miércoles, abril 12, 2017

Repopulation of the world by the gods

Pablo Morales Ariasr

For the pioneers of Sociology, religion was a fundamental and inescapable topic. Durkheim meditates over and analyses the usefulness of the religious phenomenon for maintaining the social cohesion of the peoples of Europe. Weber understands that there are certain relations between the ethical-moral models learned in certain religious cults and the socioeconomic and political forms that are lived in the societies that practice them. Anyway, the subsequent process of the social sciences would begin to guide the research further each time towards certain strings of thought more and more aggressive towards the religious phenomenon. It appears that the watchword of most social researchers from the post-war period on has become Nietzsche’s phrase “to deny God will be the only way of saving the world”. It is taken for granted that religion is an evil that will gradually diminish in advanced societies, as superstition makes way to science and religion to empirical knowledge. The secularization process by means of which advanced societies are leaving aside the mythical-religious thinking is an unquestionable reality for social researchers of the second half of the 20th century. Finally, they think, religion will end up cornering itself in the sphere of private matters, as a result of the progress of modernity, characterized by Danièlle Hervieu-Leger as:

  1. Progressive rationalization of society. It should be noted that this refers to a certain type of rationality, that is, instrumental rationality.

  2. Progressive process of autonomy of the subject. He does not accept what is merely given; he wishes to decide for himself what to accept and what to reject.

  3. Specialization of institutions. Or, as Weber called it, bureaucratization of society. Religion is secluded to a mere emotional sphere of the human being and the goal is to exclude it from all other spheres of society.

Facing such processes, characteristic of modernity and radicalized under hypermodernity or advanced modernity, religion can do nothing more than to fall back and disappear, as the sociologists of the 60s and 70s foretold. However, as we dive into the 21st century, we can confirm that religious movements, far from having declined, are growing in an aggressive manner. This is not only happening in the peripheries of the civilized world, but also in the very centers of global power, and in the most characteristic spaces of Western civilization, as it is the case with the USA. In fact, the latest military conflicts of our century have been closely connected to religious topics. While one side of the conflict was calling people to arms for a new holy war, the other side lifted people up to “defend our Western christian world”.

The secularization process according to which the most advanced societies would start leaving religion aside, as they delve deeper into a world without mysteries, appears to be severely questioned by the very reality of facts. On the other hand, some social researchers have not wasted time in signaling another aspect that questions the disappearance of religious elements in advanced societies. Such aspect is the religious character of some social movements, as it is the case with communism. If by religion we understand a certain type of hope in a better world at the end of history, maybe the political movement that was born as a fruit of Marx works can fit perfectly in the definition of a pseudo-religious movement, as Raymond Aron framed it during his time.

Another way of expression for the new secular religions has been –according to the opinions of some researchers– that of science. Presenting itself, in a way, as almighty, and seeking to clear up every last biased conception of darkness in human knowledge, evidences, in this very same desire, certain traits that are inherent to religious systems. Having these sorts of experiences as a basis, social sciences have been gradually taking positions a little more discreet regarding the future of religion. People do not speak so sarcastically as before about the end of religion. This has been the case, at least, in the most serious circles of social sciences. It is a fact that religion has known how to adapt to the contemporary societies in which they are born to.

One of the main figures of the analysis of religion at present is Danièlle Hervieu-Leger, who rejects the affirmation that the big institutionalized religions will gradually disappear. Far from it, she says, these function as kind of big reservoirs to which individuals turn to so as to subjectively elaborate their own tales of belief.

Maybe, as a way of exemplifying this, the case of the “atheist” Sam Harris, who links his ardently defended agnostic model to a type of Buddhist or Hinduist spirituality, can be of use1. These types of such peculiar connections can be very common in our temporary societies.

Christianism does not face, at present, the extinction of religious thinking. It does have to face, on the other hand, a severe questioning of dogmatisms. Unitary thinking, which emerges alongside the unification of the church through the social-historical process connected with Constantine in the 4th century, is the one that must be analyzed. Prior to this period, we have a multi-colored church that assimilates diverse religious forms in several cultural spaces of the Empire, without being, as a consequence, divided. Each one of them drinks from the common fountain that Christ is, but each one of them assimilates Christ differently and under a permanent dialogue with their own context. The current social space and religious form of our societies claim to make flexible those things which are not essential to christianism and which have been gradually adopted throughout the centuries, hiding, in many cases, what is essential to the christian faith.

References
  • CIPRIANI, Roberto. Manual de Sociología de la Religión. Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI editores, 2004.
  • DORTIER, Jean-François y Testot, Laurent. Le retour du religieux, un phénomène mundial. Sciences Humaines. (160) May 2005
  • NANDA, Meera. Spirited away. [Online] http://newhumanist.org.uk/973 [Seen: June 15, 2011].
  • HERVIEU-LEGER, Danièlle. La Religion et ses nouvelles formes. [Online] http://bit.ly/oYGezf [Seen: June 2006].2

This article was translated by Nicolás Manfredi and reviewed by Alfredo Francis, under the grant “God's Evolution” awarded to the Science and Faith Centre (Spain) by the BioLogos Foundation (USA).

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  1. http://newhumanist.org.uk/973
  2. In this essay I follow closely Danièlle Hervieu-Leger’s conference, which I highly recommend for those who desire to delve deeper into this topic.

 
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