Thursday, June 5, 2008

Stark on the Rise of Christianity

Nothing ground breaking, but some great stuff by Rodney Stark in Cities of God. Stark is discussing the growth of the early church and countering the idea that Christianity offered potential converts relief in the afterlife from their suffering in this world:

The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of otherworldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been proposed. No, the crucial change that took place in the third century was the rapidly spreading awareness of a faith that delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now! The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperative such as “Love one’s neighbor as oneself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”…”When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created “a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.” Support for this view comes from the continuing inability of pagan groups to meet this challenge.

Emperor Julian tried to revive paganism in the Empire after the rise of Christianity. He wrote to a prominent pagan priest: “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans (Christians) observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence…[They] support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”

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