10:29:17 The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement
Became the World's Largest Religion
, a book review

The question that brought me to The Triumph of Christianity by Rodney Stark was, How did Christianity go from being an obscure Jewish sect led by a preacher with an apocalyptic message to majority religion and backbone of Western civilization? One reason often given is Constantine I. He made Christianity legal and personally converted.

[book cover]

Mr. Stark's research, however, shows more complex growth. Using the sociologist's toolkit, he argues, with an estimated 1,000 adherents in the year 40, Christianity grew at a rate of 3.4% through 350 A.D., a growth curve that fits Christian epigraph analyses in Rome and Egypt. He notes this is similar to figures for such contemporary religions as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons.

One key to early Christian success was personal commitment to "witness" in the world. They proselytized for their faith and demonstrated mercy in good works--helping victims of fires and earthquakes, where pagans often would flee. Stark gives other examples of how high-commitment religions will grow and low-commitment religions stagnate or decline.

The scope of Mr, Stark's scholarship is vast. The bibliography for The Triumph of Christianity, from which he draws footnotes, runs in excess of 800 entries!

Moreover, in presenting the history of Christianity, Stark gives compelling reasons to update some long-held opinions that undercut Christianity's contribution to Western civilization. Were the Dark Ages Western civilization's trough, mired in religious dogma and anti-scientific?

Did the Spanish Inquisition really rival the Holocaust of the 20th Century? He looks at evidence from Inquistion records and sees something more benign than the persecutors of heretics elsewhere in Europe.

This short review can only touch a few points, but one reason to read The Triumph of Christianity is Stark's positive assessment of religious freedom in America. Tolerance, religious pluralism, and separation of church and state are not universal.

He ticks off European countries with state-supported, "official" religions. But the shocker is officially designated dangerous cults in, say, France or Belgium. The French are pushing back against how Muslims dress in public, but did you know on their dangerous cults list is Hare Krishna, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, and Soka Gakkai?

Read The Triumph of Christianity for an accessible and well-argued presentation of the contribution the world's largest religion has given Western civilization and our American heritage.

Image credit: rodneystark.com

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Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection [and feel free to share with a friend] The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
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.pdf (for PCs)

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