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The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success Hardcover – December 6, 2005

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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.)
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First edition (December 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400062284
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400062287
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #640,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

342 of 386 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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107 of 120 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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166 of 209 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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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful By David Marshall on June 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I was prepared to dislike this book. For one thing, I am not a fan of the "dismal science," and knew the story Stark was telling here was largely economic. Also, although I am a Christian, and even an apologist, it seemed to me that his last three books on the subject already proved that Christianity benefited Western culture. Enough, already! It seemed overkill to claim the Gospel led not only led to science, an end to slavery, a higher status for women, and better care for the sick, but also the Bank of America and Microsoft! And having read the book, I concede justice in some criticisms below. Stark (and others) persuade me that Medieval Europe was the freest, most prosperous great civilization on earth to date. He does not persuade me, though, that Rome never really fell; and while something may indeed have been gained for the common man in escaping the heavy imperial thumb, something was lost, too -- like literacy.

But never mind that. If you are thinking of reading this book, you may already have strong views on the effect Christianity has had on civilization. Those views will mislead you. Whether you agree or disagree with Stark's viewpoint, this book is worth reading. Why? Because it is chock full of interesting historical facts that you will not learn elsewhere. Because it connects those facts into a fascinating (even on economics!) history of the rise of Western civilization, from Italy to the "Low Countries" to England to America. Most of this book tells that story. You can ignore the argument at the beginning and end, and still profit and enjoy reading the tale, full of sound and fury, signifying much. Not that you should ignore the argument!
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