Review of ‘The Evil That Men Do’ by Marcus Paul

By Luke Tame 04 Jan 2017

Described by celebrated Oxford apologist and author Dr Michael Green as “a fascinating and frank re-evaluation of the impact of the Christian faith on society”, Marcus Paul’s comprehensive guide to the modern day battle over Christianity’s image and historical legacy is a must-read and useful resource for Christians increasingly on the defensive. In a society where a critical and dismissive view of the Church’s history is becoming commonly accepted as the norm, Paul’s thoroughly researched, well-argued and commendably frank assessment is a valuable asset to any bookshelf.

In his book Paul analyses afresh many of the Church’s frequently highlighted sins and historical controversies, and takes issue with an often lazy mentality evident in anti-theists. Despite supposedly anchoring their worldviews in reason, logic and factual accuracy, they are happy to settle for a generalised and historically uninformed understanding of the Church’s history so as to dismiss the institution today. Whilst of course the Church’s slate is far from clean, an honest appraisal of 2000 years’ worth of world-shaping history can only be a good thing for the debate, and to correct the record Paul looks at both historical wrongdoing in the Church, seeking to identify where criticism is due and where it has been misplaced, but also invites the reader to reflect on the enormous contribution of the Christian faith to western civilisation. With topics ranging from the obvious Crusades, Inquisitions and ‘Dark Ages’ to such triumphs as the abolition of slavery, the reform of prisons and an unparalleled motivation to serve others, The Evil That Men Do makes for informative reading on a range of subjects spanning the Church’s extensive history, impressively well written for its concise 242 pages.

Commenting on this book, the Bishop of Leeds wrote, “Read it and be challenged”, and this advice is there for both Church sceptics and also the Christian faithful, as this book does a fine job in prompting thought on the role and attitude of the Church today. Whilst a valuable contribution to apologetic literature, Paul’s work makes a series of sound and coherent points about what sort of Church we should seek to build today and how it engages with society. In his assessment of the Church’s historical wrongdoing, Paul draws out where and why the Church really did fail in following the teachings of Christ and his apostles, and reminds us that there are many areas in which today there is still considerable room for improvement. These sincere calls for reflection mark the author’s commitment to an improved debate which is both honest and self-critical where there are grounds to be, and distinguishes this book as not just being a Christian defensive dictionary but healthy food for thought for all readers.

Naturally for a study spanning a history as diverse and controversial as Christianity’s, not everyone will agree with Paul’s analysis all of the time; indeed it is to be expected for any work which necessitates reflection on the character of Oliver Cromwell or the scope of the Spanish Inquisition. Evaluating the past wrongs of the Church requires these wrongs to be seen and measured against their contemporary norms and standard practises, and some readers might feel that at certain points Paul is too comfortable pointing to the context of  more brutal times in which controversial events took place – when they were perpetrated by the very people whose faith calls them counter-culturally to love their neighbour and turn the other cheek. However for a writer clearly and genuinely motivated to contributing to a higher standard of debate, a full context is essential to painting an accurate picture of a frequently misunderstood and clichéd set of subjects.  Paul’s commitment to objectivity remains strong in spite of the naturally controversial subject matter.

Overall this book is not only a fine resource as a historical work but also an excellent, thought-provoking read for anybody with interest in the debate over the soul of this incredibly influential institution, and I can only add my recommendation to the array of Church and academic figures as well as casual readers who give this book consistently high praise.

The book is published by Sacristry Press, March 2016. ISBN: 978-1-908381-95-8

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