Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief

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9780061173899: Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief

Discovering God is a monumental history of the origins of the great religions from the Stone Age to the Modern Age. Sociologist Rodney Stark surveys the birth and growth of religions around the world—from the prehistoric era of primal beliefs; the history of the pyramids found in Iraq, Egypt, Mexico, and Cambodia; and the great "Axial Age" of Plato, Zoroaster, Confucius, and the Buddha, to the modern Christian missions and the global spread of Islam. He argues for a free-market theory of religion and for the controversial thesis that under the best, unimpeded conditions, the true, most authentic religions will survive and thrive. Among his many conclusions:

  • Despite decades of faulty reports that early religions were crude muddles of superstition, it turns out that primitive humans had surprisingly sophisticated notions about God and Creation.
  • The idea of "sin" appeared suddenly in the sixth century BCE and quickly reshaped religious ideas from Europe to China.
  • Some major world religions seem to lack any plausible traces of divine inspiration.
  • Ironically, some famous figures who attempted to found "Godless" religions ended up being worshiped as Gods.

Most people believe in the existence of God (or Gods), and this has apparently been so throughout human history. Many modern biologists and psychologists reject these spiritual ideas, especially those about the existence of God, as delusional. They claim that religion is a primitive survival mechanism that should have been discarded as humans evolved beyond the stage where belief in God served any useful purpose—that in modern societies, faith is a misleading crutch and an impediment to reason. In Discovering God, award-winning sociologist Rodney Stark responds to this position, arguing that it is our capacity to understand God that has evolved—that humans now know much more about God than they did in ancient times.

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About the Author:

Rodney Stark is the Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. His thirty books on the history and sociology of religion include The Rise of Christianity, Cities of God, For the Glory of God, Discovering God, and The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. Stark received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

From Booklist:

*Starred Review* Skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have just lost their monopoly on the topic of religious evolution. Only a believer, Stark asserts, can fathom the origins and subsequent unfolding of the world's great faiths. In this wide-ranging investigation, Stark detects sacred reality—not pious deception—at the heart of transcendent beliefs shared by Aborigines and Anglicans. In their myths of the high gods, Stark contends, early tribal peoples glimpsed divine truths obscured in later civilizations when pharaohs and emperors lent government support to temple priesthoods more interested in maintaining a comfortable lifestyle than in serving God. The eventual emergence of a religious marketplace in ancient Rome opened a wide range of metaphysical options. Yet in a culture of religious pluralism, the insistent claims of tightly knit communities of Jews and Christians appeared threatening to Roman leaders, who defended the status quo by persecuting adherents to these unsettlingly intense faiths. Yet it is in these revelatory faiths—and not the meditative religions of Eastern Asia—that Stark discerns the fullest manifestation of God. Some readers will resist Stark's comparative judgments; others will dispute his religious interpretation of modern science. But serious students of religion will recognize this as an essential sourcebook. Christensen, Bryce

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