Thoughts on 'The Kingdom of Heaven': A Discussion with Dr. Ted Baehr
Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Contributing Writer
-- Craig von Buseck: What is your impression of the movie 'The Kingdom of Heaven'?
Dr. Ted Baehr: It's a pretty good film. It's well made. It's not a great film. But Ridley Scott is a terrific action filmmaker. The good part of the film is that it has nice, positive representations of a lot of aspects of faith. There is a lot of action and adventure.
problem with this movie -- and the problem with most of the approaches
toward this topic -- is that it tends to think that Christianity
and Islam are the same. If you read Hilaire Belloc's great historical
work on the Crusades, or any of the major works on the Koran,
you will see that this is a serious problem. It is not just a
question of everyone sitting down and accepting each other. When
Mohammed couldn't get everyone to accept Islam he started killing
people. That's built within the very fabric of his faith. So Saladin
was a ruthless killer. The Muslims moved into areas that were
a hundred percent Christian. They were a conquering army. They
were not part of Jerusalem.
Up until twenty years ago the majority of Lebanon was Christian. We have seen in our century, just in my lifetime whole areas being persecuted, including the Coptic people in Egypt, the Lebanese Christians with their own Diaspora, the Armenian Christians who were liquidated by Ataturk -- there has been constant persecution.
I was just with the Kurds, who were very resentful that the Arabs and Muslims came in and killed their fathers, raped their mothers, and spread Islam. So this is not a sweet, lovable religion. And I know that everybody would like it to be. This movie ultimately is in favor of Christians, Muslims, and Jews to stop fighting over the holy sites and to blend together in peaceful coexistence. Well, that's just a lot of baloney, because it's just not going to happen now. Some side is going to have to relent.
The Christians, in their view, they proselytize. But the Muslims, since they don't have a concept of the Holy Spirit, they don't proselytize, they just murder. So we should never give up trying to redeem people who need Jesus Christ.
von Buseck: This is the big issue, isn't it. Your average person has no idea of the history of what took place in that time. The whole Mediterranean basin was basically Christian and then the Muslims came in with the sword.
Dr. Baehr: Exactly. For six hundred years after Christ there was no Islam. For hundreds of years after that Islam was a non-player throughout most of the Middle East. This myth that we went in and persecuted the Muslims with the Crusades -- it was the exact opposite. If you read the stories about Vlad the Impaler, for example, his brother was raped and tortured, and his teeth were pulled out -- after this you understand why Vlad is a little upset by this. It was a defensive action to protect his territory from the horrors of Muslimization.
von Buseck: From your perspective, what was the driving force behind the beginnings of the Crusades and what kept them going.
Dr. Baehr: Christendom had divided between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic. In the beginning of the Crusades, the Christians were interested in protecting the Christian populations who had appealed to Rome to come and rescue them from the invading armies. The invading armies are doing the same thing now in the Sudan. They're doing the same thing in Nigeria. So if you want first-hand testimony, go to the Sudan and find out what they're doing. Or go to Kurdistan, where I have spoken at a film conference, and you'll find out exactly what they're doing.
So they were saying, 'Please come help us,' just like the Kurds were so happy when we came in and provided the no-fly zone. Today the Sudanese are asking Americans to stop the slaughter of Sudanese Christians.
The trouble is that man is basically sinful. If you follow the stories where the different dukes would go into the Crusades, they won against amazing odds. There were small groups of Crusaders who would win against hundreds, if not thousands of Arab Muslims attacking them. The Battle of Antioch is famous for this. That is mainly because one hundred percent of the Antioch people were Christians. But when the Crusaders came in, they treated the Christian Antioch people, I'm sorry to say, the way the Muslims did. Furthermore, these wonderful people from France, Germany, and England started dividing up the territory just as if it were their fiefdom. And they imposed feudalism on areas that had been Christian for twelve hundred years by that time. In the battle that we see in the Kingdom of Heaven takes place, basically, the Crusaders, if they would have united, would have won that battle. But sixty miles away another Duke decided that he wasn't going to come to their aid because he hadn't been given Jerusalem, so he was pouting. And if he would have brought his army there it would have been a different story whatsoever.
asked me why the Crusaders went in there -- they went in because
they were asked to come in and save these people, just like we're
being asked to go into Sudan. What destroyed them is what is destroying
the Church today -- the Church cannot be united. People in Europe
and old Christendom have fallen away from the faith. People do
not stand together. Unfortunately, the Muslims, for whatever their
problems are, and we see Suni and Shiite, and other sects of Islam,
but they have enough of a united front that they have stood in
a better position with respect to Christians whenever we resort
So probably the only way is conversion, and conversion has always been tough. One of my good friends who was just in Lebanon asked the third official in the Lebanese Government, 'What if a Muslim converts to Islam?' He answered, 'Jesus died for your sins?' She replied, 'Yes.' He responded, 'You can die for Jesus.' This is a top government official saying 'you can die for Jesus.' So conversion from Islam is difficult because they just make it almost impossible.
It really hurts me that we are so historically ignorant that we bought this horrible lie that Christians came into Muslim territory to take their land. It was Christian land. It was part of Christendom. It was the oldest part of Christendom. It is where all of the great Christian thinkers came from. And it is very sad that we have bought the Muslim lie.
von Buseck: You think of the Christian centers of North Africa that had great Christian leaders like St. Augustine, and the stronghold of Christianity that was there for so long, and it was destroyed by the Muslim invaders at the edge of a sword.
Dr. Baehr: People will say that it is a pendulum and the pendulum will always turn. Well, Armenia, which was arguably one of the first groups of people to come to Christ is still under Muslim rule. They are still chaffing and desiring to get out from under. There has not been this change and these people are still subjected to unbelievable horrors.
von Buseck: In a post-9/11 world, what are some of the lessons that can be learned about the Crusades?
Dr. Baehr: One is that we need to be united. To be united, which is always difficult in the Body of Christ or politically, we need to understand the issues. We need to get rid of revisionist history and see what the truth is. Secondly, I'm not going to quote a crusader, I'm going to quote Teddy Roosevelt, we need to 'talk softly and carry a big stick.' Islam has always been afraid of the big stick. And Islamization always depends on -- and this is right in the Koran -- pretending to befriend your enemies and then killing your enemies. So we need to understand that when they are befriending us, we have an opportunity to evangelize them.
All men are sinful. We're all saved by the shed blood of Christ Jesus. So the question is, can we understand the sinfulness and the depravity in the heart of man, and understand that when we have the opportunity to speak to the issue, we speak with the voice of Christ. We speak with the Bible and with evangelism in mind, trying to help them out of the confusion that has caused this horrible burden. This burden has turned a fertile crescent into a desert through horrible cruelty, through the subjection of women -- if you've heard the stories that I've read about lately about the horrors that go with young children, sexually, it is not a pleasant picture.
So we have to keep in mind the truth that the depravity of man is magnified by the depravity of their faith and we need to understand that.
von Buseck: What was it that first interested you in the Crusades and caused you to dig so deeply?
Dr. Baehr: I wrote a book on C.S. Lewis when I was the head of an organization that produced 'The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe' for CBS Television. Lewis always made a big issue of this. If you look at any of Lewis's writings the villains are thinly-cloaked Muslim hoards. Lewis's favorite historian, as well as Tolkien's favorite historian, was a man named Hilaire Belloc, who is someone who should be much better read today. He was the foremost historian on the Crusades at Oxford. He was a brilliant writer. Reading him is like reading Shakespeare. When Lewis's writings pointed me in that direction, that's where I went.
von Buseck: As you read Tolkien you see where he refers to the 'men of the west' as opposed to the evil from the 'east' in Middle Earth. And I wondered at that time if he was referring to the struggle between Christianity and Islam.
Baehr: That's exactly what he's talking about. Tolkien also
studied the work of Hilaire Belloc, who was a contemporary professor
of history at Oxford. Both Catholics and Protestants today are
republishing his works. He was a Catholic, like Tolkien, and a
brilliant writer. After World War II, the politically correct
crowd dismissed Hilaire Belloc, so he was roundly criticized for
his anti-Islam stance. But he had more historical knowledge of
Islam than probably anybody else.
von Buseck: Today you hear Osama bin Laden and other radical Muslims refer to the Americans and the British as 'The Crusaders.' It's a semantic tool that they use to reinforce the idea and to indoctrinate the young.
Dr. Baehr: Before the 1870s, there was a much clearer history on what Islam was and what their position was. But for the last one hundred years, Islam has been beating Christendom down with this false historical revisionism that the Crusaders were the problem. It started off within the intellectual community in Islam and it has become very accepted in the West -- which it shouldn't have been. It didn't exist before the 1860s and '70s, it's not widespread before that. It's a recent phenomenon and it's a completely false impression of what the Crusaders were doing.
von Buseck: My observation is that there seems to be a lot of self-hate in western society that has been presented from the secular-humanist camp. You're saying that the Muslims have used the same weapon over the last one hundred years. On college campuses today you often hear that Christians are bad, and the Crusades were bad, and the West is bad. We saw this in the Cold War when anybody spoke out against the evils of Communism. Then when the Iron Curtain fell and we heard first-hand testimony of the persecution and horrors that people faced under that system then suddenly the intellectuals said, 'Well, in this case, maybe the West isn't so bad.' Do you find in your experience as well?
Dr. Baehr: Yes. Most of the self-hate that has come in to the Western World derives from a rejection of Christianity. Jesus says it plainly, 'If they persecuted Me, they're going to persecute you. If they deny Me, they're going to deny you.' You know, God has no grandchildren. The Church goes forward as the Church Triumphant. Now, Jesus won the victory on the cross and He can never lose the victory. That's done once and for all. But we are His hands and feet and he calls us and gives us the great grace to go forward and spread His gospel. Unfortunately we live in a period where we have retreated from being effective. God always says, 'I want to prosper you.' But when I do, you forget Me -- you forget the poor, the homeless, the needy. And then the judgement takes place, almost as if you are stewing in the juice of your own sins -- not because God wanted to punish you, but because we're foolish enough to follow after false gods. We forget God. And we're at a state for the last one hundred years where prosperity has produced a condition where we're stewing in the juice of our own sins. We're really in Romans, chapter one. You read Romans one and you've almost read the New York Times history of the last fifty years.
von Buseck: What kind of reverberations do you see 'The Kingdom of Heaven' having in our culture?
Baehr: First place, the director of this movie is a conservative
and a nice guy. Hollywood is courting the church. Part of the
reason is that for many years, we have been doing an economic
analysis showing that movies with Christian content do better
at the box office. When we started there was only one percent
-- now there is 45 percent of the movies. This is a heavy-duty
job of courting the church. Several consultants have been hired
by Hollywood to get the church involved in this movie.
The sad part is that the church doesn't know whether this is revisionist history or not. The church doesn't know the truth in this case. It is not a bad movie. It is not a movie that attempts to do bad things. But it's a movie that comes to a wrong-headed conclusion. If the church is just duped by this -- and there are many people who come to mind right now that will be easily duped by it -- then we're going to be set back to the same old problem that we're filled with self-hatred; that everybody has to live together in harmony; that everybody has to forget their religious roots; and you have to stop trying to evangelize and stop trying to change the Muslims and we have to apologize to them. At that point we're just going down the tubes and falling into the arms of a very corrupted, demonic religion.
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For more from Dr. Ted Baehr see www.MovieGuide.org.
More from CBN.com's In-depth look at the Crusades
More Church History on the Spiritual Life Channel
More from Craig von Buseck on CBN.com
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