For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch Hunts, and the End of Slavery
Princeton, 496 pp., $35
Would the peoples of the Arab world be better off with a Bible in their hands or a Koran? In the recent debate about Christian evangelizing in Muslim lands, that's the question implicitly raised but rarely addressed in an explicit fashion. Time magazine devoted a cover story to the general subject -- "Should Christians Convert Muslims?" -- without ever touching on the most interesting and relevant point of all: the belief of Western missionaries that to Christianize is to civilize.
No one doubts that Muslims have a civilization, and a very impressive one in many ways. But Rodney Stark argues powerfully that the civilization of the Bible, of the Western nations, possesses advantages over those of the Koran and other non-Biblical religions precisely because Western culture emerged from Christian and Jewish Scripture.
Stark's main point is that in the development of a civilization, what counts is how the people think and feel about their gods. The transition from gods to God is a key step. Oddly, he doesn't make clear the profoundest implication of monotheism: If there is only one God, a God who cares about how people treat one another as well as about how they relate to Him, then that implies there can be only one transcendently true foundation on which all of ethics is built. Relativism becomes impossible.
This article was originally published in National Review Online. Read the entire article on the Looksmart website.