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

The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success [Kindle Edition]

Rodney Stark
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Many books have been written about the success of the West, analyzing why Europe was able to pull ahead of the rest of the world by the end of the Middle Ages. The most common explanations cite the West’s superior geography, commerce, and technology. Completely overlooked is the fact that faith in reason, rooted in Christianity’s commitment to rational theology, made all these developments possible. Simply put, the conventional wisdom that Western success depended upon overcoming religious barriers to progress is utter nonsense.

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 nonsecular 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 reason as the path toward enlightenment, freedom, and progress. That is what made all the difference.

In explaining the West’s dominance, Stark convincingly debunks long-accepted “truths.” For instance, by contending that capitalism thrived centuries before there was a Protestant work ethic–or even Protestants–he counters the notion that the Protestant work ethic was responsible for kicking capitalism into overdrive. In the fifth century, Stark notes, Saint Augustine celebrated theological and material progress and the institution of “exuberant invention.” By contrast, long before Augustine, Aristotle had condemned commercial trade as “inconsistent with human virtue”–which helps further underscore that Augustine’s times were not the Dark Ages but the incubator for the West’s future glories.

This is a sweeping, multifaceted survey that takes readers from the Old World to the New, from the past to the present, overturning along the way not only centuries of prejudiced scholarship but the antireligious bias of our own time. The Victory of Reason proves that what we most admire about our world–scientific progress, democratic rule, free commerce–is largely due to Christianity, through which we are all inheritors of this grand tradition.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 861 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (18 Dec 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.ą r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000SEV7OQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #299,502 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating 9 Oct 2006
Format:Hardcover
That modern science, capitalism and the freedoms of pluralist representative democracy arose under Western Christianity is beyond dispute. What is debated is why this should be and what did other cultures contribute along the way. How much is based on the inheritances from Judaism, Islam and classical Greek and Roman cultures. Stark makes a good case that it was a rationalism open to new discoveries in a world made by a sovereign God that led to reasoned progress. If a God who reveals himself as reasonable has created a reasonable world, man made in his image can work to discover how the world works.
When it comes to capitalism the author rejects Weber's famous link with Calvinism. This is where I suspect the Roman Catholic bias but I am not qualified as an historian to be certain of my criticism. Not to deal with Calvin on usury seems a serious ommision. Stark gives no reason for the dissapearance of the prohibition other than Catholics ignoring it. Stark cites medieval Italian cities as the birthplace of modern representative democracy but for a whole country he should have told us more about this side of the English Channel. He does though credit it us with better progress in commerce because of the absence of despotic government. This is certainly a book to stimulate thought and debate.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading 22 Oct 2007
Format:Hardcover
I found this book most intriguing. While Stark may be a bit short on details and somewhat in a hurry, his pointing out the practical advances, in technology, society and philosophy, makes his basic thesis sound:

Capitalism, human rights, freedom & democracy are basically European inventions.

It is a milestone to realize that in these times of globalization and cultural conflicts, to say the least. We have every right and reason to stand firm on the (positive) pride of European values, and would deceive ourselves if we were to pretend they are not derived from Christianity.

Back to the book, I actually found it somewhat messy. While it has a basic chronological order, it also jumps a bit here and there, and sometimes fast-forwards through episodes that deserve more elaboration. Another 100 pages would have done it good.

That said, the pros easily outweigh the cons. The history of the city-states of Italy, Netherlands (he skips the Hansa a bit) and of England are the core of European history. Flanders, not a country of it own as of writing this review, certainly has its own honorable place in the history of Europe.

Stark makes a fine introduction to the treasures of European identity, and left me hungry for more. He breaks new ground and is unconditionally worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very good 16 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have read Starks earlier one on the rise of Christianity and found it to be one of the best books on the subject by a non christian author. So when I came across this book I wanted to know what a sociologist has to say about this. Stark's non sectarian reasearch and easy readable style makes it an interesting book to own.
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35 of 58 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A profoundly misleading book. 14 Feb 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The thesis of this book appears to be that Catholic Christianity founded capitalism. One's first assumption might be that, if this were true, the medieval church had betrayed the teachings of its founder and that this book was a polemic (not unknown for instance, when even Dante and other medieval figures complained of the greed and corruption of the church) to this end. Not at all, it is praise of the church. The subtitle turns out to be How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success.
To maintain this improbable thesis, the author needs to denigrate the Roman empire. No one would want to give the empire unqualified praise -it could be brutal and much of its treatment, of criminals, for instance, was sickening. However, it did successfully keep the Mediterranean world in comparative peace for several centuries. The Roman and Greek parts had different kinds of achievements but it was to take many centuries before anyone could build an acqueduct which led water evenly down into a city over ninety miles, a dome as big as the Pantheon in Rome (or Santa Sophia in Constantinople) or as vast a building as the baths of Caracalla which could house 4000 bathers and provide hot water for them. The organisation of the empire's defence and administration again had no equals for many many centuries. The problem is that the author either is completely ignorant of how the ancient world works or chooses not to find out. His texts is full of basic errors. For instance:
`Ultimately, Greek learning stagnated of its own inner logic [whatever that means] . After Plato and Aristotle very little happened beyond some extensions of geometry'. (P.
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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this as Professor Stark is a good writer and takes up an unpopular cause and makes a half decent case for it. My main criticism is that like many books on the benefits of Christianity, it considers the aspects of the religion that the writer personally believes in a positive light and sweeps other parts of the Christian tradition under the carpet. It also doesn't give the influence of Greek Philosphy and Logic much credit. These principles undermined another great achievement of western civilization which is Roman Law and the systems that it influenced. Christianity hardly had any impact on Roman Law and in the Dark ages its subsequent impact was often malign.

I do however admire some of his points about theology being formal reasoning about God but again you have to realise that formal reasoning came from Greek philosophy not from the bible. Its true that Aquinas and many others mangled this concept but looking at it from another angle. it is important to the history of Europe that they attempted at all. Especially as at the same time Aristotle was beoming popular in Europe, his influence was declining in the Muslim world.

His defence of the scholastics is admirable as his critique of Weber's myths about capitalism being a protestant in origin. He makes many fine points about the relationship between church and state and I would have to concur that any nation that does separate church and state will prosper spiritually and economically but it's probably not that an original claim.

I could go on but the reveiwer above has made more fine points about the innovations than I ever could and have to agree that the book is very weak in this area. It is however a decent read and food for thought.
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Popular Highlights

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&quote;
While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth. &quote;
Highlighted by 62 Kindle users
&quote;
The rise of science was not an extension of classical learning. It was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: nature exists because it was created by God. In order to love and honor God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles . By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, it ought to be possible to discover these principles. &quote;
Highlighted by 57 Kindle users
&quote;
The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians. &quote;
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