Saturday, March 31, 2007

Marginal Movement

Currently I'm reading P.J. O'Rourke's little book entitled On The Wealth of Nations. In it he tries to explain, in condensed form, Adam Smith's weightier tome published back in 1776.

My only complaint about O'Rourke's writing style is his desire always to be jocular. He'll give a pithy quotation from Adam Smith and then try to attach to it some funny quip of his own. It gets in the way sometimes, for in several places it ends up only obscuring the point that O'Rourke is trying to make. It also ends up confusing what Adam Smith was trying to say. I think it will leave the reader confused, wondering "what the heck is this all about anyhow?"

Another book I recently finished was Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity. Now I have always despised sociology, even going back to that day when I was in the library at my college. Then, as I was pondering what major to pursue, I was picking through some sociology journals and was astonished at the level of pretentious gobbledygook they contained. "Do I want to spend my life reading and writing this stuff?" I think I must have had enough good sense to say "no". Now some of Stark's book was interesting, but only some, and my esteem for sociology wasn't increased any by reading it. In his book, he tries to apply the quasi-scientific methodologies and theories of sociology in an attempt to fill the gaps in our knowledge of early church history. He is acutely concerned to explain how a "marginal movement" managed to take over the entire Western World. (This has always been a very disturbing subject for the Enlightenment, for it suggests the fearful prospect that there might have been something supernatural about it; and at all costs the supernatural must be explained away.) The book was an interesting exercise, but the conclusions were sometimes dubious. For my part, I'll just stick to real history, such as written by historians, who do the tedious work of reading musty old documents written in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. But nothing in the book was more absurd that Stark's claim that there were only about two to three thousand xtians spread around the Roman Empire in the 60s A.D. Maybe they didn't number in the millions, but there were certainly enough xtians in Corinth alone to keep Paul busy enough, not counting all the churches elsewhere. And there were certainly enough living in Achaia for them to organize a relief effort for the impoverished Jewish believers living in Palestine.

By the way, I've heard it said once that sociology is the so-called science that says what everybody already knows in a jabberwocky language that nobody can understand.