In often think about a set of beliefs

In
our modern society, one would assume that talks about religion and what it
stands for -its doctrines – would not really matter. When people think about
religion, they often think about a set of beliefs in relation to something
holy, sacred, spiritual, divine, or worthy of great respect of something
other-worldly. We think in a world run by machines and technologies brought by
advances in the different fields of sciences, why would it really matter if one
can prove or disprove the existence of God or a Divine Being? However, if talks
about religion do not really matter in these modern times, because it is simply
not “making sense” anymore, then why do the opinions of religious leaders still
matter or why do we still hear news on wars, which cost a lot of money and lives
due to religious differences?

The
roots of religion may be traced back into the early years of man’s awareness of
the world and his place in this world – his being. The first men on Earth
called for the Gods and the deities when, for example, their harvests had
problems and their survival threatened. They called for the God and the deities
when the materialistic world was not favoring their means for existing. But now,
why would we call for God when we do not have food to continue surviving, when
we can work to earn the money to buy the food we need. We simply do not pray
when we are hungry, we now “work” for our needs. So, the question arises as to what
is the role of religion now, if it does not serve anymore its “original purposes”.
Or, when we have reached this much knowledge and have evolved this advanced to
actually reason out about the existence of God or Divine Beings. If religion is
the start of man’s self-awareness in the world, the start of man’s ideas
through being, interaction with his material world and making sense of it, then
religion itself is a powerful tool man harnessed for the creation of societies and in maintaining its stability. Religion
now represents one of man’s ultimate capability – making sense of the world and
making something out of it. We may understand the role of religion in a
contemporary society, its creation and stability, through three different
sociological perspectives: symbolic interactionism through Weber, functionalist
through Durkheim, and conflict through Marx.

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Coming
this far in the history of human race, one must understand that the role of
religion ultimately evolved along with humans’ ideas. The first conception of
human ideas by being, until this
moment represents a wealth inherent in religion. The ideas now are an entity of
its own guiding human actions. Such can be represented by the relationship
between ascetic Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism proposed by Weber in
his famous, The Protestant Ethic and
Spirit of Capitalism. According to Weber, the religious ideas – idea of
“the calling” and asceticism, that guided the life of Protestants inevitably influenced
the development of capitalism. In other words, Weber is not saying Protestants
caused capitalism, but if capitalism was a fire, Protestantism is the gas that
made it spread. Protestantism justified their rationalistic yet individualistic
and thus very hazardous way of life. The Spirit of Capitalism was ultimately –
make money in order to make more money. Protestantism was an individual
relationship with god, which caused a great deal of anxiety to the Protestants.
Questions such as, ‘does God still love me’, or ‘will I go to heaven’ caused
nervousness for the Protestants as well. This was the belief of all of life
being predetermined, and your faith being selected. Working on their “calling”,
stirring away from all “idolatry of the flesh”, preserving their possessions
for it is the proof of how much they worked and how much they did not use it
for things that do not “serve God’s glory” became the rationale for a bourgeois
economic life where it ultimately represents a “modern economic man”. Moreover,
it can still justify exploitations as part of “God’s design”. Human activity,
regardless of its evilness, can now be justified by the idea that God allowed
it for its his will that is above all us (PA Weber: 138-173). In this modern
day of capitalism, dead religious beliefs hunt us, for it is represented by evolved
ideas within the concept of religion. Weber’s idea supports Durkheim’s
definition of religion. Religion became a social support to the kind of society
we have developed so far. This is because central to Durkheim’s definition of
religion, is the uniformity of beliefs and practices which can unite into one
single moral community (e.g. the community of Protestants and their way on
“working for the calling”, the seemingly secularized societies today and their
way of economic life) (EF Durkheim: 33-44).

Specifically,
Durkheim defined religion as, “a unified system of beliefs and practices
relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden –
beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called
Church, all those who adhere to them” (EF Durkheim: 33-44). Ultimately, we do
not call multi-million organizations and companies of today as Church, but the
idea is that the primitive ideas and doctrines of religion, such as asceticism,
has evolved into this day to be able to adapt into the modern life of an
economic man. The belief systems ultimately became the social glue of much of
our society today. Also, the fact that we still see the relevance of the Church
and its teaching despite the boom in scientific knowledge, ultimately
represents the power religion has over man’s thoughts and actions. According to
Elementary Forms of the Religious Life,
people are not interested in true and false, but interested in how we create
meaning around the world. It is to be noted that not all religions are false,
but also not saying that they are all true. Religions are all real because it
can ultimately compel people to do things. In regard to Durkheim, he was a very
progressive thinker in terms of the way he thought of other people. Religion
has beliefs, and rites. The beliefs are representations, and options such as
sacred and profane, the distinction between good and evil. Something can lift
up from profane to sacred – the belief in sacred will make you have rites.
Rites are essentially the modes of action. Durkheim is saying we have to
distinguish religion from magic. One thing that religion has that magic doesn’t
is that a community really matters, there is not church in magic. Religion has
the moral community, a community of believers in a church, mosque, or temple.
Durkheim’s main focus is on how religion maintains social organization, not on
the specific beliefs each religion has. Furthermore, religions have power for
how it can be a representative of a group on which a member of it identifies
himself. Each individual identifying himself with the religion and what it
stands for, ultimately gives life to it as social institution and further make
the “mystified” a reality for the human being (EF Durkheim: 207-225). Weber
focused on how specific ideas promoted by the mystification of religion and internalized
by the person, which made it his way of life, was able to make a “spirit” of
the society. Durkheim on the other hand, took a larger step in making this
seemingly generalizable to all other religions by arguing that the individual
cannot exist in isolation, hence collectively creating a reality apart of him
which would continue to bind all other individuals into this collective unit
even after the individual’s death. One can only expect that the complexity of
humanity’s development would always be in relation to the evolution of
religion, the wealth of ideas, and culture inherent in it.

            Religion’s extent to be a motor of
social change or stability then lies in the power of the ideas representative
of the reality of human beings regardless of the time. As long as religion can
represent a part of human history’s being, it would always be relevant to
society. These realities can only be conceived as we are part of our nature or
according to Marx, our inorganic body
– “man lives from nature, i.e. nature is his body, and he must maintain a
continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die.” The relationship of nature
and man have always been so complicated; hence we have different kinds of
dialogue today. Similar to what we have now, but such complicated relationship
represents the power man has over nature, and nature has over man. Moreover,
according to Marx, our essence is in our capacity for consciousness and
activity. Now, we reflect on our essence through work, and the product of our
work, for this our way of exercising consciousness, activity, and validating
our existence (EL Marx: 70-81).

            Despite the different perspectives,
the three views were consistent in emphasizing the role of religion as a body
of beliefs created by man, and of which man is being created, and thus society.
On the other hand, its role in the contemporary society is not distinct from
it, but a part of it. Religion helps build the society we know now following
the ideas of the three sociological theories presented. Additionally, the
answer to the question of the possibility of living in a society without
religion lies in the continuous development of man’s essence. Ultimately, the
goal of the theorists discussed is not to pinpoint the specific time when
religion would cease to exist, but provide us an insight to its role and
function in the society. As long as we find meanings and our sense of being in
it, its existence would not be a matter of question. However, in relation to
this, we can ponder on this statement from Marx, “The abolition of religion as
the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To
call them to give up their illusions about their conditions is to call on them
to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is
therefore in embryo the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is
the halo.” (EL Marx: 70-81)

            Sociology as a field of study in
relation to religion is then placed side by side with man and society. Sociology
has the ultimate goal of being a scientific field capable of aiding man in his
development as a being by adding to the wealth of ideas a man can work with.
Like religion, sociology as a science can be a system of beliefs on which man
can reflect on his essence.

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