The subversive legacy of Christianity

Tom Holland's Dominion shows how Christianity has shaped the Western mind.

Helene Guldberg


Tom Holland’s Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind provides a fascinating and compelling account of the history of Christianity, how the Bible was created and its legacy in Western morality and thought. And he argues convincingly that Christ’s teachings, and the act of his crucifixion, are the basis for our belief in equality, our commitment to rights and our compassion for our fellow human beings. Yet does Holland overstate his main argument? Is it right to see Christianity as the overriding influence on the Western mind?

St Paul’s subversive gospel

Like Larry Siedentop, in Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, Holland argues that St Paul was the revolutionary. That is to say, he was the individual with the most enduring impact on Western thought over the past two millennia. And this is because of the profound impact of his argument that humans are equal in the eyes of God, and are personally responsible for interpreting God’s will.

Holland acknowledges that Paul’s teachings did not emerge in a vacuum. Rather, they were heavily influenced first by Jewish scripture, and second by Ancient Greek thought:

‘Never before had Jewish morality and Greek philosophy been fused to such momentous effect’, writes Holland. ‘That the law of the God of Israel might be read inscribed on the human heart, written there by his Spirit, was a notion that drew alike on the teachings of Pharisees [an ancient Jewish sect] and Stoics [a school of Hellenistic philosophy] – and yet equally was foreign to them both. Its impact was destined to render Paul’s letters – the correspondence of a vagrant, without position or reputation in the affairs of the world – the most influential, the most transformative, the most revolutionary ever written.’

Paul saw himself as an apostle of Christ. He was not there to preach the law of Christ, but to help his converts recognise Christ’s message within themselves. This was a key departure from legalistic Judaism, in which scripture, handed down from God, dictated individual action.

To illustrate this, Holland provides a fascinating account of the formation of the Bible. It begins with Marcion of Sinope, a follower of Paul. In the second century, Marcion put together a selection of writings by the apostles which he regarded as the definitive teachings of Christ. This was the first known ‘canon’ of Christian scriptures, containing ten of Paul’s letters, and an edited version of the gospel written by Paul’s follower Luke.

‘It was a momentous innovation’, writes Holland. ‘Never before – so far as we know – had a Christian proposed a canon.’ Fifty years later, Irenaeus, a Greek bishop, promoted an expanded corpus of writings from the age of the apostles. Alongside Luke’s gospel, he included those of John, Matthew and Mark. ‘As the generations passed, and the memories of those who had known the apostles with them’, Holland writes, ‘so could the faithful find in the gospels of Irenaeus’ canon a sure and certain mooring to the bedrock of the past: a new testament’.

Then, at the start of the third century, the Alexandrian scholar, Origen, who was devoted to Christianity’s inheritance from the Jews and the Greeks, embedded Jewish scripture within the Christian canon. He enshrined it as an ‘Old Testament’.

Saint Paul writing his Epistles, probably by Valentin de Boulogne, circa 1620.
Saint Paul writing his Epistles, probably by Valentin de Boulogne, circa 1620.

Holland marks this collective effort as that which set Christianity apart – human beings making their own laws through interpreting God’s will and through reflection on their own souls. ‘You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts’, Paul wrote. By arguing that God’s commandments are written on our hearts, rather than set in stone (with the exception of the Ten Commandments), Paul was emphasising that we are all equally responsible for interpreting God’s will.

Equally important was Paul’s key message — namely, that every human being, each made in God’s image, possesses an inherent worth. In other words, we are all equal in the eyes of God. Christianity was to be a universal, not an exclusive religion, reserved for a select few.

Breaking with the morality of the past

Holland demonstrates well how Christianity broke from the morality that dominated Ancient societies – a morality that it is hard to conceive of today. For example, Romans had no conception of the equal worth of human beings. ‘Terror of power was the index of power’, Holland writes. Might was right. Sex was not seen as a consensual act, but an exercise of power. A Roman master was entitled to use his slave however he desired, including for sexual gratification. ‘While the body of a free-born Roman was sacrosanct, those of others were fair game’, Holland writes.

Whether in Leonidas’ Sparta, where infants judged to be unfit were abandoned on a hillside to die, or in Ancient Rome, there was a ‘complete lack of any sense that the poor or the weak might have the slightest intrinsic value’, Holland notes. Paul’s writings challenged this view: the strong and powerful were no more or less the sons of God than the weak.

But despite Christianity’s emphasis on protecting the weak, Holland shows that ‘in the years that followed the sack of Rome [in the fifth century], the western half of the empire became ever more a playground for the strong’. In place of the single Roman Christian order initiated by Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the early fourth century, there was now a patchwork of warring barbarian kingdoms, of Visigoths, Vandals and Franks.

The Christian nobility during this period saw poverty as a fate to be avoided at all costs. ‘What they wanted from bishops and holy men was not admonishment on the inherent evil of riches, but something very different: an assurance that wealth might indeed be a gift from God’, Holland writes. They got this assurance from St Augustine, a fourth-century Algerian-Roman theologian. He argued that the poor were no purer in heart than the rich. Instead, all were equally fallen. ‘Get rid of pride, and riches will do no harm’, was one of Augustine’s messages.

For centuries, the papacy became ‘an institution pawed at and squabbled over by local dynasts’. After the formation of the Holy Roman Empire in the ninth century, bishops were often installed by kings. However, in the eleventh century Pope Gregory VII took the drastic step of prohibiting kings from meddling in the business of the Church. Bishops were servants of God alone, Gregory VII told Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.

Separation of church and state

Known as the investiture controversy, this conflict between secular and religious powers is what Holland described as ‘the revolution that set Latin Christendom upon its momentous course’.

Having been excommunicated by Pope Gregory VII in the 11th century, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV’s authority was shattered. Many princely vassals used the opportunity of his excommunication to increase their authority and dismember his kingdom. Henry IV was reduced to standing begging for three long days, barefoot and shivering in the depths of winter, outside Canossa castle in northern Italy, where he knew Pope Gregory was staying. ‘Finally, ordering the gates unbarred, and summoning Henry into his presence, Gregory absolved the penitent with a kiss’, Holland writes.

Gregory’s justification for the separation of the earthly and heavenly realms could be found in the New Testament. Jesus, when asked whether his followers were permitted to pay taxes to pagan Rome, asked the questioners to show him a coin and tell him whose image was stamped on it. ‘Caesar’s’, they replied. ‘Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’, Jesus answered. Under Gregory VII, ‘the concept of the “secular” had attained a spectacular bloom’, Holland writes.

The papacy went on to accrue immense riches and became steeped in corruption. In the 14th century, the most popular preachers in the slums of Europe were those who condemned the wealth of the Church. By the 16th century, the authority of the Catholic Church was severely damaged.

The challenge to the Church from within Christianity

What lends Christianity its world-shaping power, argues Holland, can be seen in the fact that challenges to the Christian church’s authority originate, in the main, from within Christianity itself. The underlying principles of Christianity are immutable and continually reassert themselves.

According to Martin Luther, the German monk who launched the Protestant Reformation, Gregory VII’s claim that the clergy was an order of men radically distinct from the laity was a swindle and a blasphemy. ‘A Christian man is a perfectly free lord of all, and subject to none’, Luther asserted. ‘My conscience is captive to the Word of God.’ By 1546, when Luther died, many German princes had become Protestant. Denmark had been Lutheran since 1537 and Sweden was becoming so. By the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, with much of northern Europe embracing the Protestant faith, ‘the ideal of a shared unity in Christ had been irreparably shattered’, Holland writes. ‘There could be no soldering the fragments of Christendom back together, no reversing the process of its disintegration.’

But by the terms of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, signatories ‘pledged themselves not to force their own religion on their subjects’. ‘Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists: all were granted the freedom to worship as they pleased’, Holland writes. ‘Toleration of religious differences had been enshrined as a Christian virtue.’ All these revolutions in Western thought – the idea of equality, of freedom of conscience, the concepts of the secular and religious tolerance – all derived from the teachings of St Paul, concludes Holland.

Holland explores the various ways these fundamental beliefs come back into play, despite the odds. He believes the Letters of St Paul continually made their impact on various epochs and on key revolutionary figures in history, from Martin Luther himself, and Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Dutch philosopher, hailed by many as ‘the chief atheist of our age’, to the 20th-century Baptist pastor and civil-rights campaigner, Martin Luther King.

Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King addresses a meeting in Chicago, 27 May 1966.
Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King addresses a meeting in Chicago, 27 May 1966.

For example, the Pauline epistles, according to Holland, are the basis of 14th-century Renaissance humanism, which emphasises the value and agency of human beings, and of the Protestant Reformation’s conviction of the supremacy of individual conscience. And more recently, Martin Luther King’s dream that one day his four children would ‘not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’ was similarly based on the idea that we are all God’s children and equal in the eyes of the Lord. ‘Repeatedly, like a great earthquake, Christianity has sent reverberations across the world’, Holland writes.

‘First there was the primal revolution: the revolution preached by St Paul. Then there came the aftershocks: the revolution in the 11th century that set Latin Christendom upon its momentous course; the revolution commemorated as the Reformation; the revolution that killed God [that is, the Enlightenment]. That human beings have rights; that they are born equal; that they are owed sustenance, and shelter, and refuge from persecution: these were never self-evident truths.’

The origins of the principle that every human being possesses an equal dignity and worth ‘lay not in the French Revolution, nor in the Declaration of Independence, nor in the Enlightenment, but in the Bible’. Holland is right. The origin of this principle does lie in the New Testament.

Continuity and change

Holland persuasively demonstrates the revolutionary impact of the Pauline epistles on Western thought over the past 2,000 years, and the key role the Christian church played in ensuring the survival of some Greek philosophy. But Dominion tends to overemphasise the continuities with the past, and downplay the breaks. As a result, Holland underestimates what was new about the prevailing ideas in different epochs. Revolutionaries did not simply use past ideas to suit the present. They made those ideas entirely their own.

For example, to describe Renaissance humanism, the Reformation and the Enlightenment as mere ‘reverberations’ or ‘aftershocks’ of a seismic rupture 2,000 years ago seriously downplays what was new about these epochs and their revolutionary impact on Western thought and society.

Likewise, Holland does not identify key moments in time when the historical conceptions of equality, and what it means to have agency and rights, took on a new meaning. As a result he downplays the momentous struggles of key actors and classes for greater equality and freedom. Take the American Revolution and then the French Revolution in the 18th century. These sent shockwaves around the world and inspired radical demands for equality, freedom and democracy. In Haiti, for example, ex-slave Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave revolt against one of the harshest colonial regimes in the world. In Black Jacobins, an account of the Haitian Revolution, CLR James writes:

‘The blacks were taking their part in the destruction of European feudalism begun by the French Revolution, and liberty and equality, the slogans of the revolution, meant far more to them than to any Frenchman. That was why in the hour of danger Toussaint, uninstructed as he was, could find the language and accent of Diderot, Rousseau, and Raynal, of Mirabeau, Robespierre and Danton. And in one respect he excelled them all.’

The experience of slavery and the ideas of the Enlightenment motivated L’Ouverture and his followers to fight until the bitter end. ‘He accomplished what he did because, superbly gifted, he incarnated the determination of his people never, never to be slaves again’, writes James.

Holland also downplays the impact of Greek philosophy and politics on Western thought. Although Paul and other early Christians incorporated Greek philosophy, notably Stoicism and Plato’s writings, and centuries later, Aristotle, into Christian theology, there was a whole corpus of work from the Greeks, Romans and others, developing within university curriculums and often outside of the control of the church, that had an immense impact on Western thought. Renaissance humanism may have drawn on Paul’s belief in the dignity and worth of every human, but equally important was the Renaissance humanists’ own rediscovery of many long-lost Greek and Roman texts in the 13th century. This is often rightly credited with fostering what we now know of as the Renaissance.

Christianity’s dark side

Holland does not view the impact of Christianity on the Western world through rose-tinted glasses. ‘A Church that proclaimed itself universal had, it seemed, no response to those who rejected it, save persecution’, he writes. The Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of the Jews and the burning of witches were all justified in the name of Christianity.

Colonialism was also justified on the basis of eradicating the Arab slave trade in Africa. ‘The British had not begun their campaign to stamp out the slave trade in any mood of cynicism’, Holland writes. But Britain’s prestige on the world stage was burnished by its campaign against slavery. ‘In the heart of Africa, missionaries were starting to venture where Europeans had never before thought to go. Reports they brought back, of the continuing depredations of Arab slavers, confirmed the view of many in Britain that slavery would never be wholly banished until the entire continent had been won for civilisation’, Holland writes. Christianity provided a licence for a scramble for colonies. ‘It was not the slavers who would end up settling Africa, and subjugating it to foreign rule, but – by an irony familiar from Christian history – the emancipators.’

Nevertheless, whether for good or sometimes ill, there is no getting away from the truth of Holland’s contention — namely, that Christianity has had an immense impact on Western morality for much of the past two millennia. But it is not the overriding determinant in Western morality’s evolution. For as powerful and compelling as Dominion is, it risks obscuring those other tributaries to the river of the Western mind, from Ancient Greece to the Enlightenment.

Helene Guldberg is author of Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear, and Just Another Ape?. Visit her website here.

Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, by Tom Holland, is published by Little Brown. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

Pictures by: Getty Images.

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Ivor Million

18th May 2020 at 3:28 pm

All religions are merely organised superstition.

Cedar Grove

8th May 2020 at 10:41 pm

Mr. Broughton –
Again I take issue with your remarks. Hesiod, writing in 700 BC(E) clearly conceived of the idea of progress & reform, comparing various ages & judging them in terms of virtue and happiness.

Xenophanes, in the 6th century BC, wrote that “men through their own search find in the course of time that which is better.” Protagoras, & other Sophists, wrote about the human journey of escape from primeval ignorance & fear. The foundational myth of Prometheus is about sacrificing oneself for the sake of bringing mankind knowledge and a better way of life.

All this was half a millennium before Christ, so I don’t know what twists of reasoning you must be fabricating to conclude that there was no idea of progress, as well as no science, before Christianity.

Jean De Valette

11th May 2020 at 2:58 pm

If as you say the Greeks thought of progress per se, one wonders why they never achieved it.

The truth is that the Greeks did not formulate any idea of an uninterrupted path to the better. Their view was of the ages was that they were cyclical. Their present age was one of descent from the golden. At some point there would be a swing upwards, but it was not yet.

Tony Benn

23rd April 2020 at 8:56 am

“The Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of the Jews and the burning of witches were all justified in the name of Christianity. ”

Oh dear, this hoary old chestnut is rolled out again! As always the question (as Holland states in the book) isn’t “What was wrong with Christianity?” it is “Compared to what?”

The Spanish inquisition resulted in execution of around 5000 people, horrible! But when you consider that was over nearly 400 years you realise it really wasn’t that bad a thing, especially when compared to someone like Nadar Shah who killed around 25,000 men, women and children in 6 hours in 1739. And to top it off he took 10,000 women and children and enslaved them, the males would have been castrated and around 90% of them would have died due to infection, but oh how TERRIBLE the inquisition was!

Are witches not murdered, still, today in non-Christian countries? What about Jews, are they not persecuted in the Middle East, China and Japan which are all non-Christian? Were they not persecuted in the USSR (which to be fair also persecuted just about everybody) ?

Jean De Valette

8th May 2020 at 7:36 pm

CS Keeus pointed out that to link Christianity with witches was a category error. There is `Christianity and there were, and are, witches.

Witches have existed for millennia. The witch at Endor is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. There are witches today, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

As for the Inquisition; most of those who died had first been given the opportunity to recant. Further they were condemned mainly by secular authorities.

carlos griffin

20th April 2020 at 1:52 pm

the point of christianity was to carry the logo across the ages.. the logo being the symbol of positivity. coz it’s not just a way of thinking. as Tim Leary says “it’s as real as gravity”. I say it’s an electrical state of matter. no go watch the matrix again and pay special attention to when Morpheus holds up the battery, he’s not showing you a Duracell!

Highland Fleet Lute

14th April 2020 at 2:30 pm

“And this is because of the profound impact of his argument that humans are equal in the eyes of God.”

Are they?…..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8saD-YMoen8

Tony Benn

23rd April 2020 at 9:26 am

No offence but I don’t think you’ll find what Christianity thinks God’s opinion on equality in a play written by a Jewish author. The New Testament would be a good place to start.

Mike Stallard

12th April 2020 at 8:33 am

At the moment I am studying Islam. Islamic thought was based firmly on Jewish law – translated into Arabic thought through the Koran and the hadiths – and the story of Mohammed seen through the eyes of ibn Ishaq and the hadiths. All shaken down by Persian and Jewish scholars and with a strong tinge of added Monophysite Christianity.
The result is that Islam is completely different. The idea of people taking any part in politics is utopian. You need a strong leader (ibn Khaldun) who will bring order (like Hobbes) and dictate and enforce the laws. Then, when his family grows “senile”, have nothings – the Bedouin – break in and the process starts all over again. The individual is under Allah who decrees what will happen to them (Arabian Nights). Their role is submission (islam). Individuals only matter to themselves.
Put side by side, the importance of Pauline Christianity is stark. if only the Americans had done their homework before they interfered in the Middle East!

Mor Vir

12th April 2020 at 9:39 am

Islam, Ju daism and Christianity are all products of their time and their political aspects reflect that.

Christianity is not a liberal democratic religion and it would be ridiculous to suggest that it is. It is the product of an imperialist, slave-based society and its message reflects that. “Give unto Caesar what is his, slaves obey your masters &c.” Jesus does not teach a liberal democratic reformation of Roman society, he tells his followers to ignore politics and to prepare for the end of the world and the final judgement.

Christianity is an apocalyptic religion, and Jesus told them that the end was nigh. “Many stand here today who will not die before the end of the world comes.” He preached that “the kingdom of God is at hand” and the impending destruction of this world. It is a totally apolitical religion, of an impending apocalypse and the establishment of a theocracy in the next.

It is devoid of political teachings. Islam on the other hand, projected the apocalypse some indefinite time into the future and it advised people how to structure their societies according to the times that they lived it. Islam is at least a practical, political religion, even if it is historically located in its doctrines.

Christianity is totally impractical. Jesus told his follows to give everything away and be ‘perfect’, for the end is nigh. “Take up your cross and follow me”, in other words, get yourself killed by the Romans like Jesus did, and you will get your reward in heaven.

Christianity should have died out soon after Jesus, when he failed to reappear as the judge of the world and the end of the world never happened.

Colin Broughton

13th April 2020 at 5:05 pm

@ Mor Vir It would be ridiculous to suggest that Christianity had no effect on the development of liberal democracy.

In fact this system is a function of the idea of equality which as suggested elsewhere is indeed an efflorescence of Christian Civilisation. The idea of equality may have been rare after Jesus but ‘Ideas have Consequences’ as Richard Weaver wrote so perceptively. That particular idea of seeded by Christianity developed in the Conscience of the West to bear fruit in Democracy. And not just Democracy but other aspects such as the emancipation of women and of slaves.

‘’People have responded for centuries to that objection, that Europeans have succeeded as much as they have despite the limitations that Christianity would impose on the culture, not because of them. We would conceivably have done better without that religion.’’

Would we? What on Earth gives you that idea? The Greeks and Romans showed no sign of progressing materially (and certainly in other ways ) beyond what were the achievements of skilled artisans.

In fact, without Christianity it is almost certain that humans now would be living materially at a level not much different from that of Shakespeare.

Christianity was a necessary, although not a sufficient cause in the development of modern empirical science. That is why modern science appeared in the Christian West and nowhere else.

Not in Greece , Rome, China, India or Islam all of which had sophisticated alchemies but in the Christian West.

Alfred North Whitehead, co-author with Bertrand Russell of Principia Mathematica pointed out in a Harvard Lowell Lecture in the 1920’s that this is so because of Christian ideas of a loving, powerful, lawful God who could be understood through his good and law-filled creation, nature.

With modern science, technology and the development of Capitalism came the advance to modernity.

Colin Broughton

13th April 2020 at 5:23 pm

& Vir Mor.

To be clear; when I write about equality as deriving from the teachings of Jesus, I don’t mean that there are no equalities in abilities etc. I mean that individuals have equal worth and dignity as equally loved children if God.

Christianity accepts inequalities of individuals, the sexes and so forth in terms of abilities, natural inclinations, and so forth. Leftism at least in its present form doesn’t accept these. In order to save its belief in equality, therefore, it tries to believe that these don’t exist.

Whole libraries have been written, philosophies have been conjured up, to deny the blatantly obvious: that inequalities in a range of aspects, do indeed exist.

Tony Benn

23rd April 2020 at 9:43 am

“Christianity is totally impractical”

This is news for any Christian living in Europe for the last 1000 years.

One thing I’d ask any Christian-hater here : Yes philosophers could have created the equality and freedoms we have today but HOW? What would have convinced the rulers and those with power to give up slavery, murder and absolute power to create a democracy without Christianity?

Look at the best attempt in the 2000 years since Christ, Communism, and the awful tyrannies that has created. Then before criticising Christianity ask yourself “Compared to what?”

Cedar Grove

8th May 2020 at 10:29 pm

This is for Colin Broughton, who responded to your comments.

It is news to me that the Greeks didn’t have empirical science, or anything beyond a crass materialism. I was under the impression that Aristotle, Theophrastus, Euclid, Plato, Archimedes, Hippocrates et al. introduced logic, botany, maths, astronomy, philosophy and medicine to the western world. Silly me.

Linda Payne

12th April 2020 at 2:56 am

Ethiopia was the first Christian country which rather debunks any myth that missionaries brought the religion into Africa; It does have a Catholic population since the 19th century and there was still slavery at that time and in the 1920’s when Evelyn Waugh travelled there (he wrote a book on his travels ‘when the going was good’ he went to Ethiopia twice). I find the history of any religion quite complex, there are so many interpretations of Christianity even in the West. From my experience the concept seems to be that God gave man free will (which seems to justify the suffering in the world) however if you let god into your heart and follow his ‘path’ you will live a good life. This is too simplistic because you are effectively giving over your free will to God (or the idea of God). In the UK religion is less relevant to society so we have secular causes such as environmentalism that take a quasi religious element to their arguments, secular causes fill the vacuum that Christianity left especially protestanism whose work ethic drove the industrial revolution

Linda Payne

12th April 2020 at 3:47 am

Correction Ethiopia was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity as a state religion

Mike Stallard

12th April 2020 at 8:40 am

The Christian idea is that God has a plan. “Thy kingdom come”.
Christians are there to implement that plan “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We have free will to do it too. And if suffering comes your way, so did it to Jesus, Son of God who was executed in public and then reappeared regularly to show that death is not the final solution.

Islam has rules which have to be obeyed. You do not leave the path (sharia) in the desert or you get lost very quickly. So not a lot of free will there. And the Wise Men decide where the path lies based on their study of the stories about the Prophet of Allah (hadiths). At the end of the world there will be a Day when Judgement will be given.

Mor Vir

12th April 2020 at 9:22 am

“Islam has rules which have to be obeyed. You do not leave the path (sharia) in the desert or you get lost very quickly. So not a lot of free will there.”

It sounds just like Christianity.

Matthew 7

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the path, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the path, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Mor Vir

12th April 2020 at 9:16 am

L, that is a good way to put it, Christians these days tend to rely on the idea of free will to address the issue of the compatibility of the all-goodness, knowledge and power of God with the presence of evil in the world, but it rather reformulates the problem than solves it.

Why then would free will be incompatible with an absence of evil in the world? Why would God not be able to create a world in which free will exists and evil does not? That is where the schema breaks down into incoherence – especially as Christianity tells us that God can, and indeed does, create such a world.

According to Christianity, all of the ‘saved’ go to heaven, where there is no evil. They are all ‘confirmed in grace’, such that they never want to sin, and indeed never do sin. The ‘saints’ still have free will but their confirmation in grace is incompatible with that they will ever sin. Heaven is a place without evil, either man-made or natural, and yet free will still exists. God thus creates an eternal world where free will is compatible with the non-existence of evil.

So, the question then becomes, why did God not just create everyone in heaven in the first place? They would have free will, and there would be no evil in the world. That fits with the idea that God is ‘all-good’, and therefore wills no evil. He would then only will good, and as all-powerful, his creation would be all good. As all-knowing, he would make no mistakes in his creation, and there would be no evil, just the good that he wills. We would all be created in heaven.

God could have done that. Indeed, Christianity tells us that all baptised infants, even the unborn, go to heaven when they die. They have never merited heaven but they go nevertheless. Likewise, everyone could simply be created in heaven.

So, free will does not solve the Epicurean Trilemma, the problem of the evils of the world and their incompatibility with the all-goodnesss, power and knowledge of God.

Christians then tell us that this world is a ‘test’, and that it is better that there should be evil, and that billions should be damned forever, screaming in the fires of hell, due to the test, than that all should be created in a heavenly place where free will is incompatible with evil. I simply call BS on that proposal.

The Christian idea is that the creation was created for the glory of God, to exhibit both his justice and his mercy, each to his glory. That is the ‘goodness’ of the creation, its purpose and intention. If there is an infinite suffering of billions in the fires of hell then that is just too bad, the well-being of humans does not really count. Only the ego of God counts and that is enough for the creation to be ‘all-good’. Well, to hell with that.

It is a psycho religion where only the ego of God counts and humans can all go to hell. It is best to stay away from Christianity, it is bad for the well-being. It does not have the well-being of humans at heart, so it is no surprise that it does untold harm to humans, like telling them that their sexual instincts are sinful and have to be regulated by repressive doctrines.

Cedar Grove

8th May 2020 at 11:20 pm

It’s not as simple as your first phrase suggests:


Brandy Cluster

12th April 2020 at 2:31 am

McTrotsky; the day after you make sure everybody in the Gulag has been properly disposed of. Dissent won’t be tolerated.

William Tell

11th April 2020 at 9:06 am

Gods are figments of the finite minds of humans. They have always had gods, from sun worship to all the ancient ones of Egypt, Greece and Rome, not to mention the informal ones of even more primitive peoples. It is rather a sad reflection on homo sapiens that so many require the crutch of belief in a supernatural “something” —indeed, it’s pathetic. Gods were used before humans came across knowledge of science in any form as a means of “explaining” those things their ignorance could not explain. Fancy spending your life on your knees, only to die and have no “paradise”.
The old joke is apposite:- Two men looking at a corpse—–one says “Look, he’s smiling” and the other replies—“wait until he wakes up—-he doesn’t know he’s dead yet”.
The point is that you will not be aware that you are dead—once your neurons have died from lack of oxygenation, your synapses die and no further ‘thought’ is possible.
Religions are just organised superstitions—-sad, isn’t it?


10th April 2020 at 6:15 pm

I’m still trying to work out why materialist atheists think either that the cosmos is eternal and infinite or that it came out of nothing (seemingly for no reason). Thomas Nagel (who is neither a theist or a Christian) has provided a highly convincing rebuttal of Neo-Darwinist materialism:


William Tell

11th April 2020 at 8:57 am

Are you trying to say that your “god” produced the universe? If so, you’ll have to tell us where your god came from. Another, bigger, better god? Also, where did your god obtaain the materials for his/her/its universe? Magicked them up from nowhere? Your problem is your finite mind. Gods have been invented by primitive humans from the earliest days of homo sapiens—Zeus, the sun, Osiris, Athena, you name them. Try to understand that when your neurons die and synapses disintegrate, so do you.


11th April 2020 at 6:53 pm

It must be wonderful to be so sure of things and to have the answers to problems which humanity has spent so many centuries pondering.

mister wallace

14th April 2020 at 5:06 am

I have often asked “believers” the same question and it stops them in their tracks. They can’t accept the secular “creation” of time and space without a man-in-the-sky, but don’t have answers as to where the man-in-the-sky itself came from.


10th April 2020 at 5:55 pm

The more important question is whether the New Testament documents are reliable. In my opinion they are. I recommend this short book by Peter Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge:


Abbie Jhone

10th April 2020 at 5:36 pm

Rikhard Wright

10th April 2020 at 5:13 pm

A very important consideration here is the fact that people 2,000 did not think as we do today.
Some people even make it their life’s work to study, understand and deal with the extent to which we have been manipulated for centuries by all sorts of vested interests. Spiked also has plenty of editors and readers who would fall into that category, the main reason being that we damn well need to study manipulation and propaganda today.
But in the time of Christ and St. Paul, slavery was not considered to be an anachronism as it is in the 21st Century. It was considered a necessary part of a structured society, and was accepted as a given, both by those who used slaves and by those who actually were slaves. Nor is it so very long ago in the colonial history of our western nations that this was still considered acceptable.
Against that backdrop, we cannot consider the Jewish scriptures and ancient Greek thought to be so devoid of genuine wisdom that we can easily dismiss them as mere tools for the unscrupulous despot. After all, as individuals, whether successfully manipulated or not, we want life to have meaning, and that means studying the evolution of profound thought without trivializing it. We are not going to find meaning, or wisdom, in the dismantling of everything we consider to be ancient history, and we should have the modesty to consider that our western idea of wisdom is far younger, and far less experienced than ancient Persian, ancient Indian and ancient Biblical culture, all of which have inspiring and beautiful stories to tell.
At any rate, it is surely crucially important not to make the mistake of confusing Christ with Christianity, as so many casually do nowadays, and if Christianity has many flaws (and it does – many of them fatal) those flaws are not to be laid at the feet of the Christ who has always been so badly misunderstood.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Two thousand years later, and they still don’t.

Rikhard Wright

10th April 2020 at 5:15 pm

My first sentence should, of course, read: A very important consideration here is the fact that people 2,000 years ago did not think as we do today.

Abbie Jhone

10th April 2020 at 5:11 pm

Mor Vir

10th April 2020 at 1:40 pm

It really is stretching it to say that Christianity, and Paul in particular, laid the basis of equality, simply because he said that we will all be judged by God. All religions say that.

Paul undermines all that anyway with his doctrines of ‘total corruption’, divine predestination and salvation through faith. The conscience is practically useless, because of the ‘original sin’, as a faculty to correct sins and to reform one’s life, because of the resultant ‘total depravity’ of mankind. Judgement is ‘not by works but by faith’. The idea is that Christians will not be judged, but get a free pass, dependent on their faith. Jesus has ‘paid the price’ for their ‘sins’.

Christianity is a religion of election, predestination, which is a cosmological stratification that eternalises inequality among humans in the most extreme way, between the ‘saved’ and the ‘damned’. Christians are the ‘elect’, Paul tells us, the ‘chosen’, a radically inegalitarian schema that he inherited from Ju daism.

The idea that Christianity, and Paul in particular, laid the basis for equality is laughable. His theological and cosmological schema undermines the notion in all of the proposed essentials.

OK, so what does Paul actually say about equality? We could be here all day in a Bible study, so let’s just produce some brief quotes to jog the memory. Christianity is the product of an aristocratic, slave based society, in which women were particularly held in subjugation. Paul reinforced that inequality.

If we do not have ‘faith’, and a free pass, then we would be judged according to the extent that we know and keep our place. Submissiveness and humility will be rewarded, self-assertion and rebellion will be punished. It is a slave religion, that first flourished among the slaves in the Roman Empire, and it seeks to glorify the oppressed status of the slaves and of women.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”

So much for equality. Christianity not only undermines equality in all of the proposed essentials, like conscience and universal judgement, but it upholds inequality in the most extreme fashion, to fit with the society of which it was a product. We would be rewarded for knowing and keeping our place.

What about women?

“3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”

“34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

“11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

Women should know their place, do what they are told, and shut their m ouths. Or else get judged by God. Nice one Paul, you really advanced equality there.

Frankly one could go on all day with this nonsense, but it is obvious that people are familiar enough with Christianity to see through the preposterous claims of this article. And we all have better things to do than Bible study. If people want to deceive themselves then, no massive surprise there, let them get on with it. It is a deliberate choice, as is religion itself.

Dominic Straiton

10th April 2020 at 2:14 pm

All you have to do is see with your own eyes which parts of the globe are free(for now) and which parts arnt. Every society in human history had slaves. Every person on earth is directly descended from a slave and a slave owner. It was only in a Christian country that people like Wilberforce could get a ground up force of people to end it. Along with the Royal Navy and my tax that helped to pay for it when the debt was repaid in 2016.

Mor Vir

10th April 2020 at 5:46 pm

If I heard “saint” Paul talk to a woman like that, I would be severely tempted to knock his lights out, as I am sure we all would. : )

Zammo McTrotsky

10th April 2020 at 7:24 pm

I haven’t read Holland’s book, so I can’t vouch for the article’s accuracy in characterising it, but on it’s own terms, the article doesn’t claim that Christianity or Paul laid the foundations for equality by asserting God’s judgement, so attacks on that contention are misplaced.
It is a falsehood that all religions claim that God will judge us after death, I don’t think that Judaism has consistently claimed that throughout it’s history, though I’m not completely confident about that, it isn’t true of Hinduism, Buddhism or Daoism, and it certainly wasn’t true of the pagan polytheistic cults that were popular in the Roman Empire at the birth of Christianity.
So that distinction isn’t unique to Christianity, but it was a hallmark that separated it from most if not all of the cults of the 1st century Roman Empire. In any case that isn’t the feature of Pauline Christianity which is taken to be egalitarian.
This totally ahistorical assertion (and it is just an assertion not an argument) that Christianity is a predeterminism, and a faith of the elect is certainly true of Calvinism, but the idea that across it’s two thousand year history, every branch of Christianity, including it’s heresies (because heretics too were Christians, certainly in their own eyes), has been identical in this respect is false, wildly mistaken, utterly incorrect. I mean it’s not a question of interpretation. It’s flat wrong. A history that includes Quakerism, Anabaptism, the beghards etc. just obviously disproves it. And to argue that this uniformity (that doesn’t exist) flows inevitably from the works of Paul, to whom even antinomian Christians turned to as an authority is also wildly mistaken.
The quotes you provide to show Paul reinforced the sexual subjugation of women are from 1 Corinthians, which now is taken by some to be a later redaction (not by Paul, in other words) and by others to be a Corinthian slogan that Paul was inveighing against. The others are from 1 Timothy which no-one serious believes was written by Paul. They certainly contradict the spirit of other letters where he praises women by name who appear to fulfil leadership and prophecy roles in their churches, and it would be hard to see how they could achieve this in silence. He calls one, Junia, an “apostle.” It’s a bit much to introduce your textual “evidence” with the words, “What did Paul actually say…” and then only select the passages that he almost certainly didn’t. I should say here that I am not a believer, but a materialist in the broad sense and a permanently lapsed Catholic, not overly sympathetic to the Church, but mildly interested in what evidence can show us in the light of reason.
Something similar goes for the slavery quote from Ephesians, but really, what do you expect a Roman subject to say about this topic, “Slaves, disobey your masters, earn yourselves beatings, torture or death at their hands, it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” That last is a modern sentiment, from the Spanish civil war and the only successful slave uprising in all history was a modern event, alluded to in the article. What he did say, which was a radical sentiment was, “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ.” That was an unheard of sentiment in the Roman World, and even though it might strike you as a strictly notional affair, for all their humility before the temporal power of their dominus, only Christian slaves had the idea of this moral and spiritual equality with their masters. There is no precedent for that in the Roman or Greek world. The excellence of the athlete, the warrior or lord was an excellence that was part of their aristocracy, their superiority over others, and was reflected in their “rights” which lower men and women didn’t have. There is a tendency among some liberal atheists (and I have to say, a little dose of Marxism or existentialism, or just the kind of humanism that existed before the glib platitudes of a narrowly cognitive “rationalism” might help to innocculate them against this,) to suppose that we might have landed on just this shore, in just this way, if everyone had just given up on religion in 325 AD, and there is also an odd, perhaps rather PC tendency to suppose that Christianity is a good deal more extravagantly daft or pernicious than other religions. The first of these is just idiotic. What alternative, non-supernatural worldview was available in this ahistorical narrative? and the second is arguable at least, but not really supportable. I certainly don’t know why you would think that we would have got on much better if the power-worshipping pagan cults might have dominated, or any of the more mystery based or gnostic cults came to the fore.

Mor Vir

10th April 2020 at 8:34 pm

Not just Calvinists held to predestination. Paul clearly taught predestination many times and that was the official RCC view from the time of the early church until the 16th century. Augustine’s teaching on grace, and predestination, based largely on Paul, was codified at church councils approved by Rome in opposition to Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Augustine, the ‘doctor of grace’ was the dominant patristic source throughout the middle ages in the RCC church. Aquinas, the ‘angelic doctor’ compiled Augustine’s teaching into his Summa Theologica in the 13th century, and the Summa was the ‘go to’ authoritative manual on RCC theology thereafter, and it was used by all seminarians, by canon law, to teach them theology until the 1960s.

This is Aquinas in the Summa on predestination.

Summa Theologica 1, 23, 5

Question 23. Predestination

Article 5. Whether the foreknowledge of merits is the cause of predestination?

I answer that, Since predestination includes will, as was said above (Article 4), the reason of predestination must be sought for in the same way as was the reason of the will of God. Now it was shown above (I:19:5), that we cannot assign any cause of the divine will on the part of the act of willing; but a reason can be found on the part of the things willed; inasmuch as God wills one thing on account of something else. Wherefore nobody has been so insane as to say that merit is the cause of divine predestination as regards the act of the predestinator. But this is the question, whether, as regards the effect, predestination has any cause; or what comes to the same thing, whether God pre-ordained that He would give the effect of predestination to anyone on account of any merits…

And so others said that merits following the effect of predestination are the reason of predestination; giving us to understand that God gives grace to a person, and pre-ordains that He will give it, because He knows beforehand that He will make good use of that grace, as if a king were to give a horse to a soldier because he knows he will make good use of it. But these seem to have drawn a distinction between that which flows from grace, and that which flows from free will, as if the same thing cannot come from both. It is, however, manifest that what is of grace is the effect of predestination; and this cannot be considered as the reason of predestination, since it is contained in the notion of predestination. Therefore, if anything else in us be the reason of predestination, it will outside the effect of predestination. Now there is no distinction between what flows from free will, and what is of predestination; as there is not distinction between what flows from a secondary cause and from a first cause. For the providence of God produces effects through the operation of secondary causes, as was above shown (I:22:3. Wherefore, that which flows from free-will is also of predestination. We must say, therefore, that the effect of predestination may be considered in a twofold light—in one way, in particular; and thus there is no reason why one effect of predestination should not be the reason or cause of another; a subsequent effect being the reason of a previous effect, as its final cause; and the previous effect being the reason of the subsequent as its meritorious cause, which is reduced to the disposition of the matter. Thus we might say that God pre-ordained to give glory on account of merit, and that He pre-ordained to give grace to merit glory. In another way, the effect of predestination may be considered in general. Thus, it is impossible that the whole of the effect of predestination in general should have any cause as coming from us; because whatsoever is in man disposing him towards salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination; even the preparation for grace. For neither does this happen otherwise than by divine help, according to the prophet Jeremias (Lamentations 5:21): “convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted.” Yet predestination has in this way, in regard to its effect, the goodness of God for its reason; towards which the whole effect of predestination is directed as to an end; and from which it proceeds, as from its first moving principle.

Stephen Moriarty

10th April 2020 at 8:12 pm

Mor, You base your case on the writings of Paul. Do the gospels themselves support Paul’s thinking?

Mor Vir

10th April 2020 at 9:07 pm

Hi S, this article is about Paul in particular and his supposed influence on the later course of history.

I am not a Christian and I am not obliged to consider Jesus and Paul to be congruent (though I do), although Christians certainly do, and they consider Paul to be just as authoritative as Jesus. All of the doctrine of the NT is considered to be ‘revealed’.

I will avoid going into the sayings of Jesus just now, as it is not really the focus of the article and enough has already been said to chew on.

Jesus certainly chose only men to go out and to spread his teachings, although liberals will dispute the significance of that, which is fine. Christians believe all sorts of things, especially since the Reformation.

Trying to find two Christians who entirely agree with each other on the religion is like trying to find two identical snow flakes. Statistically it should be possible, out of the millions, but good luck with that.

Zammo McTrotsky

11th April 2020 at 4:34 pm

Well then, you’ve refuted your own assertion that “Christianity” tout court is a faith of the elect, as Pelagian Christianity isn’t (Nestorian Christianity is an offspring of the original Pelagian controversy and survives to this day). Paul does not “clearly” teach predestination at all, or there would have been no controversy regarding its orthodoxy. Certainly not predestination as you mean it, and the long quote from Aquinas you’ve cut and pasted doesn’t support your contention.
If you read a Catholic catechism, there will definitely be a bit about free will, it will be long and detailed depending on what catechism you’ve got. It simply has never been part of Catholic teaching that God preselects the saved and the damned, which is explicitly rejected as a heresy called “double predestination.” The predestination that Aquinas talks about here is the plan of salvation of which human freedom is a part. The grace that leads fallen beings to (freely) accept the grace of salvation is called in Catholic theology “prevenient grace.” That, I think, is what Aquinas is talking about here, a passage that refers to free will twice and not to reject it either. Now, this may appear a convoluted, obscure and wilful way of trying to accommodate a contradiction. Fair enough. But what it isn’t, is a doctrine of cosmic predestination.
There is plenty to criticise the church about. But that stuff ain’t it.

Mor Vir

11th April 2020 at 5:56 pm

“Paul does not “clearly” teach predestination at all, or there would have been no controversy regarding its orthodoxy.”

I deny that. Christians are like anyone else and they believe whatever they want to believe, which is why they are Christians in the first place. Many old doctrines have been dumped, not just at Vatican II in the 1960s but as far back as you like to go. Religious liberty, freedom of the press, religious tolerance, usury, no salvation outside the church, the list of changes is endless. 20th century catechisms have got nothing to do with historical RCC doctrine. Lots had already been changed by then. No one seriously doubts that Aquinas taught predestination ante merita or that was the historical doctrine of the church.

I never said double predestination, the historical term is the ‘reprobation’ of the damned that follows from a single predestination. Aquinas solves that puzzle with his scholastic concept of the good as synonymous with being; God, as the first cause, simply has to withhold his effect and the second cause becomes disordered and fails. Sin has no ’cause’, rather it is the absence of any cause, non-being, disorder; thus God does not ‘predestine’ the damned, which is causal, but reprobates which is non-causal. Aquinas explains all of that in detail in the Summa, and he draws on the concept of the first cause in the passage quoted above. The Summa is a manual on scholasticism as well as theology and he fuses them.

You clearly have some knowledge of RCC but a lot has gone on over the centuries that you are not yet aware of. Maybe read the Summa sometime, the English translation is pretty reliable, although seminarians did two years of Latin before tackling the original. The stuff about burning heretics, and enslaving the pagans, the old RCC practices, and Aquinas’ justification of that is quite entertaining. A lot of doctrine has changed since the middle ages or been dumped for real politik, predestination is just one. Thanks.

Mor Vir

11th April 2020 at 6:23 pm

“a passage that refers to free will twice and not to reject it either”

Aquinas approaches free will as he does all creatures. God is the first cause and the act of the secondary cause, all creatures, depends entirely on the first cause. The second cause acts well when it is moved to do so by the first cause. Aquinas mentions that in the passage on predestination above if you read back through it. Sin has no cause, it is non-being, disorder, and the creatures acts ill due to the absence of the effect of the first cause. As Aquinas explains above, not just the operation of grace but the natural preparation for grace is entirely the act of God.

The modern concept of free will that you have, that the creature can act well or ill, regardless of its natural preparation, did not exist in the middle ages. It is a renaissance concept that was introduced into theology by Jesuits. It has got nothing to do with Aquinas, that is just a fact of the history of ideas. All of the ancients understood free will as a freedom from external coercion, in the natural world, not as an ability to act regardless of predisposition. Paul is no exception and he was influenced by the Stoics, who were explicit predestinarians (fate). Aquinas is drawing on Aristotelian concepts in the Summa, which he assimilated from the Arabs. Not only salvation is predestined according to Aquinas but everything that happens in the creation, due to its dependence on God as the first cause, the first mover. Aquinas is explicit about that in the Summa in the section on ‘providence’. Like Aristotle, he is thoroughly predestinarian, like all of the ancients.

Mor Vir

11th April 2020 at 7:17 pm

“There is plenty to criticise the church about. But that stuff ain’t it.”

That is not what this thread is about, it is about the doctrine of Paul and its supposed later influence on civilisation. Christians are unlikely to be able to contribute to that discussion as they are incapable of looking at the subject objectively. They have strong psychological needs invested in Christianity fitting their own idea of it and they entirely lack a history of ideas approach, which they are anyway psychologically incapable of.

Colin Broughton

12th April 2020 at 5:50 pm

@ Mor Vir ‘The idea that Christianity, and Paul in particular, laid the basis for equality is laughable. His theological and cosmological schema undermines the notion in all of the proposed essentials.

So where did the idea of equality come from in the West, if not from Christianity,? It didn’t pop up out of nowhere. It certainly didn’t come from the Greeks or Romans or anywhere else in that the West knew of in antiquity. As David Bentley Hart points out in his book, ‘Atheist Delusions. The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, the idea of equality was rare before Christianity.

The idea of equality in the West arose out of the Judaic teaching that Man was made in the image of God, and from Christ’s teaching that all are equally loved as his children.

When Christ stood before Pilate, he stood as one who was little better than a slave in the eyes of the Roman. Pilate had social position and therefore power< which was all that mattered in the Nietzschean society that was Rome. But Christ upended that His was a genuine revolution. Christian equality includes women and slaves. Female Emancipation and the abolition of slavery flowed from this.

This book and you, lay too much stress on Paul, who certainly isn’t counted with Jesus as an authority, Jesus was his own best theologian. Paul certainly interpreted him and his own authority lies in how well he did it, which was magnificently , for the most part.

Mor Vir

12th April 2020 at 8:50 pm

“the idea of equality was rare before Christianity.”

It was rare after Christianity, non-existent in fact. Rome was followed by feudalism for a thousand years and the organisation of ‘Christian’ society into aristocratic and subservient castes. In no way did Christianity promote equality in ‘Christian’ civilisation. Rather it provided ideological support for inequality and social stratification, as Christian texts from the middle ages make clear. Christianity is a product of a highly stratified society, both in class and gender, and it was easily adopted by the feudal ruling class to justify its social order.

Notions of equality began to arise during the renaissance, with the emergence of the bourgeois city state, as feudalism began to give way economically and ideologically to capitalism. The breakdown of aristocracy and the demand for wider political rights, and social status, was due to developments in the economic base and the emergence of a bourgeois middle class, which would eventually become the dominant political class. Only with the further development of the economic base was democracy and some degree of equality gradually extended to the masses.

That is just a fact of the history of ideas, and you really need to stop trying to dress your religion up as something that it is not. It is a product of an imperialist, slave society and it does not contain the seeds of equality or of liberal democracy, they are purely due to developments in the material base of society.

“Female Emancipation and the abolition of slavery flowed from this.”

The abolition of slavery followed the development of the feudal economic and social system. Society was not re-ordered or ideological transformed because of ancient religious ideas, it happened because of progress in the economic base.

It would be another two thousand years, the last couple of centuries, that capitalist society gradually broke down the gender division of labour that is the basis of female subjugation. The NT completely upholds slavery, and female subjugation as a part of the natural order from the creation. Yes, ideas did not ‘appear out of nowhere’, or from the skies, ideology is a reflection of the economic base and its reality is material.

Jesus did not maintain equality at all, rather he inverted the aristocratic notion of the ‘elite’ so that those slaves who blindly worship and obey his god become the elite in heaven and enjoy the spectacle of the damnation of the rich. It is a religion of revenge, a fantastical slave revolt in the realm of morals, but it in no way preaches equality or liberal democracy, rather it reinforced stratification on a cosmological scale. It is not a religion of political reform, it is religion that wants to entirely destroy the world and to replace it with a theocracy in which their enemies are tortured forever. Its emotional basis is hatred and revenge, ‘love’ is its front for that.

“Paul, who certainly isn’t counted with Jesus as an authority”

No serious Christian would make that claim. All of the churches believe and profess otherwise.


Zammo McTrotsky

12th April 2020 at 3:43 pm

Please can I remind you that you are the one who claimed that St. Paul’s writings on women were foundational for the Church’s misogyny. Now that I have revealed to you the fact of which you were previously ignorant, that these writings are not believed to be by Paul and that they clash with his more woman-friendly writings, you haven’t returned to that theme.
This thread, insofar as it has anything to do with the article, is about whether Christianity, and it’s Pauline incarnation in particular, can claim to have laid a foundation for the idea of equality in Western history. So far, I have put the same case as that part of the article (apparently echoing Tom Holland), and Larry Siedentop. It’s a good case and you haven’t even attempted to refute it.
Instead we have wrangled about whether the medieval church taught the same line on predestination as Calvin, on the basis of the implication that no equality is possible without freedom of the will. (You haven’t argued this point at all, but I’ve gone along with it on the basis that in a very general sense, freedom, justice and moral responsibility are inter-related concepts). This is because you chose that anachronism. You used the terms predestination, damnation and the elect. I have chosen several examples from the history of Christianity that refute that position.
The only evidence that you adduce is a piece of text from Aquinas which you have misunderstood. Even if it was the predestinationist tract you imagine, how do you imagine it proves that Paul believed in predestination? If I claim that some characteristic of A is causal with respect to a characteristic of B, I have to do more than point out that characteristic B exists as proof of my argument. (Paul is A and Aquinas B, in this analogy.)
I contradicted your claim that Paul clearly taught predestination, and I showed that whether he did or not, your chosen Doctor of the church did not follow this path, (let alone Christianity as a whole, which was your explicit claim). When confronted with this, you contradicted your previous claim, now claiming that Christians will believe what they like regardless, and that this is a hallmark of Christianity. I’m sorry to say that this is not just self-contradictory, but reveals a prejudice against Christians for what is a universal (but not equally distributed) tendency. And one which you are exhibiting yourself.
Prompted perhaps by my comment about predestination “as you mean it”, you assume that my understanding of “free will” is an anachronistic projection onto Aquinas, and proceed to lecture me on a thomist philosophy that I suspect you’ve just looked up. I was quite clear in my previous post that Aquinas believed that salvation was the gift of the Lord and that the believer could only conform his will to that of God through God’s grace, and yes, this was expressed in Aristotelian terms of primary and secondary causation, but this complex argument was an attempt to reconcile free will and God’s omnipotence. It may or may not be a philosophical failure. It may be that he does not achieve what he believed he had achieved, but falls into a kind of determinism despite himself. This does not mean that he was a predestinationist by conviction, still less, that the whole church was. Other scholastic authorities have other positions regarding freedom of the will, and I do not see you pretending that the entirety of Christian belief throughout all history including the history that preceded them, conforms to their views. This of course is logically incompatible with your thesis, only in the sense that you believe that it is true of Aquinas (because of his pre-eminence) and therefore can’t be true of Bernard of Clairvaux. But of course, because Bernard held a different view, and Peter Lombard another and Duns Scotus another, it can’t be true of Aquinas either.
Finding your characterisation of church history and theology to have been faulted as monolithic, you then opportunistically claim that no aspect of Catholic doctrine has remained constant, or at least, consistent. I have to agree that what the hierarchy of the church affirms as dogma does vary over time, but any catechism with a bishop’s imprimatur on it is going to bear some resemblance to the Nicene creed. So, which is it? monolithic, unbending orthodoxy, or shameless opportunism?
The reason I commented that there is plenty to criticise the church about is that it appears to me as though your hostility to the church in some aspects leads to condemn it in all aspects, whether or not you have good reason.

Mor Vir

12th April 2020 at 9:00 pm

Your manner is totally out of order and I am going to call it off with you. Learn how to talk to people like a normal, socially competent person. I not getting involved in some rude exchange that is all about personal ego. We have both had our say and others can make their own mind up or pursue the matter further themselves. I am not interested in a put down conversation of who can be the rudest. Thanks.

Zammo McTrotsky

12th April 2020 at 6:30 pm

Also the claim that the “ancients”, among whom you include Aquinas, for some reason held freedom to mean Isaiah Berlin’s negative freedom is wrong, and wrong at best. Believing that the soul is the source of our power to act and includes the will, the appetites and the intellect is a very different conceptual picture of the world than one cooked up in a 20th century university by a liberal professor.

Heather Kell

13th April 2020 at 4:04 am

You certainly spend a lot of time trying to convince people against a religion you see as Psycho!! Maybe you do protesteth too much my friend?

Zammo McTrotsky

13th April 2020 at 11:43 am

I’m not taking the piss, stupid, you’re giving it away. Perhaps if you didn’t pose to yourself and the world as some omniscient, unfaultable authority, you wouldn’t be so thin-skinned as to be offended when your ignorance is exposed by those who have the temerity to disagree with you. Twat.

Garreth Byrne

10th April 2020 at 12:55 pm

Nice to read a thought-provoking article like this during the Easter/Passover period. Christianity cannot be understood separately from the Judaic tradition.The civilized practice of civilization would be a good idea, whether it is western or otherwise.

Dominic Straiton

10th April 2020 at 8:47 am

Without Christianity we would just have the concept of chaos or order. The Romans took any measure however barbaric to maintain order much like modern China.

Mor Vir

10th April 2020 at 8:21 am

Oh dear, this article illustrates that if the selective pressures of Christian culture have bred any trait into people, it is not honesty or a will to truth but a susceptibility to swallow and to spout any nonsense. Likely the breed is already thoroughly ruined by 2000 years of that dementia and quite beyond repair. Some articles just make one think, O thank goodness for immigration.

Philip Humphrey

10th April 2020 at 9:42 am

How can nearly all the great innovations and inventions of the last 1000 years from Newton’s Principia to the jet engine, vaccines, atomic energy and the space program have come from Christian dominated cultures in the west? As well as nearly all of the greatest art and literature. Seems to have done pretty well for a culture that you describe as having a form of dementia.

Mor Vir

10th April 2020 at 10:51 am

People have responded for centuries to that objection, that Europeans have succeeded as much as they have despite the limitations that Christianity would impose on the culture, not because of them. We would conceivably have done better without that religion.

But there seems to be little point in repeating points that have been made a thousand times before over the centuries and ignored as if they never had. Dementia indeed?

The far right on here actually wants to embrace that dementia, as they fancy that it offers them an ID that might help them to oppose immigration, particularly with reference to Muslims. Deliberate dementia.

It is obvious that TPTB will simply use Christianity, like everything else, and as they always have, for their own agenda. The current article shows how Christianity can be faked as anything depending on the willingness of people to swallow and to spout it.

And willing they are. Dementia indeed. Deliberate dementia. It is no massive surprise that such a people are on their way out. Nor need it be a bad thing. A new people, a new beginning, a new horizon. A new possibility.

Major Bonkers

10th April 2020 at 10:01 am

Yes, we need more Muslims. Only they truly understand.


10th April 2020 at 11:09 am

Hi Mor Vid
I have seen a couple of your anti-Christian posts now. Just as a matter of interest, if everything is just the result of random chance arising from chemical reactions, where do you get truth, logic and reason from in your worldview? Let me help you, there is none. You are using the very tools of logic, truth, reason and standards of good and bad that prove God exists. Without him, you are left to personal preference – very pretty to look at no doubt, but of no use to anyone.
To use logic and reason, you need to accept they are unchanging, universal and non-material. That looks very much like the attributes of the Christian God of the bible, don’t you think? There is a reason Paul says in Romans 1 that everyone is without excuse in knowing that God exists.
God bless you this Easter.

Mor Vir

10th April 2020 at 12:17 pm

Our brains have evolved, like all of our faculties, as adaptations to our environment, to allow us to survive and to prosper. That is why we have hands, legs, eyes, lungs. The process of natural selection adapts organisms differently, with much convergent evolution, similarities as well as differences of function.

Our brains have evolved to allow us to process the information garnered from the environment so as to navigate our way through its challenges and opportunities – to survive and to breed, and to do our thing. ‘Truth, logic, reason’ are the product of the good functioning of that brain, as imperfect as it tends to be.

Indeed our brains have allowed us to work that out, to grasp the material principles of our own origin and our own nature. We are material animals like any other, but we evolved more complicated brains as we came down from the trees and gradually ventured into new territories, all the way to the poles and back.

We are especially rational animals but that does not change the essential irrationality of our existence. Our existence is simply a fact that has come to be through matter in motion, through the self-evolution of the cosmos. It has no guide, no aim, no intention behind it. It is ‘random’ in the sense that it is also necessary, the result of blind laws, not truly ‘random’ chance.

Reality contains no moral principle. Existence is not ‘rational’ – we have the instinct to survive and to live because we evolved that extinct – indeed no animal would survive long without it. Reason allows us to anticipate the environment and to facilitate our survival. It does not ‘justify’ that survival or our existence. Reason is a tool that is useful to secure existence, it is not a tool that justifies that existence in the first place.

Humanity continues to evolve. Human brains are not as good as they could be. IQs vary and IQ tests show that human intelligence, the ability to solve puzzles and to function successfully as the environment offers fresh challenges, can go a lot higher in some persons than it does in most. Our genes are always mutating, from one generation to the next, and even within our lifetime. New environments will make new demands and either improve us or let our brains flab out. Humanity is not a finished work of art, nor will it ever be.

So, the brain is a product of material reality, and material reality is its proper object. Our brains evolved to understand, to anticipate and to navigate our environments, to allow us to survive and to prosper. People can fantasise about proving pixies, fairies or gods, various magical creatures beyond material reality and logical proof. The most that Christians can say is that a god cannot be disproved (any of them) any more than any other magical creature that is beyond the workings of the material brain.

How can anyone prove or disprove the non-existence of a being that is said to be beyond the functionality of the brain and cannot be detected by science? Be they goblins or gods?

In fact, Christianity offers us very specific ideas about the traits of a god, that it is ‘all- powerful, knowing and good’. That falls foul of the Epicurean Trilemma that was clearly stated centuries before Christianity appeared. Such a god is incompatible with the evils of the world and one trait or the other, of the three, cannot be sustained.

Christians then fall back on absurd stories like the garden of Eden, that we are all being rightly punished for being descended by a woman who got taken in by a talking snake and ate an apple. The ‘original sin’, which is obviously contrary to justice (and thus to the supposed goodness of a god,) besides obviously being complete, laughable nonsense.

How can we be ‘guilty’ of what someone else did, before we were born, and over which we had no possible influence. It is contrary to all notions of justice and of ‘goodness’. The same goes for the ‘redemption’, it is entirely contrary to justice, let alone salvation through ‘faith’ as some Protestants have it.

But, you presumably already know all that and you deliberately choose dementia. Not really my problem. If you choose to ‘Adam and Eve’ all that then that is your choice. Give my regards to the talking snake and to all the angels dancing on the head of the pin.

Perhaps ongoing evolution will solve that tendency. A new people, a new horizon, a new beginning. A new possibility – not so much in the initial components as what they can eventually combine to become. Maybe one day, humanity will be comfortable and content with the ‘irrationality’ of existence and they will not feel the need to rely on fairy stories that control their lives and limit their civilisations.


10th April 2020 at 1:38 pm

Mor Vid

How do you know that? Are you using God’s reason? Without it, we live in a random world, and all of your thoughts are random. How do you therefore know anything? I can deal with your evo9lution when you tell me how you rely on logic in a random world. If it evolved, how do you know? If it evolved, how do you know it hasnt finished?
Your evidence has no value until you explain these things.

Lyn Keay

10th April 2020 at 4:01 pm

To use logic and reason, you need a might good lunch first. Non-material? I think not. Unchanging? Not before they were invented.

Zammo McTrotsky

11th April 2020 at 5:16 pm

Why do you think God created logic (of which, not a word in The Bible, Logos, yes, logic nah), but he has nothing to do with the creation of personal predispositions, when Christians believe very firmly that God created persons?
The Bible gives no clue as to the “immateriality” of God at all, at least not until later books. And if God is immaterial, so what? Numbers are also immaterial, that doesn’t mean that they populate the streets of paradise alongside cherubim, seraphim, thrones, principalities and powers.
The “immateriality” of mathematical or logical principles seems to be a very different sort of thing than the “immateriality” of God, or of ghosts, even. Just the fact that someone is attempting to be logically coherent hardly implies the existence of incorporeal entitities.

Colin Broughton

12th April 2020 at 5:15 pm

@ Mor Vir. Why do you talk of notions of ‘justice and goodness’? For an atheist there can be no such things, taking ideas to their root. Atheism supposes there is no meaning in the Universe. As you yourself point out, we humans are the result of impersonal forces as mapped out by Darwin, and only that, you say.

But morality involving an ‘ought’ to do or not to do something implies meaning, when there is none for an atheist. There are only personal preferences, which can be of no more account than the next person’s, even if they are Nazis or Joseph Stalin. Atheism indeed lies at the root of all such regimes and their ideas.
‘Everything is permissible’, to sum up Ivan Karamazov. If one can get away with it.

Nietzsche thought correctly that lack of faith pulled the rug from under Christian morality. He laughed at people in England who were atheistical and who redoubled their priggishness ( I think he was referring to George Eliot ).

He also forecast that a substitute morality would be invented to replace Christianity. That morality is surely priggish political correctness. But this too would fail because it too would have no foundation. We are probably at peak PC, or even beyond it now. People no longer quail at accusations of ‘racism’ quite as much as they once did, for example.,After that, there was the morality of the will to power. And we know where that led to.

As for natural evil in the world; it is a mistake to think that God could create a world without it. He is only as powerful as God can be. Voltaire had a good sneer at Leibniz, but that was all he did. Leibniz was not so far off the mark.

Next, the Garden of Eden story is not a ‘fairy tale’ but a highly sophisticated multi-layered allegory. It refers to childhood innocence maturing into sexuality and sin; the move from a hunter gatherer society into agriculture , also referred to in the Cain and Abel story and the human aspiration to dictate ‘good and evil’.

Original sin is the propensity we all have to evil. We are born with it and we can see it in the selfishness and self-centredness of little children, who are nevertheless innocent because they know no better.

John Little

10th April 2020 at 2:14 pm

Glad I don’t live in your universe chum. It makes Mordor sound appealing. I’ll just quietly switch out the light and close the door as I leave!

Mor Vir

10th April 2020 at 3:55 pm

Mor is a Celtic name and Vir is Romance though it appears throughout Europe. Sorry but I do not speak pixie or goblin. : ) My ‘universe’ is the real one and you live in it whether you like that or not. No fairy stories here, just reality. : )

Have a good weekend.


10th April 2020 at 5:56 pm

MOR VIR — MOR = big/great; VIR = man. Are you a big or a great man, or both?

Philip Humphrey

10th April 2020 at 7:55 am

I think it’s important not to swallow whole the myths about the dark ages and the enlightenment. The idea of a dark age came largely from protestant reformers from the 16th century onwards who naturally wanted to present their own ideas as enlightening and what went before as dark and ignorant. It has largely been debunked. Christendom did lose about two thirds of its territory and many of its important centres of learning as a result of the Arab conquests. But science and knowledge continued to progress in Europe from the early days when it was behind the Arab empire and on the back foot, to the battle of Lepanto in 1571 where an Ottoman fleet was destroyed largely as a result of better ships, guns and technology on the Christian side. Sir Isaac Newton famously said that if he had seen a little further than most it was because he stood “on the shoulders of giants” and by that he meant the medieval scholastics his work and research he had built on. The enlightenment can also be seen as hype by a group of people with an agenda, trying to rubbish what went before. A more objective view of western history might see steady progress throughout.

Zammo McTrotsky

10th April 2020 at 8:11 pm

That’s not an objective view, it’s one that assumes that all ages are equal and must have prizes whatever the evidence! If progress has any meaning at all, it is only one defined by goals. I’m not sure whether it is possible to speak of “progress” before the enlightenment offered the ideal of a universal good, and the stereotype of a progressive and rational activity in science. If one nation conquered another in battle before, it might be said to be making “progress” from it’s own perspective (if nations have such things), but whether it was progressive for all humanity was a matter of luck. And as for “The Darkness of the Dark Ages has been exaggerated”, not nearly as much as it’s intellectual and social achievements relative to the periods that bookend it. Also the circumscribing of “Western” progress and counterpointing it with advances in the Arab World is a misleading tendency. The European progress between the dark ages and the renaissance was largely a result of interaction with the Muslim world. Mathematics, logic, philosophy, optics, even alchemy were stagnant in Europe and were jump-started by contact with Arab-Persian-Jewish scholarship.

Cedar Grove

8th May 2020 at 10:58 pm

I contest that. The Renaissance was “jump-started” by the renewal of interest in the foundational western ideas generated by the Ancient Greeks.

When invading desert Arabs conquered the civilised societies of the Middle East, Jews and Christians translated Greek scholarship in philosophy, medicine and science into Arabic. That “jump-started” Islamic scholarship. They received all the learning of the Classical & Christian scholars in one go. Anybody who actually reads the Golden Age texts can see that they are specific responses to Aristotle & other Ancients. The texts themselves say so.

A cultural revival occurred in Europe beginning in 1453, when the Greek scholars of the Byzantine empire fled, just before Constantinople fell to the Muslims. That was a major impetus for the Renaissance.

It’s certainly true that Arab scholars developed Greek medicine and mathematics, & were innovative chemists, but the Renaissance was about humanism – a concept which has never been part of the Arab world – & it valued literature & political theory, again absent from a culture which regarded such things as dangerous and heretical.

Cedar Grove

8th May 2020 at 11:17 pm


This is only Wikipedia, but it’s a sensible article which discusses the difference between the early & later mediaeval periods in terms of science etc. The picture is rather more nuanced than the phrase “Dark Ages” suggests. Even in the early period, we had AngloSaxon & French poetry, & fabulous jewellery, & by the 12th century, Gothic cathedrals.

Dan Under

10th April 2020 at 4:56 am

Little wonder then that the super-diversity brainwashed neo-Marxists loathe Christianity to the point of absurdity. Illustrative of this supposition, from an elite bureaucrat in New Zealand on Maundy Thursday, priceless:
“This weekend will be the first holiday we’ve experienced under COVID-19 Alert Level 4. Maybe it’s the most appropriate holiday that could be observed at this time? There are famous plays and countless pieces of classical literature that speak to this weekend’s significance — and many of those works focus on the uncertainty experienced before a new beginning.
Even for those who don’t observe Easter, this weekend is often celebrated as a changing of the season — a progression of one state of being to the next.
So it is for us.
Today there is uncertainty about what the future will bring. The team and I don’t have all the answers to alleviate that pain, but — where we can — we will continue to explore every opportunity available to make things better for you.
Tomorrow will be different.”

Zammo McTrotsky

10th April 2020 at 7:40 pm

That quote illustrates an attitude of respect for a Christian tradition, and a recognition of a universal sense of human hope for renewal that is expressed in that tradition. Is your first sentence an ironic satire on the fatuous, adolescent sub-nietzchean assault on progressive values that is the stock-in trade of Spiked, neatly followed by a quote that deflates it, or are you one of the mentally ill fans that Spiked attracts?

Brandy Cluster

10th April 2020 at 11:21 pm

I thought Dan’s comments were very good; an excellent quote. I’d like to know which NZ ‘elite’ made those comments, as I’m an Aussie.

Zammo’s comments are the typical reactionary fare which passes for ‘progressivism’ these days and which cannot and will not tolerate any form of dissent.

Progressive? Let’s see what that has brought us all:

1. Unfettered immigration of people – often times – culturally incompatible with the host country; what is, for example, a national value these days?
2. SJWs in the courts bringing down absurdly lenient sentences where nobody has personal responsibility for anything anymore and every criminal is, in fact, the victim;
3. The new culture of toxic masculinity where women are fetishized (not loved; don’t confuse the two) and the law is biased against males;
4. The streets aren’t safe to wander because of point 2.
5. The air and media is thick with hatred and grievance and victimhood ‘porn’.
6. Community cohesion and civil values – GONE
7. Epidemics of drug and substance abuse (particularly with the young) because nobody knows what values are and what to fight for.

You’ve obviously been addicted to “The Guardian” for the longest time. The same media outlet which brings you up close with the posturing as a bourgeois who loves culture; but they want you up close so they can entrap you with their endless misanthropy and resentment. But you’re meant to consider yourself a true connoisseur. Not transparent, or anything.

As George Orwell noted in the 1930s (“The Road to Wigan Pier”)…the bourgeois Left “dislikes the poor and hates the rich”.

Away with your dystopian progressivism.

Zammo McTrotsky

11th April 2020 at 4:36 pm

I wonder, General Cluster, if, when the Doctor tells you “You’ve been making good progress,” you try to escape your special coat and bite him.

Colin Broughton

12th April 2020 at 7:38 pm

There is a difference between progress and progressivism. Progress is actually a derivative of Christianity. The concept was unknown in any religion, philosophy or world view before it. It comes from the Christian doctrine of the coming Kingdom of God.

Progressivism is a perversion of Christianity. It is progress as an end in itself, stripped of Christianity. Marxism, for example, is an example of Progressivism. Marxist regimes are object lessons in what happens when God and Christianity in particular is dispensed with and ‘Progress’ to some materialist utopia of peace and plenty is worshiped as an idol.

Progress brought us innumerable benefits, some of which Holland describes in his book. Vishal Mangalwadi does a better job in my opinion in his ‘The Book that made your World’ (The Bible, of course) . Mangalwadi has the advantage of having grown up in Hinduism, a religion whose caste system is the antithesis of God’s love, forgiveness and view of the equality of his creatures in Christianity.

The books by Rodney Stark, the American sociologist of religion, are invaluable and
of course, no study of the influence of Christianity can be complete without the works of Christopher Dawson.

Jean De Valette

8th May 2020 at 7:47 pm

@Brandy Cluster. Today we have been celebrating VE Day. The clips of those cheering crowds- little did these people know that everything they fought: their country, the land of their ancestors and their inheritance; their freedoms; of speech, of association being chief among them, would be would be taken from them by a completely unrepresentative political class.

The very last thing by far the majority of them fought for was mass immigration, multiculturalism and multiracialism. The blood, tears and sweat of that generation have been comprehensively betrayed.

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