Friday, November 24, 2006

Cities of God

By Rodney Stark. 2006.

Stark is a sociologist specializing in the history of religion. This book is a great resource book, very academic, but not hard to read. He is guarding carefully against his would-be critics. Therefore, some parts feel "bogged down" for readers who easily accept his clearly stated pro-Christian bias.

The content is a sociological study of how Christianity replaced other religions in the 4th Century Roman empire. He looks especially at the urban centers where Christianity grew the fastest. He carefully describes the living environments and the various competeting religions (such as paganism, Judaism, gnosticism, and worship of Cybele and Isis). He talks about the nature of conversion in this world and comes quite close to drawing implications or applications for today.

Good read. A good resource. Dispells quite a lot of myths I had believed before. For example, our best evidence (which is quite good) shows that the Roman roads were quite poor. The great opportunities for travel during this period had more to do with developments regarding sea travel rather than land travel. More on this in the book. Lots of interesting little corrections like this. A couple quotes:

In some sense it is true that there were 'many' Christianities during the first several centuries. But, contrary to the wild claims made by members of the Jesus Seminar and by other media-consecrated experts concerning the lack of an early Christian consensus, the dissidents were mostly gadlfies -- even Marcion was easily turned away. Page 180.

Only monotheism serves as a basis for morality, for compelling and significant "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots." . . . Monotheism prevails because it offers a God worth dying for-- indeed, a God who promises everlasting life. And that's why Christianity triumphed and why, even in the midst of a profoundly Christian world, Judaism has endured. Page 116

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Blogger Nick said...

Another book by Stark, "The Rise of Christianity," is one of my favorites. It sounds like it covers much of the same material. It also sounds like "Rise" is less explicitly pro-Christian. That is one reason I think I found it interesting and exciting to read. Here was a good scholar, in a field not known to be brimming with Christians, who kept hinting at his approval of Christianity, but he did not hit you over the head with it. I think if you were a non-Christian reading that book, you wouldn't feel like you were reading propaganda.

He also covered a lot of interesting and unexpected topics in that book, as you mention in the book you read. He writes, for instance, about the terrible struggle (yet necessity) of living in cities in that era. And there's other good stuff that has contemporary application.

Anyway, I'll have to check out "Cities" and see how much of it is new material.

12:56 AM, November 25, 2006  

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