How Christianity infuses our culture

Dominion by Tom Holland is a history of how Christianity has affected the thinking and culture of the modern, Western world. It is about how the ideas of Christianity infuse our thinking even if we do not follow the faith. The author claims that Christian ideas are now so embedded in our culture that we often do not realise where they come from and assume that they are actually a natural law and unaffected by religion at all. It’s a large and complicated subject which the author handles by following Christian thought and development through the ages.

The book starts with pre-Christian societies, especially the Romans, and shows how very different they are from society as Christianity begins to become part of people’s thinking and decision making. He chooses examples to illustrate his points and the book progresses chronologically.

The major part of this book is about societies in the first millennium AD. This is not my period of history and I certainly don’t know much about most of the cultures he examines in this section or most of the Christian thinkers. As I read through this part of the book I did find myself losing track of the arguments because there was too much detail and too many names. (I actually listened on audio – the book is read well by Mark Meadows with an introduction and epilogue read by the author). As the book moved nearer to the present in history I recognised more of the examples and found myself engaging better with the ideas put forward.

I have always been interested in the impact of faith on culture and society so this book was very much up my street. The author showed me lots of things I didn’t know and I now have to examine further. I understand his point and agree with it but I am not always sure that he proved it because I don’t know enough about the subject. The writing is clear and infused with a bit of humour here and there but it’s not a light read and is probably best absorbed in small doses.

An interesting book which talks about all manner of things – how the Romans regarded crucifixion, what John Lennon said and meant, Quaker attitudes to slavery, how science and religion mesh, why the Spanish Inquisition arose and how Christianity may have shaped Islam, for example. I found it fascinating but think that I am going to need to read it again to grasp fully the whole argument and then read up on some of the things he mentioned to get more context – it’s lucky that I enjoy reading history !

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