Rodney Stark

Rodney Stark is a sociologist and author who focuses on the history of Christianity and religion, the current state of religions worldwide, and the broad history of Western civilization. He was interviewed because of his broad knowledge of sociology as it applies to religion and his fresh and often-controversial views concerning the West.

Current History Distorts the Truth

Rodney Stark:

Well, it seems to me that they’ve greatly distorted our ability to comprehend our own past. I mean, when we talk about Dark Ages, when in fact it was an age of particularly important progress. That makes it very difficult for us to understand how we got here. When we talk about the fall of Rome as a great tragedy, when in fact it was a thousand years of no progress, when in fact it was just another great, nasty empire in which most people lived miserable lives and whether it’s a complete lack of freedom. Again, it distorts the world so we don’t understand how we got here.

We got here once in a while because freedom broke out periodically and eventually we managed to keep it. I hope we can continue to do so.

Breaking Down the Walls of Specialization in History

Rodney Stark:

I do think a major contribution I have made… is trying to break down the little walls of specialization and make some wonderful, wonderful scholarship available to the general reader and to the general intellectual world. The work that was done on, that’s been done on the Inquisition, for example, has been published in obscure books. That’s way, that’s too bad. They should have been published in and very well known. And by the way, they’re very readable books. But not very many people know about them. And the same is true of much about the so-called Scientific Revolution. There were some wonderful books from which I learned all of this, but somehow they weren’t getting into the textbooks. They weren’t getting into the general thought stream. The same with the Crusades. There are some wonderful English historians who have completely revolutionized our understanding of the Crusades by digging out all of the old wills and mortgages and things that the early crusading families signed them to account in order to go crusading.

And we discovered that these people bankrupted themselves to go. And we also were able to trace out who they were and discover, of course, not very many families did go on the Crusades, but they tended all to know each other and all be related. You know, there’d be four sons and three sons in laws, and two cousins coming from a given family in several cases that the wives went along. And they rode east. They knew they weren’t coming back, or they thought it was very unlikely. And many of them didn’t come back, but they went and they spent, they did the thing. And somehow it seems to me… criminal, that all of these wonderful pieces and specialized areas aren’t being drawn together because the people are doing that so-called drawing together are mostly a bunch of silly Marxists who don’t read anybody.

Is your research ahead of the curve?

Rodney Stark:

No. I think, thankfully, I’m well behind the curve. The curve, in this case, is not getting things straight. I think that postmodernity and all the rest of the things that you just named are modern idiocies, and that I think that I’m safely behind that curve.

An Age of Silliness

Rodney Stark:

Well, our textbooks are full of nonsense. It’s gotten especially bad. I mean, it’s become an age of silliness. I understand why people homeschool. I think one of the things that saved me, one is of course, schools weren’t nearly as bad as when I went. But secondly, I was a rotten student. I didn’t study my textbooks. I didn’t work in school. I could get C’s and B’s without doing one single thing, and one single thing was more than I ever did. I learned a lot during the period I was in graduate school, but I can’t say I learned a single thing in graduate school. So in a way I was spared all of this nonsense.

Are atheists creating their own history? The Importance of the Creator God

Rodney Stark:

Well, I suppose the obvious one is to pretend that science arose despite all the efforts of the Church to suppress it. When the truth is science arose only once, only in the West and only because of Christianity. It was the notion of a creator, God, who, a rational creator of God who gave us reason and who consequently permitted the assumption that perhaps the universe could be understood on the basis of reason.

That made the whole scientific quest sensible in places elsewhere when you thought that the world was in decline, when you thought the universe had never been created, that it was eternal and that it was utterly mysterious, you can’t have science. I mean, people aren’t fools. If they think something is impossible, they don’t try it. Simple as that.

Again, is this new history?

Rodney Stark:

No, not at all. I think what I’m trying to do is clean up and repair and restate fairly traditional views of things. I hope I’ve made some contributions to it, but mostly I just tried to tell the story is I finally came to understand it from reading about it.

How did Christianity grow so quickly?

Rodney Stark:

The pagan temples were like supermarkets. You patronized them. You went there, and you paid your money, and you made your prayer. Didn’t work, you went someplace else. Of course the Jews were a nationality or an ethnicity. You were born into it. Christianity was a voluntary organization. You belonged and you were active and you took part on a regular basis. That was something new.

That meant for very strong members, strong levels of commitment, because they functioned almost as a, well, they were a little welfare of society. As a matter of fact, they took care of the old, they took care of the widows and the orphans. They did a lot of charitable things. They took care of people during plagues, more important because you belonged. They grew because the members converted other people, you didn’t send them a bunch of priests or revivalists if you will, if there had been any then, and there were, I guess you could say certainly Paul was a revivalist. But they didn’t go out and convert people, members converted, they converted their friends, their neighbors, and their families. Conversion is a person to person connection sort of thing, you convert by in fact, accepting the religion that your friends already accepted. And Christianity began as this kind of a network and spread through the whole of Southern Europe.

Now things broke down when they went to the Northern Europe. And at that point, the conversion became very problematic. The church kind of settled for the baptizing of kings in the court and let all the [inaudible 00:02:12] and else, everybody fend for themselves. It’s not clear they ever really converted Scandinavia. Didn’t really try. But subsequently centuries later began a great Christianizing movement, along of course, with the spread of the modern Western world. And in the long run, Christianity has become by far the largest and the most rapidly growing religion on earth, about 2.2 billion Christians, because again, Christians convert other people to being Christians. It’s not the missionaries who are converting China, it’s the Chinese who are converting China. And so it’s gone.

One sociologist to another, what sells best for Christianity?

Rodney Stark:

Well, I think a lot of people would answer that in terms of doctrines and I suppose doctrines in the long run are important. But in the short run, people convert and what do they get out of it? They get the approval and the warmth, and the friendship, and the community of their fellow Christians, which started out mostly are they friends and neighbors already. I recently looked at some data from Chinese villages and you ask the people who are the Christians, how’d they hear about Christianity? They always tell you, from my sister-in-law or my cousin, and there are whole villages were Christian because everybody’s converted their friends and neighbors. And that’s the way it spreads, and that’s one of the payoffs. Community has a lot of payoff and if we … Obviously, theology matters in the long run. These are satisfactory answers to the great life questions. But on the day to day basis for most Christians, it’s the experience of being part of the Christian group.

Why do Christian believers still believe? No Second Coming in 2,000 years?

Rodney Stark:

Well, let’s start with the first part of that. All I’ve ever said, and it seems to me so obvious, it’s despair of having to keep repeating it, is that people are as rational and sensible about their religious choices as they are about other choices in life. That they give some thought to their religion and to whether they’re going to choose it or continue it or stay with it or quit it or whatever. That they think about it. The same way they think about marriage, the same way they think about buying a car, if you will. They’re not entirely sensible, but they are as sensible. Of course, people often have faulty information, they make logical errors. All of that applies. All I’ve said is they are just as rational in this choice as they are in others.

As to the second one, this is kind of a challenge. You’re saying, “Well, how can they keep on believing in the face of this disappointment?” I would say after the first few years of Christianity, nobody thought about the Second Coming anymore. Yeah, we have little groups break away from time to time who got all involved in it and it doesn’t happen and it’s a big disappointment for them. But all the other Christians kind of laugh at them because they weren’t … I mean, I think most Christians have some notion that possibly someday there’ll be an end. They’re not expecting it anytime soon. They got on with things. It’s not central to the belief system.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Rodney Stark:

The fall of the Roman Empire. Ah, yes, that great, great tragedy. It’s the best thing that ever happened to Western civilization because only because of it was the progress, which led to modernity possible. During the whole 1,000 years where Rome ruled nothing happened, the only invention of any interest was the invention of concrete. The other thing of importance was the rise of Christianity and they tried to prevent that. Aside from that, it was an era of a really repressive empire, cruel, anti-progress, bad time.

The Dark Ages: Weren’t Dark

Rodney Stark:

The Dark Ages was one of those dreadful lies we all learned in school, was a lie told by Voltaire and his friends to try to put down the Church and to proclaim their Enlightenment era as the great breakthrough, the most wonderful wonderfulness. But the fact, of course, is that the world that was here at the fall of Rome was completely changed by the end of the so-called Dark Ages, enormous progress had been made. How was that possible that the ages were dark? And the answer is, of course, it wasn’t possible, the age wasn’t dark. And now even all the encyclopedias say the dark ages were a myth. So there you are, didn’t happen. It was a time of great progress and we built some wonderful cathedrals during it also.

The Crusades: Provoked Over 450 Years

Rodney Stark:

The Crusades, ah, yes, we’re supposed to be sorry about the Crusades. Bill Clinton even said after 9/11, that the Crusades were one of the awful things we did to Islam that in the long run led to these attacks on America. Nonsense. The Crusades were a response to 450 years of Muslim efforts to colonize the West. The Battle of Tours where the Islamic army was turned back from France, took place 125 miles south of Paris. How? My goodness. But of course we can’t talk about that. We can talk about the Crusaders going East for land and loot, but there was no loot out there and the land wasn’t worth anything. They went out there on a religious mission. They went out there because they believed that Jesus had walked in Jerusalem and that it ought to be free of forces that were attacking people coming to visit the Holy Land. And that’s what it was about.

The Inquisition: Not a Murderous Religious Binge

Rodney Stark:

We all grew up knowing about the evil horrors of the Inquisition. I mean, it’s frightening to think of. And then along came a whole bunch of new scholars who were possessed of 41,000 plus complete case records of the trials held by the Spanish Inquisition. They got all of them turned over to them, they were carefully, carefully recorded and documented. They’ve been computerized. Many of the scholars involved are not Spanish, they’re not Catholic. And what they find is that the Inquisition was mostly a force for justice, reason, intolerance.

The Inquisition did have a few people burned on witchcraft charges. Ah, but they burned them because they had hanged or burned witches, not because they were witches. In fact, the Inquisition managed to prevent the witchcraft phenomenon from happening in Spain, from happening in Italy. And in the long run, it was the testimony of the Inquisition that brought the witchcraft craze to an end in the rest of Europe.

For the most part, the Inquisition, they rarely had anybody executed by the way, and they rarely won’t burn books. And when they did burn books, they weren’t scientific books. Some of them were books of Lutheran theology. You can understand why they burned them. The Lutherans were busy after all sending people to jail for saying mass. But mostly what they burned was pornography. The printers that came along discovered that the best book to print was the Bible, it really sold. Next bent, best was smut, and it sold. And the Inquisition didn’t like smut and we can understand that.

The Scientific Revolution: The Creator God’s Importance to Science Itself

Rodney Stark:

There’s a new book, very nice book. The first sentence is, “This is a book about The Scientific Revolution.” Which of course there was no Scientific Revolution. And that’s basically what we’re stuck with. We can’t get rid of the term, The Scientific Revolution. It was a wonderful glorious time indeed, but it was in fact, the product of centuries of normal scientific progress that suddenly culminated in wonderful people like Newton and all the rest. Something else interesting about it, the notion that there’s a conflict between religion and science. The fact is if it hadn’t been for religion, there wouldn’t have been any science, and that the men who were involved in The Scientific Revolution were overwhelmingly men of faith. As a matter of fact, of a group of 55 of the real superstars of the era, only one could be called irreligious, about 20 of them were actually clergy, and the rest were very, very religious men. Newton wrote a lot more theology than he did physics.

Some of them gave all their money for translations of the Bible into foreign languages. Others tried to set the date of the creation. These were guys who were busy being scientists, but they were very devout Christians. And of course, the fact is that science was only possible because there was an assumption about the world, which is that it ran according to reason because it was created by a rational creator. Consequently, they believed that you could understand the universe. People in the rest of the world were taught that you can’t come comprehend the universe. You can think about it, you can meditate on it, but you can’t account for it because it doesn’t run according to any rational, reasonable, understandable rules. And of course, these people believed that it did run according to rules. More importantly, they looked for the rules and they found them.

The Enlightenment: Self-Promotion

Rodney Stark:

The Enlightenment. Ah, yes, we’re all supposed to believe that Voltaire and his friends had suddenly jumped 500, a 1000 years ahead in history and were bringing this new, wonderful era to us. They brought us nothing. They were not responsible for the scientific advancements. They weren’t responsible for the great things that had happened during the alleged Dark Ages, which they made up. They hadn’t built any cathedrals. They hadn’t painted any great paintings. There was no Enlightenment, just as there was no Dark Age.

Capitalism Developed Way Before the 1800’s

Rodney Stark:

Capitalism didn’t develop in the 18th century. This is nonsense. It developed in the ninth and 10th century and it developed in the great monastic orders as they pursued their own economic development, they became great factories, great undertakings, great enterprises. They were systematically managed, they had modern bookkeeping, they had long-term investment, free markets. Everything we associate with capitalism was present by the 10th century.

The Problem with the Word Capitalism Itself

Rodney Stark:

Of course, the problem with the word capitalism itself is really so hard to define capitalism because the word itself was made up in the 19th century as an insult. And then trying to define it in economic terms is a little bit like trying to define the word “reactionary pig” and how to use that as a solid historical or economic concept. But what they’re talking about, the kind of institutions that are involved, were definitely present by the 10th century.

Is “capitalism” a good, descriptive word to use?

Rodney Stark:

No. Capitalism doesn’t describe the key Christian-Judeo philosophy. What’s important, what’s basic there in addition to a rational creator, God, of course, is the notion of freedom and responsibility and morality. You can’t really say, “Go and sin no more,” if people aren’t free. It’s idiotic. And the church people very soon recognized that. They got rid of slavery. It’s interesting, in the 9th and 10th century, when the Christians basically ended slavery in Europe, it was the first time it had ever happened in any civilization. Except instances when people from outside, namely Westerners, forced them to give up slavery. Only people ever voluntarily did give it up were the Europeans. And that’s because they were Christians and because freedom mattered because you have to hold people responsible for their acts or the notion of sin doesn’t make any sense. Consequently, it all fits together and that’s much more basic than capitalism.

What makes history happen? What made the West different? Reason

Rodney Stark:

Well I certainly don’t mean to discount any of the things that you mentioned, of course these were… People make history. What I think I would like to emphasize, or have been trying to emphasize, is that certain things, fundamentals, based on the Judeo-Christian concept of God was the linchpin that got the West thinking certain ways and acting certain ways that were different from the rest of the world. Everybody had armies, everybody had leaders, everybody had great thinkers, but only the West won, only the West got modernity, and they got modernity because they believed in reason. I wrote a book called “The Victory Of Reason” simply because I think that’s the key to the whole Western enterprise.

What made reason important? The Creator God Concept

Rodney Stark:

Well, again, it comes back again to the same thing. What’s your concept of God? If you think the gods are… pretty much… humans with a few supernatural powers, and who are given to lying, and cheating, and seducing, and raping, and all other kinds of silly things… who are untrustworthy, and maybe they’ll answer your prayer. And maybe they’ll answer it badly. It’s a very funny little worldview, the idea of a great creator, God, who wishes us well. And as moral standards, was a radical change, and it changed everything else.

What are the keys to “capitalism”? Aren’t we just learning to do it better over 2,000 years?

Rodney Stark:

No. I mean you can find connections and resemblances ad nauseam somehow, but you’ve got to have some limits as to what makes sense. In this case, I think what’s key here is freedom and property rights, and they’re relatively new.

The Romans usurped property whenever they felt like it. Freedom was certainly not available for very many Romans. I mean, after all, even the people who were sitting in the stands in the Colosseum watching people be thrown to the wild animals and whatnot weren’t very free because one day they ran out of people to throw to the wild animals and literally said, “Take the first two rows,” and they took them and threw them in. That’s not we call really a free situation.

No, that’s why it’s really in the so-called medieval time, the 9th, 10th century, the great monastic orders were operating in situations where their property was secure, where they didn’t have to worry about the government taking everything away from them. They could operate in a free market situation pretty sensibly. Capitalism has only been able to happen under those kinds of sort of circumstances. We have something today called state capitalism. I don’t think it is. I think it’s called state industry. Those are sweatshops. I don’t think that’s capitalism at all.

What about the Church in America’s public square?

Rodney Stark:

At the time of the American Revolution, then as now, almost every nation in Europe had a state church supported by tax funds, and pretty repressive of other churches. At least half of the 13 colonies had a state church. The Church of England, or the Episcopalians as we call them now, in some of the colonies, and then New England you had the Puritans who were pretty ugly and repressive, but they were a state church.

By the way, Massachusetts only stopped collecting taxes for the Puritans or the Congregationalists as they were called, in I think 1833. The Constitution didn’t prevent states from having an established church, only the federal government. Why was it that the federal government did not have a state church? And the answer was it was impossible. There was no church in a position to become the state church. We had 17 or 18 quite vibrant, quite active denominations in this country by 1776 and none of them came close to having a majority.

If you weren’t going to have a tremendous fight on your hands, you couldn’t establish any one of those churches. So, the Founding Fathers didn’t, and what they said is, “There will be no established church.” Oddly enough in recent years we’ve come to say that the government couldn’t have any aspects of religion. That was nonsense. That never was intended. They said, “You can’t take tax money and support churches.” That’s all it said. It didn’t say you couldn’t pray. They prayed at the opening of all the Constitutional Convention Meetings. Ben Franklin suggested and he didn’t even believe, so there you are.

How to define religion?

Doug Monroe:

Define religion.

Rodney Stark:

Well, first of all, define religion as a belief system, which is to say a set of answers to the questions about ultimate meaning such as how did we get here, where are we going, what does it all mean, what’s morality, et cetera? A set of answers to those questions based on supernatural assumptions. Then of course, religion can refer to organizations that have the ideology, that have these doctrines so that the congregational church at the corner is a religion, the Elks Club on the other corner isn’t.

Is secularism or atheism a religion?

Rodney Stark:

No and no. Atheism can become certainly fanatical ideology as much as any religion possibly can, but it doesn’t become a religion because it basically is based on naturalistic, entirely naturalistic, materialistic assumptions. It’s silly to try to mix the two. A lot of people will notice that some ideologies today such as communism can be held with great intensity. That doesn’t make them religions.

I think an interesting illustration of this point comes from the various utopian experiments that people have carried on through the years. In 19th century, all kinds of people decided they were going to have this utopian community and all got together. Most of them lasted about a year or two, some of them lasted 10 years, some of them lasted. The only ones that lasted were the ones that were based on religion. The others all fell apart.

One of the reasons is if we say, “Well okay, we’re a bunch of socialists now. We’re all going to get together and we’re going to have this wonderful, wonderful thing. We create this utopian community and then we discover that nobody works and that this doesn’t happen or that, and that it isn’t utopian. It’s miserable. So we quit and we leave.”

When the various religious groups got together and had a utopian community, they didn’t expect utopia to happen here and now. The community was a place of preparation and the utopia was later and other. That couldn’t be seen to fail and so they could continue. They got to also be pretty organized and keep stuff together. It’s kind of an interesting difference, yeah.

Is religion losing ground globally to secularism?

Rodney Stark:

No. The book I’m in the middle of right now is titled “The Global Religious Awakening.” The first sentence is, “Perhaps at no time in human history has the world been so religious.” I’m working with data sets collected by Gallup from 163 nations. They’ve been doing a national survey every year in these nations. That’s 97% of the world’s population. 81% of the people on Earth belong to an organized religion. Many of those who do not, nevertheless, report attending religious services. Half the people on Earth report they were at a religious service in the past week. There are only two nations on Earth where there are more than 20% atheists. In most countries, nearly almost all countries, they number under 5%. That doesn’t sound like something that’s going forward.

In fact, Europe is not more secular than it used to be. Europeans don’t go to church very well. They never did. Medieval people were very religious in one sense, but they never went to church. Hardly anybody went to church. When they did, it wasn’t clear that it was in anybody’s benefit to have them there. They misbehaved. They slept, they snored, they played cards. They brought their dogs. It was ridiculous.

Videographer:

What were the-

Rodney Stark:

But-

Videographer:

Oh, okay.

Rodney Stark:

But the fact is, everybody believed… They believed in saints. They believed in forgiveness. They believed in miracles. They all prayed. They also believed in a lot of magic and a lot of other stuff.

Europeans today don’t go to church either and they never did, as I said, but it’s not true that they don’t believe things. It can look somewhat that way if you use very churchly wording of things. But if you don’t, you find that people are as certainly as religious as they were in medieval times.

Are people across the globe religious by nature? What helps religion thrive?

Rodney Stark:

Oddly enough, when you get to the people who would appear least religious, you find that they’re knee deep in every kind of little supernaturalism, disorganized supernatural… I’ve just looked at brand new poll data, 38% of the people in France believe in astrology. Oh, that doesn’t sound very secularized. And of course, these are the people who don’t go to church. The rest of the people in Europe are like the French, except in some cases it’s 50% who will believe in astrology. 56% of the Russians believe that fortune tellers can sometimes foretell the future. There are more occult healers in Russia than there are medical doctors. Well, come on. I mean, you look around and you start looking for these sophisticated scientific atheists and you can’t find them.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most churched place on earth these days. Not only is everybody a Christian, but they go to church all the time. For years, Latin America was claimed as a Catholic continent. Nobody went to church, a lot of people weren’t even baptized. And then the Protestants came in, and that scared everybody down there in the church, and they tried to respond with a mixture of Marxism or religion, they call it liberation theology, and that got them nothing.

And then came the Catholic charismatics, and that worked. Catholics in Latin America are now going to church at levels unthinkable 50 years ago. 50, 60, 70% going weekly. It’s never happened before, and it happened because the Protestants came in and gave them some competition, and competition is really good for religion as it is for business. Makes for aggressive, hungry, hardworking firms, if you will. And the Catholic Church decided they’d better get busy and go out and appeal to its members, and they’ve succeeded. And that’s really what’s wrong with Europe, by the way. A bunch of lazy state churches with a bunch of preachers that don’t believe in anything. That’ll probably change. There’s a very interesting little kicker going on in Europe.

But what about Europe? Is the secularization thesis now false in Europe, as well?

Rodney Stark:

As everybody knows, European fertility is way below replacement levels. Replacement level modern situations is 2.1 kids per female. That 0.1 is to replace infant mortality. Below that, your population will shrink. Well, you got a lot of those places where fertility levels of 1.2, 1.3. So if that was to continue, presumably there’ll be a time when there’s no Italians in Italy, no Dutch in Holland.

But there’s a kicker. The church-going Europeans are having plenty of kids. As time goes on, I calculated about five generations, four generations. The majority of Europeans will be religious. That is if their kids continue to go to church like the parents do, or mostly. And the population won’t have died out, it’ll just shift it from non-church goers to church goers, purely from fertility, which is pretty funny. But as for a secularization, there are aspects of it. We’re having to deal with the fact that religious freedom in this country is a real problem. I mean, we’re not supposed to ever say “Merry Christmas” to anybody. The fact that data show that a third of the American-Jewish families put up a Christmas tree, we’re still not supposed to say “Merry Christmas” to one another. This is crazy. But anyway.

The Two Countries with More Than 20% Atheists: South Korea and ? (Another Asian Nation)

Rodney Stark:

Only two nations with more than 20% atheists, South Vietnam. I’m sorry. South Korea and another Asian nation.

Are occult religions outpacing the Christian ones? Homo Religiosi and Ghosts

Rodney Stark:

No. The thing is that the notion that these unchurched, unconventional religions are fairly widespread in Europe does not mean that they’re outgrowing conventional religions. It just means that in all the holes in spaces left by organized religion, this kind of stuff takes root. And in fact, I was arguing that for years and Europeans would laugh and say, “Well, we don’t have any of those cults and things over here.” Well, we sat down and did the research. In fact, they’ve got a whole lot more little unconventional religions per million in Europe than they ever thought of having in the United States. And as a matter of fact, things like astrology and fortune telling and lucky charms and esoteric healing, and these things are much more common. And that’s because of the weaknesses of the conventional churches.

There’s a very interesting thing that people don’t like to hear, but it’s true, based on American data. In some of the Baylor national surveys, we ask questions about whether you believed in Bigfoot and Atlantis and UFOs and reincarnation and all those good at things. And it turns out that the more religious you are, the less likely you are to believe in these things. It’s the irreligious people who are most likely to believe in Atlantis and Bigfoot and all of these things. So it brings to mind that wonderful quotation that is attributed to Chesterton, although he probably didn’t say it. We don’t know who said it. And it goes this way: “When a person stops believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.” And in this instance, it seems to be true that the people who are least religious are the most likely to believe in all kinds of other supernaturalism; ghosts, for example. And there you are.

What about the decline of the Mainline Churches?

Rodney Stark:

It’s very tiresome to read about the decline of the mainline churches as though that was a beacon of which religion is all going downhill. They haven’t been the mainline for a long, long time. And the reason is they stopped being very authentic Christian churches. The more they got into Tillichian theology, the more that the ministers started giving political rather than… If you go to church and you didn’t hear about sin and they didn’t say the word Jesus, people stopped going. This has been going on for… Started in the 19th century. And certainly these churches are going out of business. They’ve been losing membership at terrific rate for the last century. And it certainly started accelerating after say 1960.

But meanwhile, there were a whole bunch of churches that were more than taking up the slack. A higher percentage of Americans are church members today than ever in the history of the country. It’s just they don’t go to the United Church of Christ, and the Presbyterians, and the Methodists, and the Episcopalians anymore. They let them worry about trying to divest themselves of companies who do business with Israel and all the rest of the craziness they get to. The enormous growth in this country has been evangelical non-denominational churches. They went from almost nowhere 30 years ago to taking up maybe 15% of the population right now. These are enormous gains.

How do churches grow in the U.S.? The American Way

Rodney Stark:

When I was a kid, Jamestown, North Dakota, a Methodist church on one corner and right across the street was a Presbyterian church. Two biggest churches in town and they were certainly there forever. Well, if you go back there to … And by the way, my best friend was the Nazarene preacher’s kid. He pitched and I played baseball with him. And they met in a little one room schoolhouse that had been moved to town and had a little steeple put on it. Well, today you couldn’t get the Nazarene’s choir into the church that they were meeting in when I was a kid. They’ve got an enormous church. The Assemblies of God met in an apartment over the Montgomery Ward store. They are the biggest church in town. And the Methodist church and the Presbyterian church had got a few elderly people.

What happened? People didn’t stop going to church in Jamestown. They stopped going to those churches and they switched to other churches. Why? Because these other churches were aggressive, went out and got them. In a pluralist situation, lazy churches don’t survive. When I move into a new neighborhood, I can tell you within a year what church in my neighborhood churches are growing and which aren’t. If I haven’t heard from the church, then it’s declining. The churches that are growing, I will have heard something from them, got something in the mail, somebody knocked on my door; not being passive and saying, we’re over there on 12th street and we’d love you to come to our service. And so it goes. That’s the American way.

Where is the West headed?

Rodney Stark:

If only I knew, if only I knew. I hope it continues to go in the direction of freedom and justice, and rationality, and faith. It’s hard to say. There have been ups and downs in history.

Dr. Stark, Dr. Alvin Plantinga, and Roger Maris

Rodney Stark:

No not really, Al was older than I, and he was probably better known as a basketball player. He was really rowdy, always fouled out. Big Al he was called, he was a tall, skinny, rowdy kid. He might have had a good senior year of sports but he quit high school. And say Al Plantinga quit high school? Well he did, he doesn’t have a high school decree unless they awarded one after he finished his first year of college. Anyway, he quit high school in started college. And I on the other hand stuck it out and played a lot of football, played some baseball against Roger Maris who was from Fargo, that was a lot of fun. But I’ll never forget Big Al falling fouling out of basketball games.

Doug Monroe:

Any words for him?

Rodney Stark:

Sure, keep it up. He’s coming to speak here next year, I’m going to introduce him, and I’m planning to introduce him rather than as this distinguished professor I’m going to say let’s hear it for old number 97.

Overview

Rodney Stark

Rodney Stark is a sociologist and author who focuses on the history of Christianity and religion, the current state of religions worldwide, and the broad history of Western civilization. He was interviewed because of his broad knowledge of sociology as it applies to religion and his fresh and often-controversial views concerning the West.
Transcript

Current History Distorts the Truth

Rodney Stark:

Well, it seems to me that they’ve greatly distorted our ability to comprehend our own past. I mean, when we talk about Dark Ages, when in fact it was an age of particularly important progress. That makes it very difficult for us to understand how we got here. When we talk about the fall of Rome as a great tragedy, when in fact it was a thousand years of no progress, when in fact it was just another great, nasty empire in which most people lived miserable lives and whether it’s a complete lack of freedom. Again, it distorts the world so we don’t understand how we got here.

We got here once in a while because freedom broke out periodically and eventually we managed to keep it. I hope we can continue to do so.

Breaking Down the Walls of Specialization in History

Rodney Stark:

I do think a major contribution I have made… is trying to break down the little walls of specialization and make some wonderful, wonderful scholarship available to the general reader and to the general intellectual world. The work that was done on, that’s been done on the Inquisition, for example, has been published in obscure books. That’s way, that’s too bad. They should have been published in and very well known. And by the way, they’re very readable books. But not very many people know about them. And the same is true of much about the so-called Scientific Revolution. There were some wonderful books from which I learned all of this, but somehow they weren’t getting into the textbooks. They weren’t getting into the general thought stream. The same with the Crusades. There are some wonderful English historians who have completely revolutionized our understanding of the Crusades by digging out all of the old wills and mortgages and things that the early crusading families signed them to account in order to go crusading.

And we discovered that these people bankrupted themselves to go. And we also were able to trace out who they were and discover, of course, not very many families did go on the Crusades, but they tended all to know each other and all be related. You know, there’d be four sons and three sons in laws, and two cousins coming from a given family in several cases that the wives went along. And they rode east. They knew they weren’t coming back, or they thought it was very unlikely. And many of them didn’t come back, but they went and they spent, they did the thing. And somehow it seems to me… criminal, that all of these wonderful pieces and specialized areas aren’t being drawn together because the people are doing that so-called drawing together are mostly a bunch of silly Marxists who don’t read anybody.

Is your research ahead of the curve?

Rodney Stark:

No. I think, thankfully, I’m well behind the curve. The curve, in this case, is not getting things straight. I think that postmodernity and all the rest of the things that you just named are modern idiocies, and that I think that I’m safely behind that curve.

An Age of Silliness

Rodney Stark:

Well, our textbooks are full of nonsense. It’s gotten especially bad. I mean, it’s become an age of silliness. I understand why people homeschool. I think one of the things that saved me, one is of course, schools weren’t nearly as bad as when I went. But secondly, I was a rotten student. I didn’t study my textbooks. I didn’t work in school. I could get C’s and B’s without doing one single thing, and one single thing was more than I ever did. I learned a lot during the period I was in graduate school, but I can’t say I learned a single thing in graduate school. So in a way I was spared all of this nonsense.

Are atheists creating their own history? The Importance of the Creator God

Rodney Stark:

Well, I suppose the obvious one is to pretend that science arose despite all the efforts of the Church to suppress it. When the truth is science arose only once, only in the West and only because of Christianity. It was the notion of a creator, God, who, a rational creator of God who gave us reason and who consequently permitted the assumption that perhaps the universe could be understood on the basis of reason.

That made the whole scientific quest sensible in places elsewhere when you thought that the world was in decline, when you thought the universe had never been created, that it was eternal and that it was utterly mysterious, you can’t have science. I mean, people aren’t fools. If they think something is impossible, they don’t try it. Simple as that.

Again, is this new history?

Rodney Stark:

No, not at all. I think what I’m trying to do is clean up and repair and restate fairly traditional views of things. I hope I’ve made some contributions to it, but mostly I just tried to tell the story is I finally came to understand it from reading about it.

How did Christianity grow so quickly?

Rodney Stark:

The pagan temples were like supermarkets. You patronized them. You went there, and you paid your money, and you made your prayer. Didn’t work, you went someplace else. Of course the Jews were a nationality or an ethnicity. You were born into it. Christianity was a voluntary organization. You belonged and you were active and you took part on a regular basis. That was something new.

That meant for very strong members, strong levels of commitment, because they functioned almost as a, well, they were a little welfare of society. As a matter of fact, they took care of the old, they took care of the widows and the orphans. They did a lot of charitable things. They took care of people during plagues, more important because you belonged. They grew because the members converted other people, you didn’t send them a bunch of priests or revivalists if you will, if there had been any then, and there were, I guess you could say certainly Paul was a revivalist. But they didn’t go out and convert people, members converted, they converted their friends, their neighbors, and their families. Conversion is a person to person connection sort of thing, you convert by in fact, accepting the religion that your friends already accepted. And Christianity began as this kind of a network and spread through the whole of Southern Europe.

Now things broke down when they went to the Northern Europe. And at that point, the conversion became very problematic. The church kind of settled for the baptizing of kings in the court and let all the [inaudible 00:02:12] and else, everybody fend for themselves. It’s not clear they ever really converted Scandinavia. Didn’t really try. But subsequently centuries later began a great Christianizing movement, along of course, with the spread of the modern Western world. And in the long run, Christianity has become by far the largest and the most rapidly growing religion on earth, about 2.2 billion Christians, because again, Christians convert other people to being Christians. It’s not the missionaries who are converting China, it’s the Chinese who are converting China. And so it’s gone.

One sociologist to another, what sells best for Christianity?

Rodney Stark:

Well, I think a lot of people would answer that in terms of doctrines and I suppose doctrines in the long run are important. But in the short run, people convert and what do they get out of it? They get the approval and the warmth, and the friendship, and the community of their fellow Christians, which started out mostly are they friends and neighbors already. I recently looked at some data from Chinese villages and you ask the people who are the Christians, how’d they hear about Christianity? They always tell you, from my sister-in-law or my cousin, and there are whole villages were Christian because everybody’s converted their friends and neighbors. And that’s the way it spreads, and that’s one of the payoffs. Community has a lot of payoff and if we … Obviously, theology matters in the long run. These are satisfactory answers to the great life questions. But on the day to day basis for most Christians, it’s the experience of being part of the Christian group.

Why do Christian believers still believe? No Second Coming in 2,000 years?

Rodney Stark:

Well, let’s start with the first part of that. All I’ve ever said, and it seems to me so obvious, it’s despair of having to keep repeating it, is that people are as rational and sensible about their religious choices as they are about other choices in life. That they give some thought to their religion and to whether they’re going to choose it or continue it or stay with it or quit it or whatever. That they think about it. The same way they think about marriage, the same way they think about buying a car, if you will. They’re not entirely sensible, but they are as sensible. Of course, people often have faulty information, they make logical errors. All of that applies. All I’ve said is they are just as rational in this choice as they are in others.

As to the second one, this is kind of a challenge. You’re saying, “Well, how can they keep on believing in the face of this disappointment?” I would say after the first few years of Christianity, nobody thought about the Second Coming anymore. Yeah, we have little groups break away from time to time who got all involved in it and it doesn’t happen and it’s a big disappointment for them. But all the other Christians kind of laugh at them because they weren’t … I mean, I think most Christians have some notion that possibly someday there’ll be an end. They’re not expecting it anytime soon. They got on with things. It’s not central to the belief system.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Rodney Stark:

The fall of the Roman Empire. Ah, yes, that great, great tragedy. It’s the best thing that ever happened to Western civilization because only because of it was the progress, which led to modernity possible. During the whole 1,000 years where Rome ruled nothing happened, the only invention of any interest was the invention of concrete. The other thing of importance was the rise of Christianity and they tried to prevent that. Aside from that, it was an era of a really repressive empire, cruel, anti-progress, bad time.

The Dark Ages: Weren’t Dark

Rodney Stark:

The Dark Ages was one of those dreadful lies we all learned in school, was a lie told by Voltaire and his friends to try to put down the Church and to proclaim their Enlightenment era as the great breakthrough, the most wonderful wonderfulness. But the fact, of course, is that the world that was here at the fall of Rome was completely changed by the end of the so-called Dark Ages, enormous progress had been made. How was that possible that the ages were dark? And the answer is, of course, it wasn’t possible, the age wasn’t dark. And now even all the encyclopedias say the dark ages were a myth. So there you are, didn’t happen. It was a time of great progress and we built some wonderful cathedrals during it also.

The Crusades: Provoked Over 450 Years

Rodney Stark:

The Crusades, ah, yes, we’re supposed to be sorry about the Crusades. Bill Clinton even said after 9/11, that the Crusades were one of the awful things we did to Islam that in the long run led to these attacks on America. Nonsense. The Crusades were a response to 450 years of Muslim efforts to colonize the West. The Battle of Tours where the Islamic army was turned back from France, took place 125 miles south of Paris. How? My goodness. But of course we can’t talk about that. We can talk about the Crusaders going East for land and loot, but there was no loot out there and the land wasn’t worth anything. They went out there on a religious mission. They went out there because they believed that Jesus had walked in Jerusalem and that it ought to be free of forces that were attacking people coming to visit the Holy Land. And that’s what it was about.

The Inquisition: Not a Murderous Religious Binge

Rodney Stark:

We all grew up knowing about the evil horrors of the Inquisition. I mean, it’s frightening to think of. And then along came a whole bunch of new scholars who were possessed of 41,000 plus complete case records of the trials held by the Spanish Inquisition. They got all of them turned over to them, they were carefully, carefully recorded and documented. They’ve been computerized. Many of the scholars involved are not Spanish, they’re not Catholic. And what they find is that the Inquisition was mostly a force for justice, reason, intolerance.

The Inquisition did have a few people burned on witchcraft charges. Ah, but they burned them because they had hanged or burned witches, not because they were witches. In fact, the Inquisition managed to prevent the witchcraft phenomenon from happening in Spain, from happening in Italy. And in the long run, it was the testimony of the Inquisition that brought the witchcraft craze to an end in the rest of Europe.

For the most part, the Inquisition, they rarely had anybody executed by the way, and they rarely won’t burn books. And when they did burn books, they weren’t scientific books. Some of them were books of Lutheran theology. You can understand why they burned them. The Lutherans were busy after all sending people to jail for saying mass. But mostly what they burned was pornography. The printers that came along discovered that the best book to print was the Bible, it really sold. Next bent, best was smut, and it sold. And the Inquisition didn’t like smut and we can understand that.

The Scientific Revolution: The Creator God’s Importance to Science Itself

Rodney Stark:

There’s a new book, very nice book. The first sentence is, “This is a book about The Scientific Revolution.” Which of course there was no Scientific Revolution. And that’s basically what we’re stuck with. We can’t get rid of the term, The Scientific Revolution. It was a wonderful glorious time indeed, but it was in fact, the product of centuries of normal scientific progress that suddenly culminated in wonderful people like Newton and all the rest. Something else interesting about it, the notion that there’s a conflict between religion and science. The fact is if it hadn’t been for religion, there wouldn’t have been any science, and that the men who were involved in The Scientific Revolution were overwhelmingly men of faith. As a matter of fact, of a group of 55 of the real superstars of the era, only one could be called irreligious, about 20 of them were actually clergy, and the rest were very, very religious men. Newton wrote a lot more theology than he did physics.

Some of them gave all their money for translations of the Bible into foreign languages. Others tried to set the date of the creation. These were guys who were busy being scientists, but they were very devout Christians. And of course, the fact is that science was only possible because there was an assumption about the world, which is that it ran according to reason because it was created by a rational creator. Consequently, they believed that you could understand the universe. People in the rest of the world were taught that you can’t come comprehend the universe. You can think about it, you can meditate on it, but you can’t account for it because it doesn’t run according to any rational, reasonable, understandable rules. And of course, these people believed that it did run according to rules. More importantly, they looked for the rules and they found them.

The Enlightenment: Self-Promotion

Rodney Stark:

The Enlightenment. Ah, yes, we’re all supposed to believe that Voltaire and his friends had suddenly jumped 500, a 1000 years ahead in history and were bringing this new, wonderful era to us. They brought us nothing. They were not responsible for the scientific advancements. They weren’t responsible for the great things that had happened during the alleged Dark Ages, which they made up. They hadn’t built any cathedrals. They hadn’t painted any great paintings. There was no Enlightenment, just as there was no Dark Age.

Capitalism Developed Way Before the 1800’s

Rodney Stark:

Capitalism didn’t develop in the 18th century. This is nonsense. It developed in the ninth and 10th century and it developed in the great monastic orders as they pursued their own economic development, they became great factories, great undertakings, great enterprises. They were systematically managed, they had modern bookkeeping, they had long-term investment, free markets. Everything we associate with capitalism was present by the 10th century.

The Problem with the Word Capitalism Itself

Rodney Stark:

Of course, the problem with the word capitalism itself is really so hard to define capitalism because the word itself was made up in the 19th century as an insult. And then trying to define it in economic terms is a little bit like trying to define the word “reactionary pig” and how to use that as a solid historical or economic concept. But what they’re talking about, the kind of institutions that are involved, were definitely present by the 10th century.

Is “capitalism” a good, descriptive word to use?

Rodney Stark:

No. Capitalism doesn’t describe the key Christian-Judeo philosophy. What’s important, what’s basic there in addition to a rational creator, God, of course, is the notion of freedom and responsibility and morality. You can’t really say, “Go and sin no more,” if people aren’t free. It’s idiotic. And the church people very soon recognized that. They got rid of slavery. It’s interesting, in the 9th and 10th century, when the Christians basically ended slavery in Europe, it was the first time it had ever happened in any civilization. Except instances when people from outside, namely Westerners, forced them to give up slavery. Only people ever voluntarily did give it up were the Europeans. And that’s because they were Christians and because freedom mattered because you have to hold people responsible for their acts or the notion of sin doesn’t make any sense. Consequently, it all fits together and that’s much more basic than capitalism.

What makes history happen? What made the West different? Reason

Rodney Stark:

Well I certainly don’t mean to discount any of the things that you mentioned, of course these were… People make history. What I think I would like to emphasize, or have been trying to emphasize, is that certain things, fundamentals, based on the Judeo-Christian concept of God was the linchpin that got the West thinking certain ways and acting certain ways that were different from the rest of the world. Everybody had armies, everybody had leaders, everybody had great thinkers, but only the West won, only the West got modernity, and they got modernity because they believed in reason. I wrote a book called “The Victory Of Reason” simply because I think that’s the key to the whole Western enterprise.

What made reason important? The Creator God Concept

Rodney Stark:

Well, again, it comes back again to the same thing. What’s your concept of God? If you think the gods are… pretty much… humans with a few supernatural powers, and who are given to lying, and cheating, and seducing, and raping, and all other kinds of silly things… who are untrustworthy, and maybe they’ll answer your prayer. And maybe they’ll answer it badly. It’s a very funny little worldview, the idea of a great creator, God, who wishes us well. And as moral standards, was a radical change, and it changed everything else.

What are the keys to “capitalism”? Aren’t we just learning to do it better over 2,000 years?

Rodney Stark:

No. I mean you can find connections and resemblances ad nauseam somehow, but you’ve got to have some limits as to what makes sense. In this case, I think what’s key here is freedom and property rights, and they’re relatively new.

The Romans usurped property whenever they felt like it. Freedom was certainly not available for very many Romans. I mean, after all, even the people who were sitting in the stands in the Colosseum watching people be thrown to the wild animals and whatnot weren’t very free because one day they ran out of people to throw to the wild animals and literally said, “Take the first two rows,” and they took them and threw them in. That’s not we call really a free situation.

No, that’s why it’s really in the so-called medieval time, the 9th, 10th century, the great monastic orders were operating in situations where their property was secure, where they didn’t have to worry about the government taking everything away from them. They could operate in a free market situation pretty sensibly. Capitalism has only been able to happen under those kinds of sort of circumstances. We have something today called state capitalism. I don’t think it is. I think it’s called state industry. Those are sweatshops. I don’t think that’s capitalism at all.

What about the Church in America’s public square?

Rodney Stark:

At the time of the American Revolution, then as now, almost every nation in Europe had a state church supported by tax funds, and pretty repressive of other churches. At least half of the 13 colonies had a state church. The Church of England, or the Episcopalians as we call them now, in some of the colonies, and then New England you had the Puritans who were pretty ugly and repressive, but they were a state church.

By the way, Massachusetts only stopped collecting taxes for the Puritans or the Congregationalists as they were called, in I think 1833. The Constitution didn’t prevent states from having an established church, only the federal government. Why was it that the federal government did not have a state church? And the answer was it was impossible. There was no church in a position to become the state church. We had 17 or 18 quite vibrant, quite active denominations in this country by 1776 and none of them came close to having a majority.

If you weren’t going to have a tremendous fight on your hands, you couldn’t establish any one of those churches. So, the Founding Fathers didn’t, and what they said is, “There will be no established church.” Oddly enough in recent years we’ve come to say that the government couldn’t have any aspects of religion. That was nonsense. That never was intended. They said, “You can’t take tax money and support churches.” That’s all it said. It didn’t say you couldn’t pray. They prayed at the opening of all the Constitutional Convention Meetings. Ben Franklin suggested and he didn’t even believe, so there you are.

How to define religion?

Doug Monroe:

Define religion.

Rodney Stark:

Well, first of all, define religion as a belief system, which is to say a set of answers to the questions about ultimate meaning such as how did we get here, where are we going, what does it all mean, what’s morality, et cetera? A set of answers to those questions based on supernatural assumptions. Then of course, religion can refer to organizations that have the ideology, that have these doctrines so that the congregational church at the corner is a religion, the Elks Club on the other corner isn’t.

Is secularism or atheism a religion?

Rodney Stark:

No and no. Atheism can become certainly fanatical ideology as much as any religion possibly can, but it doesn’t become a religion because it basically is based on naturalistic, entirely naturalistic, materialistic assumptions. It’s silly to try to mix the two. A lot of people will notice that some ideologies today such as communism can be held with great intensity. That doesn’t make them religions.

I think an interesting illustration of this point comes from the various utopian experiments that people have carried on through the years. In 19th century, all kinds of people decided they were going to have this utopian community and all got together. Most of them lasted about a year or two, some of them lasted 10 years, some of them lasted. The only ones that lasted were the ones that were based on religion. The others all fell apart.

One of the reasons is if we say, “Well okay, we’re a bunch of socialists now. We’re all going to get together and we’re going to have this wonderful, wonderful thing. We create this utopian community and then we discover that nobody works and that this doesn’t happen or that, and that it isn’t utopian. It’s miserable. So we quit and we leave.”

When the various religious groups got together and had a utopian community, they didn’t expect utopia to happen here and now. The community was a place of preparation and the utopia was later and other. That couldn’t be seen to fail and so they could continue. They got to also be pretty organized and keep stuff together. It’s kind of an interesting difference, yeah.

Is religion losing ground globally to secularism?

Rodney Stark:

No. The book I’m in the middle of right now is titled “The Global Religious Awakening.” The first sentence is, “Perhaps at no time in human history has the world been so religious.” I’m working with data sets collected by Gallup from 163 nations. They’ve been doing a national survey every year in these nations. That’s 97% of the world’s population. 81% of the people on Earth belong to an organized religion. Many of those who do not, nevertheless, report attending religious services. Half the people on Earth report they were at a religious service in the past week. There are only two nations on Earth where there are more than 20% atheists. In most countries, nearly almost all countries, they number under 5%. That doesn’t sound like something that’s going forward.

In fact, Europe is not more secular than it used to be. Europeans don’t go to church very well. They never did. Medieval people were very religious in one sense, but they never went to church. Hardly anybody went to church. When they did, it wasn’t clear that it was in anybody’s benefit to have them there. They misbehaved. They slept, they snored, they played cards. They brought their dogs. It was ridiculous.

Videographer:

What were the-

Rodney Stark:

But-

Videographer:

Oh, okay.

Rodney Stark:

But the fact is, everybody believed… They believed in saints. They believed in forgiveness. They believed in miracles. They all prayed. They also believed in a lot of magic and a lot of other stuff.

Europeans today don’t go to church either and they never did, as I said, but it’s not true that they don’t believe things. It can look somewhat that way if you use very churchly wording of things. But if you don’t, you find that people are as certainly as religious as they were in medieval times.

Are people across the globe religious by nature? What helps religion thrive?

Rodney Stark:

Oddly enough, when you get to the people who would appear least religious, you find that they’re knee deep in every kind of little supernaturalism, disorganized supernatural… I’ve just looked at brand new poll data, 38% of the people in France believe in astrology. Oh, that doesn’t sound very secularized. And of course, these are the people who don’t go to church. The rest of the people in Europe are like the French, except in some cases it’s 50% who will believe in astrology. 56% of the Russians believe that fortune tellers can sometimes foretell the future. There are more occult healers in Russia than there are medical doctors. Well, come on. I mean, you look around and you start looking for these sophisticated scientific atheists and you can’t find them.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most churched place on earth these days. Not only is everybody a Christian, but they go to church all the time. For years, Latin America was claimed as a Catholic continent. Nobody went to church, a lot of people weren’t even baptized. And then the Protestants came in, and that scared everybody down there in the church, and they tried to respond with a mixture of Marxism or religion, they call it liberation theology, and that got them nothing.

And then came the Catholic charismatics, and that worked. Catholics in Latin America are now going to church at levels unthinkable 50 years ago. 50, 60, 70% going weekly. It’s never happened before, and it happened because the Protestants came in and gave them some competition, and competition is really good for religion as it is for business. Makes for aggressive, hungry, hardworking firms, if you will. And the Catholic Church decided they’d better get busy and go out and appeal to its members, and they’ve succeeded. And that’s really what’s wrong with Europe, by the way. A bunch of lazy state churches with a bunch of preachers that don’t believe in anything. That’ll probably change. There’s a very interesting little kicker going on in Europe.

But what about Europe? Is the secularization thesis now false in Europe, as well?

Rodney Stark:

As everybody knows, European fertility is way below replacement levels. Replacement level modern situations is 2.1 kids per female. That 0.1 is to replace infant mortality. Below that, your population will shrink. Well, you got a lot of those places where fertility levels of 1.2, 1.3. So if that was to continue, presumably there’ll be a time when there’s no Italians in Italy, no Dutch in Holland.

But there’s a kicker. The church-going Europeans are having plenty of kids. As time goes on, I calculated about five generations, four generations. The majority of Europeans will be religious. That is if their kids continue to go to church like the parents do, or mostly. And the population won’t have died out, it’ll just shift it from non-church goers to church goers, purely from fertility, which is pretty funny. But as for a secularization, there are aspects of it. We’re having to deal with the fact that religious freedom in this country is a real problem. I mean, we’re not supposed to ever say “Merry Christmas” to anybody. The fact that data show that a third of the American-Jewish families put up a Christmas tree, we’re still not supposed to say “Merry Christmas” to one another. This is crazy. But anyway.

The Two Countries with More Than 20% Atheists: South Korea and ? (Another Asian Nation)

Rodney Stark:

Only two nations with more than 20% atheists, South Vietnam. I’m sorry. South Korea and another Asian nation.

Are occult religions outpacing the Christian ones? Homo Religiosi and Ghosts

Rodney Stark:

No. The thing is that the notion that these unchurched, unconventional religions are fairly widespread in Europe does not mean that they’re outgrowing conventional religions. It just means that in all the holes in spaces left by organized religion, this kind of stuff takes root. And in fact, I was arguing that for years and Europeans would laugh and say, “Well, we don’t have any of those cults and things over here.” Well, we sat down and did the research. In fact, they’ve got a whole lot more little unconventional religions per million in Europe than they ever thought of having in the United States. And as a matter of fact, things like astrology and fortune telling and lucky charms and esoteric healing, and these things are much more common. And that’s because of the weaknesses of the conventional churches.

There’s a very interesting thing that people don’t like to hear, but it’s true, based on American data. In some of the Baylor national surveys, we ask questions about whether you believed in Bigfoot and Atlantis and UFOs and reincarnation and all those good at things. And it turns out that the more religious you are, the less likely you are to believe in these things. It’s the irreligious people who are most likely to believe in Atlantis and Bigfoot and all of these things. So it brings to mind that wonderful quotation that is attributed to Chesterton, although he probably didn’t say it. We don’t know who said it. And it goes this way: “When a person stops believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.” And in this instance, it seems to be true that the people who are least religious are the most likely to believe in all kinds of other supernaturalism; ghosts, for example. And there you are.

What about the decline of the Mainline Churches?

Rodney Stark:

It’s very tiresome to read about the decline of the mainline churches as though that was a beacon of which religion is all going downhill. They haven’t been the mainline for a long, long time. And the reason is they stopped being very authentic Christian churches. The more they got into Tillichian theology, the more that the ministers started giving political rather than… If you go to church and you didn’t hear about sin and they didn’t say the word Jesus, people stopped going. This has been going on for… Started in the 19th century. And certainly these churches are going out of business. They’ve been losing membership at terrific rate for the last century. And it certainly started accelerating after say 1960.

But meanwhile, there were a whole bunch of churches that were more than taking up the slack. A higher percentage of Americans are church members today than ever in the history of the country. It’s just they don’t go to the United Church of Christ, and the Presbyterians, and the Methodists, and the Episcopalians anymore. They let them worry about trying to divest themselves of companies who do business with Israel and all the rest of the craziness they get to. The enormous growth in this country has been evangelical non-denominational churches. They went from almost nowhere 30 years ago to taking up maybe 15% of the population right now. These are enormous gains.

How do churches grow in the U.S.? The American Way

Rodney Stark:

When I was a kid, Jamestown, North Dakota, a Methodist church on one corner and right across the street was a Presbyterian church. Two biggest churches in town and they were certainly there forever. Well, if you go back there to … And by the way, my best friend was the Nazarene preacher’s kid. He pitched and I played baseball with him. And they met in a little one room schoolhouse that had been moved to town and had a little steeple put on it. Well, today you couldn’t get the Nazarene’s choir into the church that they were meeting in when I was a kid. They’ve got an enormous church. The Assemblies of God met in an apartment over the Montgomery Ward store. They are the biggest church in town. And the Methodist church and the Presbyterian church had got a few elderly people.

What happened? People didn’t stop going to church in Jamestown. They stopped going to those churches and they switched to other churches. Why? Because these other churches were aggressive, went out and got them. In a pluralist situation, lazy churches don’t survive. When I move into a new neighborhood, I can tell you within a year what church in my neighborhood churches are growing and which aren’t. If I haven’t heard from the church, then it’s declining. The churches that are growing, I will have heard something from them, got something in the mail, somebody knocked on my door; not being passive and saying, we’re over there on 12th street and we’d love you to come to our service. And so it goes. That’s the American way.

Where is the West headed?

Rodney Stark:

If only I knew, if only I knew. I hope it continues to go in the direction of freedom and justice, and rationality, and faith. It’s hard to say. There have been ups and downs in history.

Dr. Stark, Dr. Alvin Plantinga, and Roger Maris

Rodney Stark:

No not really, Al was older than I, and he was probably better known as a basketball player. He was really rowdy, always fouled out. Big Al he was called, he was a tall, skinny, rowdy kid. He might have had a good senior year of sports but he quit high school. And say Al Plantinga quit high school? Well he did, he doesn’t have a high school decree unless they awarded one after he finished his first year of college. Anyway, he quit high school in started college. And I on the other hand stuck it out and played a lot of football, played some baseball against Roger Maris who was from Fargo, that was a lot of fun. But I’ll never forget Big Al falling fouling out of basketball games.

Doug Monroe:

Any words for him?

Rodney Stark:

Sure, keep it up. He’s coming to speak here next year, I’m going to introduce him, and I’m planning to introduce him rather than as this distinguished professor I’m going to say let’s hear it for old number 97.

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