Muslims do have a version of “Kyrie Eleison.” It’s “estaghfirullah.” Here in Turkey, people say it ALL THE DAMN TIME — for example, when someone pays them a compliment, or when they hear someone make a self-deprecating remark. Maybe we need to catch up.

    • Heather Irwin

      Indeed, and not only in Turkey. Muslims everywhere pray this frequently. “Astaghfirullah” (as you’ll sometimes see it Anglicized) simply means “God forgive me.”

  • CoachV222

    I wholly agree that the violence of the crusades is truly horrific ,similar to the fire bombing of Dresden and the atomic attack on `Japan were horrific during WW2,but that does not mean that we should allow poor understanding of the history of the crusades to be spread. To that end the article by Professor Thomas Madden is esential material.

  • Paul Adams

    “The president, is fond of historical sloppiness and moral equivalence (cf. the Cairo Speech). But what is the point of citing sins of 1,000, 500, 150, or 50 years ago, without acknowledging 1) that such pathologies still continue today outside the West, especially in the world of Islam, and 2) that Christianity had a unique role in ending these wrongs?”

  • Yuri Klitsenko

    And what about Baltic crusades? What about literature of crusaders praising hunting and killing pagans? What about the idea of extermination Poles?

    • Let’s not forget about the Spanish Conquistadors. Sure, originally they were all about reclaiming the holy sites and whatnot, but then the New World and all its unclaimed (except by heathens) riches were found…

      • Yuri Klitsenko

        “We weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them
        to his and their use and profit…” Papal Bull “Dum Diversas” 18 June, 1452

  • Yuri Klitsenko

    Johannes Falkenberg accused the Poles of being “guilty of the abominable crime of using Pagan allies in their war against the German Order.” Consequently, he proposed that “the Poles must be exterminated.” In his Liber de doctrina, Falkenberg argued that “the Emperor has the right to slay even peaceful infidels simply because they are pagans; the Poles too should be killed for allying themselves with the infidels and resisting Christian Knights. The Poles deserve death for defending infidels, and should be exterminated even more than the infidels; they should be deprived of their sovereignty and reduced to slavery.”

  • Yuri Klitsenko

    “the liberal West is so unbearable because it not only practices exploitation and violent domination, but presents this brutal reality in the guise of its opposite: freedom, equality and democracy”

  • stanz2reason

    I appreciate the irony of seeing Christians so eager to cast the first stone that they become apologists for a laundry list of atrocities. Apparently there exists some sort of context in which mass murder in Christ’s name is justifiable.

  • I’ve long forgotten who said it but I remember the line from some book of my late childhood: “As soon as the first murder was committed in the name of God, the Crusades were lost.” Or something to that effect.

  • You have to admit that Inquisition apologias, on the other hand, make a lot of sense:

  • Yuri Klitsenko

    Some notes:

    Roman-Catholic Poland, Eastern-Christian Byzantium, Russia, principalities of Livonia (Koknese and Jersika) were among target countries attacked by medieval crusaders.

    I agree with Dr. Thomas F. Madden that many popular stereotypes about crusades and crusaders had been created by XIX century romantic literature. I even tried to study XIX-XX century German and Baltic literature on Baltic crusades. Yet I can’t tell whether theology influenced literature or literature influenced theology. For example, in 1906 the respected German theologian, Ferdinand Kattenbusch, published a pamphlet, Das sittliche Recht des Krieges (The Moral Right to War). Kattenbusch conceded that all Christian nations had “superior” knowledge over all others, and so imperialism and colonialism were legitimised in principle. He then went on to observe that even among the European nations, all at least superficially Christian, there existed serious differences in the quality of their Christianity, morality and culture. Here, Kattenbusch had no difficulty in arrogating to Germany the highest rank among the European nations. From here only a small step was needed to apostrophise Germany as the “educator of the world”. As expressed in the famous poem by Emanuel Geibel, Am Deutschen Wesen soll einmal die Welt genesen – meaning: “the German essence, being, character or soul has been chosen to be the healing of the world (John A. Moses, Justifying war as the will of God).

    “the Crusades were envisioned as wars of self-defense to reopen Christianity’s holy sites to pilgrims” – I think that re-opening Baltic forests to pilgrims was specially interesting adventure. About 1108 the Archbishop of Magdeburg appealed to all Christians to come and liberate ‘Jerusalem in the North’. Religious wars in the Baltic Sea region were considered real crusades and the lands along the Baltic shore became “Jerusalem of the North”. Actually there were no any “Jerusalem” in Baltic forests. It was holy war not only against pagans but also against wild nature – woods, which are “Satan’s church” (see fear of woods in Lars von Trier’s film “Antichrist”). In the Baltic Sea region, great forests and old trees were considered particularly pagan and dangerous. In the vita of the missionary Otto of Bamberg, the forest between Pomerania and Poland is described as horrible and immense; no one had ever succeeded in finding his way through it, except duke Wartislaw. The duke had a path cleared through the forest – some trees were cut down, whereas others were marked – nevertheless, it was difficult to proceed because of snakes and other wild animals as well as cranes which had their nests in the low-growing tree branches and delayed the men with their beak babbling and wing flapping. Moreover, the ground was so wet and swampy that all wagons got stuck in mud. Forests were particularly dangerous because they were cult-sites for pagans as well as the abode for demons and evil spirits. One missionary relates how he and his company were riding through a dense forest when they suddenly reached an open place with a wooden temple with beautifully carved entrance gates. The building was empty, so they entered it. Seeing foul and horrible pagan idols, they set the whole temple on fire and fled as fast as possible, fearing that the pagans would detect and persecute them and that the demons from the temple would haunt them. In one of the narratives, when the pagan statue is tilted, the Christian warriors see a black animal, ‘probably a cat’, swiftly running away and know it is the demon that has lived inside the idol. In most areas, temple destruction was followed with a fight against old trees. In the village centre there was an immense oak tree beneath which there was a well that the pagans believed to be the home of some minor god. When the missionary bishop wanted to cut it down, the new converts protested and begged him to spare it because they enjoyed sitting in the shadow of the tree, next to the source of fresh water in a hot summer. The oak tree was spared, but it was strictly forbidden to take any omens from it because ‘that is not allowed for Christians’. In general, missionaries had trouble with the trees and in most cases they simply had big crosses carved in them, an attempt to ‘baptize’ not only the people but also the plants. The destruction of the most visible sign of sin, i.e. the pagan temple, was followed by the Christianization of the landscape. The first step was to fill all space with crosses. The fight against paganism, sin and evil was considered a very physical one and was fought with a cross sewn on the sleeve (Physical exterminantion of physical sin – remarks on theology and mission in the Baltic region around 1200. / Jensen, Kurt Villads. Sacred space in the state of the Teutonic Order in Prussia. ed. / Jaroslaw Wenta; Magdalena Kopczynska. Torun : Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 2013. p. 87-99).