Sunday, May 11, 2008
Book Recommendation: The Rise of Christianity
Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity is a fascinating book that seeks to answer the rapid growth of Christianity through social science.
In general, Stark believes that the rapid growth in Christianity was due to the early Christians establishing and building a strong, loving, and beneficial community in a chaotic and deprived context.
"...let me suggest here that Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced epidemics, fires and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services (pg. 161)".
One of interesting things from this book was Stark's comparison of how the early Christians and pagans dealt with the devastating epidemics (plagues) by which the Christians were willing to loose their lives for their loves one but the pagans weren't. Stark quotes Dionysius, who describes these events (pg.82-83):
"Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transfered their death to themselves and died in their stead"
"The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape."
It's important to note that Starks also confirms these general differences from non-Christian sources (Julian and Thucydides) (pg. 83-85).