Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World is a substantial work that makes a straightforward case. In Holland’s view, the teachings of Jesus constituted an ethical revolution that would gradually transform human consciousness, to the extent that we today find it hard to imagine credible alternative systems. When we see Christians, past or present, behaving in ways we may find abominable, in matters such as war, slavery, colonialism, or patriarchy, our disgusted attitudes must themselves be understood as products of that sweeping revolution. Without the existence of Christianity, it would not occur to us to abhor such things, whoever the perpetrators might be.
Beyond any single policy or attitude, Christianity mattered because it taught respect (or even veneration) for the poor and the oppressed. That implied the historically unprecedented exaltation of humility, forgiveness, and love. Moreover, the faith created the practical urge to offer aid and relief, to assist the poor, and (among other things) to reject infanticide. Christianity is the essential foundation of the liberal West, of democracy, and of notions of human rights. As the book’s jacket copy proclaims, “Concepts such as secularism, liberalism, science, and homosexuality are deeply rooted in a Christian seedbed. From Babylon to the Beatles, Saint Michael to #MeToo, Dominion tells the story of how Christianity transformed the world.”
Christian, or Western?
These are bold claims, to which I will certainly offer some caveats. What is not debatable is the very high quality of the book as a whole, and its appeal to anyone interested in Christian history. Rather than offering a straightforward narrative, Holland ...1
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