The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

Stark, Rodney

In The Victory of Reason, Rodney Stark advances a revolutionary, controversial, and long overdue idea: that Christianity and its related institutions are, in fact, directly responsible for the most significant intellectual, political, scientific, and economic breakthroughs of the past millennium. In Stark's view, what has propelled the West is not the tension between secular and non-secular society, nor the pitting of science and the humanities against religious belief. Christian theology, Stark asserts, is the very font of reason: While the world's other great belief systems emphasized mystery, obedience, or introspection, Christianity alone embraced logic and deductive thinking as the path toward enlightenment, freedom, and progress. That is what made all the difference. Editorial Reviews William Grimes Mr. Stark has a vigorous prose style and a gift for clear explanation. The pace is swift, and the narrative thrilling, as he describes the evolution of northern Italian city-states and the great Italian banks that helped accelerate capitalism's rise in Flanders and England. The banks not only lent money; they also engaged in trade and manufacturing, often reorganizing and managing entire industries, like wool-making. Their abacus schools, where students learned accounting, were the original M.B.A. programs. -- The New York Times Publishers Weekly It is a commonplace to think of Christianity and rationalism as opposite historical and philosophical forces. In this stimulating and provocative study, Stark (The Rise of Christianity) demonstrates that elements within Christianity actually gave rise not only to visions of reason and progress but also to the evolution of capitalism. Stark contends that Christianity is a forward-looking religion, evincing faith in progress and in its followers' abilities to understand God over time. Such a future-based rational theology has encouraged the development of technical and organizational advances, such as the monastic estates and universities of the Middle Ages. Stark contends that these developments transformed medieval political philosophy so that democracy developed and thrived in those states, such as northern Italy, that lacked despots and encouraged moral equality. Stark concludes by maintaining that Christianity continues to spread in places like Africa, China and Latin America because of its faith in progress, its rational theology and its emphasis on moral equality. While some historians are likely to question Stark's conclusions, his deftly researched study will force them to imagine a new explanation for the rise of capitalism in Western society. (Dec.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. Forbes Magazine Christianity is at the root of the rise of capitalism and modern democracy, says this thoroughly engaging and stimulating book about why the West pulled so far ahead of the rest of the world, economically and politically. "While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth," writes Stark. "From early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase their understanding of scripture and revelation. Consequently, Christianity was oriented to the future, while the other major religions asserted the superiority of the past.... Faith in the power of reason infused Western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice.... Capitalism is in essence the systematic and sustained application of reason to commerce."(27 Nov 2006) --Steve Forbes Kirkus Reviews A panoramic study of Western history, designed to draw a connection between Christianity and the rise of democracy and capitalism. Stark (Social Sciences/Baylor Univ.) takes the reader on a selective tour of Western history. The title concept of reason is certainly brought up throughout, but it is overshadowed by the roles of Christianity and personal freedom. Stark begins with a question: What caused the West to take such a dominant role in world history? His answer is complex, and he opens by examining the role of Christianity, which facilitated a particularly forward-thinking and progressive worldview. It encouraged adherents to utilize reason in examining scripture and matters of theology. The Church's positive view of human progress, coupled with reason, led to unparalleled advances in technology and science. Stark then moves on to the rise of capitalism, which he contends began within early monastic communities and came to fruition in Northern Italian city-states by about the 12th century. From Italy, capitalism spread to Northern Europe. Echoing modern libertarian authors, Stark points out that economic success was consistently born out of freer societies; command economies over the past two millennia may have often wielded power, but they did so at the expense of their people's well-being and of technological progress. These trends then spilled over into the New World. In making his arguments, Stark utilizes plenty of solid research. However, he also expands great effort on matters that get in the way of his point, such as devoting an entire chapter to convincing the reader that the "Dark Ages" were anything but dark. An intriguing, if at times over-reaching work.

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