The Making of the Western Mind Goes Back to the Cross, Says Author

By: Kristian Johnson

“To go almost on pilgrimages, to take the knee, to fill great civic centres, not just in the United States, but across the Western world. I would argue that there is nothing culturally given about this, it’s reflective of highly contingent trends that are so deep and ancient that ultimately, they go back 2000 years to that very primal image of a man tortured to death by an oppressive state apparatus. Jesus on the cross.” ~ Tom Holland

In the latest episode of his Conversations series, John Anderson speaks with Tom Holland at his home in London to discuss Dominion, his seminal history of the making of the Western mind – in which he argues that Westerners lives are marked with a distinctively Christian inheritance.

In the ancient classical world, ‘might was right’, and this was exemplified by the military triumph of Roman civilisation over most of what would later come to be known as Christendom. Humility and charity were considered contemptable – to the victor went the spoils, and that meant the right to rule over the vanquished without mercy.

Christ upended this ‘natural’ order.

And – even if along with Holland himself you don’t necessarily believe in the literal truth of Christs’ resurrection from the dead – still his tortuous death on the cross and a belief in his subsequent return from the grave is the paradigmatic historical event which demonstrated that loving self-sacrifice, can ultimately triumph over brute power and raw violence.

Watch the Full Interview

It is this fact, and the contingent belief in the equality of all people, that has animated the Western mind ever since and is the well-spring of the many great revolutions that have driven western civilisation down through the ages; care for the poor & the oppressed; the separation of church & state; the Reformation; the Enlightenment; the abolition of slavery; the scientific revolution; feminism, and the social justice movements that are with us today.

About Tom Holland and John Anderson

Tom Holland is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster. He is the author of many award-winning books on topics ranging from Ancient Rome and the Persian Empire to the origins of the Islamic faith. Despite his agnosticism, Holland’s most recent book, Dominion, is a sweeping account of the impact of Christianity on foundational Western institutions, constitutional norms, morality and social outlooks. It is one of the most compelling histories of Christendom yet written.

Holland served two years as the Chair of the Society of Authors and is Chair of the British Library’s PLR Advisory Committee. He is also the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Making History, and has written and presented several TV documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4, on subjects ranging from ISIS to dinosaurs. He also hosts a widely popular history podcast called The Rest Is History.

John Anderson served as Deputy Prime Minister of Australia from 1999 to 2005. A committed Christian, John now hosts a podcast where he interviews various thought leaders from around the world on topics as varied as politics, culture, academia and faith. John is motivated by a desire to encourage open and honest discussion of important issues so that we can, as a society, reach the best possible outcomes for as many people as possible.

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Feature image: Photo by Alicia Quan on Unsplash  

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