David Koresh, a normal man with no indications of mental illness whatsoever, who believed that he received revelations from God and whose personal sacrifice of his own life at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas was utterly incompatible with fraud.
An example that Stark provides is when "Spencer W. Kimball, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced the revelation that persons of African ancestry should be admitted to the Mormon priesthood, he described the process by which he gained this revelation as the result of many hours of prayer that ended in the sudden, absolute certainty that this was God's will."
Gee, ya think so Professor Stark? Or was it more of a case of "Holy shit, we better come up with a face saving way of allowing blacks to become Mormon priests because in a post-Civil Rights America, we're starting to look awfully raycist!" Why Stark does not consider this possibility is beyond me. I wonder if Stark believes it is plausible that God really told President McKinley that he should "Christianize" the mostly Catholic Filipinos after the end of the Spanish-American War.
Stark compares the religious innovator's receipt of divine revelations to composers such as Gershwin or Mozart, who claimed that they did not compose tunes, they simply played the complete melodies that came to them in their heads from "out there." Stark suggests that while it is possible these allegedly divine revelations "are purely human creations", we should also be "free to assume that the revelation was sent... that God does reveal himself to humans - even if it is only within the limits of their capacity to understand."
In discussing the credibility of religious innovators, Professor Stark does get one thing right. He points out that in many cases, converts are family members, close friends, and members of the community, or to put it in his words, "It follows that successful religious innovators will tend to be well-respected members of an intense primary group." He points to examples such as Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, as well as Jesus, Muhammed and a host of other religious founders.
For a Stone Age religious innovator, converting ones family and neighbors was tantamount to converting the world, and the religion would eventually spread to other tribes through cultural diffusion. And the reason why religion tended to be everywhere is "because the needs it fulfills are everywhere... Alternatively, many religions come from God according to the ability of humans at a particular time and place to understand, and, of course, all revelations are subject to misunderstanding, exaggeration, and faulty transmission." (bold emphasis mine)
Then again, a God could solve that problem by revealing the same message to a number of people in a particular group simultaneously. After all, if two people approach you within the same time period, both claiming to have received different revelations from God, how are you to know which one to believe?
Coming soon, Rodney Stark looks at ancient state-sponsored temple religions, followed by an examination of that great religious marketplace called the Roman Empire, where Christianity would end up becoming the Walmart of the 4th century C.E.