Tom Holland and the legacy of christianity to the West

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Domain. A new history of christianity
Tom Holland
Translation of Joan Eloi Rock. Attic of Books. Barcelona, 2020. 624 pages. 29,90 €

The doubts of religious of Tom Holland (Oxford, 1968) began as a child, when in a children’s Bible and saw a picture of Adam and Eve appeared next to a braquiosaurio. As every young man worth his salt, he knew perfectly well that no human being had lived with the dinosaurs and the fact that your teacher does not give importance to the subject not reassured him. His departure from the christian faith was becoming stronger and when she was able to read Gibbon became convinced that the triumph of christianity was a disaster for the civilization.

His passion for dinosaurs gave way to an enthusiasm for the classical world, which has led him to write some excellent books on the achaemenid empire (Fire Persian), Julius Caesar (Rubicon) and the early roman emperors (Dynasty), all of them translated into Spanish. He realized, however, that the ethical values of Leonidas or Caesar you were completely oblivious. The classical culture of Greece and Rome did not give any value to the poor and the weak, while he himself remained attached to the ethics of the sermon on the mount. His christian faith had disappeared in adolescence, but the basis of your moral concept remained christians. And it was nothing strange, as they came to the conviction that, though the churches are nearly empty, the western society remains anchored in christian values.

That is the thesis that develops in the Domain, that will be convincing to some readers, it will seem exaggerated to others, and will cause rejection of the lot. The assertion that there are atheists or agnostics, christians can be just as offensive to many believers as it is for many who repudiate christian tradition. But agree or not, to me personally it seems to me very suggestive, the fact that a story is written from a particular approach tends to provide an added value, because it offers a criterion to select the most relevant topics and making them reflect to the reader.

Far from presenting a scholarship arid, this history of christianity is a narrative fun that runs through two thousand years

In accordance with an expression very used in English, this history of christianity provokes thought. Achieved in five hundred and fifty pages to go two thousand years of history through a clever combination of characters and episodes. Its great merit is that far from presenting a scholarship arid, gives life to the discussions that over the centuries has concerned and divided christians and allows the reader to understand the dilemmas of conceptual and moral faced by those characters are not so different from those that today are being raised about the meaning of life or of the application of the great principles of right and wrong.

In a long explanation of history through the action of the big men (along with a few women) has been abandoned, and the explanation through the analysis of social structures has not fared any better. Today are interested in the fates of women and common men, including the victims of war, intolerance, and fanaticism. However, if all human lives have an interest, the historian faces the difficulty of choosing. There is that interlace general trends and individual episodes and for this you have to have very good feather. Holland has. His style could be defined as impressionistic as it builds the overall picture of the history of christianity through the combination of multiple episodes with protagonists very specific.

Pantocrator in the abbey Italian of Sant’angelo in Formis

Some of the characters were inevitable. It would be difficult to write a history of christianity without mentioning Moses and Job, to Aristotle, to Jesus and to Mary, the Apocalypse of John, the epistles of Paul, to Gregory VII, to Thomas Aquinas, to Luther and Calvin, to Galileo, to Darwin and Nietzsche. Holland knows how to highlight the disturbing presentation of the attitude of God towards the human suffering that offers the book of Job. Gives adequate importance to Paul of Tarsus, whose letters considered to be the most influential that have ever written. Shows, instead, a surprising animosity toward Galileo. It is true that your conviction has too often been presented as the proof of a generalized hostility of the Church towards science, but it is excessive to present it as a “pamphlet of self-promotion” the text in which he described for the first time, the surface of the Moon, the moons of Jupiter and the nature of the Milky Way.

The fundamental thesis of the book in Holland is that the western view of the world has an undeniable christian foundation

Next to these large figures appear many secondary characters, sometimes very little known, and some of them admirable, which offer an image multiforme of christianity. I guess that very few spaniards have heard of Benjamin and Sarah Lay, a married quaker of tiny stature, but formidable courage at the beginning of the EIGHTEENTH century were devoted to denouncing slavery as contrary to the law of God. Was not that an isolated episode. Often forgotten is the christian origin of the concept of Human Rights and the struggle for its implementation.

Holland recalls that the violence and cruelty that accompanied the Spanish conquest in America were not at all a novelty in history. Yes it was that in Spain up voices that abuse in the name of equality between all human beings who proclaims christianity. There is no longer jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ, Paul wrote to the galatians. This does not prevented that for centuries christians persecuted jews, whether they owned slaves or restrict the rights of women, but, as highlighted by Holland, the gospel message always remained as a ferment of concern among the powerful.

Holland does not hide the dark side of christianity, which accompanied even to the great movements that sought to purify it. His fundamental thesis is, however, that the western view of the world, including the universal concept of Human Rights has an undeniable christian foundation. This raises the question of how this can be taken by those who depart from a cultural tradition different issue to which it is necessary to be optimistic, given the ability of religions to reinvent itself.