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A religion on the move

"A religion on the move" Continued...

Issue: "2012 Books Issue," July 14, 2012

Stark also criticizes other historians for being "as gullible as tourists, gaping at the monuments, palaces, and conspicuous consumption of Rome." He decries "the inability of intellectuals to value or even to notice the nuts and bolts of real life," and goes on to note medieval progress in windmills, crop rotation, chimneys, and a host of other practical matters.

He also calls "the Renaissance" a ridiculous myth: "Had there really been a return to classical knowledge, it would have created an era of cultural decline since Christian Europe had long since surpassed classical antiquity in nearly every way."

And yet, Stark mocks the idea of a medieval "Age of Faith," for "the masses of medieval Europeans not only were remarkably skeptical, but very lacking in all aspects of Christian commitment." Most people seldom if ever went to church, and some who did slept and snored, played cards while the pastor preached, or brought their dogs: "Most medieval Europeans were completely ignorant of the most basic Christian teachings," and many priests did not know the Lord's Prayer or other fundamentals.

The book has one major weakness. While Stark is right to see the triumph of Christianity as integral to the triumph of science-"It was only because Europeans believed in God as the Intelligent Designer of a rational universe that they pursued the secrets of creation"-he criticizes commitment to biblical inerrancy. Still, it's clear that the Protestant Reformation increased Christian commitment and even contributed to improvements in the Roman Catholic Church, as a "Church of Piety" arose to challenge "the Church of Power."

In later chapters, Stark compares American religious liberty to the state churches of Europe and sees denominationalism as a strength, not a weakness. He looks at Christian growth around the world in recent decades as one more assault on the conventional wisdom that modernity trumps religion. He avoids triumphalism in writing about Christianity's long-term triumph-we do not know what tomorrow will bring-and he teaches us to avoid pessimism in considering our temporary problems.

For, as Samuel Stone wrote about the Christian church in 1866, "'Mid toil and tribulation, / And tumult of her war, / She waits the consummation / Of peace for evermore; / Till with the vision glorious / Her longing eyes are blest, / And the great church victorious / Shall be the church at rest."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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