Religion today is more about believing than belonging” To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence support this view of the relationship between religious beliefs, religious organisations, and social groups in society today? [40 mark] January 2007 When looking at the subject of Religious practice in a post modern society, Grace Davie often refers to the tem, belief and belonging. Grace Davie appears to view these two key ideas as the dividing line between those who take part in religion.
Belief can be seen as the privatised method of religious activity, such as praying at home, believing in a God, but not really carrying on this practice when in public. Belonging on the other hand is often where religious believers express their views and beliefs more publically, taking part in religious meetings and attending gatherings. However, in our post modern society, it is clear to see that when looking purely at mainstream church attendance, religion does appear to be in decline, it is important though to keep in mind Grace Davie’s ideology of belief and belonging.
Belied is an aspect of religion that is much harder to measure when looking at religion in our society, and therefore it is hard to gain a truly representative view of whether or not religion is actually in decline, especially with the growth of New Religious Movements, privatised worship and beliefs. Amongst the national decline in a number of mainstream religions such as the Church of England, one particular denomination seems to be having a huge increase in its members. Evangelical churches seem to be becoming more and more popular within society, for both younger and older generations, in particular families as a whole.
The main ethos of the evangelical church seems to be to encourage the belief and the belonging of its members. Taking evangelism to others extremely seriously, and spreading ‘the word’. The evangelical church seen to encourage fundamentalist Christian morals and values, and are not afraid to broach controversial topics, perhaps making them a more ‘sought-after’ religion. One of the most insightful aspects of the evangelical church however, does seem to be the fact that community seems to be at the centre of it, and that regardless of gender, age, social class, ethnicity, all are welcome to take an active role in the running and aintaining of the church and to spend the majority of their free time taking part in church lead activities.
This may suggest that what really appeals to its members, is in fact the social aspect of the faith, and the idea of being surrounded by ‘like minded’ people who support each other. In accordance with this seemingly evident increase in specific religious groups, Durkheim believed there was ‘something eternal in religion’ and recognised that it would play an eternal part within society; despite the fact that it’s authority within society would in fact decline.
Durkheim also looks at the idea that religion was once the core basis for much of society’s culture and education, and brought a strong sense of social solidarity into our society. He does say however that this sense of social solidarity is dwindling and as society is changing and developing, religion is no longer the central authority, instead being replaced by the government and education. Durkheim’s view supports that of Grace Davie, in highlighting the idea that in present times, more and more people believe, but are not however belonging.
Functionalist sociologist Talcott Parsons however strongly supports the idea of religion bringing social solidarity. He believed that in times of crisis looking towards religion for answers that could not be found elsewhere was immensely comforting, and often the main reason that individuals turn to religion. One example of this is the way in which places of worship are often placed in areas of poverty. This suggests that those living in these areas feel the need to turn to religion to help comfort them through the difficult times.
This idea however links in with Weber’s idea of the ‘Theodicy of disprivilege’. This is the view that religion appeals to the poor by giving them the hope of earning a better life for after they die whilst on earth. Another sociologist who also recognised the authoritative stance that religion took within society was Karl Marx. Marx however takes a slightly more critical view of religion, and actually goes as far as describing religion as ‘the opium of the masses’. This idea stems from the way in which religion appears to appeal more to those experiencing life on the outskirts f society, examples include the underclass, and specifically those in poverty, or those in great distress and ill health. This theory Marx said that religion offered a hope of a better life, after that on earth, but does not in fact offer satisfaction and improvement whilst still alive. This view often reduces religion down to justifying the misfortunate ones, claiming that they will instead be rewarded for their beliefs in heaven. In conclusion, Marx believed that religion only strengthened class divides, and served no ‘functional purpose’.
Comte saw society as going through a series of stages and believed the last stage would be the ‘positive stage’ in which religion would play no role which he claimed that theoretically we should be in currently. Comte stated that he felt that eventually society would look for more rational/plausible explanation, and instead of religion, society would look to science for answers. Despite the fact that society has seemingly distanced itself from religion, Comte also believes that this ‘positive stage’ has not yet arrived, mainly because as time continues, people are returning to the basic fundamentalist religion in order to find answers.
Living in such a diverse and fragmented society, it is possible that when given the choice, as a society we may chose not to participate in a religion, but to embrace the fact that as Bruce suggests, we live in a consumerist society in which we are free to ‘pick and choose’ religion, even if that means that we only participate in privatised religion. However, despite this, even in this post-modern society in which we live, religion is still an evident part of life for many.
For instance, Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, and denominations of the Christian faith such as the Salvation Army still have a great number of followers, whose work benefits many of disprivileged individuals across Britain. As Luckmann says there is an ‘invisible religion’ which is the religion that people do within their own homes privately, and this has been shown to be on the increase, so although people do not go to church and belong within religion, there is a strong sense of religion being a part of many people’s lives despite them not attending regular religious meetings.
In a society where free will is so liberally carried out, there is no reason why people should not be able to chose their own faith, and practice this in the way that their religion demands. In conclusion, it is clear that in our contemporary society, religion is about choice, choice as to whether or not you want to believe in a faith, and whether or not you chose to belong.