November 2010 For the Glory of God How Monotheism led to Reformations,Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery by Rodney Stark. This is the second book by this author that I have read and enjoyed. The first was The Victory of Reason . This book has a similar, almost apologetic message that Christianity has shaped our society in mostly positive ways and has not, as has been the common misconception, been the superstitious entity that took down the Roman Empire and stood in the way of science. This really is not a history book, but a book on social science.

On Reformations: the author traces the roots to well before Luther, and argues that "reformations" are ongoing as a result of people wanting a more intense experience with God than their tradition currently practices.

On Science: Very simply, Science began in the universities of Europe which were started and sustained by the Catholic Church. Men of Science have historically been men also of Faith. The author attributes the current "conflict between science and religion" as largely a fight between "True Believers" on either side of Darwin.

On Witch-hunts: Historians have long grossly overestimated the death toll for these events. The location and time frame for the isolated severe incidents corresponded to the locations and time frame for the most intense Catholic-Protestant warfare. After the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) the religious wars stopped and so did the witch-hunts.

On ending slavery: Economics did not put an end to slavery. The uniqueness of Christian theology gave rise to abolitionist thinking. The Catholic Church condemned New World slavery forcefully from the beginning.

This was a fairly intense book. For me, the sections on science and religion were the most interesting. The author put into words and argument a lot of things I had been mulling over for the last 25-30 years. There was one quote that I really want to share from page 325 (Chapter 4 on ending slavery):

When religions do not underwrite the moral order, social criticism is a secular enterprise left to philosophers, artists and other intellectuals. Having no concept of sin to put teeth in their judgements, and no revelations from which to begin, ancient philosophers were, for the most part, proponents of the status quo."

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book to everyone. But I found it very thought provoking.