I think I just wanted to watch the second part of History Channel’s “Mankind: The Story of All of Us” because I’m a history buff and it dealt with the Roman Empire. I was even kind of… leery about its approach to Jesus (devout and practicing Catholic that I am). I swear I could hear all those atheists complaining about the pre-eminent role given to Christ and to religions in this episode.
Strangely, this episode though was evoking some strong reactions in me for how it presented the role religion played both in empire-building and in the transformation of lives. Perpetua’s story engendered in me an awe for the power in the faith of those early Christians, able to face certain and extremely painful death without much hesitation.
I even quipped over Facebook how the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) should watch this episode, if only to be reminded how Christianity was once a faith that offered emancipation and empowerment to the poor, slaves and women.
But I think I wasn’t prepared for one scene further into the episode.
I am a student of history, or at least I’d like to believe myself as such. One of my favorite topics involves anything military, and the Crusades have always been one of the eras I read on. I know its origins and its outcomes, how its effects reverberate to this day. Some scholars even say that the vicious fighting that often flare up between Christians, Muslims and Jews even today can be traced back to the disruptive effects of that era.
So it was with some consternation that I watched the transition from the presentation of Islam as a vehicle for the preservation of knowledge lost in the West due to the Dark Ages towards the gates of Jerusalem as the forces of the First Crusade finally broke in. I know of the slaughter that followed: often it is written how the victorious army of the First Crusade went to the Church of the Sepulcher to thank God with boots red with the blood of the men, women and children they killed.
The show featured one Tancred, a knight, leading the charge in. He kills several warriors. Around him, other Crusaders kill civilians too slow to run away. When the scene shifts back to Tancred, he is shown removing his helmet and looking onto the carnage.
He stops. This man, given leave to kill and plunder by religious fiat, probably with thoughts of glory and riches in his head, suddenly stops at the sight of all the dead. Men, women and children.
Then, he moves to stop his fellow Crusader from further slaughter. He shouts to the others to stop. He then gives a frightened Muslim man his banner. We are told by the narrator that he ransoms these, and that his standard would be a sign to other Crusaders that these people are now under Tancred’s protection.
I don’t know why but there is something in that scene that strikes me hard. I think I was prepared to watch this slaughter perpetrated by fellow Christians, as I have read it so many times in books on the Crusade. For all we condemn jihadists about the thousands they’ve killed in the name of a perversion of Islam, we Christians are not wholly of clean hands. There is blood on them. Our swords, spears and lances once made the streets of Jerusalem run red with the blood of innocents.
I think I wasn’t prepared for this one knight who stopped and let his humanity, his common decency his… Christianity rule him. Amidst the slaughter, one man remembered what that cross on his surcoat really stood for.
I guess I was hoping that someone would stop the killing even if you know from the historical records that it was total. You wanted to see a Christian knight act like one, like a true Paladin, a warrior of the Cross… even if you didn’t expect it because you’ve read about it so many times. In fact, Tancred’s act was for naught. This true knight, this Paladin, went to the Church of the Sepulcher to pray. But when he came out, the Muslims under his protection had been killed by other Crusaders. You could see the agony in Tancred’s face.
But I think part of me felt glad seeing him stand up for what is right, even if his attempts at saving even a few from the carnage failed in the end. Because someone remembered. Someone, even a man who is supposed to hate these people, saw these not as enemies… but as fellow humans. Maybe even brothers and sisters.
For some days now, fighting has been going on in Gaza. Somewhere in the world, there are people who plan the death of others simply because they don’t worship God in the way these extremists think God should be worshiped. And more all over the world live in fear and hate because of a noisy, influential few who lead a misguided many to be uncompromising when it comes to people of other faiths, other beliefs.
I consider myself a Defender of the Catholic Church. I will protect the Bride of Christ, His Faithful, from all those who wish to harm it.
But I cannot imagine putting to the sword anyone simply because they happen to refer to God the Father by another name, so long as they respect the right of others to worship Him the way they wish. Are we not all Abraham’s sons and daughters, the spiritual offspring of one man to whom God promised children as numerous as the stars in the night sky?
Why must we keep repeating Cain’s sin? Why must we offer the blood of our brothers and sister just to curry the favor of our God and ensure our place in eternal life? Surely, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – be He called Yahweh, God the Father or Allah – has shown us a better, less violent way of praising His Name?
There is so much we can do if only we pool our might and work together to order a world, or even a universe, that we believe our God gave onto our care. A lot of the good humanity finds itself in today is in large part because of the work of our three religions. Why can’t we stay with that? Why can’t we work together instead of killing each other over our shared inheritance?
I wonder what God will find more pleasing: oceans of blood from our slain brothers and sisters, or a world made perfect by the combined work of the hands and minds of the Children of the Covenant?