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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (September 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812972333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812972337
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At first glance, this book appears to be a retort to geographic theories of societal evolution, of the sort advanced by Jared Diamond's popular Guns, Germs, and Steel. Rather than patterns of weather and agriculture, Stark argues, Europe's primacy in economic, political, and social progress was due to its embrace of Christianity, which opened a space for reason and hence science-driven technology. Emphasizing the connection between medieval scholasticism, with its notion of theological progress--the logical science of thinking one's way closer to God--and Renaissance capitalism, Stark maintains that Christianity alone embraced reason and logic, and this gave Christian regions a tactical advantage in developing commerce. An argument made with unavoidably broad strokes, its actual targets are Max Weber's notion of the Protestant work ethic and the conventional story that religion was a barrier to be overcome en route to progress. At times approaching the invective, its defiant tone will invigorate readers who feel religion's place in the trajectory of world history is under attack. But the theological side of Stark's argument--that Christianity is fraternally bound to reason--will challenge the very same readers to reexamine their own relationship with reason. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Anyone with any interest in history or theology should read this book.
A. Courie
Along they way, Stark makes some iconoclastic statements and backs them up with sound argument.
George R Dekle
Stark devotes considerable attention in his book to the development and growth of capitalism.
Jan Peczkis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

333 of 374 people found the following review helpful By George R Dekle on December 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
An acquaintance who just took a medieval history course at a local junior college was quoted to me as saying something to the effect that "Anyone who knows anything about medieval history could never be a Christian." At least since Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", it has been fashionable to trash Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, blaming Christianity for every imaginable evil in the modern world.

While Christians have done their share of evil during history, Christianity (and Catholicism in particular) has done more than its share of good. In high school and college I learned that Greco-Roman Culture served as the cornerstone of Western Civilization, with the Jewish cult of Christianity serving as a religious veneer. Rodney Stark, in a trilogy of well researched, well reasoned books, turns that idea on its head. Christianity is the cornerstone of Western Civilization and Greco-Roman Culture is the veneer.

"The Victory of Reason" is the third in a series of books studying the influence of Christianity on Western Civilization, the first two being "For the Glory of God" and "One True God." Each of these books looks at different aspects of Western Civilization to determine how they were influenced by Christian theology. How were they influenced? Profoundly!

"The Victory of Reason" looks at the concepts of freedom and capitalism, and how they were natural outgrowths of both Christian theology and favorable economic conditions. Along they way, Stark makes some iconoclastic statements and backs them up with sound argument. e.g. The fall of the Roman Empire was a good thing. The Dark Ages were more progressive and enlightened than the Classical World.
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97 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Daniel J. Haggerty on June 4, 2007
Format: Paperback
The first paragraph alone is worth the price of this book. The paragraph clearly states the question that every educated person must frequently ask himself, but avoids discussing in public, i.e., why did other societies not advance as did the West? I have never seen an adequate treatment of this question.

Recently "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond claimed that geographic determinism is the dominant factor controlling cultural development. While one of the most interesting and entertaining books I have read in years, GG&S fails to convince, most notably in the case of China, the progress of which Diamond says was severly attenuated due to "Beaureaucratic" reasons. This is an insuffiecient answer. As Stark would say, the question needs to be asked, why did the beaureaucracy do this?

(As I have always wondered, why did the Chinese invent gunpowder, but not develop guns or cannon?, paper but not the printing press, books and a system of libraries?)

If readers can set aside our culturally sanctioned prejudices against Christianity and especially Catholicism, and approach the book with an open mind, they will be immediately captivated as I was from the first few sentences. Truly one of the most illuminating and rewarding books I have ever read.
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161 of 203 people found the following review helpful By Rich Leonardi on December 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In an essay that recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, author Rodney Stark explained the thesis of his book "The Victory of Reason" this way:

"A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions. And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity. While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth. Christian faith in reason was influenced by Greek philosophy. But the more important fact is that Greek philosophy had little impact on Greek religions. Those remained typical mystery cults, in which ambiguity and logical contradictions were taken as hallmarks of sacred origins. Similar assumptions concerning the fundamental inexplicability of the gods and the intellectual superiority of introspection dominated all of the other major world religions."

Other reviewers, seemingly bogged down in the particulars of precisely when a "reason-friendly" breakthrough occurred, are missing the point; Christianity, specifically the Christianity long-protected by the Catholic Church, built the arena in which "the victory of reason" could take place. It *always* did. Like all things Catholic, this victory or development flowered over centuries, with collections of blooms gathering here and there to prove the point, e.g., the capitalistic and Catholic cities of twelfth and thirteenth century Northern Italy.

Stark's book continues a growing line of historical correction whose pace has accelerated in recent years.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on April 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Christianity led to a desire to know. For example, theology developed in Christianity to a greater extent than other religions because Christianity favored reason. In contrast, Islam and Judaism favored orthopraxis (correct religious practice) over orthodoxy (religious reasoning).

Reasoning also eventually led to the rise of science in the West. In other cultures, including ancient Greece, science only grew to a small extent before stagnating. Scientific discoveries in non-Christian cultures never led to long-term self-sustaining scientific pursuits because they were viewed as received wisdom to remember instead of received wisdom to test and improve upon. Stark soundly refutes the Dark Ages canard, an invention of 19th century antireligionists. He lists numerous scientific advances that occurred during the so-called Dark Ages, and how they propelled Europe far above ancient Greece or Rome, and above other contemporary cultures.

The concept of human liberty is often incorrectly traced to 18th-century freethinkers. In actuality, the concept of human liberty, an idea utterly foreign to most cultures, developed gradually out of Christian teachings on the dignity of the human person. Stark shows, for example, that John Locke, who wrote on the natural rights of man, developed his ideas from earlier Christian thinkers on this subject.

Stark devotes considerable attention in his book to the development and growth of capitalism. He shows that capitalism, at least the sustained variety, cannot exist in the absence of freedom. In such situations, wealth is not invested for the growth of additional wealth.
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