Lazy Sentimental christianity: Part 1, Tom Holland's Dominion

A couple of months ago I finished Tom Holland's book Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.

Holland is a historian, whose area of expertise is the Greek and Roman eras. And it's those studies that eventually, and unexpectedly, culminated in Holland writing a massive history of Christianity's impact upon the world, the West in particular, down to this very day.

Holland's premise is simple: The West is Christian, even as it becomes increasingly secular and post-Christian. That is to say, the moral ideals and humanistic values that the West broadly assumes is simply a secularized articulation of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This insight occurred to Holland, who is not a confessing Christian, when he be began to compare his historical heroes, the Greeks and Romans, with his own modern, liberal, and humanistic sensibilities. As Holland summarized in an article anticipating Dominion:
The years I spent writing these studies of the classical world – living intimately in the company of Leonidas and of Julius Caesar, of the hoplites who had died at Thermopylae and of the legionaries who had triumphed at Alesia – only confirmed me in my fascination: for Sparta and Rome, even when subjected to the minutest historical inquiry, did not cease to seem possessed of the qualities of an apex predator. They continued to stalk my imaginings as they had always done – like a tyrannosaur.

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

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

Well, more precisely, liberal humanism isn't Christian, it's christian. So that's not a typo in my title.

This is a short series about liberal humanism, the reigning worldview of the Western word, describing it as lazy sentimental christianity. Yes, even agnostics and atheists are lazy sentimental christians.

A post for each part, going backwards. Liberal humanism, first, as christian, then as sentimental, and lastly, as lazy.

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