Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Geoffrey Blainey's Short History of Christianity

Noted Australian historian (and foundation Chancellor of the University of Ballarat from 1994 to 1998) Geoffrey Blainey published A Short History of Christianity last year. Here some passages taken from a review of the book by Simon Smart of the Centre for Public Christianity (in Sydney). Go to their website for the complete article. 

Plenty of people view retirement as a time to relax on the golf course, or to climb into a campervan for extended trips up the coast. Not so Geoffrey Blainey, the Australian historian and author of around 36 books. Powering into his eighties, Blainey has, by his own admission, taken on his hardest challenge yet, delivering his most recent work, A Short History of Christianity

Over ten years in the making, this is an ambitious project—the writer being faced with vast and unimaginably complex threads from which to weave a coherent narrative. In lesser hands it would be too much, but Blainey is a master of such ventures having successfully negotiated ‘short histories’ of Australia, the world and the 20th century. 

Blainey felt he needed to explore the story of Christianity for the simple reason that he recognised it to be, for better or worse, the most important force in the world over the last 2000 years. 

And he no doubt detected a broad interest in this subject. Christian history gets bad press these days—some would have us believe the whole thing has been one sorry tale piled upon another. The New Atheists have left their mark as purveyors of a historical caricature where Christian history is presented as unmitigated and relentless violence, oppression, narrow-mindedness and resistance to scientific progress. 

Blainey is no apologist for Christianity—he doesn’t gloss over the many failings and absurdities that form part of the narrative—but nor does he have any reason to deny Christianity’s contribution to the world, which he sees as formidable.

[ . . . . ]

Blainey reflects on how extraordinary it is that a man living 2000 years ago, who held no public office, owned no wealth, and travelled no more than a few days walk from his home could have exerted such influence on the world.

 There has certainly been much to regret over the centuries, and as Blainey rightly says, Christianity has been responsible for far more wrongs than its first apostles could ever have imagined. But, ultimately, Blainey believes that faith to have achieved more for Western civilisation than any other factor and to have helped far more people than it has harmed.

[ . . . . ]

Essentially Blainey believes that rather than dying out, Christianity is set to continue to evolve and move, to decline and re-emerge just as it always has. 

[ . . . . ]

“So much of what seems admirable in the world today comes largely or partly from Christianity and the people who practised it,” he concludes. And rumours of Christianity’s decline are greatly exaggerated. It’s a faith that has repeatedly reinvented itself, and while no revival is permanent, neither has been any decline. Such a pattern, suggests Blainey, is likely to continue.


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