Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again describes seven ways the early Church countered Roman pagan culture and thus changed the world for the better.
The first Christians promoted the dignity of all human beings, in direct opposition to the Roman practices of contraception, abortion, and infanticide. They argued for the dignity of each member of the family in a culture that regarded a wife and children as the absolute property of the pater familias.
The Christians presented marriage as a holy union in a time when the Roman government was facing a crisis of a declining marriage and birth rate. Despite numerous incentives to marry, in a time of prosperity, most men figured they would just pay the extra taxes associated with childlessness and continue a life of promiscuity. Interestingly, the early Church Father Clement of Alexandria noted that the childless in Rome often adored their pets, and the same people who left their infants to die of exposure paid for lavish tombs for the pets.
The early Church preached countercultural ideas about the dignity of manual labor and the importance of service performed out of love for God, for neighbor, or for one’s social inferior. Pagan culture devalued manual labor and designated it to slaves, who were of course property to be disposed of at will. The love of God and neighbor was revolutionary in a culture that could only conceive of performing actions for the gods or others out of duty, or in hopes for something in return.
Lastly, Christians shocked the Romans by their utter lack of fear of death. The martyrs bravely faced execution, but just as surprising to the pagans was that the surviving Christians showed no fear around dead bodies. Most Romans were very superstitious and afraid of ghosts and generally cremated corpses as soon as possible after death. Christians, on the other hand, held elaborate funeral services for their beloved dead and even collected and honored the bones of the early martyrs. For Christians, the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the communion of saints means that we have a real connection with those who have gone before us to be with God.
In each of these areas, the Church established the moral standard that exists today in modern discussions of human rights. The authors also point out ways in which Western society has become similar to pagan Rome, and suggest some ideas for countering that action, such as building community at the parish church level, pro-life activism and the traditional works of mercy, and refusing to participate in the culture of “celebrity and humiliation,” such as gossip magazines and reality TV.
This is an easy-to-read, succinct call to action for Christians. My only criticism is that Roman culture was described with some pretty sweeping generalizations. The strongest parts were those that were supported by quotations from contemporary pagan or Christian authors. Other sections contained footnotes to historical works, but I would have liked to read more quotes from primary sources.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.