Book Review: Dominion, by Tom Holland

Tom Holland started off writing vampire novels but moved on to non-fiction and has since written an excellent history of the Persian invasion of Greece, several books about the Romans, one about Islam and one about the slow rise of Christian Europe that started around 1000 AD ; in retrospect at least, all his non-fiction books have had a hint of Christian Western European apologetics (some of it is probably well deserved reaction to the excesses of contemporary wokeness) but this book makes it explicit. Dominion is well written and well researched and he does make a lot of effort to include the nasty bits of Christian history, but in the end it IS a work of Christian apologetics, albeit from a modern liberal angle. Tom Holland’s basic thesis is that almost the entire set of “humanist” values modern liberals take for granted (universal human equality and dignity, separation of church and state, care for the weaker sections of society, suspicion of power, privilege and wealth, condemnation of slavery, cruelty and oppression, valorization of the weak and downtrodden, etc) is purely Christian in origin. No other civilization or culture had these values (or at least, foregrounded them in quite the same way as Christianity). For example, while some thinkers have always been unhappy with slavery,  the abolition of slavery was a Christian effort through and through. True, the slave owners had their own Biblical justification for slavery, but those who opposed them did so on the basis of their Christian beliefs, and they won the argument.

Holland also insists that the most viciously anti-Christian progressive thinkers of the post-enlightenment era also turn out be using Christian values to attack Christianity. When Marx cries out against the oppression of the proletariat or Lennon sings “all you need is love”, they are really being more Christian than most Christians. Since Nietszche thought something similar (that liberalism is “Christianity without Christ”), he gets a lot of positive play in this book, which is a bit ironic, since he also regarded Christianity as something of a disease.

As expected, the book is well written and stylish, sometimes with too much style; I am not picky about such things but some readers may tire of all his little reveals (a new character is discussed without being named for a few lines, giving readers the opportunity to guess who he or she is, then revealed; this is done in practically every chapter). He has done his research and as far as I could tell, there were no glaring errors of fact. But while he is scrupulous about his facts, he is not shy of cherry picking and framing to fit his thesis. Nero is a pagan monster who killed his own wife and mother; Constantine, the first Christian emperor, also viciously killed his wife and son, but that does not reflect badly on Christianity. Terrible and cruel punishments in pagan Rome are a sign of paganism’s shorcomings, but terrible and cruel punishments inflicted by inquisitors and priests (and described in horrifying detail in this book) are not Christian shorcomings (the thought is that eventually Christian Europe gave them up; why they were given up in a time of anti-clerical and even anti-Christian upheaval and not when the Church was at its mightiest, is assigned to Christian values taking 1800 years to make their mark, and then doing so surreptitiously). By the time the book gets to the modern world the thesis really begins to look like one of those Hindutvvadi posts about how everything was invented in India; no matter what any activists themselves may say, Tom Holland knows their beliefs and motivations are entirely Christian. This is probably partly true, but leaves open the question of where Christianity itself comes from. Unless one believes the Son of God thing, the explanation is likely to be that some mix of human nature and human history created Christianity, just at it created every other ideology. So why stop at Paul (or Christ if you prefer)? Everythying in this world seems to be derived from some combination of earlier things, why not Christianity? And why believe that the same results would not have arisen (somewhere, at some point) even if there had never been a Christ or a Paul? Maybe those impulses are also human universals, and can and do arise repeatedly, not just as an episode in the history of Jewish superstition? And of course there is always the possibility that some of this progress is not really progress at all, but a mistake. Especially with the “woke”, it is by no means universally agreed that they are a good thing, so crediting all of their values to Christ may not be a winning move for Christianity.

Anyway, I don’t find his thesis completely wrong; the tension between certain Christian values and various vicious aspects of Christian society is real and those values did lead some Christians to take up the cause of diverse oppressed groups, most spectacularly and successfully, against slavery. Economic explanations of why the British empire not only abolished slavery but expended diplomatic capital, real money and military might to stop the trade of slaves by others, are not sufficient, and are an insult to the memory of countless Quakers and other good Christians who made it their life’s work to fight the good fight and succeeded to the point that no modern society regards slavery as an acceptable institution anymore. But Holland insists that Christianity is the ONLY source of most of our modern liberal notions, which seems a bit of a strech. It is also not a unique claim. In fact, there are books written about how the Jews created modern rights, or Islam did, or for that matter, the Native Americans did; and of course Sufis take TomHollandism to another level, with a secret brotherhood using everyone from Abraham and Moses to Ghazali and Rumi to insert progressive ideas into human culture. But the most glaring omission in this book is the “Eastern Religions”; the entire book start and ends in the Middle East and Western Europe (Eastern Christianity gets no love either) and the ideas of India and China are dismissed practically without examination. Mahavir, Buddha, the authors of the Upanishads, the philosophers and thinkers of China, none find any mention in this book or get any credit for any human advance. On the other hand, the Christian West did have a disproportionate role in creating the modern world (for better and for worse), so he does have a case, but maybe not as strong a case as advertised.

But irrespective of what you think of his basic thesis, the book is still a great read. Tom Holland writes well, reads widely and has an eye for fascinating anecdotes that every reader can enjoy even if he or she does not agree with the underlying thesis. In fact, if you do NOT agree with this thesis you should especially read the book to see how well your preferred theory stands up against a well written Christian version. If he is wrong, why is he wrong? Trying to answer that question should be a fruitful exercise for anyone. Well worth reading.

QUOTES

“It is the audacity of it—the audacity of finding in a twisted and defeated corpse the glory of the creator of the universe—that serves to explain, more surely than anything else, the sheer strangeness of Christianity, and of the civilization to which it gave birth. Today, the power of this strangeness remains as alive as it has ever been. It is manifest in the great surge of conversions that has swept Africa and Asia over the past century; in the conviction of millions upon millions that the breath of the Spirit, like a living fire, still blows upon the world; and, in Europe and North America, in the assumptions of many more millions who would never think to describe themselves as Christian. All are heirs to the same revolution: a revolution that has, at its molten heart, the image of a god dead on a cross.”

“In a city famed for its wealth, Paul proclaimed that it was the ‘low and despised in the world, mere nothings, who ranked first. Among a people who had always celebrated the agon, the contest to be the best, he announced that God had chosen the foolish to shame the wise, and the weak to shame the strong. In a world that took for granted the hierarchy of human chattels and their owners, he insisted that the distinctions between slave and free, now that Christ himself had suffered the death of a slave, were of no more account than those between Greek and Jew.”

 

5+

53 Replies to “Book Review: Dominion, by Tom Holland”

  1. In one of the podcasts I listen to, he said he was an atheist but also a “cultural Christian”. I imagine this would represent the best case scenario for Christianity in the West in the coming decades. Religiosity is not going to increase so Christian institutions might be best served by focusing on the cultural, historical and identity aspects. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from Hindutva in this regard lol.

    1. I feel like Hindutva actually further ahead in this regard. “Hindu Atheist” and cultural hindu seem pretty widespread in my social bubble atleast.

    2. IMO, and I hope it’s humble, once the wave of coronavirus is over, and before the tsunami of global warming hits, there may well have been enough people shocked into joyful, hopeful celebration of the Christian concept of resurrection, or into Shaivite realist appreciation for meditation on cremation grounds, to make both meditative and ritual religious practices de rigeur. My opinion onlyv — a guess!

  2. one of the major blind-spots of western thinkers is that they don’t know the history of china and miss out that confucianism was mocked during the ‘100 schools’ period as particular flaccid, weak, and non-militant.

  3. Razib Khan has argued on podcast that Buddhism was the first Missionary religion which influenced early Christian concepts and influenced Islam.

    Is this True?

    Western Christianity is just an overlap over folk European cultures and the Biblical Christianity.
    I think in terms of no violence (Krishna’s version) , Non killing of the animals etc are good values that only comes with Hindu Philosophy, Buddhism and Jainism.
    Can somebody tell me the Cultural Differences between Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity?
    Also Very Good Post.

    1. “Can somebody tell me the Cultural Differences between Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity?”

      The main difference is about the holy spirit in the Trinity

      Eastern Christianity: the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father,
      Western Christianity: the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

      Trinity is very confusing

    2. Western Christianity – dogmatic, communal, very nervous about history, strong ethnic grounding (Jesus must have blue eyes!!), Still have not recovered from the shock of Hitler’s impact (the most influential figure of Western Christianity in the 20th century). Now trying to overcompensate.

      Eastern – have a mature and secure geographic rootedness, also strongly ethnic but only because of their cultural geography. Never allowed religion to come in the way of political strife. Paradoxically they are the real secular heroes in Eurasia.

      Poland is the real split personality in this room. Been slapped around by both major denominations, they have tried to fit in both worlds, only to be dissed. The new generation is violently woke. Again overcompensating.

    3. Eastern Christianity developed in the Greek/Syriac/Persian East while Western Christianity developed in the Latin West. So there are differences in language, liturgy etc. There are more theological differences amongst Western Christians(Catholics vs Protestants) and Eastern Christians(Eastern Orthodox vs Oriental Orthdox vs Nestorian) than between Western and Eastern Christians as a whole(Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have more in common in with each other than they have with Protestants or Nestorians).

      1. good summary. simple genealogy

        1) church of the east/persia vs everyone else (church of east = nestorians)
        2) monosophyites vs. imperial church (monosophyites become ethiopian, coptic, armenian, jacobite)
        3) imperial church splits btwn east and east (east becomes orthodox)
        4) western latin rite church splits btwn protestant and catholic
        5) protestant splits btwn reform and non-reform
        6) reform split btwn magisterial and radical

        this is an america-centric view. also, the ‘celtic church’ was a slowly absorbed by the western church btwn 500 and 1000 AD

        1. I find it difficult to understand all the splits in Western Christianity though I do admire their intellectual energy. Eastern Christianity on the other hand has been stagnant for centuries with little theological debates taking place. The last major Syrian theologian lived in the 13th century while us Nasranis have never produced a single scholar or theologian of note in all of our history. Malayali Hindus had an active intellectual culture so I am not sure what went wrong with us.

          1. “while us Nasranis have never produced a single scholar or theologian of note in all of our history.”

            @Harry

            Were Nasranis a big community historically?
            (Relative to other contemporary Eastern Christian communities and also relative to Kerala Brahmins)

  4. Only book of his I read in part was Rubicon on the fall of the Roman republic which is one of the few books I abandoned reading midway due to the turgid prose style. Holland is an English lit grad, with no training in history as far as I know. From what I have read of his work, he is too keen to tell a good yarn that will support his contentions. He pumps out history books every three years or so in-between political activism, Twitter posts and making TV documentaries which makes you wonder if he actually does any research.

  5. ugra, you have no idea what you are talking about. such a bullshitter. Poland has always been part of the western church (moravia to the south was influenced by Cyril and methodius, but this was long before the schism btwn east and west).

    1. @Razib, with your erudition, I am pretty sure you can point me out to the exact page number of your references. But this does not reflect the lived reality of the view of Poland in the main Western European regions (France, Benelux plus also Germany).

      Poles are Eastern to the Dutch, German, French and Belgian despite whatever they claim about their Church…….all that matters not a whit. It is quite true that Poles themselves say they are part of the West. If you want to get some LOLzz, just look at the Wikipedia entry for Poland. It is called as being in Central Europe, pretty sure some edit wars took place there ending with a compromise.

      Today Polish immigrants face the highest resistance for integration in Western Europe, always classed with Eastern Europe.
      https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2018/11/christenunie-leader-calls-for-fewer-eastern-european-migrants/
      You might object that this is an economic issue, but the fact remains Polish are lumped with Eastern Europe.

      Going back to the Church discussion, it is quite instructive to see the list of Catholic saints beatified – only 34 Polish saints – even China has 19. The Polish must be really sceptical of Jesus, to produce so less even after a 1000 years of supposed Western Church. Unless there exists some other factor that can explain this discrepancy!!

      Another thing that comprehensively solidifies the mainstream EU view that Polish aren’t Western in either outlook or religiosity are their stands in the EU parliament on immigration, crime, human rights, homosexuality, labor laws or Church reform. They consistently stand with their Eastern neighbours.

      Another anecdotal experience – for dangerous assignments in hot zones in Africa, Polish professionals in my company are always chosen over Western Europeans. The Africans do not consider Poles as European or Western in any manner!

  6. dogmatic, communal, very nervous about history, strong ethnic grounding (Jesus must have blue eyes!!),

    also, this is really stupid. again, you don’t know what you are talking about.

    1. I always believe that the religiosity of a society finds it’s highest expression in politics. This linkage, however minor, is umbilical and will find its way into discourse in one form or another.

      Dogmatic – Where do you think the EU’s love for bureaucracy comes from – all those hundreds of laws, the dozens of bylaws, this cornucopia of bewildering rules and regulations? Is it merely the need to administer? It cannot be because far away, in another continent – we have the Indian Union which administers an equally impressive amount of land area – but we do not have this level of minutiae!! State and Central Lists are drawn up and the individual states have considerable leeway in many policies. The EU is the direct bureaucratic child of the Roman Catholic Church. No wonder, the free flowing Englanders were the first to break away from this stifling environment. Yes, I fully subscribe to the idea that Brexit is a 21st century rerun of Henry VIIIth revolt against papal rules that placed a low premium on practicality.

      Communal – Can you explain what are EUś objections that prevent Turkey’s full fledged accession to the EU? I see it as purely communal on religious grounds.

      Ethnic core – This is something that will be tough to explain – because one cannot wish away France’s multi-ethnic character, Germany’s tough integration laws against racism etc. But philosophically no EU state has yielded the smallest inch to a competing world view that is ethnically different from its own over the past 3 millennia. They have absorbed, appropriated and re-packaged but have never been owned. India and Indians have much more appetite to handle cultural and philosophical ambiguity. I will state very emphatically that the whole idea of Binaries is pure European and this is reflected in all their relations with the world. The Yugoslav war of the last century was nothing but the European struggle to resolve a culturally ambiguous state on its doorsteps. So they probed, triggered, sided and finally initiated a war that resulted in 4 binary states.

  7. Thank you very much for this review, Omar Bhai. I was hoping Razib would review this book (and had made a request in some Brown Pundits comment thread). I was hoping that trad Hindus would review it, but not really expecting them to, given how they tend to ignore fundamental questions amid their fixations.
    I am a bit surprised that you are less charitable on Tom Holland than I am (but understandable – I am more eager than you are to brand Christianity and liberalism as subversive, a point Tom Holland that brings out well).
    There is a slight difference in the way I understood him though – while the ideas of concern for the poor are there in many pre-Christian religions, Christianity started framing it, or set into motion process that allowed framing it, as a rich vs poor fight for purposes of subversion.
    For instance, consider the statement “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – this view is not just about respect for the poor as about diminishing the status of the rich.
    So while other religions had to mostly depend on altruism to be concerned about the poor and only a tiny bit of conceit (the conceit of the rich at giving stuff away), Christianity gradually allowed for some political profit and status games to be marshalled for the purpose. This doesn’t contradict what you are saying, but the emphasis is a bit different.

    (Update: My understanding of Tom Holland’s writing or history could be a misinterpretation, if so I will be happy to be corrected).

  8. @Razib and @Omar
    If you guys earn points /benefits from Amazon links – you should also put the Amazon.in links as many of the readers reside in India

  9. The EU is the direct bureaucratic child of the Roman Catholic Church.

    It could be the offspring of the Roman empire but then it is easier to use facts selectively to demonize the object of hatred.

  10. For instance, consider the statement “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – this view is not just about respect for the poor as about diminishing the status of the rich.

    not a total response. but one thing to note is that in chinese society the core and bedrock were the farmers. despite the supposed egalitarian aspects of christianity, europe developed a hereditary nobility, while china never did. the term ‘peasant’ has a connotation of negativity which apparently it does not in china.

    1. ” europe developed a hereditary nobility, while china never did. the term ‘peasant’ has a connotation of negativity which apparently it does not in china.”

      What could be the reason for that Razib? I think not just Europe almost all parts of the World had hereditary nobility to some extent, curios y it was different in China.

      1. What could be the reason for that Razib? I think not just Europe almost all parts of the World had hereditary nobility to some extent, curios y it was different in China.

        what’s the blood nobility in the world of islam?

      2. Regardless of whether blood nobility developed in other parts of the world or in religions like Islam, I would also be curious to know if its not developing in China was due to specific reasons. For instance you say the “core and bedrock” were farmers – is this some Confucian notion, and did that have anything to do wiith blood nobility not developing?

    2. Thanks for the response Razib. Regarding:

      the term ‘peasant’ has a connotation of negativity which apparently it does not in china.

      I remember being surprised when a Chinese person I knew told me about his parents that “They are pea-sants”. I was of course impressed at the educational achievement of a child of peasants, but also a bit surprised that he used this particular word instead of saying “We cultivate some land” or something.

    3. chinese society the core and bedrock were the farmers.

      I would argue that in Sri Lanka the bedrock were farmers, and that was pretty much everyone.

      Kandyan system was Rajakariya (“the king’s work”), which linked each caste to an occupation and demanded service to the court and religious institutions

      Regardless of caste occupation, almost all did farming for their livelihood.

      There is a saying, a farmer washed off of mud from the field is fit to be King.

  11. But this does not reflect the lived reality of the view of Poland in the main Western European regions (France, Benelux plus also Germany).

    “lived reality” no offense (perhaps some), the use of this term as a response to an intellectual claim is the last resort of scoundrels.

    i am aware of how people in the west view the poles. 1,000 years of history is not erased by an iron curtain.

    1. Well, the Poles are just in time to contribute to this discussion on “lived reality”

      https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-eu/poland-should-reject-treaty-on-violence-against-women-official-says-idUSKCN24Q0DG

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/26/poland-withdraw-from-treaty-violence-against-women-istanbul-convention

      If you read the secret discussions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it will show you exactly how the Prussian Nobles, Germans and Russians view the Polish. Many of the sentiments expressed in 1939 exist to this day. Neither in the East nor in the West. They are a frontier/buffer state.

  12. Going back to the Church discussion, it is quite instructive to see the list of Catholic saints beatified – only 34 Polish saints – even China has 19. The Polish must be really sceptical of Jesus, to produce so less even after a 1000 years of supposed Western Church. Unless there exists some other factor that can explain this discrepancy!!

    this often has to do with persecution and piety above and beyond the call of duty. the early church has a lot of saints, not because the roman empire was more christian, but because it was more pagan.

  13. If you read the secret discussions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it will show you exactly how the Prussian Nobles, Germans and Russians view the Polish. Many of the sentiments expressed in 1939 exist to this day. Neither in the East nor in the West. They are a frontier/buffer state.

    dude, shut the fuck up about history to me or i’ll ban you. i forget more in one day than you know.

    i’m sure you’re learned and erudite with whoever you hang out around, but don’t try to pull this shit around the likes of me. there’s one kabir on this blog. the slot is taken for the unselfconscious dunce. stay in your lane.

    1. tbf you aren’t as bad as kabir. you seem to know some things. keep reading and stop relying on the “lived experience.” using a term like that, you on the path toward becoming a kabir, lord-of-buzzwords, comprehender-of-nothing.

  14. I made some comments under the review of TH’s previous book – Persian Fire, and I will not repeat here.

    https://www.brownpundits.com/2019/03/05/review-persian-fire/

    Just to refer to Xerxie’s assertion that Tom is a Coloniser, but this is not the main point then that he is someone who was educated on Hollywood movies and western propaganda and who started to believe in own propaganda. I was initially misled by his title (historian&linguist) until I realised that was missing the attribute – ‘popular’.

    More important is what he does not say at all (e.g. Eastern Christianity). We can see where is the kitchen, where ancient and old history books were cooked. It is primarily related to heavily falsified Greek history and artificially extending it deep into the past to resent ancient roots of Western history. Greece did not exist during the Persian wars; the first Greek state was formed in 1829. There were only Greek cities which were vassals to the Macedonian Kingdom. Even, the term ‘Greeks’ did not exist at that time than much later and it was a derogatory name assigned by Balkan indigenous population.

    I agree with Razib’s qualificatives of Ugra’s comments plus this one about Yugoslav wars. So as in the case of Poland there is a significant lack of knowledge. In fact, Polish and Czechs and Moravian (at Cyril and Methodius time) did not exist. They got these names much later, but they spoke the same language. Greek brothers were Vatican agents, sent to prepare conversion of Moravians in anticipation of the Christian Church division. They finished their mission unsuccessfully and finished their lives in Vatican. The biggest crap is that they brought literacy to so-called Slavics.

    Polish (=’people from the field’) are one of the strongest Catholics believers (similar to some S.Americans) for what they were awarded with a Pope position. The question is what the Western Christianity is, Protestantism was also Western. It is interesting to discuss that the same Pomeranian-Baltic people, with same genetics and speaking the same language were split with a lot of blood in three Christian streams.

    Someone mentioned EU. EU is a continuation of the Nazi project from late 30ies. It would be an interesting thread about this less known fact. Finally, it was mentioned that TH started with vampire novels. A curiosity is that one of many Serbophob streams (here we have for e.g. jihadists and oit moronic wing) during the quarrels, states that Serbs did not give to the world anything except the word ‘vampire’. In fact, Vlad Tepes i.e Vladimir Zmajevic (aka Dracula) was a Wallachian Serb but we will leave this for some other comment.

  15. @Prats
    Yeah, at present Nasranis comprise about 10% of the population. I don’t think this proportion has changed throughout history but even putting it at 5% would make us many times larger than the Namboodiris who are the indigenous Brahmins of Kerala. I think the sheer isolation from other Christian communities probably played a role in theological stagnation. The Christianity practiced before 16th century in Kerala probably had heavy Hindu influence.

    1. @Harry Jecs – while Nasranis’ intellectual output may not have been high before the twentieth century, they have been doing extremely well since then. While examples don’t prove a point, it is still striking that there is probably no modern scientist from Kerala anywhere near comparable to ECG Sudarshan – I haven’t confirmed he is a Nasrani, but most likely he is. There is also the point in a comment thread discussed earlier that communities which took to British education, and not communities which traditionally were considered intellectual, were the ones to prosper.

      Regarding:

      Yeah, at present Nasranis comprise about 10% of the population. I don’t think this proportion has changed throughout history but

      An article in Swarajya ( https://swarajyamag.com/politics/the-continuing-decline-of-hindus-in-kerala ) gives the total percentage of Christians in Kerala as having risen from 13.8% in 1901 to 21.22% in 1961, and then declining slightly since. Of course, these numbers include all Christians like the latin Catholics, and not just the Nasranis.

      I am very curious as to what reasons could be attributed to this. To be sure, I don’t think there is any conspiracy whatsoever. Culturally I find a good degree of difference between the Muslims and Hindus of Kerala but less so between Christians and Hindus. A couple of years ago I remember being upset reading the story of a Kerala Christian who abandoned a child at a Church because that was his fourth child, and he was afraid his family members or acquaintances would ridicule him for having a fourth child.

        1. Thanks. I had heard of Zachariah’s work, but will take time to look it up and get back.

      1. “Culturally I find a good degree of difference between the Muslims and Hindus of Kerala but less so between Christians and Hindus”

        I dont know y but some of hardcore “Hindu” folks i have met or read are Mallu ex-christians. They are even more stringent than Hindus. LOL

        This is very odd, considering that i have never seen this phenomena, outside Kerala.

        1. I too have observed this correlation, and am amazed by it too. Cultural affinity is an obvious explanation, but I am also open to something else being the principal explanation.

          1. That could be a reason, but i have seen some Muslims/Christians converts to Hinduism. But they aren’t as vocal as mallu converts. Even converts to Islam/Christianity seem more devout/practicing. Hadiya case for example.

    2. Harry, did political patronage play a role perhaps? Many of the brahmin communities of the south were invited by the monarchs and granted land to add prestige to the rulers. Much like universities, if “tenure” was provided to support intellectual undertakings, it might suggest that these achievements were likely to be seen among the politically favoured religious orders. I have no background in this, just musing, but it does seem that many of the thinkers under the sultanates were disproportionally muslim, and under others they were jain and buddhist correspondingly.

      1. \Many of the brahmin communities of the south were invited by the monarchs and granted land to add prestige to the rulers. Much like universities, if “tenure” was provided to support intellectual undertakings, it might suggest that these achievements were likely to be seen among the politically favoured religious orders. I have no background in this, just musing, but it does seem that many of the thinkers under the sultanates were disproportionally muslim, and under others they were jain and buddhist correspondingly.\
        Girmit, brahmin communities were invited (we have not seen invitation cards) or encouraged many times. At the same time, brahmins are also found in the history of southern societies from Day 1. basically it is difficult if not impossible to speak of Dravidian speaking societies whose origins had no Brahmans, to the extent historical records can go.

        I think you are implying there was no “intellectual output” from southern Hindu communities, esp brahmins. You are singularly un-informed. There has been tremendous output in Vedanta, vedanga, mimsamsa, maths, sanskrit lit and what have you . Not only Sanskrit , but also local languages

        1. Vijayvan, I think you misread my implication/ or I conveyed my thoughts poorly. To my knowledge, as you stated, brahmins have always been great scholars in the southern societies. I take that as a premise to understand why the nasranis may not have been, and suggest that without rulers particularly invested in christian theology, the latter may not have had patrons or the need to sustain an intelligentsia.
          As for the existence of brahmins from the recorded beginnings of “dravidian” civilization. I think this is true, although politically contentious and I take a middle view. Unlike ardent dravidianists, I don’t see tamil civilization as sui generis, it may have at best been an economically maturing pre-literate society at the time of the indo-aryan cultural contact by way of the arrival of jain/buddhist missionaries and brahmins. Like the idea of pagan germania, its just a putative society that embodied the essence of the race. Its perfectly natural that moderns project romantic ideas onto this pre-history, while muddling the actual chronologies. In that way the sangam era is like the icelandic sagas, cognizant of and using new cultural tools from a distant civilizational core, but still a very different society.

          1. \sangam era is like the icelandic sagas\ \Like the idea of pagan germania\
            Pagan Germania was just that pagan ; you have Roman, Greek, and Runic notices of that paganism. German paganism is well attested till they turned Christian . Sangam socety does not indicate a pre-Hindu ( vedic+puranic) lore . It was not like Wagner’s nostalgia for pre-Christian days within a Christian society. All the super-human heroes in Sangam poetry have been taken from Puranas ; Indra, varuna, Vishnu, Krishna, Balarama , Karthikeya and others. Human heroes are local, as well as landscape and poetical form and language

            \although politically contentious and I take a middle view\ You don’t have to take a middle view because otherwise it is contentious

  16. nasranis do not seem to care much about theology tbh. their origins are clearly with the ‘nestorian’ church of the east. but after european intrusion they switched mostly to the jacobite church, which is theologically the opposite of the church of the east…. e.g., christology:

    jacobite <=> catholic/orthodox <=> church of the east

    1. Yeah that makes sense. I think the only thing we cared about was having Middle Eastern Patriarch appoint our bishops. Apostolic Succession was the main concern. If memory serves me right, after the Portuguese inquisition, we sent appeals to several Middle Eastern churches and as the Syriac Orthodox Church was the first one to respond, we adopted their theology.

  17. \ Tom Holland’s basic thesis is that almost the entire set of “humanist” values modern liberals take for granted (universal human equality and dignity, separation of church and state, care for the weaker sections of society, suspicion of power, privilege and wealth, condemnation of slavery, cruelty and oppression, valorization of the weak and downtrodden, etc) is purely Christian in origin\
    Partly true, partly nonsense.
    Humanism is an antithesis of Christianity, even form a X-ian Pov. For humanism , man is the measure of all things; for a fundamentalist X-ian this can be blasphemy or close to it .
    Both good and bad things have emerged out of both Humanism and Christianity. Communism, socialism, nationalism and fascism can trace their origin to Humanism; Christian history has also been bound up with persecution , genocide, colonialism , racism and what not, apart from concern for sick and poor.
    The paradigm of western Christianity I consider Knights of Jerusalem, who started as doctors and hospitals ready to server any needy , quickly became a Order of Knights , and heroically defended Malta and other places. And committed their own atrocities on others and each other

    Both service ideals and violence are there in Christian history
    While end of slavery were promoted by many Christians on religious grounds, anti-racism has been the product of horrors of World wars , when Euro-americans found out that unless racism is tackled at molecular level, it can spiral out of control and capture state power.
    Apart from Isms, there is a learning from history to make better societies

  18. The fundamental physical problem with most of these reductive theses is that people think knowledge-creation is just about repackaging of earlier values, as opposed to true creation ex nihilo.

    Just as Christianity itself isn’t reducible to the Roman paganism (amongst other things) that preceded it in C/W Europe, Whiggish liberalism is not derivable from Christianity (though it grew in a Christian context of religious and civil wars).

    In my own view Liberalism owes more to the peculiar Celtic-Roman-Christian-Saxon-Norse-Norman history of England and the mixed culture it engendered (as the catalyst) than Christianity alone. Brits need to be more proud of themselves.

  19. The heyday of Christianity in Europe was 500-1500 AD. That was also when it was least innovative. As the Enlightenment got going, Christianity’s grip was defanged successively in stages. Many of these same Enlightenment philosophers were very critical and often outright hostile to the church. Nietzsche’s quip should be read as one of his many warring statements to put his intellectual peers down to size.

    In short, I don’t really buy Holland’s thesis, at all. I also think that there was a relatively liberal strain in Western civilisation from the start. Ancient Greeks were notoriously assimilationist (sign of liberalism) in the ages, even adjusting for bad habits (slavery etc) which were common in their era. Democracy, no matter how limited, was an idea that gained a lot of traction among substantial parts of their elite.

    So the seeds of such thinking goes back way before Christianity. In fact, precisely because of these factors, Christianity was a natural fit for much of Europe. In a way, Europe chose Christianity for deeper underlying cultural reasons rather than Christianity having shaped it.

    1. That was its expansion/missionary period in Europe as a whole, but hardly its heyday.
      Only after the Christianization of Scandinavia and the Teutonic Order’s crusade in Old Prussia did any “heyday” begin.

      Also, far more Enlightenment philosophers practiced apologetics than were hostile to Christianity.

  20. I am most convinced by Henrich and others who postulate that modern liberal sensibilities are the consequence of the Church’s interference in marriage, which gradually eliminated tribalism and instilled individualism across parts of Europe. I think value-dependent explanations like this should at least attempt to use research from cultural evolution as a supplement.

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