The reviewer who happens to be a Christian believer might well approach this book with trepidation.
As if the title doesn’t say it all, the wrapper blurb describes the Christian faith as ‘violent, ruthless and intolerant’, and historian Michael Scott, quoted on the back cover, says of Nixey’s ‘elegant and ferocious text’ that it ‘paints a dark but riveting picture of life at the time of the “triumph” of Christianity’. One expects to have to face Dawkins with the gloves off.
In fact it’s better than that. In a total of 18 chapters (strictly 16 plus a prologue and introduction) Ms Nixey delivers a powerful and scholarly attack on almost every major aspect of Christianity during the first four or five centuries of its existence. She is clearly both learned and intelligent. The charges she levels against Christianity are generally well-based and deserve respect.
I grow weary of people who demand respect from Christians… and who are careful to give none in return.
Like many writers against Christianity, the author takes pains to show that she understands her enemy from within and is capable of appreciating any good things it achieved (even if they be few). Her father, she tells us, was an ex-monk, her mother a former nun. Apparently they were both in good odour with the Church, for she explains that the family regularly went together to Mass each week, and that her parents were strong defenders of the value of Catholic culture and education.
Yadda yadda yadda.
I also hear that Stalin was a monk as well, the Kim dictatorship in North Korea was rooted in a North Korean Christian family, and most of the cadre of early Communist China came from the Christian mission schools. Never mind Islam, itself a major Christian heresy…
All that means that, as the Kingdom of God snuffs our Satan’s Kingdom – most certainly including the demonic Roman Empire — the enemy is left to raid Christians to get the troops he needs.
(See Apostate for more info.)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, when all Christians who still exist have no interest in sending their children to be sacrificed to Moloch in the government schools & the abortuaries?
Let’s see how many beating it will take, how much contempt they will accept, before these people finally decide to take their God seriously.
(I am not holding my breath.
In fact, I am certain that there will be no Christian challenge to the Establishment. Instead, pagan power will merely fall apart of its own accord… with Christians desperately trying to save and protect it.
“Oh, for the leeks and onions of Egypt!”
Same story, different verse.)
Ms Nixey claims that only one per cent of ancient Latin literature has survived, and implies that this terrible loss of books is entirely due to Christian bigotry. I cannot imagine how she could possibly have arrived at such a figure. It could be true, of course, but it cannot be known.
We cannot come close to calculating how many words were written down by the ancients – the very thought of such an estimate is preposterous – but what we can be sure of is that we possess a good proportion of what the ancients considered to be their own best literature, the so-called classics. And our reasonable certainty about this arises from internal evidence: authors mention each other.
So we know which writers were highly regarded in their own society and we know the titles of particular works that were admired. We therefore have a pretty good idea of the gaps. Thousands of lines of the poet Ovid survive, for example, but his one drama, Medea, has long since disappeared.
St Augustine was greatly influenced by Cicero’s Hortensius, but it has completely vanished. Enormous quantities of Cicero’s speeches, letters, oratorical treatises and philosophical works survive, but the Hortensius sadly is not among them. One would love to have the Medea and the Hortensius, and one might even appreciate the discovery of some of the lost books of Livy, but in the meantime we should be grateful for the material we do have (regardless of the percentage!), confident that it includes most of the best things that were written, and that Christian scribes preserved it for us.
For censorship done right, I refer to turn to Voltaire, who managed to write an entire history of Europe and mention Christianity exactly once, during a river crossing.
I am certain that, if you compare the actual impact of Christianity on your nation with that taught in the secularist government schools, you will find a complete or near-complete erasure. An erasure not one secularist is going to complain about.1
Ms Nixey believes that the number of Christians martyred was very much smaller than has been commonly thought. She accepts Gibbon’s claim that the average number of executions of Christian was about 150 per year, but only during the years of persecution, which she asserts were spasmodic and few. She adds that the estimate has been dropping in recent centuries as a consequence of better scholarship and the exposure of mythical martyr stories.
There may be some truth in this, but in refocusing thus she cannot avoid painting a picture of successive Roman administrations as relatively benign and well-disposed towards their wayward citizenry: kindly magistrates try to persuade stubborn Christians to make the formal sacrifice necessary to show their allegiance to the state.
While the extent of Christian sufferings is minimized,
“While the extent of Christian sufferings is minimized…”
You know what I think?
I think – no, I am certain as a mortal can be – that in the future, some pale and pathetic initiation of our own Mighty Establishment will insist that the ‘supposed persecutions’ of Nazi Germany and the Communist states were grossly exaggerated, that all that bloodshed and murder didn’t really happen.
They will do this, because those supposed Future Masters will have knives and guns and electric cattle prods that they will be desperate to put to work themselves.
the author is unsparing in her pity for the remnant of the old Athenian Academy who suffered persecution at the hands of Christians. There is no doubt that once Christianity became the majority religion its supporters actively turned against the pagan diehards, but to say of one philosopher that ‘he was beaten before a judge until the blood flowed down his back’ (p. xxviii) is almost to weep crocodile tears.
LOTS of crocodile tears.
The account is no doubt true, but against the savage backdrop of Roman law enforcement it is little more than routine. Most of her sympathy is reserved for pagans, though, and her concern for those who could no longer worship their own gods sounds less than sincere on the lips of an atheist.
I think what the writer truly weeps for is the might and power of the Empire… and not the gods the Empire propped up, as servants to Itself.
On Gibbon’s figures the Romans were pussycats by comparison. Is that really likely? Her claims would be more convincing is she had attempted to assess the evidence of the numerous Christian martyrologies, including the work of the Bollandists, but there is no sign that she took them into account.
“All the evidence that fits.”
This review has not been particularly kind. I respect the author’s scholarship but sense that she has been forced by her own prejudices into painting a picture of the pagan world that is absurdly generous. The pagan world is noble for its elegance and its artistry. By contrast she cannot resist the temptation to compare the Christians to the modern Islamic State Caliphate, barbarians and vulgarians, vengeful and destructive.
The Establishment always despises those who do not kneel and worship itself above all things.
Her argument is not advanced by her choice of illustrations which contribute nothing and fruitlessly add, no doubt, to the cost of production: we are shown a statue of a pagan goddess with her nose chopped off as an illustration of intolerant Christian vulgarity; there are busts of Constantine and Lucretius; a fanciful 19th century painting of martyrs in the arena; Hypatia, of course, gets a look in; and there are several icons of Christian saints looking fierce, intolerant and slightly mad.
Good theatre perhaps, but valueless in the context of debate.
Propaganda pieces show their true colours… rather easily, for those who have eyes to see.
I respect her for that and acknowledge the difficulty of reviewing a book by one whose views are very different from one’s own and who is understandably outraged by religious zeal when it manifests itself in the persecution of its erstwhile persecutors.
Christians are to uncover the truth of the matter, as God commands. This is more difficult when filaments of carefully selected half-truths are wrapped in a pile of
cant Official Establishment Doctrine.
Christians, like all men, can be mean-spirited. It is Grace alone that sets us apart.
I have no interest in being ‘mean-spirited’…. only in truth, justice, law, and righteousness.
I an not such a fool to believe that a culture – ancient or modern – that is solely focused on money and power and pleasure (…and it’s protection from hostile outsiders…) has any interest in what interests me.
Let the Beast of Revelations scream and die.
God’s people have a Kingdom to built.
1 Well, they might mention the Inquisition. And the Crusades. And the “Dark Ages”. Those incidents, combined, should make up ALL you need to know about Christianity, so far as Our Betters are concerned.
You want the truth? Spend your own money, raise up your own networks… for I can guarantee that you will not get a penny of tax money for it. In contrast to the secularist, who get all they want, and more, with all the academic, government funding, and media backing you could imagine.
And yet, despite all the power and money and might they have, I am glad not to be One of Them.