The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force ....
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ISBN/ASIN : 0060677015
Manufacturer : HarperSanFrancisco|
Release data : 18 June, 1997
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New Tools for the Historian
I was a bit skeptical at first of Stark's proposed methodology: applying the results of modern sociological research to questions of early Christian History. But he employs this method in a very responsible way, using the sociology to generate an expectation and then checking that against the actual historical evidence to see if it is borne out. The result, I think are some real insights. Stark, who is no believer himself, has done Christians a real service in helping them to understand the historical roots of their faith. It is also, I would submit, immensely practical for modern Christians to reflect on how the early Church thrived and grew in the midst of a pagan culture.
The Perfect Answer to Charles Freeman's "Closing of the Western Mind"
Mr. Freeman includes Rodney Stark's "The Rise of Christianity" in the bibliography of "The Closing of the Western Mind," but one wonders if he read it. One of Stark's compelling and convincing theses about the success of Christianity in the ancient world is its response to two devastating plagues that wiped out up to a third of the population. For example, Mr. Freeman lionizes that great physician Galen for his discoveries but fails to mention that when a plague struck the Roman world in the mid-second century, the great Galen's response was to run away. What possible good was all his knowledge to those left to die? However, the Christians stayed put and nursed the dying--not only Christians but pagans. We see this happening again a century later. Not only did the nursing the Christians provided greatly improve the odds of surviving the plague, but it left pagans with a view of Christians as selfless and nurturing, giving them greater incentive to convert. Mr. Freeman makes no mention of the plagues and the Christian response whatsoever.
In short--of what use are the philosophical and "rationalist" traditions that Mr. Freeman celebrates when you're dead? It was Christian "superstition" that kept many of their pagan neighbors alive. But this is devastating to Mr. Freeman's thesis, that something great was lost with the rise of Christianity for which there was no suitable substitute, and that the only explanation for Christianity's rise is political manipulation and bullying. I highly recommend Mr. Stark's book as a complement to Mr. Freeman's for the sake of scholarly balance.
The Rise of Christianity
Rodney Stark uses a sociological perspective to reconsider the development of Christianity from the early first century until it became the dominant faith and official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Stark, who is currently a university professor of social sciences at Baylor University, begins with the basic premise that the development of Christianity is not purely a social and political factor, but rather the product of human faith that stands up to all social phenomena: from interaction with pagan values and persecution, to the various social crises such as epidemic and political disorder. Stark writes, "Whatever one does or doesn't believe about the divine, obviously God didn't cause the world to be Christian." That the world has become Christian and will continue to be Christian depends on human effort that is based on the reflection and commitment of that Christian faith and community.
Stark states that the early Christian community gained it converts through a social network built by intimate interpersonal attachment. Interpersonal relations within the early Christian community built a strong social network that allowed the steady growth of conversion during the first centuries. In this context, it becomes important for Stark to reconsider what was the social basis of the early Christian community. Many historians and sociologists in the twentieth century claim that Christianity and all religious movements are driven by the lower social strata in a community. For Stark, this assumption is no longer accurate because of the fact that the early Christians consisted of the privileged and the middle class in the community. Christianity was pardoned by the political authority because it included members among the family, friends and relatives of the early believers. Had the early Christians consisted of merely the poor and the oppressed, the Roman authority would consider it as "a political threat, rather than simply as an illicit religion."
By explaining the fact that early Christians consisted of the privileged, Stark doesn't mean alienating the poorer class within the early community. Rather, he relativizes the assumption that most new cult and sect movements, as Christianity was, are driven by those who were poor. In addition, Stark is convinced that, whether power is held by rich or poor, all members of a religion have the same desire toward "the rewards that do not exist in this world." Moreover, it is the vision toward the other world that sustained the life of the early Christians, so that they became a solid social community.