Interview with Rodney Stark, Part III

III.  Theory and Practice

 

Did you know Donald Treadgold at the University of Washington? 

 

Yeah. 

 

Did you get along with him OK? 

 

Oh, sure.  I didn’t know him very well. 

 

He was a mentor of mine. 

 

The problem with the UW is, it’s an urban university and people live all over hell, including on the islands. There’s just no social life. Consequently I never really did get to know him – I never really got to know anybody. 

 

He reminds me of you a bit, because he had a real passion not only for his work, but for its consequences in society. Of course, he was an old Cold Warrior. 

 

Yeah, so am I. 

 

How do you feel about how your books are used by people of Christian faith, or religious faith in general, by missionaries, for example. Some find your books very useful. 

 

This is backing into it, but I think it’ll make the point. I once ran a conference out on Orcas Island [in the San Juans, in northwest Washington State]. And the people who paid for it were the Moonies …

 

The Unification Church? 

 

Yeah. And they had nothing to do with who was invited or anything that went on. We just had a bunch of their graduate students show up in the audience. And somebody once assaulted me, in effect, and said, how dare I have done that because what if they had learned something from our conference that helped them in their church life? And I said, "God, I’d be embarrassed if they hadn't." I didn’t write my books to help missionaries, but I certainly would be delighted if they had been of any help.

 

But you recognize that some church leaders are, in fact, charlatans …

 

Yeah, sure, but life isn't perfect. I mean, we just (got) a tax fraud as Secretary of the Treasury. What can you do about that?  (Laughter)

 

You’ve moved from agnosticism in the direction of a general Christianity, a generic or non-affiliated Christianity over the years? 

 

Yes. Somebody asked me once how I got back to religion, and I said, first of all, I was always a cultural Christian. Christendom meant something to me, so does Western Civilization, and Western Civilization is Christendom. Beyond that, I guess I wrote my way back. 

 

So those books actually did have something to do with why …

 

Sure. I’m exploring religion over the last 50 years or so, in a not purely sociological kind of way. And as I comprehended more, it became … more and more plausible and likely, and here I am.