This holy week have not been seen parading the streets, images of Christ crucified and in the temples, nor have they sounded the prayers of the faithful crying out for the eternal life promised by that sacrifice. However, the greatest pandemic the who has records has not been able to disrupt, at least for the moment, the strong braid of moral values on which rests our civilization, many of which, according to the british historian Tom Holland (Wiltshire, United Kingdom, 1968), have their root in christianity. With the dedication of the taxidermist, the researcher desmadeja and classifies the strands of that braid ethics and cultural ‘Domain’ (Attic books), an essay that is not read as a treatise on religion, but as “the best story ever told”.
– Why is defined as well the history of christianity?
-Judge for yourself. This is the story of a man who dies in the worst way imaginable, crucified, humiliated as a slave, without dignity, and that, after a time, ends up being praised as a god by the same imperial system that had tortured and put on foot a system of values that endures for two thousand years. I can’t think of a more fascinating history.
– Why it is encouraged to talk about it?
-What moved me to carry out this research was the contradiction that was continuously in my work. As a historian of the classical world, I feel closer to Pontius Pilate than of Jesus of Nazareth. The stories of the greeks and the romans always seemed to me more interesting than those of the christians, and their gods, much more seductive. However, I saw the more I knew of them, the more strange seemed their moral standards. Some I came to give fear. Until I discovered that the fault was of christianity.
– What of christianity?
-I realized that my view is conditioned by the values that I have absorbed since childhood, and that part of me without giving me account. I’m not talking about something personal, but a cultural reality. From the family to sex, from the customs to the social order, everything around us is marked by this influence. To explain this, I use the simile of the fish tank. If the society in which we live in is a fishbowl and we’re the fish, christianity is the water in which we swim. It has shaped our modern mentality since the parameters of moral or intellectual.
it has made our
the modern mentality since the parameters of moral or intellectual”
– What are those christian values that he refers to?
-This is not of faith, but of ethical principles. In essence there are two. One comes from Genesis and is the idea that men and women have been created in the image and likeness of God, that we are all equal and each one has its own dignity that must be respected. This had not existed in Rome prior to Jesus, nor in Greece, but is at the basis of many of the revolutions that were there centuries later. The other great christian value that endures has to do with the cross.
– What is with the cross?
-Jesus said that the last on Earth will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven, and this became a reality in the cross, which is the element that symbolizes that the weak can become the powerful. This idea is extremely revolutionary and permeates our culture to an extent imperceptible. The belief that through sacrifice one can improve life and change the order of things has been one of the engines that has been done to advance our civilization. That’s why I say that christianity has been the revolution more radical of the story.
– And do not believe that these values transcend to the christian and would have guided our culture, though christianity would not have proclaimed?
-That we will never know. The only thing we know is that this conception of fraternal and egalitarian of the human being did not exist before Jesus. Selfishness is part of our instinct from the night of the times. In fact, the logic of darwinian says that the strong destroys the weak to improve the species. In that sense, christianity was a strange mutation of that gene.
– To what extent can the development of history has reinforced the influence of christianity in the world?
-One of the greatest achievements of christianity has been its ability to reinvent itself, and that their values continue shaping the world. He did so at the end of the Roman Empire, in the Middle Ages, the protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment and even the French Revolution, which was inspired by principles purely christian.
-In the NINETEENTH century, Darwin revealed the origin of species, Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God and Marx said that religion is the opium of the people. The TWENTIETH century was founded on secular principles. How have you been able to endure those christian values?
-Let me warn you that ‘Capital’ of Marx is full of references, inspired by christianity, such as the idea that the righteous will inherit the land and that it should be the property of the one who sacrificed for her. Nietzsche had read Darwin when he proclaimed that the strong should triumph over the weak, but this thought led to nazism, which is the model most anti-christian that exists. Its expression in hitler’s Germany ended up reinforcing the christianity, because it has allowed us to visualize that which must not be ever.
– Why christianity has managed to prevail, their values and other religions have not had the same luck?
-Judaism, hinduism, buddhism or confucianism has never intended that its principles are universal. Islam yes. In that sense, islam is the twin, and rival, of christianity, but this has been more and more skillful to the hour to reform and adapt to the different historical scenarios, to ensure that their values are perceived as universal even by non-christians. Christianity is not only a religion and a set of moral principles. It has also been a system of power over the story.
-In his book he says that the ‘All you need is love’ by the Beatles is an expression of the triumph of christian values, statement when less daring.
-In its historic journey, christianity has been incorporating influences of all kinds and has adapted to different circumstances. His last great mutation occurred in the 60s of the last century, and was expressed through the constellation of movements of liberation and social justice that erupted in that moment, from feminism to the claim of the human rights of the gay community. Luther King, who was a priest, a baptist, said: if we are all equal before God, blacks and whites have the same rights. The brotherly love of the hippy movement is the same as that proclaimed by Jesus.
mutation of christianity
it has been with movements
– How do you walk in those values today?
-Christianity is now facing a dilemma. On the one hand, it inspires movements of sisterhood and personal liberation. On the other, appears to be associated to the thinking conservative politician, who is opposed to such progress. This paradox has many expressions, from the struggle for gay marriage to the challenge of the immigration crisis. Merkel opened the doors of Germany, inspired by the christian principles with which she grew up, as the parable of the good samaritan. In contrast, Viktor Orbán closed Hungary to migrants, alleging that he was afraid of losing his christian identity. This has already happened in Spain in the civil war.
– What are you talking about?
-The republicans were against the church, but the social justice, which claimed it was of christian inspiration. In contrast, Franco was very catholic, but at the same time defended the fascism and to Hitler, that is the antithesis of christianity. This contradiction continues today in places like the united States. Trump is the president than a christian who has had that country, but it gathers the support of millions of voters who declare themselves christians.
– What future holds to christianity?
-It is difficult to know. Despite the secularism prevailing, christianity continued to gain adherents in Africa and Latin America and remains the creed with the largest following on the planet, but it is likely that the West has come to its natural end. This does not mean that their values disappear. Christianity fulfilled the mission to proclaim them and to propagate them and already part of the universal culture.
Born and raised in the county of Wiltshire, between Oxford and Bristol, his great love for children were the dinosaurs, until he discovered the classical world and decided to steer towards this field … your academic training. After graduating in English and Latin at Queen’s College Cambridge, and a phd in Ancient History at the University of Oxford.
After writing several novels of gothic horror, focused on historical research. He is the author of several essays of great sales success, as ‘Rubicon: the last years of the roman Republic’, ‘Fire Persian’, on the wars of greeks and persians, or ‘Millennium. The end of the world and the origin of christianity’.
He has presented and directed various documentaries and history programs on the BBC and Radio 4. It is a fanatical cricket player and an active user of Twitter, where he has 160.000 followers. Live in the london neighbourhood of Brixton with his wife, their two daughters and their cat.