By Jonathon Van Maren
Historian Tom Holland is known primarily as a storyteller of the ancient world. Thus, his new book Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, came as something of a surprise for several reasons. First, Tom Holland is not a Christian. Second, Holland’s book is one of the most ambitious historical defenses of Christianity in a very long time.
While studying the ancient world, Holland writes, he realized something. Simply, the ancients were cruel, and their values utterly foreign to him. The Spartans routinely murdered “imperfect” children. The bodies of slaves were treated like outlets for the physical pleasure of those with power. Infanticide was common. The poor and the weak had no rights.
How did we get from there to here? It was Christianity, Holland writes. Christianity revolutionized sex and marriage, demanding that men control themselves and prohibiting all forms of rape. Christianity confined sexuality within monogamy. (It is ironic, Holland notes, that these are now the very standards for which Christianity is derided.) Christianity elevated women. In short, Christianity utterly transformed the world.
In fact, Holland points out that without Christianity, the Western world would not exist. Even the claims of the social justice warriors who despise the faith of their ancestors rest on a foundation of Judeo-Christian values. Those who make arguments based on love, tolerance, and compassion are borrowing fundamentally Christian arguments. If the West had not become Christian, Holland writes, “no one would have gotten woke.”
Holland’s book-length defense of the belief system the elites love to despise has unsurprisingly attracted some criticism. He faced off with militant atheist and prominent philosopher A.C. Grayling on the question “Did Christianity give us our human values?” Grayling struggled to rebut Holland, sounding more petty than philosophical. Holland, on the other hand, became positively passionate in his defense of Christianity. If Western civilization is the fishbowl, he stated, then the water is Christianity.
In fact, the very critiques of those who condemn Christianity for various perceived injustices are rooted in Christian precepts.