Had it been otherwise, then no one would ever have got woke.
So writes Tom Holland at the end of Dominion.
Today, as a statue of Robert Baden Powell is removed from the quayside in my town and as JK Rowling fights for her online survival having said that “people who menstruate” are women, Holland’s observation bears careful reflection.
The thesis of Dominion (a similar one to that made previously by Larry Siedentop) is that values such as liberty, human rights and equality are by no means self-evident or universal – rather they are entirely Christian in their origin and dissemination. Without the belief that all are created in God’s image and Paul’s assertion that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,” we would have no basis for believing that racism or slavery or sexism are wrong. Without biblical revelation a Nietzschean – or Roman – assumption of the right of might makes far more sense. The irony is that no matter how distorted the most extreme woke-demands might be, they are utterly dependent on Christianity for their existence.
This should give us confidence. In Christ we have the grounds for feeling the pain of the suffering victim and for rejecting racism, sexism and inequality. And we have the grounds for calling people to truth, as distorted versions of human personhood constrain and diminish, rather than enlarge us.
The basis for the values our society holds are grounded in Christianity. It is the call of the Church to demonstrate that it is only in Christ that these values can be truly understood and lived. Without the gospel we might be woke but we won’t be free.