All you need is love: how the Christian revolution shaped our world
PS I feel like I'm coming down with another cold so not sure I will be able to post again this week, although I will try to send a newsletter at the very least.
The tragedy of our 21st century situation is that the moral gains of Christianity cannot be maintained without the foundation. "By whose standard?" as Pastor Doug Wilson is fond of saying. Without a profound belief in absolute divine justice, the Image of God, and that the Creator can choose to manifest Himself in weakness and humility, we are set to become far worse than pagan Romans. Pagans of old could be very cruel, but often they had a hard, stern moral outlook that could be honourable and even noble in it's own way. We will not even have that.
I think it was CS Lewis who said we would very lucky if we reverted to paganism after the decline of Christianity. Pre-Christian pagans are to moderns what naïve virgins are to embittered divorcees. Neither are married of course, but they are not the same and the latter is no improvement.
In a period of despair around age 50, I considered ditching Christianity for the cult of Athena. The academics, the arts and crafts, and the occasional armed mayhem seemed pretty appealing. Plus I've always had a thing for Odysseus.
However, Athena has no patience with failure.
Great piece and I'm going to buy the book now. Funnily enough, I'm just about to go and get baptised in the church in our village that has almost a 1000 years of history...
Holland is an excellent writer. The opening to Dominion is stunning. However, I would argue Diarmand MacCullough's Christianity, the First 3,000 years, is the better book.
I'm aware of the various angry arguments against Christianity and one can't deny the many horrors and injustices committed in the name of the faith, mostly against other Christians. But at the same time, given the context of the pagan world, Christianity was surely much better than the alternatives. And even today's secularism gives us a glimpse into an alternative world that is far less pleasant, despite all the modern conveniences and cult of progress. Christianity does force people to acknowledge the value of each human being as individuals, and when that recognition fades, humans are very quick to regress to not seeing other humans as deserving of a minimum of basic respect and dignity.
The switch from the Rome of Cincinnatus and Cicero to the Rome of the Caesars is probably more to be lamented than the switch from the Rome of the Caesars to the Rome the Popes.
And secularists’ main complaint, historically, against Christianity – the idea that everyone in a political jurisdiction should be of the same religion – was a holdover from the Roman Dominate which Constantine brought with him when he adopted Christianity.
"He dined with Jews who violated the law and talked beside wells with adulterers."
The text (John 4: 4-42) does not say the Samaritan woman was an adulteress, only that she was living with a man who was not her husband. (Today, that would simply be expected.)
I can see the thesis (that our modern liberalism comes from our earlier Christianity) and both you and Tom Holland are powerful writers. But that's not that different from the Whiggish 'arc of history' which I abhor (because something changes as part of a historical process, it doesn't follow that the change be welcome.) St Paul talked a lot of rubbish amid his 'praise of love'; I can't half-close my eyes and overlook that, or see past it. Why should I? Your faith's founding thinker used very robust language to make plain his dislike of me (language so strong that were I to use it of a co-worker, I would be sacked), so why should I bother trying to see where I might be permitted to fit into it after all? A Roman might well have 'laughed' at our obsession with racism - and we condem him for it? Local temples, local gods: citizens of somewhere, not globalist citizens of nowhere. I'd rather be ruled by Caesar than our modern, woke 'universalists', whose unexamined Lutherism makes life hell for so many citizens.
I don't think you entirely do justice to Martin Luther here (and I don't think Holland does either, from what I remember from his book). I'd recommend Peter Stanford's biography as an accessible and sympathetic biography of the father of the Reformation - and written by a Catholic, too!
Outstanding piece about an outstanding work. It struck me that, with the likely exception of those drunk on their own victimhood, we are all, at least in our heads and hearts, a mixture of Nietzsche and Paul: part axe wielding Viking, part 1 Corinthians:13. Personally, I can watch films like '300' and 'Amistad' in succession without feeling any contradiction. We scorn our Christian heritage at our peril.
Love the last lines of that piece- well done.
"Christianity’s revolutionary message lies at the heart of our cultural assumptions, especially on the – theoretically more secular – political left. Angela Merkel opened up Germany’s borders to Middle Eastern refugees for this reason."
I have no quarrel with the first sentence in principle, but anyone reading the follow-up without background knowledge would struggle to guess that Angela Merkel was the leader of a self-identified party of the centre-right. They might also assume from your phrasing that her attitudes were merely those of a secularised post-Christian, rather than someone who had declared (in 2012):
"I am a member of the evangelical church. I believe in God and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life [...] We as Christians should above all not be afraid of standing up for our beliefs."
A couple of years earlier, Merkel's response to the question of whether there had been "too much Islam" in Europe was to retort that there was “too little Christianity" and to assert that "we have too few discussions about the Christian view of mankind.”
Earlier still Merkel had argued that the EU constitution should make reference to Europe's Christian values, but the comments cited above are more assertive and suggest something more than the average cultural conservative's evocation of Christian tradition or heritage. Merkel surely does not deserve to be offered up as a representative of post-Christian cultural assumptions, when she's an actual professing and believing Christian.
I read Dominion this year- I had meant to for ages. It is a fantastic read. I do hope there is a second edition, as I think Holland passes a bit lightly over developments such as the rise of Pentecostalism
In one of the small jokes of history. The parish church in Lima Norte I attended was St Columbano. Wokeism- Atheism is like Arianism, or such. It will pass.
Wienstein did not have tens of illegitimate children did he?
I do not think it leads to fatalism. The path appears to be to discover the reality that exists beyond ego and concepts. The direct experience of the divine. This does not lead to non action but to action borne out of love rather than the desperation of the self
We are not illusions but our egoic perceptions of ourselves are. Much turns on what can and cannot be captured by conceptual thought.
Arguably, Christianity conveys the same message as all major religions. Redemption comes from the death of the ego and only from the death of the ego. The crucifixion being the Christian metaphor for this but the same idea exists in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Tantra etc.
However, what is additionally imported with Christianity, via the crucifixion scene, is that the way to kill the ego is via self abnegation i.e. through action. However there is huge risk with this from a spiritual perspective. Self abnegation ( particularly given its eye catching visibility – often gory/pornographic) can quickly become self aggrandisement/performative. A way of enhancing rather than diminishing the ego. It is precisely this that wokeism has inherited from Christianity. The opposite of redemption but with some external trappings of it.
It seems to me that the other traditions warn of this risk almost obsessively and much more tend to focus on an inner path which the Christian faith lost sight of. See e.g. cathedrals.