Historian Responds to "Religion Poisons Everything"
The late Christopher Hitchens, one of the New Atheists, wrote a book titled god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. But is that true? Are all religions really that harmful?
Tom Holland, a historian who focuses on the ancient world, describes how he came to reject the God of Christianity during his youth. His rejection began at an early age when he found it difficult to reconcile dinosaurs with the biblical account of Adam and Eve. The problems then compounded such that when he began to study the thinkers of the Enlightenment he was ready to accept “their interpretation of history: that the triumph of Christianity had ushered in an ‘age of superstition and credulity’.” He also accepted the narrative that Christian morality was negative and that it led to “ … all the crusaders, inquisitors and black-hatted puritans who had served as [God’s] acolytes.”
But this naive attitude toward Christianity changed as Holland compared his values with that of the ancient world. Eventually, he realized that many of his most cherished moral standards resulted from the influence of Christianity. For example, his conviction that all human life had value - especially the poor and weak - was a result of the Bible's influence.
The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it … 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.
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.
Tom Holland, “Why I Was Wrong about Christianity,” September 14, 2016, https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/religion/2016/09/tom-holland-why-i-was-wrong-about-christianity.