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2209 Sun 2 Sep 2001

I have been reading a book by Rodney Stark "The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History" (Princeton University Press, 1996).

I first heard of Rodney Stark from Archbishop Pell, from a homily he gave to headmasters, which I read on the internet:

And finally I wish to commend to you "The Rise of Christianity", a study of the first three hundred years of Christian history under the pagan Roman emperors by a contemporary agnostic sociologist, Rodney Stark. It has important lessons for us today.

Recently, Stark was interviewed about religion today, about out temptation to make the situation easier to attract young people to Christ.

He was asked, "Many churches are lowering the bar to make religion more popular. How would you analyze their efforts?"

Rodney Stark replied, "They're death wishes. People value religion on the basis of cost, and they don't value the cheapest ones the most. Religions that ask nothing get nothing. You've got a choice: you can be a church or a country club. If you're going to be a church, you'd better offer religion on Sunday. If you're not, you'd better build a golf course. If religion gets too cheap, nobody pays the price."

I believe he is right. May that simple truth also be our conviction.

On the back of the book there is some "Advance Praise" for it by Andrew M. Greeley, (National Opinion Research Centre, University of Chicago):

Professor Stark has produced a provocative, insightful, challenging account of the rise of Christianity. The thesis - that Christianity was a success because it provided those who joined it with a more appealing, more assuring, happier, and perhaps longer life - may anger many readers and force all readers to stop and think.

On page 171, Rodney Stark writes:

... individuals will evaluate religious compensators in essentially the same way that they evaluate all other objects of choice. They will evaluate their costs and benefits (including the "opportunity costs" that arise when once action can be undertaken only if others are foregone) and will "consume" those compensators which, together with their other actions, maximize net benefits.

Its a challenging book. A particular issue the explanation of "costs":

Religious stigmas consist of all aspects of social deviance that attach to membership in the group. A group may prohibit some activities deemed normal in the external society (drinking, for example) or it may require other activities deemed abnormal by the world (shaving one's head, for example). ... Sacrifices consist in investments (material and human) and forgone opportunities required of those who would gain and retain membership in the group. (page 176).

By demanding high levels of stigma and sacrifice, religious groups induce higher average levels of member commitment and participation ... are able to generate greater material, social, and religious benefits for their members. (page 177).

The sacrifice of martyrdom is the particular one which I will be writing about tomorrow for my essay on Early Church. I find it an interesting perspective on religious activity.

After Mass at the cathedral this morning I spent the afternoon chopping blackberries and collecting wood. It was too wet to burn them. Earlier tonight I went to Miranda's. She may be away next week.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 2 September 2001.

 

Links to other sites:

Archbishop Pell's homilies - quoting Rodney Stark on 18 April 2000

Miranda Lynch