The Religion That Remade the World

Feb 12, 2024 by

by John F Doherty, Public Discourse:

Tom Holland raises many important questions about the connection between Christianity and contemporary Western civilization. All Westerners, be they Christian or not, would do well to consider his insights.

Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World has become an important apologia for Christianity in our times. Four years after publication, the book, whose author is sympathetic to Christianity but not exactly a Christian, continues to help Christian and non-Christian Westerners appreciate the biblical roots of their civilization. It even recently helped prominent atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali convert to Christianity. Holland’s history is not perfect, but it is worth reading for anyone concerned about the future of our society.

Western Civilization Is Inescapably Christian

The thesis of Dominion, like that of Christopher Dawson’s Progress and Religion, is that the Enlightenment’s account of “progress” is a myth. Everything on which modern Westerners pride themselves—the separation of politics from religion, respect for the dignity of each human being, and a zeal to eradicate injustice—traces its origins not to secular reason and science, but to the Christian faith.

The concept of human rights started not in revolutionary politics but in the canon law of the medieval Catholic Church—a law rooted in the belief that man is made in God’s image and that God took on human flesh in Jesus. European Christians enslaved non-Europeans, but their worship of the God-man who let himself be crucified, stung their consciences so much, or so inspired those they oppressed to revolt, that slavery and colonialism eventually died out. It was also Christianity, not 1960s feminism, that elevated women’s status in society and marriage, through the veneration of women saints like Macrina of Cappadocia, Catherine of Siena, and Mary the Mother of Jesus.

Even apparently anti-Christian Western movements are inescapably Christian. Secularism would not have been possible unless Jesus had distinguished “the things of God” from “the things of Caesar.” Disbelief in the miraculous began with Christian wonder at the wisdom of nature as God created it: why look for extraordinary interventions of God on earth when creation itself is miraculous enough? Progressivism’s zeal for social reform began in the Protestant Reformation, which itself continued the medieval clerical reform movements that were begun by Pope Gregory VII.

Along the way, Holland brings to life figures of Christian history that might seem interesting only to academics: the Donatists, Pelagius, Martin of Tours, Pope Gregory the Great, and Elizabeth of Hungary all appear from a fresh, gripping perspective. Holland also tries to be scrupulously fair to all sides of the events he recounts, as in the complicated story of Galileo: as Holland recalls, the Italian scientist’s condemnation by the Church had less to do with clerical dogmatism than with his tendency to insult others—even his highest-placed defender, the pope—and promote himself.

Read here


Related Posts


Share This