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An historian and author of numerous books has penned a compelling new work in defense of Christianity, arguing the faith is the difference between barbarism and civilization.
Oh, and he's an atheist.
British historian Tom Holland does not have the supernatural gift of faith. Nor does he pretend to. Yet, Holland knows there would be no United States or Western Civilization as we know it — no personal freedom, human rights, or any semblance of equality or respect for human dignity — without Christianity. In fact, he admits ironically, there would be no liberal Left using the categories and moral language gained by Christianity to condemn Christianity.
As a lover of history, Holland was intrigued by the ancient pagan world, romanticizing its power and grandeur. But he came to realize the ancients were cruel, and their values utterly foreign to him. "When I came to start my writing career," he said, "I wrote books on what I was most interested in, which was the Greek and the Roman world. But the experience of having to live in the minds of Greeks and Romans for years at a time, made me come to realize that actually, they were very alien and very terrifying."
The Spartans routinely murdered "imperfect" children. The bodies of slaves were treated like objects for the physical pleasure of those in power. Infanticide was common. The poor and the weak were afforded no rights. And so the author wondered, "How did we get here from there?" For Holland, it was a no-brainer: Christianity.
In his new book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, Holland explores how Christianity transformed a barbarous world of might-makes-right into a civilized one that attempts to respect the dignity of all people. He found that Christianity particularly revolutionized sex and marriage, demanding that men control themselves and prohibiting all forms of rape.
Holland observed that Christianity confined sexuality to within monogamy and in turn saw how much it elevated women. "Christianity gave women a dignity that no previous sexual dispensation had offered," he said. It is ironic, he notes, that these are now the very standards for which Christianity is derided today.
Holland uses the Nazis as an example of a regression back to the mentality of pre-Christian thinking. Hitler and his henchmen believed they were doing the right thing by ridding the world of what they deemed "undesirables." "If you look at the course of history," says Holland, "people instinctively feel most comfortable with people who are like themselves."
"The great foundational texts of Christianity are opposed to this," continued Holland. "Paul says that there is no Jew or Greek, i.e., there is no black or white. There is no Englishman or Indian. They're all kind of essentially one. We're all created equally in the image of God, there is a set core equality." This notion, that all human beings are equal in dignity, is specifically Christian, he stresses.
"I think the idea that those from the bottom of the pile have a kind of moral stature that those at the top don't is again part of the Christian air that we in the West breathe," he explains. "I think the idea that there is a brotherhood of man is not something that comes naturally to people [but is distinctive to the Christian world]... up until the Second World War, the great moral figure in the West, even if you were an atheist, was Jesus," he said.
Our moral compass, our sense of "good" comes from Christianity whether we realize it or not, Holland insists. He fears, however, that we are losing that basic sense that has permeated Western culture. Nonetheless, Holland notes that popular culture still rises up with trends that point to the Christian "oxygen" that remains in the air. "As I began the book, I was thinking, well, essentially the whole Christian sexual morality in the West has gone. But then while I was writing it, the Harvey Weinstein episode happened."
"What was interesting about that and the whole Me Too movement, which followed it, was that nobody said, well, what's wrong with a very powerful man sexually abusing his social inferiors," he said. "And the Me Too movement depended for its effectiveness not just on women accepting its premises but men," explained Holland.
Though morals have regressed and followed another path for the past half century, underneath it all, the Christian fabric that keeps civilization from completely disintegrating is still prevalent in many areas.