restricted access Christianity is a Hellenistic Religion, and Western Civilization is Christian
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March/April 2006 Historically Speaking 15 Christianity is a Hellenistic Religion, and Western Civilization is Christian Ricardo Duchesne The one virtue I can find in Stark's essay, as it was adapted from his book Victory of Reason, is that it might stimulate a serious discussion about why Christianity was the only religion to cultivate a philosophical outlook consistent with the rational investigation of nature and the rise of a liberal democratic culture. Right from the opening paragraph, his essay sprays out too many sweeping statements about medieval Europe's technological superiority over the rest of the world that can only be judged as expressions of someone not familiar with world economic history. I have defended David Landes's contention that sometime in the medieval/early modern era Europe took a path that set it on a special historical course, but I cannot support Stark's flat statement that medieval European technology and science "overtook and surpassed the rest of the world." Sung China (960-1279), rather, was the world's most advanced civilization at that time. The irrigated fields of China gave far higher yields per seed and per unit of land than the rain-fed grains of Europe. In terms of preparation of soil and methods ofsoil preservation , rotation of crops, selective breeding of seeds, transplanting and winnowing, and water control techniques, Chinese—and possibly Indian—farmers were ahead of their European counterparts well into the modern era. Stark shows no awareness ofcurrent arguments made by Bin Wong, A. G. Frank, Ken Pomeranz, and others that many "modern" economic trends attributed to Europe, such as rising total output and per capita productivity, growing urbanization, and global trade networks , were also experienced in China, India, and Japan throughout the modern era. I do agree, nevertheless, that by the 12th century Europe was entering a period of cumulative progression in all spheres ofsocial life, richer in originality and spiritedness than any other cultural efflorescence witnessed since the ancient Greeks. While I do share Stark's belief that Christianity was a major factor in this progression, I have deep reservations about his contention that the rise ofmodern science was rooted directly in the religion of Christianity. He writes: "Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth. Christian faith in reason was influenced by Greek philosophy. But the more important fact is that Greek philosophy had little impact on Greek religions. Those remained typical mystery cults .... But, from early days, the church fathers taught Stark is right that outside narrow scholarly circles Catholicism is still derided as reactionary andsuperstitious. of one ethnic people, and this God remained abstract and beyond reason. In the Incarnation and the belief that Jesus has two natures— both fully God and fully human—the pure universal spirit of the Old Testament finds concrete expression in human history. PreChristian religions only imagined the presence of spirit in the world; Christians see and feel and hear the divinity and love of God in their lives. What Stark ignores to the point ofharming his entire argument is that Christianity alone developed a metaphysical framework consistent with that of modern science and freedom due to the deep impact of Greek culture on the very formation of Christianity. Christianity was born that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase understanding of Scripture and revelation." Stark cites a few passages from St. Augustine, St. Magnus, St. Aquinas, and Tertullian to support this claim but without supplying any supplementary explanations. Stark claims in his book that Christianity is the only religion that had faith in reason, which nourished a "science of faith"—a theology of "God's nature, intentions, and demands." He further argues that Christianity is different from such religions as Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism in believing in the existence of a "conscious, all powerful God," rather than a One, a Being or principle governing the universe that is impersonal, remote, unknowable, and separate from our world. I also believe that the God of Christianity is not transcendental but immanent. I agree as well that Christianity displays a higher level of self-consciousness because the Divine is not something utterly other and...