Rational Choice: Why Monotheism Makes Sense

By Miller, Sara | The Christian Century, June 15, 2004 | Go to article overview

Rational Choice: Why Monotheism Makes Sense


Miller, Sara, The Christian Century


SOME IDEAS ARE so potent as to be world-changing. For Rodney Stark, Christianity encompasses just such a set of ideas. In his view, Christian beliefs and images of God shaped the course of Western civilization. And not only that; they changed it for the better.

Stark is a leading sociologist of religion who draws on a formidable body of empirical research to explain how religious beliefs spread and why religious groups flourish or fail. While some thinkers regard belief in the supernatural as incidental to the practice of religion, Stark finds it essential.

He is also convinced that a prejudice against religious belief has distorted modern scholarship and continues to infect academic opinion. He has challenged most of the prominent modern theories of religion, including Marxism (religion is a mask for class consciousness), functionalism (religion serves as a moral restraint or social glue) and psychological reductionism (religion is a form of infantile wish fulfillment).

Stark also dissents from the views of two giants of sociology: Max Weber, who regarded religious consciousness as nonrational, and Emile Durkheim, who contended that ritual, not belief, is the core of religion and that society itself, not God or the gods, is the real object of worship.

Stark offers an alternative theory. His main propositions: religion is a reasonable human activity; beliefs about the supernatural are religions' central and most consequential aspect; beliefs are spread not by cultural flat or coercion, but through networks of family and friends; religious practices and institutions may rise and fall, but the human demand for religion will not wither away.

Looking to broaden the application of his sociological tools, Stark, who recently joined the faculty at Baylor University, has in the past decade turned his attention to history. This work has led to another of his contentions: the most powerful and progressive religions idea is monotheism.

In his two most recent historical analyses, One True God (2001) and For the Glory of God (2003), Stark argues that monotheistic belief not only shaped Western history but ,also cultivated and in some cases gave birth to values that changed the world for the better. In the forthcoming Victories of Reason he will go even further, contending that the most significant advances in knowledge, liberty, human rights and material well-being--what we like to call progress--stem not from Greece or the Enlightenment or modernity but from Christianity itself.

"There comes a time when you have to choose sides," lie observes. "Either you think Western civilization is a good thing and that Christianity has been a major piece of it, or you don't. I do believe, in Western civilization, I make no bones about that. The politically correct doesn't cut it for me."

Much of the debate over Stark's work has focused on his application of "rational choice theory" to religion. Originally derived from economics, rational choice theory is now used across the social sciences to explain human behavior as a self-interested, choice-making affair. Applied to religion, the theory holds that humans will choose and pursue spiritual goods in the same way they pursue material ones--according to their interests and by calculation. When choosing religious affiliation and level of commitment, people will weigh rewards against costs and they will try to get the most for their investment. Religion, by this reckoning, is an exchange of goods with God or the gods.

Rational choice is a presupposition of another sociological model embraced by Stark: the "theory of religious economies," which posits that churches and other religious groups operate in a market in which they must compete for adherents. The more open the market, the stronger the competition will be.

Critics of these approaches worry that the language of "cost" and "risk," and file model of churches as religions "firms" competing for market "share" and of believers as "investors" whose religious preferences and affiliations are likened to "portfolios," reduce religion to yet another marketable product and turn believers into consumers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Rational Choice: Why Monotheism Makes Sense
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.