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Well balanced overview of a world religion. Fascinating, even for the non-religious
on 31 January 2010
You don't need to be a Christian or even religious to find this BBC series absolutely fascinating and extremely informative. Over six episodes it explains how what started as a small Jewish sect that preached humility became the biggest religion in the world. So much of our modern world, its societies, conflicts and customs are intertwined with the development of Christianity that I found each programme to be extremely interesting and of direct relevance to modern life, regardless of any individual's religious opinions.
The series is hosted by Diarmaid MacCulloch who is one of the world's leading historians, Professor of History of the Church and Fellow at St Cross College Oxford. Yet he doesn't hog the limelight or make the programme about himself; MacCulloch is undoubtedly expressing his interpretation of the historical facts and the current situation but he argues his points as an expert and not as a fanatic or a celebrity presenter. MacCulloch is obviously passionate and well informed about the subject matter but as he travels across the world to illustrate his arguments you don't feel bullied or hectored by his lectures. Instead he is quietly compelling, the kind of guy you'd like to chat to over dinner.
The series is massive in scope, and starts with Christianity's forgotten origins, then its expansion in the East, detailing the Eastern Orthodox church which has over 150 million members worldwide. Episodes touch upon the importance of icons, the great Byzantine expansion, what happened to Christianity in Russia under Ivan the Terrible and then the Soviet state, and so on. Christianity in Britain comes under the spotlight too, along with the Amish and Protestant offshoots from Catholicism; how the Reformation affected the development of British society, and how Evangelical Protestantism has evolved and changed all around the world.
So much of the background to our society is interlinked with the history of Christianity that this series provides many moment of little revelations, where the background to a current situation suddenly becomes clear. It was startling to be reminded how many pillars of British culture, politics and society have their roots in the Christian faith, too.
Prof MacCulloch draws on the expertise of other speakers to illustrate certain points; he involves experts, preachers, vicars and church-goers to demonstrate his arguments. At the end of the series I was left with the impression that it felt like a collection of very well presented essays: I'm not convinced that it is THE definitive history of Christianity. But it is a very accessible and very carefully produced one; well balanced and delicately nuanced.
Intelligent viewing, then, offering plenty of perceptive observation.