What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us? Its role in shaping the world today

02 November 2006


Lion £16.99 (0-7459-5168-6)

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An unblown trumpet: Mike Starkey regrets the absence of music in this look at faith and culture

IN THE film Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a dim-witted Judaean cynically asks: "What have the Romans ever done for us?" Other bystanders duly rehearse the cultural and technological achievements brought by the Roman Empire. In recent years, that question-ing formula has become a staple of authors and TV producers — expecting, as it does, the Pythonesque retort: "Quite a lot, actually."

Jonathan Hill is a freelance editor and writer, currently working for Sky News. The author of Lion’s History of Christian Thought, he now shifts his focus to the ways in which Christianity has shaped culture and history. He covers all the obvious areas: literacy and education, architecture and painting, the struggle for justice, the Christian calendar. The usual suspects are name-checked: Dante, Luther, Michelangelo, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King.

More interesting, because less familiar, is his inclusion of the 16th-century King Afonso of the Congo, Louis the Pious (who was said never to have laughed, but did a lot for the cause of education), and the monks who refined the art of beer-making.

Inevitably, selecting high-water marks of Christian cultural influence is a subjective business; but Hill’s most glaring omission is in his section on music. It is less than three pages long, and from it you could easily conclude that Christian musical influence started with Gregorian chant and ended with Bach. In fact, the most popular forms of music in the world today — hip-hop, and the myriad varieties of dance music — have roots in the soul and funk that grew directly out of the black Churches. The musical legacy of black Gospel is vast, and has unquestionably shaped the world my teenagers inhabit more than many of the worthies who appear in the pages of this book.

The Revd Mike Starkey is Vicar of Holy Trinity, Twickenham.

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