n Pontius Pilate (1961), a Borges-like fiction by the French literary theorist and former surrealist Roger Caillois, the Roman governor of Judea who ordered the death by crucifixion of Jesus instead releases him under the protection of imperial legionaries. The charismatic Jewish prophet carries on preaching and dies at a great age. He leaves a reputation for holiness, and pilgrimages are made to his grave. But because of Pilate’s decision, made after a night of sleepless wavering, there is no Christianity.
If Tom Holland is right, there would be no modern secular civilisation either. The liberal West is a creation of the Christian religion, and continues to assert that its values are universal even though it has rejected the faith that inspired them:
Christianity, it seemed, had no need of actual Christians for its assumptions still to flourish… The trace elements of Christianity continued to infuse people’s morals and presumptions so utterly that many failed even to detect their presence. Like dust particles so fine as to be invisible to the naked eye, they were breathed in equally by everyone: believers, atheists and those who never paused to think about religion.