Archives for posts with tag: Rodney Stark

Quoting:

Pluralism holds the key to the vitality of American religiousness as well as to the development of religious civility. One might think that economists long ago would have pointed this out to their colleagues in sociology who were so enamored of the strength of monopolies, since Adam Smith had laid out the whole analysis with such clarity long ago. Trouble is that until very recently, economists were so little interested in religion that the entire chapter on these matters in Smith’s classic The Wealth of Nations was (and is) omitted from most editions. It was not until I began working out the stimulating effects of pluralism on my own that someone suggested I read Smith–and I found this puzzling because initially I could find nothing on the topic in the readily available editions. Today, colleagues in economics find my emphasis on pluralism and competition fairly obvious, while many sociologists of religion continue to believe that I am obviously wrong–that competition harms religion and that I have been misled by inappropriate analogies with capitalism. Of course, the great majority of social scientists pay no attention to such peripheral matters, being secure in their knowledge that religion is doomed and soon must vanish.

Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 2011, HarperOne, HarperCollins paperback edition 2012, page 367.

Here is an online source for Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN20.html#V.1.195

Militant German atheist Karl T. Griesinger complained in 1852 that the separation of church and state in America fueled religious efforts: “Clergymen in America [are] like other businessmen; they must meet competition build up a trade…. Now it is clear…why attendance is more common here than anywhere else in the world.”

That, of course, is Rodney Stark in The Triumph of Christianity.

You want better schools? Separation of school and state!

Write your representatives and request adding “and education” to the first amendment of the Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or education, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Petition your government to get out of schools altogether, especially the federal government. We need our states to reduce dependence on federal money and gradually outlaw federal involvement in any aspect of education within the state.

Our churches, as a whole, inclusive of the plurality, are the best and most successful in the world. Religion is one of our fundamental needs, and we are very successful with it precisely because the government is totally hands off. Education will be likewise if we get the government out of it.

Don’t most of us think our neighbor, our coworker, our friend needs a bit more, a bit deeper religion, a bit more lofty goals? Isn’t, “Aim a little higher,” some of the best advice each of us has received from someone we respect when we stooped a bit low; when we chose to be less than our best?

Of course.

How do we help that neighbor, that coworker, that friend? We don’t run to the government, that is for sure.

We do our best, we live our best in the areas where government is least involved.

Let’s get the government out of our schools.

Continuing with Dr. Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, in chapter 12 he explained how Islam killed and drove out scores of millions of Christians and Jews. The European pilgrims to the Holy Land were coming under ever-increasing attack and were being subjected to taxes and tolls, and as the Muslims threatened Constantinople, Europe responded, which is what he titled chapter 13 about the crusades.

The Crusades were hardly more than a defensive effort to secure the route to the Holy Lands, and to ensure access to and the security of the Holy Lands. As radicals are doing today, radicals then tore down historic sites and monuments. The Crusaders were only trying to stop that. They didn’t try to Christianize the residents either.

Check for yourself. You will see the Crusaders pretty much left everything alone on the whole. Sure, there were bad things, but it was a bad time for warfare. By the standards of that era, the Crusaders were typical, and the Muslims were worse, but not much worse, by the standards of the day.

The Crusades were not profitable. No one ever thought they would be. The Crusades certainly were nothing like colonization. They were preservative, not creative. There was no effort at all to establish any European culture, not Christian or otherwise. Keep in mind that Syria was a principal region of Christianity until shortly after the Muslims started killing them all.

Frankly, the Muslims thought of the Crusades as trivial, just a nuisance. Muslims tended to think it was better Palestine be a protectorate of the Franks than the Turks. (Islam had its racial and cultural divides as well, even from its earliest days.) It wasn’t until the Ottoman Empire began to fall apart at the beginning of the 20th Century that Islamic propaganda began decrying the West in any way possible, including dredging up whatever they could from centuries past.

There were Western denunciations of the Crusades, particularly from anti-Christian writers such as Voltaire and David Hume. Most of that was simply bias. The practical effects of the Crusades were positive, but short-lived. One could argue for or against, but history relegates the Crusades to a minor role, no matter the topic.

In chapter 14, he discusses the myth of the Dark Ages.

As an engineer, by training and by general understanding of history, I’ve always known there were no Dark Ages from an engineering standpoint. Architecture and all technical arts (metal working, machines of all sorts, etc.) grew and developed from the fall of the Roman Empire. Capitalism was born then. Good stuff.

Dr. Stark more or less says that the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Edward Gibbon were simply blinded by their hatred of Christianity, and they simply refused to see all the progress of those times, simply because it was all associated with the Church.

Of course, it was only because of the foundations of Christianity that science, the arts, and all technologies advanced so thoroughly. Other schema can be proposed to similar ends, and there have been various eras of advancement in various cultures, but the Greco-Roman and most every other culture of the several centuries since the early Roman era, and also the cultures of Islam, all failed to significantly advance anything except for the rich and powerful. And, there was slavery. Slavery pretty much accounted for all the rich and powerful had, and slavery pretty much accounts for all that those societies accomplished and built. All non-Christian cultures have been based on slavery. While slavery was tolerated under Christianity, it was extincted by condemnation and neglect. Slavery began to end in Christian communities when the clergy extended the sacraments, particularly holy communion, to slaves. In Christendom, slavery began to diminish by the mid-600s (St. Bethilda is an example). By the end of the eleventh century, slavery was essentially abolished in all Christian cultures (which was essentially all of Europe, but only Europe, since Islam was effectively killing it everywhere else).

The last centuries of the Roman Empire strangled the world. It bound people to the state. For centuries it was the state and the gods of the state, then it was the state and the Church, which was wed by a relatively strong and egoistic ruler. That, obviously, was for the overall detriment of the common man. After Rome fell, the church did not. The church was significant and beneficial overall, but the church played in power and politics, and no good can come of such. No good comes from playing power and politics in general; so much the worse when granting it the imprimatur of divine sanction.

The state must be constrained, limited, and small for people to be free and to grow. Freedom is the essential ingredient to growth and progress in societies.

I’ve completed just over half the book so far, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

 

Regarding chapter 12 in Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, I find his opening assertions remarkable.

In chapter 9, on assessing growth, he points out that through Constantine’s conversion, to about 350 CE, we have sufficient reliable data to say that a simple logarithmic growth model of 3.4% per year holds. However, he points out that it had to slow rapidly after that.

Here is why:

Year Christians in Roman Empire
40 1,000 Thousand
50 1,397
100 7,434
109 10,044 Ten Thousand
150 39,560
178 100,887 Hundred Thousand
180 107,864
200 210,517
247 1,013,331 Million
250 1,120,245
300 5,961,288
312 8,904,029 (Milvian Bridge)
316 10,178,146 Ten Million
350 31,722,471 (around half the empire)
385 102,231,768 Hundred Million
454 1,026,840,633 Billion
523 10,313,835,968 Ten Billion

See the problem?

Dr. Stark presents the table above in chapter 9, and I’ve added some numbers for clarity.

I recalculated the numbers by dropping them in a spreadsheet, adding 3.4% per year, one year at a time. My numbers matched his. It is clear that the 3.4% growth rate dropped off rapidly after Christians became the majority. Otherwise, there would have been more Christians than living people. I’m sure various factors ensured it slowed rapidly. Probably the largest factor was that there were simply fewer non-Christians. If everyone you know is Christian, you can’t convert any of them. Probably official sanction slowed the growth too, simply because of loss of zeal.

Regardless, the growth seems astonishing when considering only the numbers, but when one thinks that 3.4% growth means that on average every 100 Christians brought 3 or 4 new converts into the fold every year, then it doesn’t seem remarkable at all, other than that it seems to have been so consistent. For over three centuries, the fervor of Christians stayed high.

Back to my point, chapter 12. He opens the chapter explaining how little information is still available about Christianity east of Jerusalem. He suggests Syria was the “center of gravity” of the entirety of Christendom until about 700 AD. There apparently is evidence that most of the eastern world had significant Christian populations, including India and China, until the coercive religions arose and wiped them out with the sword. (Of course, I’m referring to Islam, but I’ve only read a couple of pages of the chapter so far. I assume he will note other persecutions and massacres attributable to other religion and culture.)

What I find most remarkable is he concludes that Christians in the west (the Roman Empire) accounted for ONLY a third of all Christians in the year 500. Think of that.

There were tens of millions of Christians in the west. If there were twice as many Christians in the east and in northern Africa, that means the aggressive religions and cultures slaughtered around one hundred million Christians (100,000,000 people of several ethnicities). Actually, even more, since it was over centuries that they were wiped out. There would have been some births and conversions in that time.

Contemplate that.

I always encourage keeping perspective. Try to look at the big picture as well as the details.

The world wars of the 20th Century were horrific, and still in the minds of many of us. Estimates vary, but war deaths through the entire 20th Century are only about as many total as the deaths of Christians who lived in the east before they were extirpated.

Dr. Stark indicates that in many Muslim areas, Christians remained a majority, though repressed, until the beginning of the Fourteenth Century, at which point the Muslims conducted a relentless, violent extermination of the Christians, forcing conversion or death.

I suppose many acquiesced and switched allegiance, but we have ample evidence that a significant proportion of Christians will accept execution rather than renounce Christ.

From chapter 12:

After centuries of gradual decline, the number of Christians in the East and North Africa suddenly reduced to less than 2 percent of the population by 1400. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Christianity had been essentially restricted to Europe.

I’ve made assumptions here, and calculated in ways Stark hasn’t suggested (at least not as far as I’ve read to date), but the fact is obvious. Christians of all ethnicities have experienced horrific violence at the hands of other beliefs and cultures.

When it comes to blame and grievance, I believe there never has been and never will be any shortage. On the whole, we are all in this together, and we just better keep working on doing our part to make it better. We must refuse coercion. We must live and act right in our own lives, respecting the life and property of others.

Do good and pray for those who despitefully use you.

My comments on Rodney Stark’s Triumph of Christianity are what strikes me, and not an effort to be thorough.

Constantine’s combining of Church authority with State power was a mistake. It has hurt society and humanity.

Constantine was tolerant and cooperative with the pagans and other religions, yet he was intolerant of dissent within Christianity from Christian orthodoxy. His objection to dissent, and his application of state power against it was probably mostly trying to keep a strong unity, probably largely motivated by political ambition and avoidance of schism, which tends to lead to strife. (I don’t think Constantine was power-mad. I think he was sincere, but perhaps suffering from some noble-cause-corruption.)

I suppose Constantine was generally traditional.

That would mean that he expected people to honor their traditions whether they were different from his or not. It seems the Roman distaste for Christianity from the beginning was rooted in an expectation of following tradition and honoring the beliefs and gods of one’s family and heritage. Conversion to Christianity thwarted that. Conversion to Christianity abandoned one’s religious heritage. Traditionalists are likely to be incensed by such a change. Gradual change over generations was one thing. The dramatic conversion to Christ alone was seen as extreme, extremist, and antisocial.

For Constantine, with his Christian mother, Helena, he probably did not see his own conversion as abandoning his heritage and tradition. However, he probably respected such traditionalism among the pagans and other religions. He probably also tended to judge individuals by the content of their character, their abilities, and their political loyalty. He apparently continued always to honor and promote people around him without regard for their religious beliefs. He probably only considered whether or not they were reliable, and consistent behavior with regard to one’s beliefs, whether Christian or other, was evidence of conviction and reliability.

Regarding Constantine’s conversion, I suspect he was raised consistent with general Roman pagan tradition and beliefs. He probably had significant influence from his mother with regard to Christianity, but as a likely ruler of Rome, Roman religious practice was probably his own before conversion.

If one runs the numbers, given reasonable and plausible mathematical models (as Stark does in the book), one realizes that the Christians, who had been feared as potentially adverse political opponents, were at least a large minority, and probably already a majority, especially in the aristocracy. Constantine probably was mostly an opportunist. He saw the trend of increasing Christian unity and population proportion, and he decided it was time to embrace his mother’s faith. I think he was sincere, but I am nearly certain he saw only advantages for himself politically. Emperors were often assassinated by troops or guards. Applying Christian ethics in his administration and military leadership was very likely to improve his chances of staying in good graces with his subordinates and bodyguards.

I close this comment by reiterating that I consider the use of state power with any regard to religion a mistake and inherently wrong.

Additional detail in Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, chapter 7, where he discusses early Christian history with regard to women, he gives some eye-opening specifics.

I’ll admit I’m biased toward marriage. It seems clear that marriage and a nuclear family are essential to society in all forms we know. Without it, we are probably looking at something like the Borg (of the Star Trek fantasy universe) to expect humanity to continue rather than go extinct.

Stark points out that the Greek’s considered Roman marriage practices to be cruel, but Greeks were little different, mainly only ensuring the young women were past puberty before given in marriage.

The fact was, Christian women could expect to be physically and emotionally mature before being married, and they would have at least some say in who they married. They also had much more secure marriages, since men were also expected to be chaste and faithful, and couples were not allowed to divorce, except for marital infidelity.

Dr. Stark sites studies estimating that men in Rome outnumbered women 131 to 100. That is a lot of frustrated dudes. (Such is often suggested as a significant factor in wars. Killing the young men in battles tends to lower such troublesome ratios.) He also indicated that in most of the empire, the ratio was closer to 140 males to 100 females. The state even penalized women under 50 years of age who didn’t remarry if widowed or divorced. He gives examples, including Tullia, Cicero’s daughter, as married at 16, widowed at 22, remarried in a year, divorced at 28, remarried in a year, divorced at 33 (I assume she was pregnant) and she died at 34 after giving birth.

I think it worth mentioning the gruesome abortion procedures advised by Roman medical writer Aulus Cornelius Celsus. Relatively recently, historians have established that contraceptive methods were known and available, and generally effective. It is sad that women were of such low regard as to be subjected to such harsh and crude medical procedures to extract an unborn baby, especially when it was legal to just abandon the infant after it was born. I can only suppose most of the men of the era felt it shameful to do so. Or, perhaps they knew it was harder after seeing the baby. Regardless, it is disgusting and sad that men subjected women to such harm.

While many ancient philosophers justified abortion and exposure, even arguing it should be mandatory for women over the age of forty, the Jewish and Christian voices denounced it. “The second chapter of the Didache orders: “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.””

I comment from time to time that I am willing to compromise with regard to abortion. It seems clear that even societies that condemned abortion allowed for it very early on, primarily, they would allow for no penalties or criminality if an accident or negligence (or violence) caused the miscarriage of a child if the child was unrecognizable as such. This is where I am willing to compromise. If we can societally and legally agree upon a demarcation in pregnancy  where before it is not considered, and after, we accord full personhood, individuality, and due process, I believe we will help our society. We will get along better. We will flourish more.

However, objectively, there is no way to demarcate a human being after conception. Once a unique egg and sperm join, that is a living human being. There is nothing easy about it, but we all like to think of ourselves as fair. There is nothing fair about arbitrarily taking another human’s life. “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” Clint Eastwood line (as Will Money) in Unforgiven.

Continuing with the hard stuff, I consider rape the same.

Accordingly, I’m willing to afford a raped woman more latitude than most of the rest of us.

Finally, while I can use history, pretty much all of it, to justify some allowance for abortion, at least from secondary causes, the same can be said of slavery, and hopefully all of us alive today hold slavery and human trafficking to be intolerable abominations, reprehensible evils that justify the harshest punishments. We are also justified in making stern effort to quell such activity, and protect every person from such, and to seek out all such purveyors of such evil.

So, I hope we will all take stock of the past and resolve not to let such happen again. I pray for the time when abortion will be considered the same as slavery, considered simply unconscionable. We are not there yet. Some advancement of ourselves or our society or of our technology seems likely to accomplish it. I believe the day is far off but will come. In the meantime, let us work together, discuss publicly and reasonably, let us debate in our legislatures, and let the courts stand down. We the people can work this out. We can compromise and live together on the subject.

https://gottadobetterthanthis.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/summer-reading-3/

https://gottadobetterthanthis.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/summer-reading-2/

Revisiting my marriage bias, I am convinced the key is for those who believe in the value of the traditional family to live as exemplars. Family in most of our societies is far better off than in most of history. I hold family as key, but society seems to have a wide tolerance. Those who hold different views and values can be tolerated! We simply can accommodate. Nontraditionalists (excluding the violent) are no threat.

White Heart gave the indictment many years ago, “Are they working harder at what we think is wrong, Than we are at what we know is right?

With Gandalf (JRR Tolkien), I believe that it is the common folk doing the small kindnesses and simple toils. I believe it is everyman standing for his belief. This is how we progress toward rightness. Live as Micah prophesied. We know what is right. God has shown us. It is only this He requires of us: live justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

We simply have no standing to hold differently. I must do what I know is right and work to teach others what is best, but I have no justification whatsoever to impose or coerce. If I am right, I must show it by proof of action and result. I cannot enforce it by power, by violence, by politics. No.

Every single person must be respected as such. To each his own, and we all owe it to protect that.

In chapter seven, Dr. Stark addresses how the Christian faith appealed to women, and how that combined with related factors to increase the proportion of the population that was Christian.

It is popular in our times to badmouth the Church with regard to women. However, Christianity is almost singularly responsible for elevating women from chattel. Sure, there is much room for improvement, but women were hardly anything in most regards in most circumstances until Christianity started taking hold and changing hearts within society.

Women were given in marriage, usually without their own say, at almost any age. Men could force the wife to abort, or worse; he could simply expose the child, especially if the child were female. That, of course, means infanticide. The parents, specifically the father, could simply take the infant outdoors and leave her. Men could divorce wives for most any reason.

Women were expected to be chaste, but there was a double standard for men. A man tended to sleep with his wife to have a child, but he sought out prostitutes for most of his sex.

Christianity would not sanction such.

There is still a long way to go in society, but things are better. Of course, there is a long way to go both outside the church and within.

Things were bad generally compared to today, but they were especially bad for women. Christianity started changing that, and many women became Christian because of it.

The church needs to ensure it maintains the highest regard for women. With our documentation of history as it is now, I believe it is unreasonable for churches to prohibit women from any offices in the church. We need to hold to the standard of neither male nor female, nor any other external distinction. A faithful and capable servant must be honored as such and accorded appropriate position and authority.

Dr. Stark emphasizes compassion and integrity as keys to the growth of Christianity. We need to diligently ensure we stay true to the dignity of all and to the integrity of each of us individually.

Referencing my initial post on Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, https://gottadobetterthanthis.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/summer-reading/, a little more.

I didn’t double check it, but wikipedia summarizes Stark’s earlier Rise of Christianity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_of_Christianity

My summary of the summary is that Christians were legit, and they proved it by sticking around and helping, and by preferring martyrdom to armed revolt. Christianity was also mostly strong among the working middle and upper class. The same can be said today. Like most religion, Christianity appeals to the downtrodden masses, but the poor can only take religion so seriously. Bread and health first. The soul second.

To lend credence to his view that Christianity grew only through one-to-one conversions dependent upon family bonds and social circles, he points to modern Mormonism. I think it is a valid point. From the perspective of sociology, it sure seems a sound comparison and good explanation.

I think it is worth mentioning the wikipage for Stark; again, I didn’t run the references. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Stark I found it interesting.

Changing subject, working from memory without rereading, Stark shows various aspects of Jewish history before and during the Roman era. He points out the armed rebellions, revolts, and simple acts of terrorism conducted throughout those centuries.

I couldn’t help but notice this is another similarity between the Roman Empire and the modern world, particularly similar to the USA. The Jewish people have become almost entirely peace-loving, though they are determined to defend themselves, and terrorism arises from a different source, though the root-causes look almost identical. It is quite legitimate to call for the complete withdrawal of the West from the region. Let them work out what they must. Frankly, it isn’t likely to be worse than what we are doing there.

We really don’t have the problem with oil now. We need to leave.

Here is the stark reality: Rome finally had enough of radical terrorism after the midpoint of the first century. Rome utterly destroyed all that was Jewish in Palestine, including Jerusalem and most of the region. Stark concludes chapter 2 thus, “This was the Jewish world into which Jesus was born and raised, conducted his ministry, and was crucified. It was a society of monotheists dedicated to the importance of holy scripture. In addition to sustaining a remarkable number of scholars and teachers, it was also a world prolific in prophets and terrorists. Hence, this tiny society of Jews at the edge of the empire caused Rome far more trouble than did any other province. It even might be said that in the end, despite having been reduced to rubble by Titus in 70 CE, Jerusalem conquered Rome.”

His point is consistent with the intent of his book. My point is that history is repeating itself.

I really don’t want to be part of a society that is responsible for the destruction of another, no matter how bad terrorism might get. If we leave, and it doesn’t get better, perhaps it will come down to survival. Perhaps the West will have to utterly destroy all that the current terrorists fight for. However, I really don’t see people as that suicidal. The radicals are self-destroying. The extremists die or wise up.

We need to leave. All of the West needs to get out of all of the Middle East. Let them sort out their religions and their politics. It doesn’t really matter if it takes centuries. History always takes centuries. Besides, I think if we let them alone and treat them as equals and as fair trading partners, well, I bet they start acting like equals and fair trading partners.

Let’s try.

The alternative is written in the world of the followers of Jesus in the First Century. We need to at least determine to not repeat that history. Let us learn its lessons and live.

 

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