I’ve just finished a remarkable book. I know I spend a lot of time (and have lots of my adventures) within the pages of a good book, but this one was special, making me see the world a different way.
The argument of Tom Holland’s bestseller Dominion is that the Western mind has been so deeply tinted by the Christian faith that we can’t wash it off, and everything we touch carries the stain. Some examples:
- Atheism is a child of Christendom. The battle against superstition, against gods being everywhere, and gods for everything, goes back to the book of Genesis, was refuelled by the book of Isaiah, was clear in Paul, and emerged again in the Reformation, with the frightening statue-smashing of the reformers. (I visit my nearby Ely Cathedral and still am shocked by the damage, and this rowdy lot are evidently my spiritual ancestors.) What was the French Revolution? Christian-inspired iconoclasm clad in the garments of rationalism. It’s not that ‘pure reason’ had existed forever, bubbling under the surface somewhere, waiting to be let out. What did for the idols, what did for superstition was Christianity, and the revolutionaries just grabbed its clothes.
- Humanism is a child of Christendom. As Tom Holland points out, ‘The wellspring of humanist values lay not in reason, not in evidence-based thinking, but in history’ (p522). And in this case, the history of Christendom. The World Humanist Congress (an almost entirely Western affair) affirming in 2002, ‘the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual’ is itself a statement of pure dogma, proven neither by science nor reason, but grounded in a Christian perspective on the world. The peoples of antiquity didn’t believe it. The idea that the weak are just as valuable as the strong is a Christian idea and ideal.
- The American Constitution, for those who are interested, is a child of Christendom. Listen to this fun quote: ‘That all men had been created equal, and endowed with an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, were not remotely self-evident truths … The truest and ultimate seedbed of the American republic – no matter what some of those who had composed its founding documents might have cared to think – was the book of Genesis’ and ‘The genius of the authors of the United States constitution was to garb in the robes of the Enlightenment the radical Protestantism that as the prime religious inheritance of their fledging nation.’ (p384).
I could go on. In future blogs, I probably will.