Lion £16.99 (0-7459-5168-6)
Church Times Bookshop £15.30
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
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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