While reading Rodney Stark’s incredible scholarly book The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, I have learned of a paradigm shift has ensued in social scientific theory. Rodeny Stark is a world-renowned sociologist and Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington, who has used his vast expertise in the social sciences and impressive learning of the historical academic literature to present a very, very persuasive monograph accounting for the rise of Christianity.
Rodney Stark documents how the social sciences has had, from the beginning, an axe to grind against religion. Almost every religious motive that appeared under the study of social scientists, they explained through an appeal to religious irrationality. Some of these confused social scientists had ascribed the ability of early Christians to take on persecution to be evidence of masochism! The irrationalist theory, however, has been uprooted in recent decades of social scientific research, finally, and a paradigm shift has occurred in these studies that actually, and in my opinion convincingly, accounts for religious thought through appeal to rationalist (rather than irrationalist) understandings. Stark explains:
Rather, from the beginning, social scientific studies of religion have been shaped by a single question: What makes them do it? How could any rational person make sacrifices on behalf of unseen supernatural entities? The explicit answer to this question nearly always has been that religion is rooted in the irrational. Keep in mind that the imputation of irrational religious behavior by social scientists is not limited to extraordinary actions such as martyrdom. Rather, they have been content to apply the irrationalist argument to such ordinary activities as prayer, observance of moral codes, and contributions of time and wealth. For whether it be the imputation of outright psychopathology, of groundless fears, or merely of faulty reasoning and misperceptions, the irrationalist assumption has dominated the field. The notion that normal, sophisticated people could be religious has been limited to a few social scientists willing to allow their own brand of very mild, “intrinsic,” religiousness to pass the test of rationality. Thus, until recently, the social scientfiic study of religion was nothing of the sort. The field was more more concerned with discrediting religion than with understanding it. This is clear when it is realized that only in the area of religious belief and behavior have social scientists not based their theories on a rational choice premise. Indeed, my colleagues and I recently showed that antagonism toward all forms of religion and the conviction that it soon must disappear in an enlightened world were articles of faith among the earliest social scientists, and that today social scientists are far less likely to be religious than scholars in other areas, especially those in the physical and natural sciences (Stark, Iannaccone, and Finke 1995). Nevertheless, despite the enormous weight of learned opinion that created and sustained it, the irrationalist approach to religion recently has fallen upon evil times–beset by contrary evidence and by the unanticipated theoretical power of rational choice theories imported from microeconomics and modified appropriately. This chapter represents another step in that direction and extends my efforts to establish a scientific, rather than a polemical and political, basis for studies of religion. In it I shall attempt to show that, when analyzed properly, religious sacrifices and stigmas–even when acute cases are considered–usually turn out to represent rational choices. Indeed, the more that people must sacrifice for their faith, the greater the value of the rewards they gain in return. (Stark, The Rise of Christianity pg. 167)
Stark later goes on to say that “This suggests why the recent introduction of rational choice theories in the social scientific study of religion has been recognized as a major shift in paradigms (Warner 1993)–the irrationalist position is in full retreat” (pg. 178). Boom! I can see that the atheistic takeover of academia has literally lasted for hundreds of years. In our most recent decades, as new advances, theories and defenses have arisen, as well as the simple decline of atheistic ability to continue offering their own defenses in light of the most recent advancements and discoveries, it looks as if a new age is finally coming to light in the academic world, and the fact that the actual defenders of atheism are in a way, disappearing. In 2011, Christopher Hitchens died. Victor Stenger passed away in 2014. James Randi is 89 years old. A new day can be seen, and a new sun is rising out of the darkness.