Were the Crusades all that bad that Bill Clinton had to apologize for them in the wake of 9/11? Is there a difference between crusading for spoils and crusading for souls? Nathan Schneider at Killing the Buddha points us to an interview with Rodney Stark at Patheos about his new book, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. Stark, as Jeff Sharlet writes in the comments (excerpting from his book, The Family), has garnered a substantial audience over the years:
The idea of applying market economics to church originated not within fundamentalism or evangelicalism, nor even in the petri dishes of the laissez- faire think tanks in D.C., but with a sociologist from the University of Washington named Rodney Stark, whose work has won a broad readership beyond his discipline. Stark (who now teaches at Baylor, a Baptist university in Texas) and various collaborators began interpreting religious-affiliation data through the
lens of neoliberal market theory in the 1980s.12 The very best sort of religious economy, insists Stark, is one unregulated by either the state or large denominations. Left to form, change, and die organically, Stark believes, churches will naturally come to meet the populace’s diverse spiritual needs, which he divides into a spectrum of six “niches” akin to a left/right political scheme. He argues that the law of the market spurs new religious movements, which start out small, in “high tension” with the society around them, at the “ultraconservative” end of the spectrum.
As these sects grow, their tension usually decreases—that is, writes Stark, they dilute the “seriousness” of their faith—until they eventually drift to the “ultraliberal” end. Im- plicit is that there is a natural and fairly steady demand for religion that needs only to find expression in a properly varied supply.
The point is that crusades—for Bernard, Leibniz, and George W. Bush—are not simply “about Jesus” any more than they are reducible to petty greed. We have to simplify the history to tell good stories about it all, of course, and there are better ways to do so than others. But the bases for both Stark’s militant triumphalism and Clinton’s liberal self-flagellation crumble in the face of the messy, engrossing truth.