One of the main aspects of a post-industrial living is the fact that; whereas, the influence of some world’s major religions (such as Christianity) continues to weaken, other religions (such as Islam) appear to become ever more influential (Bruce & Glendinning, 2010).
However, discussing the earlier mentioned phenomenon from strictly a theological perspective can be hardly justified, since it is in the nature of committed believers to deny the very fact that the surrounding socio-cultural reality has any effect on the theological validity of religious doctrines, with which they happened to be affiliated.
In its turn, this implies that it is only when we adopt a sociological stance, within the context of how we assess the discursive significance of every particular religion, that we may be able to gain an in-depth insight into the discussed religion as ‘thing in itself’.
In this respect, the reading of Ronald Johnstone’s 2007 book ‘Religion in society: A sociology of religion’ will come in especially handy, because this book encourages readers to think of religion, as an extrapolation of its affiliates’ collective archetype.
In light of this suggestion, the book’s Chapter 1appears particularly enlightening, because apart from discussing religion in terms of a sociological/psychological phenomenon, it establishes an undeniable link between religion and magic (spirituality) – hence, allowing readers to gain a better understanding of what should be considered the actual roots of people’s sense of religiosity. In my paper, I will aim to explore the validity of this suggestion at length.
The foremost reason why I think that the book’s Chapter 1 is particularly relevant, within the context of how people go about trying to gain a better understanding of religion, is that it points out to the fact that the qualitative essence of people’s religious beliefs cannot be discussed outside of what account for the particulars of their collective positioning.
As Johnstone noted, “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 (congregations) assembling together in prayer” (p. 8).
In its turn, this presupposes that, in order for one to consider becoming affiliated with a particular religion, he or she must be psychologically comfortable with the way of how the members of the religious congregation in question address life-challenges. This, of course, implies that, contrary to what religious people believe, the characteristics of their faith in god/gods/’divine’ do not reflect the workings of their ‘freewill’, but rather their workings of their unconscious psyche.
The validity of this statement can be well explored in regards to the fact that, despite being theologically related, the monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam offer distinctively different conceptualizations of heaven/afterlife.
Whereas, Christians believe that, after having been allowed into the ‘kingdom of heaven’, they will be handed out harps and required to play them for eternity, while praising God; Muslims believe that, while in heaven, they will be primarily preoccupied with drinking wine and having sex with as many women, as possible (Facchini, 2010).
This is exactly the reason why, while appealing to people known for the sheer strength of their sexual appetites (Arabs, Blacks), the religion of Islam does not quite appeal to Whites, who due to their inability to reproduce themselves in sufficient numbers, now stand on the threshold of extinction.
Another reason why I think that the book’s Chapter 1 should be referred to as the most important one, is that it prompts readers to assess the theological tenets of just about every religion, in regards to the extent of this religion’s practical functionality.
This functionality is concerned with the religion’s ability to assist its affiliates in coping with their life-challenges, “People desire to know more and to explain… natural phenomena and events like thunder/ lightening, floods, fire, sudden death, and so on, as well as questions of purpose, destiny, life’s meaning, and the like” (Johnstone, p. 8).
For example, there are a number of passages in the Quran that encourage Muslims to consider conceiving as many children, as possible. Yet, there are no similar passages to be found in the Bible. The reason for this is simple – the religion of Islam was developing in particularly arid regions, where people’s physical well-being had always been strongly depended on the whims of weather.
After all, the prolonged absence of rain in these regions even today means nothing short of a starvation for the agriculture-dependent inhabitants. Hence, these people’s traditional preoccupation with ‘baby-making’ – the more there are children in the family, the higher are the parents’ chances to survive physically, because even comparatively young children can be well turned into agricultural helpers (McQuillian, 2004).
Thus, it is utterly inappropriate to discuss religions in terms of a ‘revelation’, which always remains thoroughly legitimate, regardless of what happened to be the associated circumstances. Apparently, it is the extent of the religion’s conceptual attunement with the observable manifestations of the surrounding reality, which should be thought of as the measure of this religion’s theological validity.
The third major reason why I think that the reading of the book’s Chapter 1 should prove particularly enlightening to just about anyone, who strives to attain an in-depth insight into the phenomenon of religion, is that it subtly exposes the religion’s counterproductive essence, as such that prevents people from expanding their intellectual horizons.
This could not be otherwise, because it is in the very nature of just about every monotheistic religion to provide its affiliates with the set of ‘God’s commandments’, from which believers are not supposed to deviate, while pursuing with their lives, “You should do something or refrain from doing it because God says so or it is in tune with cosmic forces, not simply because our group says so or because I, your leader, say so” (Johnstone, p. 12).
However, even though religious individuals never cease suggesting that what they seriously believe that the ‘God’s commandments’ continue remaining up to date; this is far from being the case.
Had this been otherwise, Christian and Muslim conceptualizations of ‘heavenly pleasures’ would not be merely concerned with promising believers the prospect of being placed in the ‘kingdom of heaven’, where there is a plenty of eatable fruits, vine and women, but also 3D TVs, jacuzzis and sport-cars.
In addition, there would not be hundreds if not thousands of sectarian divisions, within each major religion, which reflect the fact that, despite the believers’ assumption that their religion represents an ‘ultimate truth’, this ‘truth’ needs to be continually updated, in order to remain more or less consistent with the realities of a modern living (Bruce, 2006).
Nevertheless, it is not only that the book’s Chapter 1 provides readers with a rationale to adopt a scientific (specifically sociological) stance, once the discussion of the religion’s discursive significance is at stake, but it also encourages them to consider the possibility that religion is nothing but the reflection of people’s deep-seated psychological atavism.
The validity of this statement can be shown in relation to the Johnstone’s insistence that the notions of religion and magic (spirituality) are closely interrelated, “Both 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” (p. 16).
Yet, as of today, it does not represent much of a secret to psychologists and sociologists that the strength of a particular individual’s obsession with spirituality/magic, positively correlates with the extent of his or her evolutionary underdevelopment.
The reason for this is simple – one’s magical/spiritual (holistic) worldview is essentially an animalistic worldview, because it reflects the concerned individual’s mental tendency to objectualize itself within the surrounding natural environment – just as high mammals and primeval savages do.
For example, it has been well observed that wild bears that sustain injuries against sticking out tree-branches, while crawling over the log, usually stand up on their hind legs and begin hitting these branches with both of their paws – as if they wanted to punish them.
The reason for this is simple – in these bears’ mind, the ‘evil’ branches appear nothing short of living entities of their own. In a similar manner, ‘spiritually rich’ individuals naively assume that there is ‘purposefulness’ to the reality’s emanations.
This explains the primitive tribesmen’s willingness to pray to celestial bodies (Sun/Moon). Just as it happened to be the case with the earlier mentioned bears, these people tend to perceive the world around them as an assemblage of mystic actions, rather than the observable consequence of an essentially purposeless interplay between causes and effects.
Because ‘spirituality’ has traditionally served as the conceptual foundation for just about any world’s major religion, it will only be logical to suggest that the more religious a particular individual happened to be, the more he or she is being closer to animals, and vice versa.
The legitimacy of this idea can be illustrated in relation to Johnstone’s another suggestion, found in Chapter 1, that, “One of the most obvious features of any religion… is the performance of ritual and the host of other activities generated by its beliefs” (p.11).
For example, it represents a commonplace assumption among even committed Christians that, in order for them to remain in favor with God; they simply have to attend Church once per week and to try not to fall asleep during the sermon, while there.
Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that the religion of Christianity can no longer be considered ‘alive’ – its affiliates became little too civilized, which prevents them from being de facto religious believers. The same, however, cannot be said about the religion of Islam.
It is not only that Muslims get down on their knees and pray Allah five times per day, regardless of where the ‘prayer time’ catches them – the sheer bestiality of some of their religious practices leaves very few doubts, as to the fact that they are indeed religious people, in the full sense of this word.
For example, the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha involves the ritual of slashing the throat of a sheep in public and watching the poor animal convulsing in the pool of blood (Akhtar & Varma, 2012). Many Westerners refer to this practice as utterly barbaric and therefore, socially unacceptable. Yet, the same Westerners promote the concept of a ‘religious tolerance’ in their own countries.
What it means is that they simply do not understand what is religion per se (their sense of religiosity is essentially superficial) and what are the objective (biological and cultural) preconditions for people to remain strongly religious.
This once again highlights the educational value of Johnstone’s book, in general, and of this book’s Chapter 1, in particular. After all, in this specific chapter the author proved himself intellectually honest enough to suggest that, contrary to what the advocates of political correctness want us to believe, religion is a legitimate subject of a scientific inquiry, “The sociology of religion is conducted according to the scientific method” (p. 6).
Apparently, the time has come for us to recognize religion as to what it really is – the indication of people’s existential primitiveness. Once researchers deploy the scientific method, while probing religion, they will inevitably come to the earlier articulated conclusion.
I believe that what has been said earlier fully correlates with the paper’s initial thesis. Thus, it will only be appropriate, on my part, to reinstate once again that it is specifically the Chapter 1 in the Johnstone’s book, which can be deemed the most important. This is because, after having read it, people would be more likely to adopt a scientific attitude towards dealing with religious issues – whatever ‘sensitive’ these issues may appear.
Akhtar, S. & Varma, A. (2012). Sacrifice: Psychodynamic, cultural and clinical aspects. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 72 (2), 95-117
Bruce, S. & Glendinning, T. (2010). When was secularization? Dating the decline of the British churches and locating its cause. British Journal of Sociology, 61 (1), 107-126.
Bruce, S. (2006). Secularization and the impotence of individualized religion. Hedgehog Review, 8 (1/2), 35-45.
Facchini, F. (2010). Religion, law and development: Islam and Christianity – Why is it in Occident and not in the Orient that man invented the institutions of freedom? European Journal of Law and Economics, 29 (1), 103-129.
Glassman, R. (2004). Good behavioral science has room for theology: Any room for God? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27 (6), 737-738.
Johnstone, R. (2007). Religion in society: A sociology of religion (8th Edition). Pearson: Prentice Hall.
McQuillian, J. (2004). When does religion influence fertility? Population & Development Review, 30 (1), 25-56.