Tom Holland’s ‘Dominion’: Christianity really is keeping us radical

Scene from the Lincoln Memorial, February 15, 2019. Courtesy of Flickr / Joe Flood under Creative Commons licence Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
Scene from the Lincoln Memorial, February 15, 2019. Courtesy of Flickr / Joe Flood under Creative Commons licence Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic. https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeflood/47108279111

A few days ago I finished reading Tom Holland’s excellent new book, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. It really is worth reading if you want to understand how ideas sown at the very beginning of Christianity — the idea that all people are created equal, “Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female,” all of intrinsic worth, and that being lowly can actually be heroic — have been shaping the way we think ever since, and are still doing today.

When Dominion was released back in September, an article in the Times accompanying its release was entitled, ‘#JesusToo: Christianity is keeping us radical, says historian.’ That is a fitting summary of Holland’s thesis.

“When the Beatles boldly proclaimed, ‘All You Need is Love,’ whether they would admit it or not they were making a profoundly Christian statement. So had Augustine proclaimed back in the late Roman Empire: ‘Love, and do as you want.’”

He argues, for example, that when the Beatles boldly proclaimed, “All You Need is Love,” whether they would admit it or not they were making a profoundly Christian statement. So had Augustine proclaimed back in the late Roman Empire: “Love, and do as you want.”[1]

Or again, as he points out slightly later: When mass protests sparked by the #MeToo movement gathered in American cities, many of the protesters garbed in the red and white attire inspired by Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (recently broadcast as a drama series), they were calling for men to show sexual restraint: the very thing which Puritan preachers in the seventeenth century had called for.[2]

“The very movements in the 1960’s that sought to throw off the shackles of Christianity and return to the sexually liberated, classical age of Greece and Rome, were actually harking back to an age of male sexual predation.”

Indeed, the very movements in the 1960’s that sought to throw off the shackles of Christianity and return to a sexually liberated, classical age — the age of Greece and of Rome before Christianity came along and ruined them — were actually harking back to an age of male sexual predation and of suppression of the weaker sex.[3] It was Christianity which gave to womankind the dignity that allows women to claim self-determination over their own bodies.

Thus, Holland argues not only that Christianity has radically reshaped the way Westerners think in countless ways down the centuries — he gives a consistent stream of examples from the first century onwards — but even today, in an age in which the West has forgotten its Christian past, the ideas handed down to us by Christianity continue to breed new ideas and new movements: it really is ‘keeping us radical.’

 

Tom Holland’s Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind is available now in hardback, published by Little Brown.

 

 

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[1] Augustine, Homily on the Letter of John to the Parthians 7.8; quoted in Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Little Brown, 2019), 169.

[2] Holland, 515.

[3] Ibid.

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