by Omar Ebrahime
Is it true that many faiths in the same public square may bring about social conflict? What is the competence, in this context, of the State? And is it possible for the public authorities to manage multireligious spaces in the era of globalisation? These are only some of the questions that Rodney Stark, Professor of Religions at the University of Baylor (USA), addresses in this intriguing essay. In five chapters the American Author draws a picture about the historical affirmation of the idea of God in the world and its relevant social consequences. The premise is quite provocative: “No other innovation [like monotheism] had an impact so remarkable on the history” (pg. 7). In fact, Stark argues that even epochal turning-points such as the scientific development and the technological know-how followed the popular acceptation of the idea of one true God, as the European history shows. The reason is that human ideas literally build a civilization, draw its borders and, in short, produce “social consequences” (pg. 8). Against the antireligious prejudices of our times the Author presents an impressive amount of facts and figures in order to overcome many commonplaces.
Going through the religious history of the human kind from the Old Egyptians until present day we discover a natural trend: religions evolve towards the monotheism, as the human societies become more complex. Observed from this point of view, the modern world appears to be a creation of the monotheism: most of its main features, in fact, come from the acceptation of one true God, an almighty and rational God. In the West this God is the God of the Christian Revelation. The analysis, based on the so-called theory of the religious economy that does not take into account judgements of value but is nonetheless interested in the historical role played from the religious doctrines, points out several benefits the Christian monotheism took to the western civilization. First of all, it stresses the importance of rational theology that for centuries was a must-study in the European public universities. In order to read the meaning of life, theology is a ‘universal place’. Applied to the Christian Revelation theology goes over the limits of the human reason and the theologian over the centuries often turned out to be as a man of science, a real ‘scientist’. S. Albert the Great, the master of S. Thomas from Aquinas, a brilliant biologist, was one of these. Another benefit of the Christian Revelation was that it did not require to accept certain customs or to belong to certain people in order to be baptised. In short, it worked as an extraordinary tool of social cohesion: it was a form of a universalism but at the same time it respected human dignity, an impressive achievement. Last, but not least, Christian faith elevated the common sense at a popular level, which proved to be a great help against old and dark forms of irrationalism.