The president said that while religion is a source for good around the world, people of all faiths have been willing to "hijack religion for their own murderous ends."
"Unless we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," Obama said. "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
"So it is not unique to one group or one religion," Obama said. "There is a tendency in us, a simple tendency that can pervert and distort our faith."
There's much I want to say about this... much I'd like to say... but really, I think Mark Shea's words, in a piece he intended for moderate Muslims some time ago, are words I personally think the President, at least in part, would have better used to make his point.
As a Catholic, I’m not much interested when an Episcopalian demands women priests or a Baptist insists we baptize only adults. But when our internal affairs spill over into matters of the common good, they are no longer our internal affairs and those outside the Church (or the Umma) have every right to voice an opinion. When a priest starts raping kids or an imam starts preaching the glories of suicide bombing, it becomes everybody’s business.
So here’s what this Catholic brings to the table out of the experience of his own tradition. Since moderate Muslims have no Magisterium of their own, take a tip from ours and make a careful note of how John Paul II dealt with our own history of sin and violence. As the Church approached the Third Millennium, the Pope took a clear look at the sins of Catholics over the past thousand years and did not say, "The Crusades had nothing to do with Catholicism. The persecution of Jews had nothing to do with Catholicism. The oppression of women did not involve Catholics. The Church has never had anything to do with racism." Instead, he made an unvarnished assessment of the sins of the Church's members (including those members called "popes and bishops") and said, on behalf of the Catholic community, "Mea Culpa".
Muslims serious about healing their people of the cancer of radical violence should do likewise: They might even try reading Tertio Millennio Adveniente and mining it for tips on how to forthrightly discuss the sins of their own tradition. Don't give us a song and dance that the Islamic conquest of large portions of what was once Christian Africa and Asia has “nothing to do with Islam”. Don’t try to tell us that the citizens of Constantinople held a referendum and peacefully opted to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque one fine summer day in 1453. Don’t suggest that the massive hordes repelled at Vienna and Lepanto had nothing to do with Islam. Don’t tell us that the kidnap of Christian children and their indoctrination as Islamic Janissaries was the work of Buddhists or Swedenborgians. It's as persuasive as a song and dance that the murder of Rhenish Jews by Crusaders or the rape of children by priests had nothing to do with Catholics. Instead, face the fact that these people are your people and the first order of business is not "Tell outsiders to stop seeing what they see" but "Tell insiders that we have to find some way of dealing with the violence in our tradition or it will destroy us."
The President, in the minutiae of his words to the attendees of this morning's Prayer Breakfast, may have been correct but in the larger picture, in the realm of the here and now, he has yet again squandered an opportunity to lead.
No real suprise from this huckster.
UPDATE: There have been a number of responses to Obama's words worth linking to from respected sources. Here are but a few:
Was every single action of every single crusade morally righteous? No. I’m not trying to defend every single deed. But the Crusades in general were a defensive struggle against Islam.
Were there Crusaders who abused their power, misguided attempts by some, errors and sins on the part of some Crusaders? Yes, being human, some of them committed serious sins under the guise of “religious motivation.” Perhaps the worst failure was the Fifth Crusade, the so-called “Children’s Crusade,” in which as many as 40,000 children, mostly from France and Germany, boarded ships in the hopes of arriving in the Holy Land to help the cause, and ended up in Muslim slave markets. But over all, the intent was noble. It’s only our politically correct pandering to Islam that makes it difficult to remember that.
Now, in the most kind and narrow construction you can assign those words, Mr. Obama is not altogether wrong. People have “committed terrible deeds” in the name of Christ. That is true. But.
To say that that is no different than cutting the heads off of babies? To say that that is no different than torching prisoners alive in a caged inferno? No. That is wrong, ignorant, false, and vile. What Mr. Obama is saying is that we have no moral right to call what ISISdoes evil. What he is saying is that we cannot fight against them and be entirely just. That is the kind of man who is our Commander in Chief. The man in charge of our military says these kind of things.
So what we need to do, once more, is put the Crusades into historical context.
And in a dated but most relevant piece, Thomas F. Madden:
It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”
Every word of this is wrong.