Rodney Stark has written another great book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House, 2005).
In recent years, a number of important books have offered a counter-narrative to the version of European history that has seared itself into the Western consciousness since the Enlightenment, in which religious obscurantism suppressed learning and progress until unfettered reason at last delivered us from the clutches of superstitious ecclesiastics. Works by David Lindberg, Edward Grant, A. C. Crombie, Stanley Jaki, and Thomas Goldstein have revised to one degree or another the received view that the Christian religion was nothing but a hindrance to the rise of science.
In The Victory of Reason, Rodney Stark attempts to carry this revision forward by extending it to the success of the West in more general terms: not only in science, but also in the growth of capitalism and the development of political freedom. He suggests that Western success in these areas was not inhibited but rather encouraged by Christian ideas, albeit ones that took some time to develop fully. The very possibility of the development of doctrine, whereby ideas first introduced in germ are elaborated upon with the passage of time, is likewise a strength of the Christian faith, according to Stark, and is one of many examples of its commitment to reason (from The Independent Institute).
Stark documents that Christianity and its related institutions (both Catholic and Protestant) are directly responsible for the most significant intellectual, political, scientific, and economic advancements in history, and particularly during the so-called “Dark Ages.”
Stark demonstrates that it was Christianity, not the tension between secular and religious society in Europe, nor the pitting of science and the humanities against religious belief that was the engine of development. While the world’s other great belief systems emphasized mystery, obedience, or introspection, Christianity alone described God and His creation as consistent, stable and rational, which allowed the development and application of logic and reason to nature. That development spurred invention in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire, which affected the means of production to create private wealth. And as that wealth was reinvested into the economy, capitalism was born on a thousand farms across Europe. And the order and freedom provided by Christianity provided the foundation for progress.
The book provides a somewhat dry, but refreshing insight into a history that has been intentionally suppressed by the enemies of God (Romans 1:18). But it is not just old, dry history, says Stark. Rather, the process of development continues today through what we call globalization. Sure, globalization is a mixed bag, but every indication suggests that genuine economic success and social progress are tied to the sail of Christianity.
Consider this statement by one of China’s leading scholars:
One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christan moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this (from Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the the Global Balance of Power, by David Aikman).
However, the commitment to reason apart from God proves to be inadequate. Rather, it is the commitment to Jesus Christ — and to the Trinity, which is unique to Christianity — that provides the key to Christian success. It is reason that is exercised in submission to God, in the love of Christ and in the power and harmony of the Holy Spirit that actually fuels human progress.
And it was the collapse of the repressive and tax-driven Roman Empire that freed the Spirit of Christian entrepreneurship and social development. The world may yet be in for a huge step forward. Praise the Lord!