The three great monotheisms changed everything. With his customary clarity and vigor, Rodney Stark explains how and why monotheism has such immense power both to unite and to divide. Why and how did Jews, Christians, and Muslims missionize, and when and why did their efforts falter? Why did both Christianity and Islam suddenly become less tolerant of Jews late in the eleventh century, prompting outbursts of mass murder? Why were the Jewish massacres by Christians concentrated in the cities along the Rhine River, and why did the pogroms by Muslims take place mainly in Granada? How could the Jews persist so long as a minority faith, able to withstand intense pressures to convert? Why did they sometimes assimilate? In the final chapter, Stark also examines the American experience to show that it is possible for committed monotheists to sustain norms of civility toward one another.
A sweeping social history of religion, One True God shows how the great monotheisms shaped the past and created the modern world.
Drawing on both archaeological and historical evidence, Stark is able to provide hard statistical evidence on the religious life of the Roman Empire to discover the following facts that set conventional history on its head:
Contrary to fictions such as The Da Vinci Code and the claims of some prominent scholars, Gnosticism was not a more sophisticated, more authentic form of Christianity, but really an unsuccessful effort to paganize Christianity.
Paul was called the apostle to the Gentiles, but mostly he converted Jews.
Paganism was not rapidly stamped out by state repression following the vision and conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, but gradually disappeared as people abandoned the temples in response to the superior appeal of Christianity.
The "oriental" faiths—such as those devoted to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of love and magic, and to Cybele, the fertility goddess of Asia Minor—actually prepared the way for the rapid spread of Christianity across the Roman Empire.
Contrary to generations of historians, the Roman mystery cult of Mithraism posed no challenge to Christianity to become the new faith of the empire— it allowed no female members and attracted only soldiers.
By analyzing concrete data, Stark is able to challenge the conventional wisdom about early Christianity offering the clearest picture ever of how this religion grew from its humble beginnings into the faith of more than one-third of the earth's population.