Christian Capitalism

 Posted by on 5 January 2006 at 11:54 am  Religion
Jan 052006

Orson Olson recently pointed me to this NY Times review of Rodney Stark’s book The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. The basic thesis of the book is clear, even if not new:

“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,” [Stark] argues in this provocative, exasperating and occasionally baffling exercise in revisionism. Capitalism, and the scientific revolution that powered it, did not emerge in spite of religion but because of it.

The book wholly dismisses the Greeks and Romans:

Mr. Stark’s pugnacity often gets the better of him. He is contemptuously dismissive of Greece and Rome, which he describes as technologically incompetent, morally bankrupt (all those slaves) and too stupid to develop polyphony in music. Also, the Roman roads were lousy. To use one of Mr. Stark’s favorite formulations, so much for Virgil, Horace and Euripides. When Greece and Rome are described as “great civilizations” in sneering quotation marks, you know that an argument has turned into a rant.

But Stark’s view of the Dark Ages clearly takes the cake:

The most persuasive chapters in “The Victory of Reason” describe the early stirrings of free-market enterprise and scientific experimentation on the monastic estates that spread throughout Western Europe after the ninth century. It was during the so-called Dark Ages that Christian monks, throwing off “the stultifying grip of Roman repression and mistaken Greek idealism,” developed innovations like the water wheel, horseshoes, fish farming, the three-field system of agriculture, eyeglasses and clocks. “All of these remarkable developments can be traced to the unique Christian conviction that progress was a God-given obligation, entailed in the gift of reason,” writes Mr. Stark, who has described himself in interviews, surprisingly, as not religious in any conventional sense.

Given the disturbing rise of religion in this country, this book seems worth reading, if only by the principle of “know thy enemy.” If the Christians are able to take credit for all wonders of Western civilization, those wonders will not last long.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha