“I Wrote Myself to a Better Understanding,” – Jerry Johnston with Sociologist Rodney Stark

04 May 2017

I asked sociologist Rodney Stark about his own faith. He replied, “I wrote myself, my way to a better understanding of things.” His books are classics:  “How The West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity,” “For The Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witchhunts, And The End of Slavery,” “America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists,” “God’s Battalions: The Cast for the Crusades,and “The Triumph of Faith: Why the World is More Religious Than Ever,plus many more. I recommend you get them.

In our techno-savvy culture, one of our problems is people are not reading. The late George Gallup – gallup.com – wrote: “We revere the Bible but we don’t read it. Wheaton College research indicated biblical illiteracy of incoming freshmen:  80% could not place Moses, Adam, David, Solomon and Abraham in chronological order; Half of the students could not sequence Moses in Egypt, Issac’s birth, Saul’s death and Judah’s exile, and one-third could not identify Matthew as an apostle from a list of New Testament names.

One hundred and fifty freshmen in a Christian college were selected in a scientific survey (PISA – Program for International Student Assessment) because they were active members of evangelical churches and grew up going to church. The students were given a test about their biblical knowledge. Here are the answers they provided: The history of Abraham was found in the book of Ruth. The Roman persecution was the greatest event described in the Old Testament. The Exodus was the return of the Jews to Palestine after World War II. Genesis was the first Gospel. The mother-in-law of Ruth was Mary Magdalene and her famous great-grandson was Noah! We have a problem.

My father is dying of inoperable stomach cancer. Daily I battle a variety of emotions because of his pain. Dad turned 90 on April 11. Yesterday, he told me that he is giving me his Bible which he purchased in 2006. “I want you to have it as a gift,” he said, “but I am hoping I stay alive long enough to finish reading it the 50th time before I give it to you.” I did the math. My dad has averaged reading his Bible nearly five times a year for the last eleven years. And he started reading the Bible long before 2006. I am going to have his Bible rebound and will cherish the gift.

Billy Graham wrote about regrets in his autobiography, Just As I Am, “I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth … it is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages.

Jerry: I’ve read that you’re a cultural Christian, I mean so how do you mix your faith experience in all this? I’m tring to figure all that out.

Rodney: For most of my adult life I was most certainly a non-believer. 

Jerry: OK

Rodney: But I was also very much pro-Christian. I mean, I have always believed that this was a Christian civilization. Always believed that science grew out of Christianity. I don’t have any problems with that at all, I just had problems with believing, which didn’t trouble me a lot and it certainly didn’t make me any kind of an aggressive anti-… you know… at all. It was just a fact. And I think I wrote myself, my way to a better understanding of things. 

Jerry: Uh-huh.

Rodney: And uh … and that’s what it meant to be a cultural Christian. I’m glad churches were good things.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.