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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

22 May 2019: Rev'd Stephen Wright, Petersfield Methodist Church

'What has Christianity ever done for us?'

I suppose there will be those who answer, not very much. For many, the legacy of faith is associated with words like violence, intolerance and injustice. It came as something of surprise then, to read the author and historian, Tom Holland’s new book, Dominion. Holland is not a Christian and yet his account of church history argues that its impact has been profound and left us all in its debt. Over and over again he shows that ideas we consider to be "self-evident" (to use the words of the framers of the US Constitution) are actually nothing of the sort. On the contrary, they are derived from and deeply rooted in Christian theology. The idea of fundamental human rights for example, based on the fact that we are all human and therefore all equal, is shown to be based on Christian ideals. Tellingly, Holland shows how the notion was utterly alien to pre-Christian cultures like the Persians, Greeks and Romans. Other concepts such as reform, revolution and the hope of a better, more harmonious world, the care of the vulnerable, weak and the sick, are shown to have intrinsically Christian foundations.

Holland achieves all this, whilst not for a moment ignoring the church's more shameful past, like for example, the infamous inquisition. And yet he suggests that the reason we find it (and other crimes and misdemeanours), so appalling, is because it is so out of sync with what we know to be proper Christian behaviour, as seen in the gospels and elsewhere. Of course, Holland's provocative thesis will not be to everyone’s taste. But should we be surprised that a faith which has so dominated the west for centuries should have left such a large footprint? Probably not. 'What has Christianity ever done for us?' Very much more than you might think.

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