First of all, this was recommended to me by goodreads, and I was really surprised at how much I liked it. Be careful goodreads, my expectations are up!
To mention all the ideas that interested and intrigued me would be like writing this book anew, so I'm just going to note some things that caught my attention.
I loved gluing together bits and pieces of sometimes incoherent fragments of history from I got textbook and novels, following the authors "alternate" take on the history of Western Christianity. Also, it was a refreshing view of Christianity, by authors who speak of feminism, racism, global social and economic justice and the environmental pollution in a way I rarely hear from Christians. I also liked their conclusion: another Christianity is possible.
The search begins with the art in the Christian culture, changing from depictions of a serene paradise to the torture of Crucifixion. (There's a lot to do with visual literacy, which I am not competent to write about.) The narrative unfolds describing the changes in the philosophy of Christianity over centuries, from the early Christians' need for a paradise on Earth because of the prosecutions, and the importance of community, to the institutionalized Church's need to maintain control and position leading to self-sacrificing love sanctioning violence and war - pain and misery in the image of Jesus; next comes the first crucifix depiction with the Saxons, that had one century earlier been mass baptized at the point of sword, along with Church's turn towards violence and the crusades and the inquisition, and the medieval theology of atonement; and finally to the New World and the transformation of religion into a weapon of enslavement and subjugation.
Of course it's much more complicated than this, but it's a long way the authors thread from the Sumerians to Martin Luther King Jr.
The gender view was the bonus for me. There is a lot about gender equality among early Christians - supposedly a tool against the Roman patriarchal system. The authors point out that gospels challenge systems of domination, including gender relationships. (There's also a lot of context that was missing in my religion classes on the teachings of Jesus as resistance to the Roman empire.) They mention also Eve's sin in connection with the humans lowly condition, and discuss all the evil released on women based on the story from the Genesis. There's a mention one interpretation that has been bugging me for a while: acquiring knowledge leads to risks. But that's just an observation, don't have time to go into it right now. I thing this part of the narrative might be a little too simplified to be the truth, but I really appreciate the effort Rita and Rebecca put into their research.
This has also been an eye opener about the USA - it made some contemporary politics and philosophy more connected with their tradition, and showed me how the Puritan legacy poisoned USA to this day. It was also interesting to compare Romans' habit of crucifixion to the relatively recent USA lynching.
What I must object to is the apparent progress from east to west, to America (to be exact, USA); but also progress in general - as the story unfolds, Mediterranean, Europe, Asia and Africa get left behind and there is no more mention of them. Another annoying bit: The pristine beginning is followed by corruption of the truth of differing degrees, with the hope that future brings the salvation. The authors actually write: "However, this [Protestant] tendency forces us to view the past selectively and impose purity upon it rather than to see its fullness, which is as complex, ambiguous, and diverse as any human endeavor ever is." Although they tried to avoid it, I don't think they were successful. Nevertheless, they told an interesting story that kept me engrossed with the book. In all honesty, there were some boring passages/chapters, but the overall felling after reading this is that I've learned a lot and my perspective has shifted, and that's what I appreciate in a book.
Here are some quotes that I remembered:
"There are worse things than dying. One is having to live with the knowledge that you, by your own choice, have surrendered to forces you abhor and been complicit in the destruction of what you most love."
"Whether and how Christians can memorialize Jesus’s crucifixion without fomenting hostility to those who hold to a different faith remains a moral issue for those who participate in such rituals."
"Early Christian teachers condemned private wealth as a basis of exploitation. They insisted that material blessings were gifts of God and must be shared."
"The contemporary Roman Catholic prohibition against women’s ordination is based in the assertion that women cannot reflect the image of Christ."