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2 - 2 THE SOCIOLOGY OF GOD There are two obvious positions...

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Unformatted text preview: 2 THE SOCIOLOGY OF GOD There are two obvious positions that yOu can take about re1i~ glon. Either you believe it or you don’t: in one case it is a su- preme Reality that transcends everything sociology is concerned with; in the other it is an irrational superstition about things that don’t exist. For the most part social thinkers have taken the second of these two attitudes. :Utilitarians and rational reformers in gen- eral tended to look on religion as an archaic, irrational force. It is the source of superstition, beliefs about an invisible worldmof ' spirits and ghosts. Legal reformers saw religion as an institution of Inquisitors and heresy—hunters, burning people at the stake for their beliefs or under the mistaken judgment that they were witches. Badioals saw religion as the upholder of the status quo a kind of agency of the ruling class that made peeple put up with. economic and political injustice in return for a promised life, in heaven after they die. Rational intellectuals, generally seeing no grounds for believing in theological dogma, regarded religion as a relic of the Dark Ages, something that would . eventually die away as societies became modernized. For a while, this prediction seemed to be coming true. Cora; " tainly religions lost most of the hold they had over people just a few centuries ago. Witch-burning no longer took place, and belief in malevolent spirits largely disappeared. Churches he‘- 80 ' THE SOCIOLOGY OF GOD 31 came less dogmatic and more tolerant. Adherence to religion declined. People no longer attended daily mass or sat through protracted Sabbath-day sermons. Eventually we seemed to be reaching the point where not only were the stores open on Sunday morning, but peeple were just as likely to watch a foot- ball game or‘ play golf as go to church. The church lost its power to prohibit people from doing such things and seemed to be los- ing its power totmotivate other aspects of people’s lives as well. ‘Similar trends could be feund around the world. As traditional tribal and agricultural societies came into the modern orbit, their various religions also began to lose their power. One might have expected that religion would fade away entirely. ‘But this has not happened. Religion in the United States is far from dead. EVCn here, where science and technology has advanced to very high levels, and education is more widespread than anywhere else in the history of the world, the expectations of religion crumblingunder the advance of rationality has not panned out. Instead we see religious revivals of many sorts. There has been a new movement of vehemently furidamentalist Christianity, which takes the Bible as literally true made- nounces what it regards, as the moral failings of the "contempo- rary world. This religion has not merely defended itself‘pas- I sively but has taken the offensive and entered into I current" ' politics in an effort to win back the old compulsory poWers‘ of the _ i ‘ .. church. Simultaneously, Oriental religions have made a great'erp influx into Western societies than at any previous time."Fol~j_y lowers of Krishna, Hindu gurus, and Buddhist monks haVe ap-_ . ‘ peared in large numbers, while Islam has made its appeal espe- ‘ cially among the black populace. Astrology and the occult have Some of these same kinds of religious and occultistmovements- have appeared over and over again in modern times. Obviously. the prediction of a steady trend toward total Secularization and? A rationalism is incorrect. - ' ‘ , i What is most significant- about religion for a sociologist; Ver',.,js neither off‘the two obvious stances regarding _, {=- . fir . attracted widespread interest and permeate the mass median ' 32 SOCIOLOGICAL INSIGHT favoring or opposing religion. There is a third alternative. Durk- heim Created a nonobvious theory of religion, in which the key to religion is not its beliefs but the social rituals that its mem-V hers perform. Religion is a key to social solidarity, and religious beliefs are important, not in their own right, but as symbols of social groups. Religion thus becomes sociologically‘ important as a prime example of a nonrational phenomenon playing a major role in social life. The analysis of religion, moreover, leads us to a Very'important general theory that enables us to under- stand‘social rituals and the way in which they create both moral feelings and symbolic ideas. This theory has applications far removed from the realm of religion itself. It helps us to explain politics and political ideologies, and the dynamics of solidarity that make conflicts possible among social groups. It even tells us something about the private secular realms of modern life. You do not harm to be either religious or politically active to ex- perience therelevance of social rituals. They permeate modern life, just as they did any other time in history. It is only the forms and arrangements of rituals that has changed. Thus I will trace out the varieties of social ritual, from Durkheim’s sociology of religion to Goflman’s seeiology of everyday life. It is no accident thatthesame theOry should tie together the bizarre practices ‘and‘beliefs of primitive religion with the taken- , for-granted behaviors of modern life. For if society is possible only‘on. a nomational'foundation, then even our self~consciously rational thoughtof must rest upon some nonrational pro- . _ is precisely what'the theory of social rituals helps explain. Unravelling thenature of the gods, sociologists have found, an explanation of the rituals and symbols without whic social groups of any kind would not be possible. ‘ THE COMMON BASIS‘ OFBELIGIONS Durkheim’s basipwflassum is that religion” represents something real. .Persofiwa “We H?i”s“t,“"’h”e"‘saw“iiSWreason to be- lieve that some transcende t ' upernatural God existed, let alone THE SOCIOLOGY OF GOD - t 33 , the multiplicity of gods and goddesses,.angels, devils,l.den:10ns; I or spirits in which people of various rehgions have be level) a one time or another. Nevertheless, how could people have een "in error for such a long time, throughout most of hilsézory in tact? How can these sorts of beliefs continue to hothlsway among large sectors of the populace even today? Satin): 1113158:3d ‘which people have believed so strongly could har y be me- upon nothing but a mistake in reasoning. There mustthe so ea] thing that corresponds to these religious beliefs, somfethmg rds that people have symbolically seen in the guise o h tetgobe: Though the reality that the gods represent 15 not w a f1, 6- lievers claim it to be, it does have the symbolic force 0 'spmor thing very strong. People have always regarded the :puliision- the gods as more powerful than ordinary humans. Wha fre1 ghan represents, then, must be something much more powar u, L ' ' ' al. I the lihuld you go about proving what is that refigipaist ‘ g l. ‘ represent? The first step is to, compare. Whatas 1t, age at: 1:18 of I all religions have in common? Not any particular docKfihné “God—not Jehovah and Jesus, Allah and Mohamme g, a, ' Vishnu, Isis or Zeus. Not necessarily the concept that t ereth:m single god, for there haVe been many, religions wAfirhirmorzf one: the good and evil pair of Ahuramazda and Ipnan has ‘Zoroastrians, the pantheon of ancient Greek and domtléldfssés dwalling upon Mount Olympus,.the many gods an gphe of the ancient Hindus, and numerous others. Not even a réfi-g ,cOncept of any god: Buddhism, for example, is obvious y, me], I ,éion, but its basic concept of Enlightenment is (3)111th , [up atheistic. And in many tribal religions, there are no gobs,t 0mm . y‘ there are totem animals, plants, rocks, and so forth t a co ,y \ mm the object of the cult. " ' ‘ ‘ ther are two thing ,What all religions have 111 common, ra ., ' p p ‘ certain beliefs held by figmflflltlilfints.defisflamrituals? H M cellectivElyperfonm' / It r, g L réd'I'he basic religious belief is that the worldis divididtint: ‘ r ‘ 1W0 categories: thegsdcred hnd their profane. Things a, 34 SOCIOLOGICAL INSIGHT sacred can be anything: spirits, invisible gods, particular ani- mals or trees, altars, crosses, holy books, special words that only the initiated can speak or songs that only they can sing. The distinctive thing about the sacred is that it is dangerous and supremely important: you must approach it seriously, respect— ‘fully, and with due preparation. Profane things, on the other hand, constitute the rest of the world: all the other things that you can deal with matter-of—factly, with whatever mood you wish, and for whatever purpose you find useful or desirable. , This is the basic religious belief: the dualism of sacred and profane. Along with it goes the basic religious action, namely, ritual. Aritual is very different from ordinary behavior. An ordi- nary practicalaction, such as walking down the street, doing your work, shopping for something at the store, or whatever, can be done in a variety of ways. It makes no difference how you do it as long as you get the job dOne. ‘Ritual, on the other hand, is very strictly determined behavior. In rituals, it is the forms count, Saying prayers, singing a hymn, performing a primitive- sacrifice or-a dance, marching in a procession, kneel~ ' ing beforean idol or" making the sign of the cross-,—in these, the action must be done the right way. Rituals are not a means to an xulterior tend, the Way praciical actions are; you cannot say it;makesnozdiiference how you do it as IOng as the goal is at- tained, for the form-of the ritual is its own end. It is meaningful if it: is; done right and worthless if done wrong. ‘ Thurs, religions are made up of beliefs and rituals, and the twin are-connected. Rituals are procedures by which people must conduct themselves in'the presence of things that they believe to "besaoredg’l‘hecpposite of these two go together as well; ordinary, nonritual behavior is h0w you act in the presence of the profane. As we shall see, Durkheim gave priority to rituals oVer beliefs. In a certain -‘sense, the correct performance of the ritualis what gave riSe to the: belief in the sacred. I “The question now arises: how could people have ever in- ; r , wanted this distinction? has there been this near-universal [THE SOCIOLOGY OF GOD 35. tendency to divide the world‘into the sacred and the profane? Nothing in nature suggests it. Animals do not make the disagg- ‘ tion. Everything in the physical world is on thesame level. ay ‘ should people imagine that it is filled with invisible spirits, go s, forces that demand certain kinds of arbitrary respect and that are dangerous if disobeyed? There are real dangers 1n th: world, to be sure, but people must have very quickly learne' = how to deal with them in practical ways. From a purely phy'st; t *' cal viewpoint, religion seems to have filled the world w1 ' ‘ tions. . héllblicilntahere is one reality that does have all the characteristics that people attribute to the divine. Itis not nature; nor is“: metaphysical. It is society itself. For society is a iorce grea It than any individual. It brought us to life, and it can us. . has tremendous power over us. Everyone depends upon it in innumerable ways. We use tools and skills We did not iliiivent, we speak a language passed on to us from others. Virtua your whole material and symbolic world is given to us from scorety. The institutions ‘we inhabit—our form of: family life, ecpfinyé __politics, whatever they may be—came from the .accumr, app ll [practices of others, in short,rfrom society. This is the fur: a. v p: , mental truth that religion expresses.,God is a symbolic)“ w; 1 Thus it is not an illusion to feel that something ex1sts outstdie of ourselves, something very poWerful, yet not part of the Cali; "nary physical reality that We see with our eyes. Morpovir,Xists semething—the feeling of our dependence upon sgc fry Lime simultaneously outside and inside ourselves. In rel 1gb ons d is always a connection between the sacred worl 1eyon SI ‘ and something sacred inside ourselves. God is sunu tang); is): I. without and within. In the advanced religions sucl:l 9:1, 1' l ltianity or Islam there is the concept. oi? the indiv1 fu is which belongs to God. \In the totemistic religion obpr the tribes there is a similar connection, for every mem erio, lkof tribe is also identified with the totem. If the sacred aging Is an Australian clan is the kangaroo, then every clan mem er, 2 36 . SOCIOLOGICAL INSIGHT THE SOCIOLOGY OF GOD 37]” that in some way they too are kangaroos. This belief, too, cor- responds to something real. We are parts of society: it only exists in the aggregate because of us. \ More than that, our inner selves are constructed out of parts that come to us from without. Our name, our self-identity, come from the ways we relate to other people, and from the way they relate to us. We usually think of ourselves by our own names, but we seldom created these names for ourselves. Even if you ‘ Were to change the name given by your parents, you may find that you are known by a nickname given by other people. And ‘ another vantage point, one that cuts across time and space. But this is what society does. Hence whenever we think, we do so by means of concepts that originated in social communication. Communicttm must always jump aboveeax 996 P¢!$,91!7§,,P3¥1. __ticu1ar viewpoint to a bridge of generality connecting one per« ‘ Vson’s reality with another’s. Social communication is what creates our basic repertoire of ideas, insofar as ideas are abstract concepts. Since we use these ideas to think with, our own minds are permeated by society. We cannot escape society, even when ‘we are alone. As long as we are conscious, society is implicitly / the deeper aspects of our self~image come even more powerfully there. fr‘l’fm our exPeneflces With Other People- Do You think Of Your“ Thus society is both outside us and within the very core of se as good-looking, plain, or downright hideous? Do y0u feel our conscimisness. This is what makesihasymbnlhmfiiflzflgion confident, controlled, spontaneous, anxious, or harried? Success— ful 0r unsuccessful? These feelings about yourself are for the most part formed by the way in which other people have treated - , youQ/Thiswdependence“of ewselfjimage upon other people is W,» y‘logy. We tend to see ourselves mthrcugh the-eyes of other people. To express this fact the so- diologist—eeharlesv"‘Horton.,Qooley coined the term “the looking- ' glass'self.” . U _j j‘i' Most ultimately of all, our very consciousness is social. We , "thin inwards, but we did not invent them. We could not think , stall; if, We did not have ideas, and we guide our behavior by certainideals. But neither ideas nor ideals could have been created by Ourselves. alcheflldeas and ideals must have some- thing/general they are concepts that transcend the par— ~ t” H to be an example , a , ” fings. But nature always presents itself to a as particulars, n r as'k‘generalitics. Observing nature could _ neverchave‘ suggestedageneral concepts to us. Each tree is ac~ ‘ finally unique; it is onlybecause We have the general idea of :qtree’,’ that we can see the resemblance among trees and thus ‘ t them as members of I , airfle class of things. ‘ $5.116 Only way we can, transcend the here-and—now of this [particular thing at this particular place is to put ourselves on §° Very Powerf‘fl’ it expresses the. e$§fintial.féigifingigufiihwwan «existence. That is why religious symbolism has incorporated “ideas of human identity as well as of social obligation, why there is the idea of a soul as well as of some kind of god or spiritual force that rules the universe. And since religion sym— ,, bolizes the major facts of society, it has always had to make room for sooial conflict in its system of symbols. Since societies are never totally unified, religion must always describe the "existence of rival gods, heretics, evil spirits, or the devil. symbolism of religion’mirrors the socialwbfld. ‘ DO PEOPLE HAVE MORAL FEELINGS? ' ‘But religion is morethan an intellectual reality. Above all, it is a moral force. This, too, is preeminently social. Notions of right and wrong are intrinsically collective. Most of them, regu- ‘ late the relationships among people: prohibitions against killing, ying, and stealing, or positive injunctions to love or aid yOur eighbor. None of these rules make sense except in a social context. Even those moral rules that do not "r'5f6f"éi'plicm wmbehavior have an underlying social component. Respect r a ritual is right, and a violation of it is wrong, because the ‘ cup decrees it so. It is offensive to a believer for someonew‘to i we...eminmawmmmawweaw 2N 38 SOCIOLOGICAL INSIGHT spit on the Bible, for exam 16, but onl because made the Bible into a sacred) object. y the group 'has The very idea of morality implies a force beyond any par- ticular individual, a force that makes demands and punishes transgressions. These demands and punishments are not ordi- ‘HMY‘OHCS. You are expected to followmamoral duty, regardless of or injurious to yourself. Utilitarian re- 'wards and punishments'onthe mundane plane, in the profane world, are irrelevant to whether something is right or wrong ' If you believe that stealing is wrong, then it is wrong eVen it you were to gain a great deal by stealing; it would continue to be wrong even if you were never caught. The punishment for a moral transgression, rather, is in another realm, just as the reward for moral behavior is in Heaven or in whatever the sacred realm is considered to be in that society. g . What is the-reality of Heaven and Hell and their equivalents in other religions? The only real force that can fill their part is _,so_ciet}/ itself. Moral righteousness is what makes you a member i ,good standing of the group; the secure sense of belonging : Constitutes its reWard. This is what Heaven symbolizes. Moral ‘ evil,j_is.:a transgression against the group, and its punishment on the strictly .moral plane is automatic: it is the exclusion from :bership. In the symbolism of Christian theology, Hell is h banishment of the _sinner from God. Moral punishment is concluded from thefeeling of belongirlgtosOCiety.“ ' " ‘ _ ‘ é’h’dfieréwtd"thefl‘precepts of morality? First of 11 because the group demands it. But also because individuals Wanttobelong». It is hard for people to avoid having some moral : tidings or other: ,becaUSe almost everyone is attached to some soeiale'grouplnsofaras: they want to belong to the group they tomatically attach themselves to its morality. It is socidl ties ‘ ” a what are.-.) '“ " some morality, ornthat e ’ r ‘5 “all intense 1' o 1 _ '53-”.0n the slant: q y m m feel omes from group member- 39 _ ' ‘ ship, then the fact that there are difl’erent sorts of groups in a ‘ Society, that gr0ups are in conflict with one another, and that 7 individuals may join or leave groups means that there will be a number of different moralities. Which group one wishes-to _ belong to will determine what kind of moral feelings they will "-7 have. If groups are in conflict, then their moralities will be in conflict too. This is true in the'secular realm as well as in the sphere of religion. People who belong to opposing political parties regard their own position as right, and their opponents’ policies as wrong, in much the same fashion as members of rival religions feel themselves to be righteous and the others to be “ .sinners. - , Whatever the group may be, though, if people want to be— long to it they will end up feeling some kind of moral obliga— tion. This sounds like the individual has to sacrifice something to become a member. The sacrifice is real enough, but there ‘ are compensations. ’ * ' » One of the main benefits of belonging to a group is so close to home that it tends to be overlooked. It is intangible, but 1- Completely real. This» is theemotional [energy thato...
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