The Curious Conversion of Kanye West

Every now and then you hear of a celebrity who comes to faith in Jesus. Rarely is that celebrity as big as Kanye West.

Kanye is one of the most recognised names in music today. He’s sold 140 million records globally and has won 21 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most critically-acclaimed artists ever. Time has named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

West was raised a Christian but his beliefs have been the subject of ongoing speculation. Early in his career and sometimes since, he has identified as a Christian—though his lyrics, personal life, and sacrilegious claims have made many doubt that label.

“Kanye is one of the most recognised names in music today.”

His 2013 album Yeezus, for example, included a track entitled I am a God. Among the usual expletives, the song’s lyrics boasted, “I know he the most high / But I am a close high”.

But then around January this year, something shifted. Rumours were circulating that he’d had a genuine salvation experience. He was heard speaking unapologetically of Jesus to the media. Footage came out showing him host pop-up worship services around the USA.

And then last week, West released his latest album, Jesus is King.

The lyrics on this album couldn’t stand in starker contrast to his previous records. Gone are the obscenities and dark themes. In their place are soulful melodies of worship. If you know anything about the Kanye of the past, you really have to hear it to believe it.

After a call to worship in track one, the album’s second song Selah declares:

They say the week start on Monday

But the strong start on Sunday

Won’t be in bondage to any man

John 8:33

We the descendants of Abraham

Ye should be made free

John 8:36

To whom the son set free is free indeed

He saved a wretch like me

The same day his record dropped, two long-form interviews with West were published to Youtube (here and here), in which he discusses his mental health struggles, fatherhood, and his brand new born-again faith in God.

The night of his album’s release, he was asked by television host Jimmy Kimmel, “Would you consider yourself to be a Christian artist now?” West responded with hesitation, saying, “I’m just a Christian… everything.”

Given the egotism and hypocrisy of Kanye’s past, it’s understandable that all of this has been met with mixed reactions from the public. Some followers of Jesus especially wonder if it’s all a passing fad.

There’s nothing wrong with healthy caution, but here are three reasons I’m excited about the conversion of Kanye West.

His Fans Will Hear the Gospel

As I write, Selah—the song quoted above—has had 16.2 million listens on Spotify in the six days since it was released. Another track from the album called Follow God has had over 28 million streams.

Add to this other streaming services like Apple Music and Google Play; all of the other songs on his record, all the listens that will happen in the months ahead, and all of Kanye’s interview grabs, and that’s a lot of Jesus on the airwaves right now.

Doubtless, some of the attention is just from curious Christian bystanders like me. But the great bulk of these downloads will be from diehard Kanye fans. For many, it will be the first time they’ve heard about Jesus in a clear and culturally-meaningful way. It’s any missiologists’ dream.

All this at a time when Christianity faces unprecedented hostility in the public square.

The last time you prayed for God to raise up labourers for the harvest, you might not have pictured the conversion of Kanye West. But that’s how God answered your prayer.

His Words are Backed By Actions

In both his public statements and his songs, Kanye is conveying more than spiritually soppy sentiments. He’s advocating for a whole new way of life.

As one journalist put it, West’s brand of Christianity “bears no resemblance to the vague spiritualism of Moral Therapeutic Deism that is often associated with celebrity conversions”.

Kanye’s ego is a shadow of its former self. He speaks of family prayer times and of being ‘cancelled’ by mainstream culture for pushing back against progressive ideas. He voices new views on abortion, and on teaching his daughter how to dress modestly in a materialistic and sexualised culture that he confesses he helped create.

All of this reflects a deeper discipleship that’s taking place in his life. A source close to Kanye has said this:

“Those who are currently ministering to Kanye and “speaking into his life” are… Gospel-preaching, God-fearing, ain’t-playing-around, Bible-believing Christians who share our common faith. These men are not celebrity-hounds… and are not enamoured with wealth or attention.”

His Conversion is Part of a Pattern

Kanye West is one of several celebrities in recent times who have had life-altering encounters with Jesus. Author Eric Metaxas tweeted this week:

These are encouraging signs for anyone with a heart for cultural renewal. Justin Bieber and Kanye West especially—who happen to share a friendship—have tasted the very best that the secular culture has to offer. And it has left them wanting. Now they’ve found Jesus, and their public life is reflecting that.

Keep praying, because God is hearing your prayers for revival. He always said he would:

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth.” Psalm 65:5.

For better articles than mine on Kanye’s conversion, check these out:

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Pornography is a Public Health Crisis

In an effort to normalise pornography, there are people who point out that porn has been around since ancient times. That might be true, but porn today is like nothing the world has ever seen.

Pornography is now everywhere. It’s available on almost every screen and smartphone on the planet. In the West, what was once scandalous and shrewdly stocked in the newsagent or video store is now fodder for billboards, and makes for vanilla viewing on primetime TV.

Would you believe that pornography is a US$97 billion global industry? Porn’s unstoppable popularity might be why so many in the mainstream are unwilling to talk about the damage it’s doing.

“Porn today is like nothing the world has ever seen.”

Like so many aspects of the sexual revolution, our decades-long experiment with porn has provided us with mountains of research about its culture-wide impact.

Its links to mental health problems, sexual dissatisfaction, infidelity and even crime have led American lawmakers to declare porn a public health crisis in 16 states. 

“Porn’s not hurting anyone” has to be one of the biggest lies ever told. In case you needed convincing, consider these ten reasons that pornography is tearing us apart.

1. Porn makes people miserable

Like so many other vices, people often turn to pornography to relax and relieve stress. But a growing body of research links porn to a cluster of concerning mental health outcomes.

A survey of almost 800 college students found a significant link between regular pornography use and depressive symptoms, including low self-worth. Strong correlations between porn and loneliness were uncovered in another study.

“‘Porn’s not hurting anyone’ has to be one of the biggest lies ever told.”

A meta-analysis of fifty studies found that men who consumed pornography were much less happy not just with romantic relationships, but with their relationships in general.

Many porn users, whether male or female, report relationship insecurities, body-image issues and anxiety in connection to their habit. Worse still, one study revealed that 70% of the partners of porn users presented with all the symptoms of PTSD.

2. Porn is effectively a drug

Unlike alcohol, tobacco or other addictive drugs, pornography isn’t a physical substance—it’s power is a passing image, video or idea.

But brain scans reveal that its effect on users is almost identical to a heroin or cocaine hit. Pornography hijacks the brain’s reward system. When users keep going back for more, it puts the amygdala under stress so that it enlarges, affecting emotional processing and decision-making.

Cambridge researcher Dr. Valerie Voon studied this phenomenon in depth, comparing the brain scans of healthy patients with those who were porn-addicted. She concluded that these differences mirror those of drug addicts.”

3. Porn turns people into terrible lovers

One of the glaring ironies of pornography is that many people turn to it to enhance their sex life, only to discover that it achieves the very opposite.

Studies continually show that porn use leads to less sex, and less satisfying sex. As a result of viewing pornography, men are more critical of their partner’s body and less interested in actual sex.

“Pornography is scientifically proven to make someone a bad lover.”

One of the most detailed studies of pornography ever conducted found that, having viewed ‘soft-core’ porn, both men and women were less happy with their partner’s sexual performance.

Doctors today report a growing epidemic of young men suffering from erectile dysfunction. This condition, which once mostly affected older men, is now a reality for countless young guys who have become so accustomed to the constant variety and excitement of internet porn that they can no longer perform without it.

In short, pornography is scientifically proven to make someone a bad lover in almost every conceivable way.

4. Porn destroys marriage

Many reading this will know first-hand accounts of porn’s devastating impacts on marriage. This phenomenon is more than anecdotal.

Porn consumption is statistically linked to less stability in relationships, a devaluing of marriage and family, and greater likelihood of both infidelity and divorce. One study showed that people who had an affair were three times more likely to have used pornography than people who remained faithful to their partner.

“Many reading this will know first-hand accounts of porn’s devastating impacts on marriage.”

Another study tracked the marriages of couples over time, and found that divorce was twice as common among couples that began using pornography to ‘enhance their sex life’, compared with those who didn’t.

If all that weren’t enough, as early as 2002, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that 56% of divorces involved one partner having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”

5. Porn harms children

Kids growing up today are the first generation in history to be raised on tablets and mobile devices. This has given them much easier access to pornography and the adult-world risks that accompany it.

11 years old is now the average age that children are first exposed to pornography. 90% of boys and 60% of girls have visited porn sites by the time they enter adulthood. Half of teens come across porn at least once a month whether they search it out or not.

“Every week, over 20,000 images of child pornography are posted to the web.”

Research has shown that the younger boys are when they first see porn, the more likely they are to be using it later in life. And among youth, internet pornography is statistically linked to sexual activity at younger ages, multiple sex partners, group sex, and other risky behaviours.

Porn harms children in other ways too. Every week, over 20,000 images of child pornography are posted to the web. And since 2002, more than 10,000 victims depicted in child pornography have been located and identified.

6. Porn drives violence against women

In a post-#MeToo world, and with so much talk of gender equality today, it’s hard to fathom why there’s so much silence around the harm porn does to women. The research on this couldn’t be clearer.

The vast majority of pornography depicts a power imbalance between men and women, with men in charge, and women submissive and obedient.

“It’s hard to fathom why there’s so much silence around the harm porn does to women.”

Recently, a team of researchers looked at 50 of the most watched porn films. Of the 304 scenes in these movies, almost half contained verbal aggression and a staggering 88% depicted physical violence. This led the researchers to conclude that “mainstream commercial pornography has coalesced around a relatively homogenous script involving violence and female degradation”.

And it should be no surprise that ideas shape behaviour. An analysis of 22 studies from 7 countries found that people who consume porn frequently are likely to engage in acts of sexual aggression.

Other studies have shown a strong correlation between men’s porn consumption and their likelihood to victimise women.

7. Porn makes people more deviant

When the brain’s reward centre is stimulated too much—as is the case with a regular porn user—it makes what was once exciting seem dull. This in turn can prompt people to seek out more extreme types of pornography.

In 2012, a survey of 1,500 males was conducted. They were asked if their tastes in pornography had grown “increasingly extreme or deviant” the more they had watched porn. An alarming 56% said yes.

“Why is no one pointing out that mainstream pornography is itself rape culture.”

Porn use has also been shown to influence what users consider to be abnormal. One study showed that people who watched significant amounts of pornography considered violent sex and sex with animals to be twice as common as what those not exposed to pornography thought.

In fact ‘rape culture’ has been a big discussion point in recent years, especially on university campuses. The premise of rape culture is that rape is more likely in an “environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse.”

If this is true, why is no one pointing out that mainstream pornography is itself rape culture?

8. Porn fuels sex trafficking

If it’s possible for pornography to have dirty little secrets, here’s the biggest one of all: pornography fuels the sex trafficking industry.

There are an estimated 20 to 40 million slaves in the world today—more than when slavery was abolished. Around 22% of these are victims of forced sexual exploitation, which includes the production of pornography.

It’s confronting to realise that this is not just a developing world problem.

Officially, sex trafficking is defined as a “modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion”. On that definition, this includes the shockingly common cases of young girls in western nations who have been lured into a modelling career only to end up on porn sets.

“There’s an infinite feedback loop between porn and sex trafficking.”

The USA’s Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children both flag pornography as a contributing factor to the global problem of sex trafficking.

There’s also an infinite feedback loop between porn and sex trafficking. Traffickers get ideas from pornography and make their victims watch it in order to produce more of it.

Over the last decade, the fair trade movement has had enormous success in helping people consume products that haven’t relied on slavery or other forms of abuse. It’s time our culture awoke to the same reality taking place with pornography.

9. Porn decays society

Recent statistics on porn use are confronting. Consider this: in 2015, 4.3 billion hours of pornography were watched on a single website. That’s half a million years of viewing time.

From 1998 to 2007, the number of pornographic websites online grew by 1,800%. Today, almost a third of all data transferred across the internet is porn.

“Our culture is facing an existential crisis.”

Decades on from the dawn of the sexual revolution, porn exposure among university-aged males is now almost universal. 1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography. And 96% of young adults are either neutral, accepting or encouraging of porn use.

Let’s put two and two together. If it’s true that porn is linked to a host of social ills including depression, addiction, deviance, violence and human trafficking; and if it’s true that so many people today affirm pornography and use it regularly, then our culture is facing a crisis.

There’s no other way to say it: porn is decaying our society.

10. Porn offends God

All we’ve looked at so far has been horizontal—how pornography affects people. But the most relevant piece in this puzzle is that porn offends God:

“God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness… God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.” (Romans 1:18, 24).

The reason God hates sexual perversion isn’t because he is mean. Quite the opposite—it’s because he has infinite love for everyone he has created. He knows what’s best for us, and he knows that pornography is anything but that.

“God offers his help and his presence to all who want to walk in freedom.”

The good news is that God has made a way for every one of us to be free of the scourge of sin, including pornography. He did this by sending Jesus. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

Freedom and cleansing is found in Jesus. At the cross, Jesus took on all of our filth and sin. And in turn, he clothed us in his perfect righteousness. He offers his help and his presence to all who want to walk in freedom.

Because of its addictive nature, getting free of pornography might require effort. There are now excellent resources to help with this, including Fight the New Drug, Valiant Man and Covenant Eyes. Walking in freedom is possible for anyone who wants it enough.

Whatever it takes, the effort will be worth it. Every one of us owes it to ourselves, our loved ones and our society to turn this crisis around.

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Greta Thunberg, Climate Strikes, and the End of the World

If you own a screen, chances are you’ve heard about this week’s climate strikes in a city near you. Chances are you were also recently introduced to a 16 year old called Greta Thunberg.

So what’s all the hype about?

The protests have been organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR), whose website states:

“We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on Earth is in crisis: scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown, and we are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.”

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish school student, spoke at the group’s ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ held in London last year. But it was her more recent speech at the UN that really got the world’s attention:

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words… Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

As a Christian, I’m convinced that God commands good stewardship of this planet. He has charged us with its sustainable management, for the benefit of present and future generations.

And as a millennial, I’ve been taught many practical ways to do this. I actively try to reduce my footprint by living simply, shopping locally, minimising waste, and eating a plant-heavy diet. I’m a big fan of entrepreneurial efforts to heal the environment, as well as policies that promote this and prevent more harm to our planet.

But there’s something ugly about the rising tide of climate alarmism—and I don’t just mean the traffic jams and adolescent outbursts. It’s a movement with a credibility crisis, for at least three reasons.

1. The Misinformation Behind the Movement

I’m no scientist, and I don’t have particularly strong views on the science of climate change. What’s clear to me is that many scientists are concerned for our planet’s future, and that a smaller consensus of scientists are unconvinced that there’s a climate emergency.

What’s also clear is that the leaders of XR exaggerate the claims of the scientists they rely on. Gail Bradbrook is a co-founder of XR, and she has said, “It’s quite possible that all life on Earth—97 percent of it—is going to go, and possibly in my children’s lifetime.”

“There’s something ugly about the rising tide of climate alarmism.”

The other co-founder, Roger Hallam claimed, “Our children are going to die in the next ten to twenty years.” On a seperate occasion he warned, “I am talking about the slaughter, death, and starvation of 6 billion people this century—that’s what the science predicts.”

That’s definitely not what the science predicts.

Like fundamentalists who cherry-pick Bible verses to fit their narrative, the leaders of XR routinely spin the most extreme (and least likely) predictions from the UN literature to shock their audiences.

“The misinformation behind this movement isn’t helping anyone.”

Greta Thunberg, who leads the youth strike for climate and regularly warns of impending disaster, tells her followers, “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

It makes sense to me that humans have contributed to climate change and that we have a responsibility to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels.

But the misinformation behind this movement isn’t helping anyone. It’s undermining the credibility of science, and it’s alienating a voter bloc that might otherwise take environmental concerns seriously.

2. The Mania Behind the Movement

The mania isn’t helping either. In this way too, the movement resembles a religious cult. Its leaders leave little room for nuance or debate.

XR demands that governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. If this were taken seriously, it would basically mean reversing the Industrial Revolution.

This would hurt western nations of course. But more importantly, it would utterly devastate the world’s poor and marginalised.

“The movement resembles a religious cult.”

When this kind of unbending apocalyptic fervour is seen in religious groups, people shun it. Yet somehow a girl in pigtails has displayed the same trait and won universal praisefrom the mainstream media and unquestioning observers alike.

No wonder critics decry it all as a Children’s Crusade.

‘Religious cult’ is an accurate description for other reasons too. XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook openly acknowledges that “codes for social change” were given to her during a prayer ceremony and psychedelic drug trip at a retreat in Costa Rica.

Wait. Wasn’t this just about the science?

3. The Movement Behind the Movement

There are movements to be wary of on both extremes of the political landscapefrom fascists on the right to Marxists on the left.

XR doesn’t openly advocate Marxism, but it bears a troubling resemblance to the political ideology that wrought untold destruction last century. Their Declaration of Rebellion states:

“We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… The wilful complicity displayed by our Government has shattered meaningful democracy.”

Co-founder Gail Bradbrook has said, “Conventional politics is f*cked, it’s finished.” On another occasion, she clarified her mission: “I’m not organising protests, I’m organising a rebellion against my government.”

A now-deleted tweet on XR’s Twitter feed stated, “This movement is the best chance we have of bringing down capitalism.”

Roger Hallam, the group’s other founder, has made his political views quite clear. “I’ve been on the left all my life and I think it’s fantastic. You know the whole socialist project; amazing.” He too has made his aims clear:

“We are not just sending out e-mails and asking for donations. We are going to force the governments to act. And if they don’t, we will bring them down and create a democracy fit for purpose… and yes, some may die in the process.”

To be clear, XR is explicitly non-violent, so Hallam is referring to martyrdom, not terrorism. But his colleague Bradbrook has echoed the same radical sentiment, saying, “I am willing to be arrested. I am willing to be jailed. And I can tell you something else; I am willing to die for this movement.”

Many are drawn to movements like Extinction Rebellion for their green credentials. But beware of the watermelon phenomenon: many groups that are green on the outside are actually red on the inside.

With XR, it’s clear that there’s a movement behind the movement, and it needs to be called out.

Environmentalism and the Gospel

I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that the best way to care for the environment is to topple capitalism, surrender our precious freedoms and set up an eco-socialist utopia.

I don’t envy the governments around the world who are tasked with balancing stable economic growth and environmental responsibility. A great challenge lies ahead of them.

But let’s remember that government isn’t always the solution to the world’s problems.

Entrepreneurial genius—yes, capitalism—is coming up with brilliant solutions. Consider the Canadian company capturing CO2 to make fuel, or these companies reusing landfill to make their products.

“Don’t buy the lie that our only options are apathy and fanaticism.”

Or what about Boyan Slat? He has far less Google searches to his name than Greta Thunberg, and he hyperventilates less. But at age 16, he designed the world’s first ocean plastic cleanup system and now runs his own company.

Addressing the problems our planet faces won’t be simple. But don’t buy the lie that our only options are apathy and fanaticism.

“I’m not convinced that the best way to care for the environment is to topple capitalism.”

See there’s a bigger picture here.

As Christianity has retreated from the West, it’s left behind a yawning spiritual void. People once knew of a greater purpose for their lives and a hope that stretched beyond the present and into eternity. In the absence of this, we’re scrambling to replace it with something meaningful.

Climate alarmism is just one of many alternatives that has rushed into the vacuum. What began as care for the environment is now morphing into a cult with its own end times scenario. Why? Because people are asking it to provide them with that sense of greater purpose, and answers for their existential questions.

“As Christianity has retreated from the West, it has left behind a yawning spiritual void.”

This is why the gospel is still so relevant. It reminds us that we’ve been made in God’s image as valued and unique creatures. And that because of this, we have the duty to steward his creation well, and clean up the messes we’ve made.

But it reminds us of something far greater: our meaning and life purpose is in God. It’s only in him that we can make sense of our place in the cosmos, have a healthy responsibility for the world we live in, and a bright hope for the future.

Without the need for panic, or the overthrow of civilisation.

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Religion Causes all the Violence—Just Look at the Crusades

Religion causes all the violence—just look at the Crusades. Have you heard this before? It’s a claim that many critics of Christianity make. In summary, it goes something like this:

For hundreds of years, Popes declared ‘holy war’ and sent religious fanatics marching to the Middle East. They went there to colonise, and they slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t convert to Christianity along the way.

 

So many Muslims and Jews were killed in the streets of Jerusalem that blood flowed up to the crusaders’ knees. All of this violence was condoned by the church so that Christians could expand their empire and line their pockets with wealth.

Maybe you’re so appalled reading this that you’re ready to hit the back button. Who would bother trying to defend this kind of violent hypocrisy?

Without doubt, the Crusades were a bleak period of church history. Those who fought and led had clearly ignored the words of Jesus, who said:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.”—Luke 6:27-29

But it’s also true that the Crusades are victim to a lot of Fake News. If we’re going to talk about the Crusades, we need to rescue the facts from the fiction.

What Were the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of campaigns fought by European Christians to recapture the ‘Holy Lands’—those places where all the Bible’s major events took place. Think modern-day Israel, Turkey and Egypt.

The First Crusade (1096-1099) was probably the most infamous. It was a successful but bloody recapture of Jerusalem. It also led to the founding of several ‘Crusader states’ in the Middle East.

The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was a failed attempt to retake a defeated Crusader state.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched to recapture Jerusalem after it had been overtaken once more by Muslim armies. The Crusaders failed again.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) began like the others, but along the way, the Crusaders got mixed up in the local politics of Constantinople. After a dispute, they sacked the city, plundering it and killing fellow Christians. The whole episode was an embarrassment and a great injustice.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) was another failed attempt to recapture Jerusalem, this time via Egypt.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) involved almost no fighting. Through diplomacy, the Crusaders secured Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was by far the best equipped, but it ended in almost total annihilation for the Crusaders.

Other minor Crusades can be added to this list, but it’s these seven that have captured the popular imagination. With the exception of the first and the sixth, the Crusades were an anticlimax. The last Crusader stronghold fell in 1291, bringing the era of crusading to an end.

The Context of the Crusades

We’re rightly outraged by the Crusades. But there is context to these events that many people have never heard but that change the way we view them.

First, what made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence: almost every medieval culture was extremely violent. By our standards, the Crusades were shocking, but by the standards of the time, they were unremarkable.

What made them unique was that the command to wage war was given by a Christian leader, the Pope. Not only is there no grounds for this in the teachings of Jesus: there’s also no precedent for it in Christian history—and fortunately, no repeat of it either.

“What made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence.”

Second, not all of the violence that took place was condoned by church leaders. Popes condemned the sack of Constantinople, along with much of the violence and pillaging that took place en route to the Middle East.

Third, it turns out to be a myth that Crusaders went for fame and fortune. Most who went bankrupted themselves for armour and travel costs, and they didn’t count on coming back alive. They went because—misguided as they were—they believed it was a noble venture.

“Popes condemned much of the violence.”

Fourth, it’s a myth is that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity. The purpose of the Crusades was to secure passage for pilgrims to the Holy Lands.

Fifth, the story about blood running up to the Crusaders’ knees was a myth. The siege of Jerusalem was ruthless, but it was exaggerated beyond possibility in the retelling.

“It’s a myth that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity.”

All of these corrections might seem minor. But there’s one more fact many omit that fundamentally alters our perspective on the Crusades, and it’s this: the Crusades were defensive wars.

In the 6th century, most of Europe and the Holy Lands were Christian. Pilgrims were free to traverse the empire and visit Jerusalem as they wished.

But the birth of Islam changed this. While Christianity had spread peacefully, Islam spread rapidly, and mostly through warfare. Within a few centuries, Islam conquered over two thirds of what were previously Christian lands.

The First Crusade was proclaimed by the Pope, not as an act of aggression, but in response to an existential threat. The Crusades slowed the advance of Muslim armies into Europe, and probably helped spare western civilisation.

Funny how this fact barely rates a mention in the popular retelling of the Crusades.

“The Crusades were defensive wars.”

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t condone the Crusades. Violence is not the way of Jesus. But if we view them not merely as religious conflicts and instead see them as the defence of a civilisation, they make a whole lot more sense. Context is everything.

Here’s a little more context for the claim that ‘religion causes all the violence’. The Crusades were bloody, resulting in the tragic death of around a million people. But communism—which sought to bury religion forever—was far more savage. It took the lives of over one hundred million.

Even if we correct for population growth, communism was still twenty times more ruinous for humanity than the Crusades—and in just a quarter of the time.

This isn’t a cheap-shot. My point isn’t that Christians are better because they’ve killed less people. I’m simply countering the claim that religion causes all the wars, or that more Christianity equals more violence.

“Violence is not the way of Jesus.”

On the whole, Christianity has been a powerfully civilising force through history.

Its leader, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t merely say, “Love your enemies.” He practiced what he preached—all the way to the cross. He chose to endure violence rather than commit it.

Jesus has shaped us more than we know. He’s a big reason whyeven with all their contextChristians and critics alike still can’t stand the violence of the Crusades.

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