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Stark’s Discovering God, the Axial Age and the Eonic effect

October 25th, 2007 · No Comments

Rodney Stark, the author of the much ridiculed ‘Victory of Reason’ (note many of the similar arguments in D’Souza re: Christianity and science, etc), returns with a new book, which I am perusing: Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief (Hardcover)
by Rodney Stark

I ought to reject the book out of hand, but I caught myself from immediate knee-jerk criticism/culture-war bashing due to the actual effort in the book to look at the history of religions however minimal or inadequate the methodology. New Atheists/Darwinists take note. We have a considerable terrain survey from earliest times to the temple religions of greater antiquity, along with at least a passing effort to deal with Indian religion. In fact, Stark’s concealed Christian bias spells doom for such a scholarly enterprise and he casts the tale in terms of theistic issues. Noone else can manage much better, so I would caution the New Atheists to get cracking on this subject before the conservative thinktanks and the Karen Armstrong’s fix the public mind.
I need a bit more time on the book, but I notice the conclusion gets around to mentioning the Axial Age. Stark (wonder why?) tries the ‘synchronism was really diffusion’ tactic, and, e.g. Pythagoras visited India, therefore…, his account ends with ‘so much for the Axial Age’.
That argument won’t work. Hasn’t Stark read World History and The Eonic Effect?
Note how the procession of attempts to deal with the Axial Age, triggered by WH&EE, is gathering steam. I would appreciate some direct citations of those who do consult that work or its derivatives, such as Armstrong’s woefully inadequate The Great Transformation.

The question of the Axial Age is hopelessly muddled by the distortion of Jaspers’ portrait as an age of revelation of some sort. But any account of the Axial Age must look at the total phenomenon, which involves much more than a few prophets in concert. And the resulting picture shows something larger than religious transformation/evolution. To see this consider the Axial period of Archaic/Classical Greece: it does not give birth to a religion, and yet it is clearly part of the mysterious synchronous parallelism of that period. And its keynote (among a host of effects) is a proto-secularism being born! Please note that the Axial Age is far more than a question of religion. It is the birth place of secularism! Stark is within justification to examine the effect of synchronism as possibly due to diffusion, but as I learned the hard way in my initial research, the Axial effect is a total cultural transformation over several centuries, and it would be impossible to explain this due to diffusion.
Clearly the Axial Age is a problem for monotheists. The Axial Age shows complete opposites coming into existence in concert. This is a threat to those who proclaim the age of revelation myths.

Meanwhile, since everyone is aware of World History and The Eonic Effect, why not be honest and simply cite the book, whose sherman tank approach to macrohistorical methodology, in the context of evolution, can help in sorting out some of the Axial Age muddle.
Meanwhile, the real meaning of the Old Testament has been lost, and it is time to use the study of the eonic effect (a macropattern of the Axial Age) to try and sort out the inevitable confusions that arise in tracing the evolution of religion in world history.

Tags: religion · The Axial Age · The Eonic Effect

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