Regardless of what religious values and beliefs you may uphold, it doesn’t take a genius to realize the significance that religion has on many different social aspects impact people of all genders, ages, races, and ethnicity around the world. It exists within several social domains and can be expressed through its effect on economic, health and social functions. The study of Sociology recognizes that religion is something that develops alongside the new discoveries and expressions found within a population of people in a society.
According to Olsen, the population is defined as a ‘[t]ype of organization in which a set of individuals who’re defined as having one or more common characteristics’. With that being said, religious beliefs shape how members of a population can come to understand themselves and the other people that reside with them in the environment. These beliefs provide the population with a way of thinking and knowing how to cope in a variety of situations.
As I mentioned above, religion is made up of forms of social organization or better known as a community. The beliefs of a religion gain its credibility through those shared and agreed upon ideas by a group. As humans, we are more likely to be more willing or openminded to believing something if the others around us believe in the same ideas as well. It provides a basis for both ethics and what we consider proper social behaviors, which establish a normative basis within a population. Religion serves the needs of society and creates a way to address today’s probing social problems.
Max Weber, for example, believed that religion could influence and or become the motivation for social change. The practice of regular religious actions has beneficial effects on the social aspects of our everyday lives. Often, our family is a source of happiness. Within the strength of our said family, which is defined as ‘[a]n organization whose members are linked by kinship ties’ (Olsen), it then becomes intertwined with our preferred religion of choice. It influences us to behave in a certain way. Getting involved in regular religious group settings-as, I would know from personal experience- has positive effects on our mental health and may also improve one’s physical health for the better. I know religion can be a source of motivation to live a wholesome lifestyle and encourage someone to act in such a divine manner. Religion also influences economics and the nature of both social and cultural organizations. An increase in religious beliefs will also tend to increase economic growth. Olsen states that ‘[t]he fundamental mode of economic production in a society shapes the entire economy so that whatever segment of society controls that mode tends to dominate the economy.’
According to Brill, a custom is ‘[a]n action influenced by community tradition, which is usually repeated in the same form on similar occasions’ (Brill). For example, in my religion, as someone catholic, February 26th is referred to as Ash Wednesday, it symbolizes the start of 40 days known as Lent. During lent, every Friday, Catholics abstain from eating meat and will eat fish instead; for much of the church’s history, meat has been considered a worthy sacrifice. Like Hinduism, cows were of value, and Christians didn’t slaughter them unless there was a big celebration. Since Friday’s have always been thought of as a day of reflecting on your wrongdoings, eating meat on a Friday to celebrate Christ’s death seemed like a wrong thing to do. So, in the end, the Church had an intention to encourage Christians to offer up a sacrifice to God that would essentially come from the heart. A lot of Catholics will host fish fries during lent, and a lot of restaurants will serve fish in particular on their menus for Catholic people (I worked at Panera and clam chowder would only be served on Friday during lent for Catholics). The point is to make a sacrifice that draws a person closer to Jesus, who sacrificed himself for our sins so that God would forgive us for all of our misdeeds.
Similarly, as mentioned in the essay India’s Sacred Cow by Marvin Harris, ‘[t]o Americans and Europeans, the attitude of most people in India toward cows is perplexing. Hindus regard the animals as sacred and will not kill or eat them’ (Harris). The custom of the Hindu people not eating cows will and has always been a custom that the religion will uphold. In India, the love for the cow can do more harm than good for the people, yet it doesn’t and will not sway Hindu people’s beliefs from not eating cows. ‘[T]he easy explanation for India’s devotion to the cow, the one most Westerners and Indians would offer, is that cow worship is an integral part of Hinduism.
Religion is somehow good for the soul, even if it sometimes fails the body. Religion orders the cosmos and explains our place in the universe’ (Harris). The cows play a part in the farming techniques of India; they give birth to oxen and help provide for the system. The religious dedication to the preservation of cows has even ended up changing the economic and physical environment of a society (as do other customs do for other religions). The cultural practices some people partake in may seem odd to a person of another faith; As I mentioned before, Catholics changing their eating habits during the time of lent signifies a custom much like not eating any cows for Hinduism. It will not stop and will continue to prevail because of its great importance to their religion. Most people don’t take their faith lightly, and sticking to custom is what makes many religions so unique.
Heinrich Schauerte, ‘Religious Customs’, in: Sacramentum Mundi Online, General Editor Karl
Rahner, SJ. Consulted online on 28 February 2020 First published online: 2016
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