The legacy of Christianity is ambiguous at best. Followers of the Christian traditions espouse unconditional love of others as the central tenet of their faith, but violent acts against those outside the faith are frequently undertaken in the name of Christianity. As Tom Holland illustrates in Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, this tension between universalism (loving your neighbor as yourself) and exclusivism (shunning anyone who doesn’t embrace the Christian faith) lives at the heart of Christianity, resulting in the proliferation of various groups that all claim to be Christian.
In his sprawling and detailed look at the ways that Christianity grew to be such a powerful force in the Western world, Holland traverses widely over time and space to narrate the rise of Christianity, its adaptation of ideas from already existing religions, its fitful origins as a small group, its eventual official acceptance by the Roman Empire and its development of creeds, a canon of scripture and orthodoxy. Holland explores the ideas of early Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Origen and Irenaeus as they struggle to capture the duality of the Christian faith—the goodness manifested in God and Christ versus the evil manifested in the devil and his minions; the goodness associated with living spiritually (spirit) versus the evil of living materially (flesh). Holland follows Christianity though the Middle Ages and into the Reformation, when various factions of Christians evolved and held, often tenaciously, to their own versions of what it means to be a Christian. Additionally, Holland shows that Western culture in the 21st century—whether it claims to embrace Christianity or not—is thoroughly imbued by the language, thought and theology of a religious tradition that shuttles between universalism and exclusivism.
Holland’s writing energetically conducts us through some often-dull history and ponderous concepts to demonstrate just how insidious Christian beliefs are in modern culture.