Rodney Stark loves being a contrarian. And The Triumph of Christianity is no exception to that rule. While the book summarizes much of what he’s written elsewhere, it’s still a fun, breezy exercise in myth busting. Here are a few spots where Stark’s juices get flowing:
- “The major result
of many unrelenting scholarly attacks on the historical reliability of the New Testament has been to frustrate the attackers because again and again scripture has stood up to their challenges.” (p. 55)
- “Although Paul is famous for his missionary journeys, he was, in fact, quite sedentary.” (p. 66)
- “As with all the other attacks on the early Christians by German academics in this era, this [idea that the early Christians were ill-educated and of the lower classes] was mostly arrogant nonsense.” (p. 97)
- “Hardly any attention has been paid to . . . an extraordinary slaughter of the Christians in Persia [in the fourth century]. . . . The number who died in these massacres probably greatly exceeded the number who died in all the persecutions by the Romans put together.” (p. 180)
- “The church did not exploit its official standing [in the fourth and fifth centuries] to quickly stamp out paganism. . . Instead, paganism survived relatively unmolested for centuries.” (p. 198).
- “A great deal of nonsense has been written about Muslim tolerance–that, in contrast with Christian brutality against Jews and heretics, Islam showed remarkable tolerance for conquered people.” (p. 207)
- “The most beneficial factor in the rise of Western civilization was the fall of Rome! . . . For example, at the fall of Rome there was very extensive slavery everywhere in Europe; by the time of the ‘Renaissance’ it was long gone.” (pp. 239, 241)
- “Despite the nearly universal belief to the contrary, the earliest, most vigorous and most effective opposition to the witch hunts came from the Spanish Inquisition.” (p. 272)
- “Medieval times were not the ‘Age of Faith.’ For the vast majority of medieval Europeans, their ‘religious’ beliefs were a hodge-podge of pagan, Christian, and superstitious fragments; they seldom went to church.” (p. 272)
- “Just as there were no ‘Dark Ages,’ there was no ‘Scientific Revolution.’ ” (p. 277)
The Triumph of Christianity does not pretend to offer even coverage of geography, time or people groups. Rather, Stark focuses on where the conventional wisdom about history (both among scholars and among the populace generally) has got things massively wrong. It’s obvious that in busting these myths he’s having a good ol’ time. As a result, so do his readers.