It’s a special pleasure to note this new book of our friend, Steven D. Smith: Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac (Eerdmans), available this fall. I enjoyed reading a draft of this work very much. It focuses in the first half on some of the ways in which Christianity and Imperial Rome beginning in roughly the Antonine dynasty were fundamentally incompatible, leading to the persecution of Christians within the context of an otherwise ostensibly irenic “pax Romana.” But there is a great deal of interest in this book, including provocative and insightful comparisons between the situation of the Roman imperial period to our own contests between law and religion today. Congratulations, Steve!
Traditionalist Christians who oppose same-sex marriage and other cultural developments in the US wonder why they are being forced to bracket their beliefs in order to participate in public life. This situation is not new, says Steven D. Smith: Christians two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire faced similar challenges and questions.
Starting with T. S. Eliot’s claim that the future of the West would be determined by a contest between Christianity and “modern paganism,” Smith argues in Pagans and Christians in the City that today’s culture wars can be seen as a contemporary reprise of the basic antagonism that pitted pagans against Christians in the late Roman Empire. He looks at that historical conflict and explores how the same competing orientations continue to clash today. Readers on both sides of the culture wars, Smith shows, have much to learn from seeing how patterns from ancient history are reemerging in today’s most controversial issues.