As we drive around town on errands, we've been listening to the best audio book I've ever encountered: Story of the World (vol. 2). I am learning so much and it is prompting great conversations with my girls. Today, on a short drive to the store, we discussed slavery (question from K) and how to know which side is the right side in a conflict (B's question).
K's question about slavery came not long after we started listening to a story about Peter the Hermit who led the People's Crusade. (It was wildly unsuccessful and the few who survived to make it to Constantinople were made slaves.) When I turned off the CD to answer her question, B said, "Oh! Can I explain?" So B and A told K about slavery and why it's wrong. I love that they understand concepts well enough to explain them to their younger sister and I love that K is listening to this text that is fairly well above her learning level and still asking us to explain portions of it to her. After our discussion on slavery, we continued listening to the story of the Crusades.
The story of the First Crusade went unremarked - even when we got to the part where the Crusaders kill every living person in Jerusalem when they capture the city. It was when we were listening to the story of Saladin - who fought against the crusaders on subsequent crusades - that B asked, "Is he evil?" For those of you unfamiliar with Saladin (as I was prior to today), he was a Muslim warrior who fought to reclaim Jerusalem for the Muslim empire. He did so with noble ways - he treated his warriors with respect, he gave away nearly all of his earnings to the poor, he prayed five times daily - in short, he lived an exemplary life with the aim of furthering his faith. So when B said, "Is he evil?" I was surprised. Nothing we had heard about Saladin gave any indication that he was evil.
Me: "Does he sound evil?"
B: "Well, no. I'm just trying to figure out which side is good."
A: "I think both sides are bad. All they want to do is fight."
Me: "They just said that when the Christians captured Jerusalem they killed everyone - all of the Muslims and the Jews they found, even the ones who had no swords."
A: "Even women and children were killed."
B: "Christians did that? I don't like myself right now. I think I should stop listening to this and stop thinking about history so that I can like myself again."
Me: "You know, I sometimes feel that way, too. It makes me really sad all of the things that have been done to people in God's name."
What B was saying - in part - is the age old saying "ignorance is bliss." When we don't know about all of the horrendous things done in the name of Christianity, it's easier to be a Christian. The solution, for some, is to put on blinders and plow ahead, seeing only what's right before you. As you might surmise, given how much I am enjoying filling in the gaps in my history knowledge through this book, I don't believe that ignorance is bliss. Nor do I believe that turning a blind eye is the road to feeling better about myself. But I can understand a nine year old thinking that is the best solution.
It was particularly interesting to have this conversation today - on September 11 - when the thoughts and feelings of many in our country are conflicted about the Muslim faith. I've been shocked to realize how little I knew about the history of this faith as I've listened to the Story of the World. I didn't know there ever was a Muslim Empire, much less that this empire grew to be larger than the Roman Empire ever was. I didn't know that it was the Muslim warriors who taught the French and English Crusaders the value of cleanliness. There's a lot I didn't know and even more that I still don't know.
I will not rest in my ignorance. I'll keep learning - even when the learning makes me regret the mistakes I've unknowingly made or makes me re-evaluate long-held beliefs. I'll keep having tough conversations with my girls. I'll try to be honest with them when they ask a question that I can't answer. Because if they keep questioning, if I keep questioning, it can only lead to more answers, to more knowledge, to less ignorance. And that's a worthy goal.