It is finished. It took me weeks. It is the Sunday Times bestseller called ‘Dominion – The Making of the Western Mind’ and it is over four centimetres thick with a small font and very few pictures! It is written by historian Tom Holland and maps a path of events from antiquity through to today.
There is a romantic notion in many books and films about the pre-Christian pagan world that ‘things were much better’ before the weak Christians came and messed things up. In my previous benefice I had an acquaintance who believed that the Roman Empire was the high point of civilisation and longed for a return to the glories of Rome. The truth however is that it was a brutal tribal world where life was cheap and usually short. The strong survived until one stronger emerged. Granted Christian history does not always practice the principles of its leader and Tom Holland details the many corruptions of power by the church as well as describing the more saintly key figures that brought transformation.
As I write a military coup has taken place in Myanmar. We hear reports of people, including women and children, being killed indiscriminately. We look on in horror and wonder how this can possibly happen in 2021, yet had we lived in antiquity it would have been accepted as normal. What has changed in the western mind?
At the heart of Tom Holland’s six hundred pages is just one word: Easter
A man like many thousands before him and after him was executed by crucifixion. There was nothing unusual in that. But this cross was different because the one who was placed upon it revealed to humanity the nature of love. In her Good Friday reflection this year Elaine Burbidge said this.
“The cross brings us face to face with God who is vulnerable, suffering, down-trodden. It shows the reality of love. Loving involves the giving of oneself totally and freely to another. In giving love we give power to the object of our love. …..God has given us free will. In loving us freely and unconditionally, God invites our response… thereby opening himself to the possibility of the painful and tragic outcome of rejection, the cross. The cross, then, reveals the nature of God not as dictator or puppeteer, but as generous, self-giving and loving. (St) John saw this and wrote, “We beheld his glory.”’
We are rightly shocked and angered by the misuse of power across the globe, by male violence against women, by inequality between people of different race, by modern-day slavery and by the squandering of the earth’s resources for the short term gain of a few. The cross shows us that every person is to be cherished irrespective of their circumstances. The clear message of Tom Holland who writes not as a card carrying Christian, is that these values come from a deep seated christian world view that affects us all in the West, believer and atheist alike. Without these shared values the world would be a very different place.
I would like to finish with one more word, resurrection. Resurrection is many things but I would like to suggest that it is an invitation. An invitation to join the work Jesus started from the moment he said ‘It is finished’.