As with such earlier and well-received works as The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Let to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (2005) and The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion (2011), Stark’s lively and absorbing new work beheads the academy’s dictatorship of relativism and enthrones in its place concrete and fact-based understanding in order here to give Western civilization the credit it richly deserves.
Modernity—the centerpiece of this project that Stark defines as “that fundamental store of scientific knowledge and procedures, powerful technologies, artistic achievements, political freedoms, economic arrangements, moral sensibilities, and improved standards of living that characterize Western nations and are now revolutionizing life in the rest of the world”—and its unique development in the West is Stark’s emphasis. That is to say, this book is an investigation of why it happened here and not the Islamic world or anywhere else.
Of course, the advent and astonishing spread and influence of Christianity is at the core of Stark’s analysis. Virtually everything we associate with the West is inextricably linked to it, though of course Stark readily acknowledges Greek, Roman, and Jewish contributions. He identifies the centrality of free will in Christian thinking and explains the process where “the Christian conception of God as the rational creator of a comprehensible universe, who therefore expects that humans will become increasingly sophisticated and informed, continually prodded the West along the road to modernity.”
Stark develops this sophisticated thesis with a really adroit use of sources and data. Along the way he upsets one politically correct apple cart after another. He utterly demolishes the spurious conflict between religion and science. Properly understood, Christianity leads directly to the development of the scientific method. “The truth,” summarizes Stark, “is that science arose only because the doctrine of the rational creator of a rational universe made scientific inquiry plausible. Similarly, the idea of progress was inherent in Jewish conceptions of history and was central to Christian thought from very early days.”
Read the rest here.
Sigh. So many good books--so little time!