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Book Review: Dominion, by Tom Holland

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020

[ intro only by Charles Cameron — I’m delighted to welcome blog-friend Dr Omar Ali, who here reviews Tom Holland‘s book, Dominion — no, it’s not about Rushdoony-style Dominionism. This review was originally posted in our companion blog, Brownpundits !
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Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World
Tom Holland
Basic Books
ISBN-13: 978-0465093502
$22.97 at Amazon
Brownpundits / Zenpundit Review by Dr Omar Ali

^^

Tom Holland started off writing vampire novels but moved on to non-fiction and has since written an excellent history of the Persian invasion of Greece, several books about the Romans, one about Islam and one about the slow rise of Christian Europe that started around 1000 AD; in retrospect at least, all his non-fiction books have had a hint of Christian Western European apologetics (some of it is probably well deserved reaction to the excesses of contemporary wokeness) but this book makes it explicit. Dominion is well written and well researched and he does make a lot of effort to include the nasty bits of Christian history, but in the end it IS a work of Christian apologetics, albeit from a modern liberal angle. Tom Holland’s basic thesis is that almost the entire set of “humanist” values modern liberals take for granted (universal human equality and dignity, separation of church and state, care for the weaker sections of society, suspicion of power, privilege and wealth, condemnation of slavery, cruelty and oppression, valorization of the weak and downtrodden, etc) is purely Christian in origin. No other civilization or culture had these values (or at least, foregrounded them in quite the same way as Christianity). For example, while some thinkers have always been unhappy with slavery, the abolition of slavery was a Christian effort through and through. True, the slave owners had their own Biblical justification for slavery, but those who opposed them did so on the basis of their Christian beliefs, and they won the argument.

Holland also insists that the most viciously anti-Christian progressive thinkers of the post-enlightenment era also turn out be using Christian values to attack Christianity. When Marx cries out against the oppression of the proletariat or Lennon sings “all you need is love”, they are really being more Christian than most Christians. Since Nietszche thought something similar (that liberalism is “Christianity without Christ”), he gets a lot of positive play in this book, which is a bit ironic, since he also regarded Christianity as something of a disease.

As expected, the book is well written and stylish, sometimes with too much style; I am not picky about such things but some readers may tire of all his little reveals (a new character is discussed without being named for a few lines, giving readers the opportunity to guess who he or she is, then revealed; this is done in practically every chapter). He has done his research and as far as I could tell, there were no glaring errors of fact. But while he is scrupulous about his facts, he is not shy of cherry picking and framing to fit his thesis. Nero is a pagan monster who killed his own wife and mother; Constantine, the first Christian emperor, also viciously killed his wife and son, but that does not reflect badly on Christianity. Terrible and cruel punishments in pagan Rome are a sign of paganism’s shorcomings, but terrible and cruel punishments inflicted by inquisitors and priests (and described in horrifying detail in this book) are not Christian shorcomings (the thought is that eventually Christian Europe gave them up; why they were given up in a time of anti-clerical and even anti-Christian upheaval and not when the Church was at its mightiest, is assigned to Christian values taking 1800 years to make their mark, and then doing so surreptitiously). By the time the book gets to the modern world the thesis really begins to look like one of those Hindutvvadi posts about how everything was invented in India; no matter what any activists themselves may say, Tom Holland knows their beliefs and motivations are entirely Christian. This is probably partly true, but leaves open the question of where Christianity itself comes from. Unless one believes the Son of God thing, the explanation is likely to be that some mix of human nature and human history created Christianity, just at it created every other ideology. So why stop at Paul (or Christ if you prefer)? Everythying in this world seems to be derived from some combination of earlier things, why not Christianity? And why believe that the same results would not have arisen (somewhere, at some point) even if there had never been a Christ or a Paul? Maybe those impulses are also human universals, and can and do arise repeatedly, not just as an episode in the history of Jewish superstition? And of course there is always the possibility that some of this progress is not really progress at all, but a mistake. Especially with the “woke”, it is by no means universally agreed that they are a good thing, so crediting all of their values to Christ may not be a winning move for Christianity.

Anyway, I don’t find his thesis completely wrong; the tension between certain Christian values and various vicious aspects of Christian society is real and those values did lead some Christians to take up the cause of diverse oppressed groups, most spectacularly and successfully, against slavery. Economic explanations of why the British empire not only abolished slavery but expended diplomatic capital, real money and military might to stop the trade of slaves by others, are not sufficient, and are an insult to the memory of countless Quakers and other good Christians who made it their life’s work to fight the good fight and succeeded to the point that no modern society regards slavery as an acceptable institution anymore. But Holland insists that Christianity is the ONLY source of most of our modern liberal notions, which seems a bit of a strech. It is also not a unique claim. In fact, there are books written about how the Jews created modern rights, or Islam did, or for that matter, the Native Americans did; and of course Sufis take TomHollandism to another level, with a secret brotherhood using everyone from Abraham and Moses to Ghazali and Rumi to insert progressive ideas into human culture. But the most glaring omission in this book is the “Eastern Religions”; the entire book start and ends in the Middle East and Western Europe (Eastern Christianity gets no love either) and the ideas of India and China are dismissed practically without examination. Mahavir, Buddha, the authors of the Upanishads, the philosophers and thinkers of China, none find any mention in this book or get any credit for any human advance. On the other hand, the Christian West did have a disproportionate role in creating the modern world (for better and for worse), so he does have a case, but maybe not as strong a case as advertised.

But irrespective of what you think of his basic thesis, the book is still a great read. Tom Holland writes well, reads widely and has an eye for fascinating anecdotes that every reader can enjoy even if he or she does not agree with the underlying thesis. In fact, if you do NOT agree with this thesis you should especially read the book to see how well your preferred theory stands up against a well written Christian version. If he is wrong, why is he wrong? Trying to answer that question should be a fruitful exercise for anyone. Well worth reading.

QUOTES

“It is the audacity of it—the audacity of finding in a twisted and defeated corpse the glory of the creator of the universe—that serves to explain, more surely than anything else, the sheer strangeness of Christianity, and of the civilization to which it gave birth. Today, the power of this strangeness remains as alive as it has ever been. It is manifest in the great surge of conversions that has swept Africa and Asia over the past century; in the conviction of millions upon millions that the breath of the Spirit, like a living fire, still blows upon the world; and, in Europe and North America, in the assumptions of many more millions who would never think to describe themselves as Christian. All are heirs to the same revolution: a revolution that has, at its molten heart, the image of a god dead on a cross.”

“In a city famed for its wealth, Paul proclaimed that it was the ‘low and despised in the world, mere nothings, who ranked first. Among a people who had always celebrated the agon, the contest to be the best, he announced that God had chosen the foolish to shame the wise, and the weak to shame the strong. In a world that took for granted the hierarchy of human chattels and their owners, he insisted that the distinctions between slave and free, now that Christ himself had suffered the death of a slave, were of no more account than those between Greek and Jew.”

Religion meets the coronavirus #13

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — this last weekend was Eid al-Fitr for Muslims, Memorial Day Weekend for those of us in the USA, we have CDC’s suggestions for places of worship, an Indian Muslim reading of the Gazwa e-Hind, and much more — enjoy! ]
.

The other day, I overheard a Joel Osteen sermon, which included the following:

Have you ever tried something and got the results you wanted and then tried the same thing again and got different results? This happened to Moses in the Bible. They needed water and God told Moses to strike the rock. He struck the rock and water flowed out freely. Another time they needed water again, and God told Moses, “Speak to the rock.” Do you know what Moses did? He went over and struck the rock. He thought, “Hey, it worked last time. It’ll work this time.” But it didn’t. God had a different plan.

The point is that we have to stay open and make adjustments to stay in tune with God’s plan. You can do the same thing the same way you did last time and get different results. It may not be something major, but like Moses, maybe it’s just something small. Sometimes a small tweak, a small adjustment can make a major difference in the outcome.

Joel was suggesting the coronavirus may be a “downtime” while God is installing new software in us, requiring a reboot — and Moses trying the old, successful way when God had installed new software in him was the reason why he failed on the second occasion. Osteen again:

Today, make sure you aren’t doing things just because it’s the way you always did it before. Instead, listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit of God inside. Follow His leading and stay in sync with the wonderful plan He has for you!

**

Still on Christianity, here’s a fascinating excerpt from a longer piece:

  • Ng Zhi-wen, Novel Coronavirus: Lessons on radical charity from the early Church
  • The Antonine Plague (c 165 – 180)

    In the Ancient History Encyclopaedia, John Horgan, an assistant professor of History at Concordia University-Wisconsin, noted: “The effect of the illness was not confined to the military and economy. Marcus Aurelius launched persecutions against Christians who refused to pay homage to the gods which, the emperor believed, in turn angered the gods whose wrath made itself known in the form of a devastating epidemic.

    “Ironically the anti-Christian attacks produced the opposite effect amongst the general population.

    “Unlike adherents to the Roman polytheistic system, Christians believed in an obligation to assist others in a time of need, including illness. Christians were willing to provide the most basic needs, food and water, for those too ill to fend for themselves.

    “This simple level of nursing care produced good feelings between Christians and their pagan neighbours. Christians often stayed to provide assistance while pagans fled. Furthermore, Christianity provided meaning to life and death in times of crisis.”

    Self-sacrificing love isn’t limited to Christians — but today as in the time of Marcus Aurelius, we should stand in awe of its heroic beauty. – I’d say the whole of this essay is very well worth your attention.

    **

    Turning to Islam:

    I posted this in Coronavirus meets extremism, but it belongs here as well.. the clear Islamic rhetoric..

  • Brad Hunter, ISIS, al-Qaida commandeer COVID-19 as a ‘soldier of Allah’
  • ISIS and al-Qaida claim that the virus and ensuing global pandemic are retribution on the wicked West, courtesy of God.

    In typical, flowery al-Qaida style, the death cult released a statement.

    “Allah, the Creator, has revealed the brittleness and vulnerability of your material strength,” reads the maniacal missive. “It is now clear for all to see that it was but a deception that could not stand the test of the smallest soldier of God on the face of the Earth.”

    **

    On a hopefully positive note: Taliban & Kashmir: The taliban reaffirm their interests extending only to the boundaries of the present state of Afghanistan, and their acceptance of India’s claim to Kashmir:

  • WION, Taliban acknowledges Kashmir internal matter of India after fake tweets

    After fake tweets emerged attributing to the Taliban, the group has clarified that it Kashmir is India’s internal matter and they don’t support any Pakistani style “Ghazwa-E-Hind” or Holy war against India.

  • **

    Ghazwa-e-Hind??

    I wrote several posts about the Ghazwa a while back, noting that the relevant hadith explicitly proposed an army with black banners sweeping victoriously from Khorasan {roughly, Afghanistan] down to Jerusalem, accompanied by a second thrust, the Ghazwa, sweeping from Khorasan again, down into India. Some examples::

  • One hadith, one plan, one video, and two warnings
  • So many browser tabs, so little time
  • Pakistan’s Strategic Mummery
  • Khorasan to al-Quds and the Ghazwa-e-Hind
  • Current discussions elsewhere, including that of the Jamiat {see below], seem to take the term more literally as meaning “raid” and thus more general in application than the Khorasan hadith.

    **

    Islamic Theology, the Jamiat version thereof:

  • The Print, Everyone misinterprets Ghazwa-e-Hind, but a Jamiat scholar explains what it really means
  • From Pakistan’s JeM to Veena Malik, from Times Now to Tarek Fateh, everyone has been invoking Ghazwa-e-Hind recently.

    There’s a phrase that Pakistani militant leaders have used against India for decades – Ghazwa-e-Hind or a holy raid of India. Ghazwa in Arabic implies a war that is guided by faith rather than materialistic or territorial gains and is widely attributed to an Islamic concept derived from the hadiths — a set of sayings by Prophet Mohammad. The phrase is used refer to Muslim warriors conquering the Indian subcontinent. [ .. ]
    .
    Now, ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’ has made a noisy return among scholars, security analysts and rabble-rousers, especially after the Narendra Modi government’s action on Article 370 and Pakistan’s isolation in the international theatre. [ .. ]
    .
    But what has gone largely unnoticed is that the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a leading body of Muslims in India, has already called out the error in this popular interpretation. The group has supported the government’s decision on Kashmir.
    .
    Maulana Mufti Salman Mansoorpuri, a Jamiat scholar, insisted late last year that Pakistan has been erroneously and mischievously linking the term to their rift with India.

    The Maulana, remember, is speaking from within an Indian context: this no doubt influences his interpretation of the situation.

    **

    China vs India:

    When I say I study religions, I mean I study the intersection of cultural anthropology, comparative religion, & depth psychology — areas where depth drivers for surface events are visible — hence my interest in Michael Vlahos‘ work in general and today:

    M Vlahos, How China Can Beat The U.S. Without Firing A Shot

    **

    Islam in India, it was Eid al-Fitr over the weekend, and that means feeding the poor:

  • New Indian Exporess, World’s largest Eid feast: Michelin-star chef Vikas Khanna to feed 1.75 lakh people in Mumbai
  • That’s 175,000 people fed, a lakh being a hundred thousand. And it’s to be done ” while adhering to all guidelines of social distancing”.

    **

    There’s the cleaning of the Ganges that’s resulting from a drop in the number of cremations In Varanasi:

  • Deccan Chronicle, Coronavirus caused lockdown is healing the holy Ganga
  • **

    And finally, dated Saturday 23rd, this from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • CDC< Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith
  • Enough: I’m exhausted.

    Eclipsing the Sun, and reaching the Limit, in religious texts

    Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

    [ by Charles Cameron — two footnotes in the study of religions ]
    .

    There are plentiful references in prophetic and apocalyptic writings to eclipses of the sun, but I’d like to suggest that religious texts suggest an alternative to darkness as the result of a solar eclipse — the “divine light” knowwn to mystics.

    Thus in the commentary to Howard Schwartz‘ novella The Four Who Entered Paradise we find:

    It is significant that elsewhere this primordial light is said to have had the power to “eclipse the light of the sun,” just as the primordial Adam was so splendorous as to “eclipse the light of the sun.” And in size this primordial Adam extended “from one end of the universe to the other,” like the light that enabled him to see “from one end of the universe to the other.”

    When we read “signs of the times” which include eclipses of the sun, we might do well to remember this possible interpretation, referring to a spiritual rather than a physical eclipse.

    Consider, for instance Revelation 21.23:

    And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

    **

    Likewise, the Prophet Muhammadwas was enabled to see Jibril at the lote tree, which marks the farthest boundary near the garden, the boundary beyond which human knowing, physical and spiritual, cannot penetrate, beyond which Jibril dare not fly lest his wings burn. Sura 53. 10-18:

    So did Allah convey the inspiration to His Servant what He (meant) to convey.
    The heart in no way falsified that which he saw.
    Will ye then dispute with him concerning what he saw?
    For indeed he saw him at a second descent,
    Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass:
    Near it is the Garden of Abode.
    Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!)
    (His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong!
    For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest!

    Muhammad also visits “the farthest mosque” — but being unable to recall its details, is given another vision of it, from which he is able to describe it…

    Coronavirus meets religion #1

    Monday, March 16th, 2020

    [ by Charles Cameron — a quick miscellany ]
    .

    The Vatican:

    Starting fairly near home, depending on your flavor of the local religion, the Pope in Rome lives in the Vatican — an independent absolute monarchy wholly enclosed by Italy, and unable to escape the virus sweeping its host nation. The Vatican has now reported its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.

    The Pope, accordingly, has delivered his usual public Sunday Mass by video conference, and instructed the pries of the Catholic Church to attend to those affected by tea coronavirus.

    Islam:

    The Kaaba in Mecca, usually crammed with pilgrims, is almost completely empty.

    The Shiite regime in Tehran has declared that that medical work is jihad — struggle, typically “in the way of Allah. The Mullah Khamenei:

    I have already sincerely thanked physicians, nurses and medical teams, but I deem it necessary to thank all those dear ones once more. Certain phenomena were witnessed these days which are really and truly instructive for all of us and which indicate the sense of responsibility of our medical staff and their human and religious commitment in the country.

    India:

    Put face-masks on the gods / “idols”. This one’s Shiva, from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi:

    **

    Sending my best wishes to all..

    Two very different pieces of possible interest

    Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

    [ by Charles Cameron — one for those who follow apocalyptic strands in RL and media, one for those who follow Vimalakirti, Heraclitus and the Glass Bead Game — recommended ]
    .

    Tim Furnish reviews the Netflix series, Messiah:

    An Iraqi Refugee Trained in Illusion Who Works Miracles — Christ or Anti? Masih or Dajjal? That’s the situation posed by the Netflix series, Messiah, and it’s presented with sufficient subtlety that the answer’s not as obvious as it may seem from that quick condensation — and indeed, at the end of the series, there’s still sufficient ambiguity to keep you guessing, and the producers in line for a renewed contract and second series..

    It’s not quite subtle enough to please our friend Tim Furnish, however, who gives a fine overview of the series, then takes the details of eschatological hadith and Biblical writings a step further into accuracy, and thus depth. His opening paragraphs:

    “One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.” That’s the opening line of my first book on Islamic messianic figures. It’s also an apt summary of Netflix’s excellent new show Messiah. Its 10-episode first season was released on Jan. 1. Let’s hope it gets renewed. We need to know how this story of a charismatic Middle Eastern miracle worker, who not only attracts Christians, Muslims and Jews but sways the U.S. President, plays out. Here’s a brief (as possible) summary.

    A Modern-Day Messiah?

    A long-haired, thinly bearded man appears in Damascus and accurately predicts the destruction of besieging ISIS forces. Many Palestinians there follow him into the desert, believing him to be al-Masih, “The Messiah.” He leads them to the Israeli border. The movement gets on the CIA’s radar screen. The group reaches the Israeli border, and al-Masih crosses. He’s arrested and interrogated by a Shin Bet agent, about whom he knows personal details. He then disappears from prison (later we find out the prison guard let him go, believing him the Messiah) and reappears on the Temple Mount. In a confrontation near the Dome of the Rock, Israeli soldiers shoot a young boy — whom al-Masih heals. He then disappears again, showing up soon after in Dilley, Texas. He is caught on cell phone cameras stopping a tornado about to destroy the Baptist church. This goes viral and many flock to the town. The church pastor believes him to be Jesus returned and becomes his spokesman and handler.

    Well there’s plenty more, obviously, and I highly recommend Tim’s commentary — they should have hired him as a consultant.

    To read more, go to Netflix’s Messiah Reviewed: Who’s Your Messiah Now?

    **

    Very different indeed is JustKnecht‘s exquisite weaving of ideas around Basho, Vimalakirti and a whiff of Chick Corea in his Notes on a winter journey to the interior, subtitled (and subtled) “on a treadmill facing north” — the reference is to Basho‘s Narrow Road to the Deep North which you really ought to know already.

    And that’s a bit of a point. You really ought to know already: Basho and Vimalakirti, Heraclitus and Tamsin Lorraine, heaven and earth, and as it is in heaven, so it already and always is on earth, for as above, so below.

    For myself, I know each of these with glancing blows, while JustKnecht knows each in depths I cannot match. Reading the whole is, for me, a sustained flight in the Absolute as viewed through thr world’s cultures, with butterflies a particular point of reference — and a long-tailed bired in seven syllables that’s almost an angel — or an apsara?. — ah, peacocks, too.

    In any case, an education — and a delight.

    Late afternoon, cooling down after a hard run in the condo gym, Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly breezes onto my playlist. We breathe together deeply, and I don’t know whether it is I dreaming that I am the bass clarinet, or the bass clarinet dreaming that it is I.

    The music and the vision fades, and I’m sitting in my armchair doing mental exercise. From high school trombonists and collegiate level cello students to elite athletes and surgeons, cognitive rehearsal in the absence of physical movement has been shown to improve physical performance. In the same way, listening to one of my 5K run playlists gives me a perfectly good workout without the inconvenience of even moving a muscle.

    Reade more: Notes on a winter journey to the interior — ah yes, the interior!

    Thank you: I bow .


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