History

Jesus Built Western Civilization

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 10/05/2016

Tom Holland says in an article in the New Statesman that he was wrong about Christianity. It doesn’t seem he’s changed his mind about it being false; rather, it’s Christianity’s power and beauty he no longer denies, saying, “It took me a long time to realise my morals are not Greek or Roman, but thoroughly, and proudly, Christian.”

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment - that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born - increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable...

Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the Crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. In the ancient world, it was the role of gods who laid claim to ruling the universe to uphold its order by inflicting punishment - not to suffer it themselves.

Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.

When I speak to atheists who say that morals such as helping the weak are “obvious,” I know they’re wrong about this. If they were so obvious to everyone, Western civilization would not be as unique in history as it is. They are obvious to us because we’re a product of our culture, and our culture is a product of Christianity, and Christianity is the worship of Jesus.

Jesus was the one who, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,” leaving His perfect comfort to suffer and die for us. Us! Jesus was the one who washed His disciples’ feet and said, “[T]he one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant...I am among you as the one who serves.” Jesus was the one who invited little children and blind people to come to Him, even as others tried to shoo them away as a waste of His time.

Jesus radically changed the world. We take the ideas of our society for granted, and we assume they’ll always be there. But the most beautiful ideas of our culture came from Jesus, and they won’t survive here for long without Him.

Read the rest of Tom Holland’s article, “Why I Was Wrong about Christianity.”