Why Tom Holland Was Wrong About Christianity

Last week saw the UK release of the much-anticipated new volume by hotshot British historian […]

David Zahl / 9.11.19

Last week saw the UK release of the much-anticipated new volume by hotshot British historian and author Tom Holland (not that Tom Holland), Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. It arrives officially on our shores in late October with a different subtitle, How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. While we wait for our copy to arrive at Mbird HQ, one doubts we’ll get a better opportunity to revisit the remarkable column Holland penned for The New Statesman a couple years ago, “Why I Was Wrong About Christianity”. By way of context, at the time Holland was finishing publicity for his 2015 blockbuster, Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar. Get a load of this:

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable…

“We preach Christ crucified,” St Paul declared, “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” He was right. Nothing could have run more counter to the most profoundly held assumptions of Paul’s contemporaries – Jews, or Greeks, or Romans. The notion that a god might have suffered torture and death on a cross was so shocking as to appear repulsive. Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the Crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. In the ancient world, it was the role of gods who laid claim to ruling the universe to uphold its order by inflicting punishment – not to suffer it themselves.

Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.


2 responses to “Why Tom Holland Was Wrong About Christianity”

  1. David Harvey says:

    Did you see this piece he wrote last year – it follows on a little bit. https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/04/thank-god-for-western-values/?fbclid=IwAR2vqIekcvW4kaZ3ddVWlKk-pzpOmebv_ReyTJVKzg8BQyjJYfWURCdwBp0

    I read a draft of the Paul chapter of his book a while back. I’m quite excited to see how the public respond to the book. I hope Mockingbird will be doing a few follow up blogs.

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