In Victory of Reason, Rodney Stark looks at Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire and asks, “Why was Europe able to pull ahead of the rest of the world by the end of the Middle Ages?” He argues convincingly against the conventional wisdom that Western success depended on overcoming religious barriers. Instead, he shows how “Christianity and its related institutions are directly responsible for the most significant intellectual, political, scientific, and economic breakthroughs of the past millennium.”
My favorite two quotes:
- “Christianity created Western Civilization. Had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand copied scrolls. Without a theology committed to reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800: A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos. A world were most infants do no live to the age of five and many women die in childbirth — a world truly living in the ‘dark ages’.” (Conclusion: Globalization and Modernity, p233.)
- “There are many reasons people embrace Christianity, including its capacity to sustain a deeply emotional and existentially satisfying faith. But another significant factor is its appeal to reason and the fact that it is so inseparably linked to the rise of Western Civilization. For many non-Europeans, becoming a Christian is intrinsic to becoming modern. Thus it is quite plausible that Christianity remains an essential element in the globalization of modernity. Consider this recent statement from one of China’s leading scholars: “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the west is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.” (Conclusion: Globalization and Modernity, p.235)
You can purchase the book on Amazon for under $12.00. It is well worth the investment.