When it comes to discussing the role that religion plays in the 21st century, one can hardly avoid noticing the process of some world’s monotheistic religions losing their former vitality; whereas, other religions concerned with the promotion of a belief in the existence of omnipotent God, appearing to become increasingly influential. The validity of this suggestion can be well illustrated in regards to the tendency of Islam to grow ever more ‘fundamentalist,’ on the one hand, and the tendency of Christianity to become a progressively ‘secularized’ religion, on the other.
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It goes without saying, of course, that one can hardly expect to be able to provide a sound explanation to this when tackling the subject matter within the conceptual framework of theology. Instead, we should assess the essence of the phenomenon in question through the conceptual lenses of sociology – only then will we be able to gain analytical insight into what can be considered the dialectical triggers of the earlier mentioned process.
This explains my rationale in referring to Ronald Johnstone’s 2007 book Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion, as such that contains scientifically backed answers as to what should be considered the religion’s actual roots. In particular, I find the book’s Chapter 1, especially enlightening. This is because, apart from exposing religion, as such that reflects the specifics of the affiliated people’s psychological phenotype; it endows readers with the awareness that religions derive out of people’s tendency to profess essentially ‘magical’ worldviews, which in turn may be well regarded as the measure of their evolutionary underdevelopment. In the paper’s following sub-chapter, I will elaborate on the legitimacy of this suggestion at length.
One of the main reasons why I consider the book’s Chapter 1, as being the most important one is that it prompts readers to come to terms with the fact that religion is essentially the extrapolation of their collectively defined spiritual longings. As Johnstone pointed out: “Religion is, first of all, a group phenomenon… We see places of worship all around us and have clear mental pictures of groups of people assembling together in prayer” (8).
What it means is that, in order for people to be willing to affiliate themselves with a particular religion, they must be psychologically attuned with the manner in which this religion prescribes believers to deal with the challenges of life. It is needless to mention, of course, that this exposes the sheer fallaciousness of the assumption that one’s religious anxieties reflect the workings of the concerned individual’s free will. Figuratively speaking, it is not believers who choose their religion, but rather a religion that chooses its believers.
The full soundness of this statement appears self-evident once we take into consideration the fact that, despite having the same theological roots, the religions of Christianity and Islam provide their affiliates with rather unrelated ‘glimpses’ into what it would be like living in heaven. For example, the Christian conceptualization of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ presupposes that, after having been selected to be dispatched there, true believers will not have anything else to do but to concern themselves with praising God 24/7 for eternity.
Muslims, on the other hand, have very few doubts that it is, namely, drinking vine and having sex with as many women as possible, which will account for their primary preoccupation in heaven. In its turn, this partially explains why the religion of Islam appeals mainly to people who happened to be genetically endowed with the taste for indulging in procreation-related activities, as their foremost agenda in life – Arabs and Blacks. Whites, on the other hand, do not seem to be getting thrilled by this religion – being often unable to conceive more than one child per family, they are naturally inclined not to hold sex in particularly high regard.
What also contributed to my decision to select Chapter 1, as the most important one is that in it, the author succeeded in encouraging readers to think that it is namely the measure of just about every religion’s practicality, which should be deemed, as such that accounts for its objective value, as ‘thing in itself.’ In this respect, one can hardly disagree with Johnstone’s suggestion that the true purpose of religion is to help its affiliates to adopt a proper stance when exposed to the trials of life (8).
In order to exemplify the validity of this suggestion, we can again to refer to the fact that; whereas the Prophet Mohammed used to encourage Muslims to preoccupy themselves with making as many babies as possible, Jesus acted in the opposite way, while prompting Christians to believe that the activity of ‘baby-making’ constitutes a major sin.
However, once we assess this inconsistency through the lenses of sociology, it will appear as such that makes perfectly good sense. After all, the religion of Islam originated and developed in nothing short of a desert, where people’s ability to survive physically, by the mean of participating in agricultural activities, traditionally depended on the whims of weather. This is the reason why people that live in environmentally hostile areas (such as the desert) are known for their tendency to conceive many children. Even the youngest of these children can be well turned into ‘field hands’ – hence, making it easier for their parents to cope with economic/environmental hardships.
Christianity, on the other hand, was developing in the lands that largely favor agricultural activities – this is the reason why Jesus was able to promote the message of chastity without being declared insane at the very outset of his ‘service.’ What it means is that it is inappropriate to refer to religion in terms of a divinely inspired ‘revelation,’ which does not relate to the qualitative specifics of the surrounding reality.
Another reason why I believe that the book’s Chapter 1 should be singled out as the most important one is that it prompts readers to think of religion as to what it really is – the instrument of keeping people in the captivity of their intellectual arrogance. This is because what just about every monotheistic religion does, is providing its affiliates with the set of ‘divine commandments,’ which believers are expected to follow blindly while forbidden from even questioning these commandments’ legitimacy. As Johnstone noted: “You (believer) should do something or refrain from doing it because God says so… not simply because our group says so or because I, your leader, say so” (12).
Still, even though that true religious believers to tend to assume that ‘divine commandments’ remain thoroughly consistent with the realities of the 21st century’s living, this assumption simply does not stand any ground, whatsoever. One does not have to be utterly bright, in order to recognize the validity of this suggestion. After all, if there were expensive sport-cars, jacuzzis, 3D TVs and yachts, at the time when the ‘holy books’ of Bible and Quran were being compiled, these things would sure end up being mentioned in the both books’ accounts of the ‘kingdom of heaven’. Instead, these accounts promise believers the dubious pleasure of being stripped naked, handed out harps and required to play them, while praising God.
At best, most committed believers are promised vine and women (as it is being the case in the Quran’s version of heaven). Also, if ‘God’s commandments’ were up to date, there would be no need in reinterpreting them (as Christians often do), so that their sheer nonsensical essence would remain more or less concealed.
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However, it is namely the fact that Chapter 1 helps readers to realize where people’s religious feelings actually derive from, that I think contributes to its value more than anything else does. In particular, this Chapter promotes the idea that, contrary to the provisions of political correctness, the strength of people’s sense of religiosity positively correlates with the extent of their psychological closeness with animals.
Although this message in being conveyed between the Chapter’s lines, it is nevertheless is easily recognizable in light of the author’s tendency to refer to religion and magic, as such that cannot be discussed outside of each other: “Both (religion and magic) are attempts to deal with and solve the basic problems people face… Both are based on faith in the existence and efficacy of powers that cannot be seen… Both involve ritual activity, traditionally prescribed patterns of behavior” (16).
After all, it is well understood that the emergence of magic preceded the emergence of religion, which in turn implies that religion derives out of magic. Magic, however, is nothing but the extrapolation of people’s willingness to think of themselves, as an integral part of the surrounding natural environment. Even though that, as of today, their willingness in this respect is being commonly regarded, as such that well deserves to be admired, the evolutionary outlook on the subject matter points out to something entirely opposite.
This is because, when evaluated through the lenses of the Theory of Evolution, one’s tendency to think ‘holistically’, reflected by the concerned individual’s belief that the emanations of the surrounding reality have a mind of their own, implies his or her psychological atavism.
For example, biologists are well aware of the fact that many high mammals (such as monkeys or bears) do seem to assume that there is nothing incidental about the de facto accidental instances of them sustaining physical injuries against sticking out tree-knots. When such an injury occurs, they get back to such a knot and begin hitting it, in order to ‘punish’ it. Young children act in the similar manner, which explains why, in order to make a child (who tripped over and fell) to stop crying, parents often end up ‘punishing’ whatever happened to be the cause of this fall, such as pebbles, for example.
Apparently, in the minds of high mammals and young children, the reality appears thoroughly mystical, which is why they naturally assume the ‘purposefulness’ of just about everything they see, with the thought that this reality is nothing but the consequence of a blind interplay between causes and consequences, never even occurring to them. Yet, as it was mentioned earlier, magic can be well regarded as the religion’s ‘mother’, which in turn suggests that the more religious a particular individual happened to be, the greater is the measure of his or her existential primitiveness.
The earlier articulated idea highlights the discursive significance of Johnstone’s another suggestion, contained in Chapter 1: “One of the most obvious features of any religion… is the performance of ritual and the host of other activities generated by its beliefs” (11). By having come up with this statement, the author wanted to stress out that it is specifically a ritual, which ‘fuels’ just about every religion, and not its affiliates’ commitment to pleasing God.
This is the reason why, in order for them to believe that they remain in favor with God; Christians need to attend the Church at least once per week. The fact that, while there, most of them experience a hard time, while trying to not to fall asleep through the sermon, is of little consequence. However, in order for the deployed religious ritual to contribute to the liveliness of a particular religion, it must be essentially magical, and consequently sacrificial.
This is the reason why, as of today, the influence of Christianity declines rapidly – contemporary Christian rituals (such as the Catholic ritual of the Eucharist, which involve believers eating bread – ‘Jesus’ body’ and drinking vine – ‘Jesus’ blood’) only mimic the sacrifice. The same, however, cannot be said about the majority of Muslim rituals, such as the ritual of slashing the throat of a live sheep and allowing the poor animal to convulse in the pool of blood, performed during the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha. Therefore, there is nothing surprising about the fact that, as of today, the religion of Islam experiences a revival. This also explains why, contrary to what the promoters of political correctness in the West want citizens to believe, Islamic fundamentalism is not a deviation from the ‘true Islam’ – it is the true Islam.
Finally, the importance of Chapter 1 in Johnstone’s book can be illustrated in relation to the author’s insistence that it is not only thoroughly appropriate but also utterly necessary to assess the discursive significance of religion within the methodological framework of a scientific inquiry: “The sociology of religion (must be)… conducted according to the scientific method” (p. 6).
By suggesting this, the author proved himself intellectually honest enough to stress out that the religion’s assumed ‘sacredness’ is nothing but an illusion, which is why religion is the legitimate subject of a scientific probing. I think, this is a truly progressive idea – even though that religious people do have the right to believe in what their animalistic psyche wants them to believe, they cannot expect that, due to their sense of religiosity, they should be provided with special rights and privileges.
In my opinion, the earlier deployed line of argumentation, as to why I think that Chapter 1 should be singled out of Johnstone’s book, as the most important, is fully consistent with the initial thesis. Apparently, there is indeed a good rationale in continuing to expose the discursive roots of world’s major religions, as this will inevitably result in the humanity’s betterment.
Johnstone, Ronald. Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion (8th Edition). Pearson: Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.