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Ch 15. Religion - f IS THERE A GENE that makes us religious...

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Unformatted text preview: f IS THERE A GENE that makes us religious? Is a belief in God encoded in our DNA? Or is it the other way around: Does faith in science undermine our religious beliefs? These questions are part of global debate about religion and science. Many people think of religion and science as competitors, even as enemies. After all, both seek answers to life’s w WWW“MNMMNMMWmuseum-mum- big questions, but they use very different methods and come up with different answers. There weren’t always two major sources of knowledge available in the world. Every soci— «WW ety has religion, but only a few societies have science. Science is far more recent. When medieval religious authorities wrote that tree frogs would die if exposed to rain, they weren’t reporting on the results of a scientific experiment. In fact, they didn't ever go out a ww-wm-wnmrhiV—uv‘w-ANpI-i-www.‘ i and look at any frogs in the rain. They relied on anecdotes, classical authors, or logical deduction. Frogs are associated with the earth; water is the opposite of Haj-u ., H » - ,. , 77>» , “77.7., .7 _ .,_ .7 .. , ... . ..._. ”V... . . ,es ., s, ,7 ._ . ‘ , I I R e] I g I or I . at I d _ _ . earth,- so obviously water kill-s frogs. Around 1400, philosophers ' started to use what would be called ( ”9' H :e the "scientific method,” systematic, experimental studies that uncover the facts of the natural world. Unfortunately, the facts they uncovered often disagreed with religious doctrine. The sun doesn’t revolve around Earth. The equatorial regions are not too hot to support life. Earth is much more than 6,000 years old. The Church conceded some points, but not others, and the competition between religion and science Sirens reiigiees belief and sircse began. scientific keewiedge sen coexist. in last, Even though science and the lieiieii States is simeitsneousiy see ““9“" seek“) ‘10 5° "‘W of f iii i . ff. “ {g d d the same things and often Q E ”‘93 Saigfi i 533 y 8‘ 1.133339 3F; come to different conclusions, 033% Hi the mast deeply igllgiflug they are not necessarily rivals cgfinifigg iii flag Wfifld. in society. Strong religious belief and deep scientific knowledge can coexist. In fact, the United States is simultaneously one of the most scientifically advanced and one of the most deeply religious countries in the world. The same individual is often involved in both religion and science. Most religious profession- als have to keep up with advances in medicine, psychology, and sociology to minister to their congregations effectively, and many, if not most, scientists attend religious services regularly. Comparing Sociologists view science and religion as similar institutions. Both are organized and coherent systems of thought that are organized into social institutions. Both make claims to “truth.” Both make claims to govern our conduct: Science governs our con- duct toward the natural world, regulating how we are able to understand it, and reli— gion orients people toward social interaction in this world as an expression of its beliefs in the next world. Both have professionals who devote many years to study and training to acquire the credentials necessary to speak as experts. This special access to the truth is established and reinforced by the universities and seminaries that they must attend and the separate subcultures they inhabit, churches on the one hand and labs on the other. However, there are also many differences between the two institutions. Religion is a set of beliefs about the origins and meaning of life, usually based on the existence a supernatural power. It is primarily concerned with the big questions of existence, such as: \Xt'hat is the meaning of life? Where did I come from? Where am I going? In a sense, the emphasis of science is more methodological. Science is the accu- mulated systematic knowledge of the physical or material world, which is obtained through experimentation and observation. Religion deals with big questions of exis» tence, science deals with smaller questions of classification or processes. Scientific jour- nals are full of articles about the cell walls of mollusks and the effect of a certain quantity of, electricity oniaisttontium. compound. Onlya fewrhranche-s ofseienee con—- sider ultimate questions of existence, and even then they don’t focus on the individ- ual. They ask, “\Vhere did the universe come from?” 7 Religion acquires its ideas through revelation: God, spirits, prophets, or sacred books give us the answers to the questions of existence. On the other hand, science acquires its knowledge through empirical verification: Information is developed, demon- strated, and double—checked using an experimental method. Science bases its claims on what has been shown this way, rather than asking you to believe something on faith. Occasionally, religion may seek to offer proof of the truth of its claims—through mir- acles, for example—but even these may be a matter of faith. Scientific types believe it when they see it; religious types are more likely to see it when they believe it. Religion distinguishes between the physical world (chaotic, uncertain, full of suf- fering), and a spiritual world (orderly, permanent, and full of joy). Although the two worlds are nearly opposite, few religions teach that there is no bridge between them: Gods and spirits pass between them, and often mortals visit the other world through visions, dreams, and spirit journeys. \When we die, we can go there permanently, if CHAPTER 15 RELIGION AND SCIENCE we behave according to the rules of the religion. Meanwhile, we can experience the sacred, that which is holy or divine, and we can see the spiritual in the midst of our profane, or secular, everyday lives. Science is interested in only the phySical world. It concedes that a .No onlyd W9 pelie've'in tellgiognflhd : ’ i Spiritual world may exist, but it is undetectable to scientific research. No systematic experiments have demonstrated its existence, or the existence of spiritual beings like ghosts, or spiritual powers like ESP. The parapsy~ chologists who study such matters have had mixed, unreliable results. Religion changes over time. There are new interpretations of the revealed message, new emphases, or even new revelations: For over 100 years, Black men were forbidden from entering the priesthood in the LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter—Day SaintSJ—a strident restriction, because every adult male in the church is a priest—but in 1978, a divine message indicated that they could. During the Civil War, the Southern Baptists split from the American Baptists over the issue of slavery: They believed that it was God’s will for Africans to be slaves. But you won’t find many Southern Baptists supporting slavery today. Science-also cha ages over time. .Scientificxdiscoveries that are accepted as empirically demonstrated one day may be replaced by new discover- ies, also empirically verified. For many years, the best scientific studies ‘ mbiat different h ias'tf 7 found that Mars had a relatively mild climate, water, and oxygen—every— thing necessary for intelligent life to evolve. Then better scientific studies revealed that Mars is much too cold and dry to support life. However, neither religion nor science changes overnight. Neither has a smooth, uncontroversial change from one set of beliefs to another. Instead, they advance by dramatic breaks with accepted wisdom. In religion, these breaks generally come when a new prophet or charismatic leader draws people away from established institutions, as Martin Luther led people away from the Roman Catholic Church to become Protes— tants, and John Wesley from the Anglican Church to become Methodists. In science, these breaks come from scientists who challenge accepted assumptions and begin to draw followers into newer empirical areas of scientific exploration. Religion is a cultural universal—that is, it exists in every single culture. No human society has yet been discovered that lacks an organized, coherent system of beliefs about a spiritual world. However, religions vary tremendously. Some have no gods, some have many, and some have only one. Some believe in a heaven or a hell, some in reincarnation, some in both, and some do not believe in an afterlife at all. Sociol— ogists are less interested in debating the truth of religious doctrine than in the func~ tion of religion. Why do all societies have one? What does it do for the society? Durkheim and Social Cohesion For Emile Durkheim, religion served to integrate society, to create a sense of unity out of the enormously diverse collection of individuals. Religion provides a sort of social glue that holds society together, binding us into a common destiny and com- mon values. But how? Durkheim went back to the origins of society. He surmised that primitive cultures were so overcome by the mystery and power of nature—lightning striking a tree, CLASSICAL TH EORIES 0F RELIGION B: for instance—that they would come together as a group. These events were seen as sacred—holy moments that evoked that sense of unity. Cultures then try to recreate these moments in rituals—solemn reenactments of the sacred events. Rituals would remind individuals that they are part of a whole that is greater than its parts. Durkheim’s emphasis on what holds a society together is important to sociolo- gists who study modern societies, where the greater complexity and diversity poses many challenges to social unity. Sociologist Robert Bellah (1967) suggested that mod— ern, secular societies develop a civil religion in which secular rituals—such as recit— ing the Pledge of Allegiance, the singing of the national anthem at professional sports events, lighting fireworks on the Fourth of July—create the intense emotional bonds among people that used to be accomplished by religion. Marx and Social Control Whereas Durkheim saw the positive aspects of religion as social glue, other classical sociologists have explored its use as a form of control. As we’ve seen, religion attempts to answer basic questions of human existence, which are profound and terrifying, but also provides a way to organize one’s life in preparation for the next world. Yet a suc- cessful transition to the next life requires obeying specific cultural norms: Do not eat pork (if you’re Jewish or Muslim), do not drink alcohol (if you’re Muslim or Pente» costal). In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Firm {1 885), Huck is racked with guilt over the “sin” of helping a runaway slave. Because he is from the pre—Civil War South, he has been taught that slavery is God’s will, that slaves are the property of their masters, and that helping a runaway will send him to hell. Religion offers a spir- itual justification for why you should obey the rules and not try to make any changes. Karl Marx believed that religion kept social change from happening by prevent- ing people from revolting against the miserable conditions of their lives. In feudal society, Marx argued, religion served as a sort of ideological “blinder” to the reality of exploitation. Because the lords of the manor owned everything, including the rights to the labor of the serfs, anyone could tell that there was brutal inequality. So how could the lords stay in power? How come the serfs didn’t revolt? Marx believed that religion provided a justification for inequality. For example, the belief in the “Great Chain of Being,” in which all creatures, from insects to kings, were arranged on a single hierarchical arrangement ordained by God, obviously justified the dominion of those at the top over those at the bottom. Marx called religion “the opiate of the masses,” 3 drug that made people numb to the painful reality of inequality. Religion is what keeps change from occurring. Weber and Social Change Max Weber, in contrast, argued that religion could be a catalyst to change. Weber’s earliest work wondered why capitalism developed in Western Europe in the way that it did. After all, he noted, capitalist economic activity (profit-maximizing buying and selling} had certainly existed as the dominant economic form of life in other times and places—notably in ancient China, ancient India, and among the ancient jews. But none of these societies sustained capitalist activity. Only W'estern Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries broke out of feudalism, its established social order, developing instead a type of capitalism that was self»sustaining. W'hy? Weber reasoned that it might have had something to do with the impact of reli— gious ideas on economic activity. In the other three cases, religious ideas interfered with economic life, restrained trade, and made it more difficult for capitalism to become a self—sustaining system. He noticed that Protestant countries (Britain, CHAPER 15 RELIGION AND SCIENCE Holland, Germany, the United States) had advanced earlier and further than Catholic countries such as Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France. Perhaps the Protestant Reformation had freed individuals from constraints and enabled each individual to develop his or her relationship to God directly, without priests or churches as intermediaries. The Protestant Church was simply the gather— ing together of equal individuals, each man being “his own church.” In its most extreme forms, such as Puritanism or Quakerism, there were no priests at all but sim- ply the gathering of congregants. The Protestant image of God was also more abstract and distant, less personal and intimately involved in the day—to—day life of believers. But while Catholicism offered certainty—believerswere certain they were going to heaven if they fulfilled the sacraments—Protestantism offered only insecurity; one could never know God’s plan. This insecurity led Protestants, especially Calvinists, to begin to work excep— tionally hard in this life to reduce the insecurity about where they might be going when they die (because that could not be known). Thus, Weber argued, individuals began to work harder and longer, to approach economic life rationally, through careful cal— culation of costs and benefits, and to resist the temptation to enjoy the fruits of their . labor which :led to rapid anddrarnatic accumulationofcapitalforfnvestment. And this accumulation eventually enabled capitalism in the West to become self-sustaining. Weber was pessimistic about the future of this economic activity. Without the orig— inal ethical and religious foundation", Weber predicted, we would become trapped in an “iron cage" of routine, senseless economic acquisition. The very activities that we believed would give meaning to our lives would turn out to eventually leave us empty. All three of these classical theorists shared several sociological insights. First, although we may experience our religious beliefs as individuals, religion is a profoundly social phenomenon. And they all believed that religiosity, the extent of one’s reli— gious belief, typically measured by attendance at religious Observances or maintaining religious practices, would decline in modern societies. None De . would have predicted that religion would be as important to Americans as it is today. ' , , 1 M0,“; "When Because religion is so profoundly social, there are many forms of religious organizations. Some are small scale, with immediate and very personal contact; others are larger institutions with administrative bureaucracies that rival those of complex countries. These differ not only in size and scale but also in their relationship to other social institutions, the level of training for specific roles within the religion, and the levels of adminis— tration (Table 15.1). Cults The simplest form of religious organization, a cult, forms around a spe- cific person or idea drawn from an established religion. It is often formed by splitting off from the main branch of the religion. Cults are distin- guished by the measure of loyalty they extract from members. Typically small, they are also composed of deeply fervent believers. Some cults prophesize the end of the world and are called “doomsday cults.” religions aie’p ttyr's you're discuss RELIGIOUS GROUPS :3 Cults are often held together by a charismatic personality, no matter how bizarre their ideas. Marshall Applewhite, at left, was the leader of the Heaven's Gate cult. He con— vinced 38 followers to commit suicide so that their souls could take a ride on a space- ship that they believed was hiding behind the comet carrying Jesus. v TABLE, a, 15.1 DENOMINATION .- Members of cults leave behind their membership in older religious institutions and often live on the margins of society. Thus they typically run afoul of local and national governments. And that may mean violent repression. During the 19805, the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, broke off from the Seventh Day Adven- tist Church. They moved to a compound outside Waco, Texas; amassed a small arsenal of weapons; and began teaching that the end of the world was approach~ ing. in 1993, their compound was stormed by federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The government claimed that the cult had broken numerous laws, that Koresh was keeping people hostage and sexualiy abusing his followers. To the cult’s supporters, the government was interfering in religious free— dom. After a week—long standoff, a gun battle, and a fire, all 82 Branch Davidians and several federal agents were killed (see Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco,'Texas, 1993). Cults can develop murderous messianic tendencies as well. In 1995, a cult called Aurn Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) released sarin gas on the Tokyo subway during the morning rush hour, killing 12 people and injuring thousands of others. The cult’s leader had stockpiled enough poison gas to kill millions before the attack; he was captured in 2004. Does globalization increase or decrease the number of cults? Both. Globaliza- ‘tion' and technological advances such. as the internethaye. had contradictory effects. On the one hand, the Internet facilitates recruitment and enables cult members to remain connected despite large distances. On the other hand, cults often require intense interpersonal interaction. Cults often use very modern techniques to express their antimodernist views, using the infor- mation superhighway to “restore” the traditional world that has been displaced. Sects A sect is a small subculture within an established religious insti» tution. Like cults, they break from traditional practices, but unlike cults they remain within the larger institution. For exam— ple, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are usually classified as a Christian sect. Sects typically arise when some members of an established religious institution believe that the institution is drifting from its true mission, becoming sidetracked by extraneous, more “worldly” pursuits. Thus the sect seeks to remain true to the initial mission by demanding more of its members than does r the established institution. Sects control membership criteria and set their own behavioral standards for members. Sect'members often think of themselves as the only true believers and regard the mainstream member— ship as apostate {falling away from the faith). iVIany sects are short lived. This is generally the case either because the initial charismatic leader—a person whose extraordinary personal qualities touch people deeply enough to motivate them to break with tra— dition—leaves the group or because they encourage reforms within the established religious institution. For instance, “traditionalist” sects in the Roman Catholic Church reject attempts at modernization like services in English. On the other side of the political spectrum, a sect called the Peo« ple of the Church believes that women should be allowed to enter the priesthood and that celibacy should be optional. Some sects become “established sects” and develop their own formal i...
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