In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff


We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.







Try Advanced Search


  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...


CultureBlogs
Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
PhilosoBlog
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Gregdotorg
BookSlut
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Cronaca
Plep
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Seablogger
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette


Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Samizdata
Junius
Joanne Jacobs
CalPundit
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Public Interest.co.uk
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
Spleenville
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
CinderellaBloggerfella
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
InstaPundit
MindFloss
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes


Miscellaneous
Redwood Dragon
IMAO
The Invisible Hand
ScrappleFace
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz

Links


Our Last 50 Referrers







« Surroundsound Blues | Main | Foodstuff »

February 01, 2006

Polymonotheism

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Is goal-oriented monotheistic Christianity the explanation for why the West developed capitalism and science? Rodney Stark certainly thinks so. The American Enterprise endorses his argument, but Razib has some nits to pick with it ...

Speaking as an instinctively polytheistic/Om'ing kinda guy, I'm agnostic on this one.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at February 1, 2006




Comments

The great Romanian historian of religions Mircea Eliade touched on this in his journals. 3 November 1959:

"...I came to understand that modern science would not have been possible without the Judeo-Christian tradition, which emptied the cosmos of the sacred, and thus neutralized and banalized it. Science would not have been possible without a nature that was desacralized and emptied of gods. That is in fact what Christianity did, emphasizing personal religious experience. But it didn't have to desacraalize nature, becuse, for Christianity, the cosmos remains no less the creation of God. However, from the moment that historical time and irreversible duration triumphed, the religious charm of the cosmos was dissipated. There was also something else: nature had been inhabited by pagan gods that Christianity had converted into demons. Nature, as such, could no longer interest Christians existentially. Only the peasants of eastern Europe kept the cosmic dimension of Christianity."

Posted by: phil on February 1, 2006 7:40 PM



Only tangenially related, but you might find this interesting - if you didn't see it yet.
Thanks to Doug from thebandarlog.

Posted by: Tat on February 1, 2006 8:22 PM



I read and liked the Stark book. I happen to agree with his basic thesis, derived from my reading generally over the years. I do not think he succeeded in fully proving his thesis to anyone who is not already open to it, though he pointed the way toward a more complete demonstration.

I understand that the man to read to really grasp the critical role of Christianity in the origin of modern science is Stanley Jaki. Alas, I have not yet read anything by Jaki.

But I will.

Posted by: Lexington Green on February 1, 2006 9:43 PM



Here's a book which might bear looking into:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0415133769/002-4007306-0883208?v=glance&n=283155

Stanley Jaki came to speak at St Charles Seminary (Phila) when I was working there in 1991. But he gave an extraordinarily muddled lecture, as I recall.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 1, 2006 11:28 PM



--from BETWEEN HERAVEN AND EARTH: A GUIDE TO CHINESE MEDICINE (Beinfeld/Korngold):

"The relational, interactive, process-oriented thinking of Chinese medicine resembles Hegelian dialectics. This is not altogether coincidence since many European philosophers were affected by Eastern thought...Because Chinese medicine is about interwoven relationships and continuous processes of decaying and becoming rather than a reductionist examination of things in and of themselves...dialectical logic captures Yin-Yang thinking."

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 1, 2006 11:34 PM



Just one more--check this out:

http://www.godwithoutreligion.com/

Sorry for blabbing so much. Religion is one of my favorite topics.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 1, 2006 11:48 PM



Though a descendant of East European peasants, I can neither confirm or rebut the last sentence in that extract from Eliade. As for the rest of it, Schiller made a similar point, rather impressively, in the poem, The Gods of Greece (Die Goetter Griechenlands). "It only obeys -- like a servant -- the law of gravity, the god-deprived (entgoetterte) Nature."

But it did not start with Christianity; it started with Aristotle.

Posted by: Alexei on February 2, 2006 3:12 AM



Is monotheism a necessary condition for the initiation of science and capitalism? Unlikely. Judaism never developed capitalism or science when it was a Middle Eastern nation, nor much in the way of individualism or personal freedom, etc.

Is monotheistic Christianity a necessary condition for the initiation of science and capitalism? Again, unlikely. Some of the most successful expressions of science and capitalism have been not just in the West, but in Great Britain, which embraced not simply monotheistic Christianity, but an increasingly anti-authoritarian and individualistic form of Protestantism. You can also see this to some degree in German history. And here there was, I think a lucky fit of Christianity and Protestantism to the pagan roots (Briton, Scandinavian and Germanic) of the British people.

Stark is on my “must read” list, but from reviews and discussions of his work, I do not find his re-considerations of the Greeks, or even the Romans, to be reasonable. In fact, I would argue that Greek (and possibly even Zoroastrianism) influence on later Judaism and Christianity helped make it more adaptable to the West.

Posted by: Alec on February 2, 2006 3:43 AM



Hey, a kind of meta-question? What do we all make of these one-explanation-for-everything books? Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism, Rodney Stark, guns/germs/steel, etc? I tend to think they're fun but absurd. What a riot to look at everything through one big lens. On the other hand: I mean, there are almost always multiple explanations (and then some) for historical phenomena.

On the third hand, maybe it's all in how we take these master-key books. Maybe Max Weber and Rodney Stark are onto something, if not everything. Maybe it's kinda funny that they think they've Unlocked It All, but maybe they've made a contribution anyway.

So I sometimes find myself thinking, maybe we should judge these books less in terms of whether they do indeed Explain Everything, and more in terms of whether they make a valid contribution, and whether they spark off interesting and rewarding conversations.

But my historical grounding is about fingernail deep, so I'm eager to hear what others make of these master-key books ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 2, 2006 11:06 AM



The great Romanian historian of religions Mircea Eliade touched on this in his journals. 3 November 1959:

eliade was a discipline of renee guenon, who posited a 'primordialism' which argued that western christianity was a strange and modern progressive revolt against the perennial religion. many of eliade's meta-assertions about the character of religions in the broad sense must be interpreted in this light, and it must be remembered that guenon, to be frank, did not know what he was talking about in terms of religion (his dissertation was originally rejected by a specialist in the field of hindu studies before someone outside of that are a sponsored it).

in short, eliade's assertions naturally follow from guenon's ideas, so i am rather skeptical that he contentions derive de novo from his scholarship.

Is monotheism a necessary condition for the initiation of science and capitalism? Unlikely. Judaism never developed capitalism or science when it was a Middle Eastern nation, nor much in the way of individualism or personal freedom, etc.

you mean sufficient, not necessary. stark makes that monotheism was necessary, but not sufficient, in for the glory of god. also, he makes some hand-waving arguments that judaism and islam are too monotheistic. it seems christian trinity is the sweet spot (pretty soon he will explain how the chalcedonian formulae is more optimal than the monophysite, arian or nestorian theologies).

And here there was, I think a lucky fit of Christianity and Protestantism to the pagan roots (Briton, Scandinavian and Germanic) of the British people.

actually, i suspect this might be the case as well. see this long post.

I tend to think they're fun but absurd. What a riot to look at everything through one big lens... Maybe it's kinda funny that they think they've Unlocked It All, but maybe they've made a contribution anyway.

1) yes, absurd
2) yes, fun
3) you can glean good stuff in Theory of Everything books.
4) this includes stark's, but
5) a) he is rather humorless and shrill to those who disagree with him in his previous two books in the series, so i see no reason to buy this one and pay for his jeremiads against historians who peddle "nonsense!" (his words) b) the payoff for getting for the glory of god after reading one true god was minimal. he is pushing the same general thesis and reusing a lot of the same facts (though there was some new stuff that was good). so i'm going to pass on the victory of reason.

Posted by: razib on February 2, 2006 12:29 PM



Stark's and Weber's arguments are, may I say, starkly different. Stark certainly does not discount the possibility of other cultures adopting real science after the kind of change of consciousness typified by the Meiji restoration. The thesis reminds me of Julian Jaynes' arguments in The Emergence of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind - stimulating even if not bulletproof.

Posted by: Robert Speirs on February 2, 2006 1:22 PM



On the Powell's bookstore site, Alan Wolfe rips Stark limb-from-limb today. I'm not interested in either one of these guys. They're fighting straw men, as far as I'm concerned, as apologetics almost necessarily must. Eliade is much more fun. But mostly I'm with Razib.

The whole issue of "religion" is vexed to begin with since everyone instantly goes to giant historical institutional constructs, most of them so complicated by localisms that no one ever really comprehends the whole. The main centerpiece of all of them is "why we are the best and therefore justified in doing bad things to you!!" Even though Jesus said and it was written down in a book that this was the wrong way to go.

Dogma, power structures, politics, economics, etc. are all pretty irrelevant to the "inner light" people. And all those people who mistake God for their Dad can't escape the shadow of Abraham. As modern science takes away the Pearly Gates and babies-waiting-in-heaven theory, which are reassuring but not confirmable, some writers make louder noises and hit the drum harder. The potential for evil is high.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on February 2, 2006 1:22 PM



I find it laughable that there are still people who believe that without religion, there would be little or no science, economics, etc. The greatest strides in the sciences happened as religion slowly faded from its pivotal place in life. When 1 hour of church on Sunday became enough to save your soul, science and technology exploded. Yes, monotheism set the stage, but if you plot the number of gods versus technology, as the number of gods approaches zero, technology soars at a nearly infinite rate. Now that just begs the question, is the relationship causal, or just correlational?

Oh, and guns/germs/steel is hardly a one theory fits all book, it's an incredably complicated theory of how the societal differences started, not how they continued through today.

Posted by: Brad on February 2, 2006 1:23 PM



Stark's thesis isn't about religion writ large - it's about one particular part of one particular religion and why the people who adopted that way of looking at the world succeeded in creating a civilization beyond the wildest dreams of any other men throughout history while their closest theological relatives failed to develop much of anything.

Posted by: Robert Speirs on February 2, 2006 3:44 PM



My own One Big Theory is a form of geographical determinism. Western Christianity was the only major civilisation not overrun by Central Asian nomads between 1000 and 1500 AD - simply because it was far enough away from the Steppe. The other candidates were either submerged (Eastern Christianity, Hinduism) or, if they threw off the yoke, fell into a backward-looking, restorationist/preservationist mode. Another factor is Western Europe's geographical fragmentation, which encouraging the emergence of local (Holland- to France-sized) cultures while permitting plenty of cross-fertilization.

A corollary of the IP-OBT is that the Southeast Asia/East Indies zone might have been competitive, but my impression is that they got off to a late start.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on February 2, 2006 6:37 PM



"The greatest strides in the sciences happened as religion slowly faded from its pivotal place in life."

But, Brad, I thought that during the Enlightenment everybody took up Deism, the belief in a Prime Mover...

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 2, 2006 6:52 PM



MB, have you seen Leonard Schlain's THE ALPHABET AND THE GODDESS? It's another master-key book:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0140196013/qid=1138923519/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-4007306-0883208?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 2, 2006 6:58 PM



Razib: "in short, eliade's assertions naturally follow from guenon's ideas, so i am rather skeptical that he contentions derive de novo from his scholarship."

So all it takes to dismiss decades of scholarship is to claim that someone is a disciple of someone you dislike? Forgive me if I'm a little skeptical. Eliade published multiple volumes volumes of scholarship, several novels, a two volume autobiography, and several volumes from his journals. His works stand or fall on their own merits. But am I really supposed to believe that his entire body of work is valueless because you claim he is nothing more than a "disciple" of someone else? I don't know whether I agree with Eliade or not, but I'm not going to dismiss his ideas on such a superficial pretense.

Michael Blowhard: "What do we all make of these one-explanation-for-everything books?"

What we are looking for is the underlying pattern that will explain complex phenomena and various folks are proposing the patterns they see. There are of course patterns to be observed, but reality is complex enough that there are many patterns to be found.

Posted by: phil on February 2, 2006 8:33 PM






Post a comment
Name:


Email Address:


URL:


Comments:



Remember your info?