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How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion

by Rodney Stark

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-200768-1
Publisher: HarperOne

A no-nonsense, defensive account of Christianity’s rise in the West.

There is much to correct in the historical record, as sociologist Stark (Institute for Studies of Religion/Baylor Univ.; God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, 2009, etc.) makes plain here, repositioning the central role of Christianity in Western development. Once it started to spread among the privileged urban classes and, especially, women, Christianity promised a better life in a typically brutish time. Its appeals to mercy and alleviating misery fell on welcome ears amid squalid ancient cities of the Roman Empire. Early Christians elevated the role of women, denounced infanticide and raised the marriageable age. Early persecution only strengthened Christian intransigence, while the “performance” of martyrs proved utterly convincing in the conversion process. With the conquest of Islam, Stark shows how Christianity was mercilessly decimated in the East, forcing the faithful to seek safe harbor in European lands. In the chapter titled “Europe Responds: The Case for the Crusades,” the author debunks previous assertions by Karen Armstrong and other historians that the Crusades were essentially colonizing and exploitative; rather, he writes, they were “fundamentally defensive” in protecting Christian pilgrims and shrines from Muslim attack. Moreover, the Medieval era categorized erroneously by the Enlightenment writers as the “Dark Ages” was a rich, inventive period that spurred capitalism (profits, property rights, modern banking, etc.) and science. It was the Christian Scholastics educated in urban universities and steeped in the Christian theology of logic and reason who invented science long before Copernicus and Galileo. Stark credits European belief in “God as the Intelligent Designer” as their scientific mentor. The author provides a refreshing, unorthodox polishing of Martin Luther and the Spanish Inquisition, while crediting the survival and growth of Christianity to the rich pluralism of America. Take that, warriors of secularism.