A Book That Moved Me (All Around the Country)

 

Rodney Stark (1934-2022)

I just learned recently that Rodney Stark died in July. If you’re not familiar with Stark, he was a church historian. For most of his career, he described himself as an agnostic, but his research for the most part displayed the Christian church in a very favorable light.

One of his first major works was 1996’s The Rise of Christianity (subtitled either “A Sociologist Reconsiders History” or “How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.” He wasn’t a fan of brevity in titles.) In that book, he made very countercultural arguments for the rise of the Christian faith. The reasons he proposed for the religion’s growth included Christians’ willingness to care for the sick, valuing the role of women in worship and life, opposition to abortion and infanticide, and courage in the face of persecution. His basic premise was that people choose Christianity because it improved the quality of their lives.

2005’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success was certainly in opposition to the New Atheists’ arguments that religion hampered civilization. Stark argued that the growth of the Christian church (both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant reformation) led to great advances in economics, science, education, and political freedom. This argument doesn’t sit well with the modern liberal worldview.

2015’s The Triumph of Faith: Why The World Is More Religious Than Ever, again was scholarly evidence that countered the New Atheists’ belief that the world progresses by leaving belief in God behind. The book shows that the world’s populations are becoming more, not less, religious.

I appreciate the scholarship of all these works, but none of them changed my life. Another of his books did, though: 1992’s The Churching of America 1776-1992: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. Among other arguments made in the book, Stark and co-author Roger Finke claim that religious faith has prospered in the United States more than in Europe because of the entrepreneurial nature of the church in America. Instead of one state church, people in America had a variety of denominations and churches to choose from. That freedom of choice, they argue, has led to a healthier faith in the United States. 

I read the second edition of this book, which came out in 2005. It sparked my curiosity about how God uses that variety in churches to do His work, so in 2014, I started a blog. Every week My wife Mindy and I visited a different church and wrote about it. We aimed for variety in the churches we visited; different denominations, different sizes of churches, different ethnicities, etc. We limited ourselves to Christian churches – we didn’t write about synagogues or mosques. 

In 2016, we embarked on the adventure of visiting (and writing about) a church in every state. The idea for that trip was sparked by Stark and Finke’s book, and it was one of the best years of my life. (We ended up writing a book about the trip.)  I’m grateful to Stark for it.

Rodney Stark was a great scholar, and his work is well worth reading. But I didn’t know another interesting biographical fact about him until I learned about his death. Though he had been an agnostic for years, he became a believer later in his life (he called himself an “Independent Christian.”) I can’t help but think God used his years of research to bring him to faith. 

Thank you, Rodney Stark, for keeping the history of the Church alive in a world that would happily forget it.

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  1. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Eustace C. Scrubb: 2015’s The Triumph of Faith: Why The World Is More Religious Than Ever, again was scholarly evidence that countered the New Atheists’ belief that the world progresses by leaving belief in God behind. The book shows that the world’s populations are becoming more, not less, religious.

    We have been witnessing how the New Atheists approach science with the Climate Change Movement and the Covid Pandemic, both of which are very dependent on proper scientific method to arrive at accurate conclusions. What we have seen is hard to believe considering how most of us have been taught. In both these cases we have seen governing authorities and credentialed institutional leaders discard any data showing preferred theories to be incorrect and keeping all supporting data. No understanding of the falsification principle is apparent. Considering the problems our world faces today, this is a formula for regression rather than progress.

    • #1
  2. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Eustace C. Scrubb: 2015’s The Triumph of Faith: Why The World Is More Religious Than Ever, again was scholarly evidence that countered the New Atheists’ belief that the world progresses by leaving belief in God behind. The book shows that the world’s populations are becoming more, not less, religious.

    We have been witnessing how the New Atheists approach science with the Climate Change Movement and the Covid Pandemic, both of which are very dependent on proper scientific method to arrive at accurate conclusions. What we have seen is hard to believe considering how most of us have been taught. In both these cases we have seen governing authorities and credentialed institutional leaders discard any data showing preferred theories to be incorrect and keeping all supporting data. No understanding of the falsification principle is apparent. Considering the problems our world faces today, this is a formula for regression rather than progress.

    It is remarkable how much faith people have in the “governing aughorities and credentialed instutional leaders.”  

    • #2
  3. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Eustace C. Scrubb: 2015’s The Triumph of Faith: Why The World Is More Religious Than Ever, again was scholarly evidence that countered the New Atheists’ belief that the world progresses by leaving belief in God behind. The book shows that the world’s populations are becoming more, not less, religious.

    We have been witnessing how the New Atheists approach science with the Climate Change Movement and the Covid Pandemic, both of which are very dependent on proper scientific method to arrive at accurate conclusions. What we have seen is hard to believe considering how most of us have been taught. In both these cases we have seen governing authorities and credentialed institutional leaders discard any data showing preferred theories to be incorrect and keeping all supporting data. No understanding of the falsification principle is apparent. Considering the problems our world faces today, this is a formula for regression rather than progress.

    It is remarkable how much faith people have in the “governing aughorities and credentialed instutional leaders.”

    The following quote is about Alyosha’s decision to become a pious and devout man.

    As soon as he reflected seriously he was convinced of the existence of God and immortality, and at once he instinctively said to himself: “I want to live for immortality, and I will accept no compromise.” In the same way, if he had decided that God and immortality did not exist, he would at once have become an atheist and a socialist. For socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to-day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth.

    Without G-d. Life on Earth becomes everything and government authority usually becomes the highest authority.

    • #3
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