Rodney Stark is a sociologist who has made a well-earned name for himself in studying religion. His book, The Rise of Christianity, is an informative exploration of the reasons behind Christianity's growth to prominence in the Roman Empire. He has also, more lately, been probing Christianity's role in the development of Western Civilization. His latest offering is The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. I have not had occasion to purchase this book yet, but did run across World Magazine's interview of Professor Stark about his new book. Here are some highlights:
On how Christianity is distinct from other religions.
The other great faiths either taught that the world is locked in endless cycles or that it is inevitably declining from a previous Golden Age. Only Christians believed that God's gift of reason made progress inevitable—theological as well as technical progress.
On the myth of the so-called "Dark Ages."
The Dark Ages have finally been recognized as a hoax perpetrated by anti-religious and bitterly anti-Catholic, 18th-century intellectuals who were determined to assert their cultural superiority and who boosted their claim by denigrating the Christian past—as Gibbon put it in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, after Rome came the "triumph of barbarism and religion." ... This always should have been obvious since by the end of the so-called Dark Ages, European science and technology had far exceeded that of Rome and Greece, and all the rest of the world, for that matter.
On Christianity's promotion of liberty.
The admonition "Go and sin no more" is absurd if we are mere captives of our fate. Christianity teaches that we have free will and therefore must be relatively free of compulsions. This theological insight led directly to doctrines that opposed repressive states, slavery, and other forms of exploitation and in favor of private property and freedom of conscience. These freedoms often were not achieved, but their clear basis in Christian doctrines did result in some relatively free, early European societies....
On the future of Christianity.
By then Christianity may well be the dominant religion in China. Latin Americans probably will be as churched as North Americans. Africa will be more than half Christian. As for Europe, it will be well along in a major revival of religion, one way or the other: Christian or Islamic.