Overweening Generalist

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Brief Take on the Stickiness of Religion, 1965-2011

When I've read books written by academics and other "serious" highbrows that were published in the mid-1960s to early 1970s, I've always been struck by the idea that religion was on its way out in the First World, due to the forces of modernity. Philosophers, historians, sociologists of religion, and even religious thinkers themselves believed this. This appears to have been a widely-held view.

Some of the religious thinkers "liked" the idea that religion was on its way out, and the demise of religion was hailed by a seemingly large minority of highbrow religious thinkers because they - as I read them - saw the Churches as too demystified, too watered-down. They sought a renewed private or small-group mysticism, a renewal of the feeling of the mysterium tremendum.


The world was seen as rapidly secularizing, and most of the books I read from that period seemed to think this was not only accelerating, but inevitable, and basically a good thing for society. Of course there were many conservatives and religious thinkers who thought this was the harbinger of the end of the world, and there was some interesting writing on eschatology, from estimable people like Russell Kirk.

But yea, anyway...almost all those books and those great thinkers turned out to be wrong. Why?

One of the gods of sociology, Max Weber, thought that rationalization (which we would see as almost synonymous with modernization) would historically and progressively provide a "disenchantment of the world." Enlightenment rationality would further increase, and overarching collective myths that cohered and provided a consensus for all values and beliefs would weaken. The values and beliefs handed down to us would begin to seem less and less plausible, and maybe humanity would be forced to think for themselves?

No, how could that have been correct? But this view seems widely held by intellectuals during this period, of circa 1965-72 or so. (I have only read a few small stacks of academic books from this period, but this is augmented by intellectuals who have written books lately, who have reflected back on this period of the 1960s and confirmed what I'm saying here.)

                                                       The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago

Here's basically what I think went wrong in intellectual thought: they assumed this ongoing, accelerating process of rationalization would lead to more and more plurality, which would lead to more and more secularism.

And it seems modernity/rationalization does seem to lead to pluralism - more choices for "belief" - but pluralism did not inexorably lead to secularism. People indeed did have more and more choices, but quite often they chose religion.

Now, it seems I'm begging the question: why the stickiness of religion? Even in a vastly pluralistic society of choice? (Remind me to bring up Giambattista Vico's "conceit of scholars.")

I will leave this Q beggared, as my answers would be too windy right now, and I hope someone else has better answers than I do.

Mutt: This guy seems nuts to even think religion would go away. Both he and the 1960s intellectuals he vaguely says he's read.

Jute: Yep. Just another Internet pseudo-intellectual. Does he even realize no one really cared what the "intellectuals" - that group that Woody Allen compared to the Mafia: "They only kill their own" - thought, either in 1965 or now?

Mutt: Agreed. Hey, this new software that allows us to easily hack into some dipshit blogger's inane "observations" and add our own comment...this is pretty fun!

Jute: Totally worth the $2, even in today's money. I wonder what will go through his mind when he wakes up tomorrow and sees this? Hey! Let's go invade another blog, shall we? I'm drivin'.

Mutt: Shotgun!

*Mutt and Jute are kindly on loan from the good people over at Finnegans Wake, Universe Next Door Productions. Thanks to everyone! It's been quite a ride!

3 comments:

ARW23 said...

Thank you for bringing this up Goddess! Kudos!? Whatever your name. Good title! Yes, "sticky". In my view, annoyingly sticky. Like a super glue. It just does not go away. WHY is almost everything in the US wrapped in religion? Can anyone end his/her speech without; "God bless America"? Americans (and not just Americans) seem to really like that opium.

Let me remind you my fellow Americans, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison supported the separation of church and state. They both often wrote of "total separation of the church from the state". Madison wrote: "Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the US". And he declared. "practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranted by the Constitution of the United States." (JM, "Monopolies, Perpetuities Corporations - Ecclesiastical Endowments")

Where is the respect for Jefferson? Where is the respect for Madison?

On a refreshing and on the 21st century note, President of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic, declares himself AGNOSTIC! Howz that for the prez?

Hey, we've got afro-american prez! What's next? An atheist?

Here is a historic example of lessening religious mood: with postwar government programs of modernization in Yugoslavia and with very strict separation of church and state the percentage of religious believers took a 30% plunge from 1948 - 1964. In just 15 years. I guess, some figured, it was not the end of the world if life does not evolve around church. There are many other places to go to and visit.

To paraphrase George Carlin, religion seems to be all about who's god has bigger dick. (Sorry I do not recall exact quote.) And, sorry for this long comment, but this topic just gets me on the roll.

Thom Foolery said...

While not ostensibly about religion, John Michael Greer's blog post on philosophy and magic addresses the limitations of reason and the human need for means to put "rational" insights into "non-rational" practice. I think much of what he says at The Archdruid Report is relevant to this question. If his predictions of what peak oil will mean for human society are true, I think religion (for good and ill) will be making quite a comeback in the next century.

michael said...

@Thom: Thanks for the head's up on Greer's blog. I like the idea of using rational thought in the service of the non-rational. It seems to fit squarely with Crowley's project. "Our method is science/our aim is religion."

Some of the more interesting under-40 thinkers I like seem aligned with this idea, and know much more than older academics, although Anthropologists seem to have always been on to this.

I wonder about Peak Oil. And even Peak Water, which has me even more nervous.

Good to hear from you, Foolery.