Tom Holland is an atheist. But he recognizes something that several public atheists now acknowledge: Christianity has had a beneficial effect on civilization.
The world is a better place because Jesus came. Holland, a British historian, makes the case for this in his 2019 book, “Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.”
Holland’s area of expertise is the ancient world. While he admires the ancients for their greatness, the more he learned about them the more he came to see that their values were barbaric and vastly different from his own. The ancients were cruel. The Spartans routinely murdered children who had mild imperfections. Infanticide was commonplace. The poor and the weak had no rights. The powerful used the bodies of slaves as outlets for physical gratification.
This led Holland to ask, what was it that brought the western world to the place where it began to value human life, even the lives of those with physical handicaps? What was the origin of western prohibitions against rape? From whence arose western mores that taught men to control themselves, to marry, and to be faithful to their wives? How did those in the west come to treat women as more than objects?
Such humane values did not materialize out of thin air. They are the fruit of Christianity. They are the result of the proclamation of Christianity throughout the world, and particularly, throughout the Western world.
Without Christianity, there would be little that is civilized about western civilization. Even social justice warriors who seek to eradicate Christianity are living off the borrowed capital of a Christian past when they call for love, tolerance and compassion. As Jonathon Van Maren put it, “If the West had not become Christian … no one would have gotten woke.”
Matthew Paris, a writer for the London Times, is another unbeliever who sees the value of Christianity. In his essay, “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God,” he wrote, as a “confirmed atheist I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa … Government projects … alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good … Those who want Africa to walk tall … must not kid themselves … Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone, and the machete.”
I am glad that Tom Holland and Matthew Paris begrudgingly acknowledge the necessity of Christianity. May they come to see that the reason Christianity is necessary is because it is true. Jesus’ claims about himself in the four gospels are worthy of examination by the most ardent atheist.
Peter Kemeny is the pastor of Good News Presbyterian Church of Frederick, a congregation of the Bible-based denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.goodnewspres.org).