The Failure of Religion to Cause Changes in Society

Categories: BeliefFailureReligion

First of all, what is religion? And what does it mean for a person to be religious? Many sociologists and theorists have different view on the definition of religion and what it takes for a person to belong to a religion. In 1976 Tillich defined religion as: “religion is the state of being grasped by a concern that contains the answers to the meaning of life”. He argued that religious beliefs are beliefs that concern an individual in a fundamental way, religious beliefs relate to matters such as life and death, good and evil and the origins of life.

However, Ninian Smart argued a different point, in 1998 she defined religion as consisting of 7 different dimensions: Practical and Ritual dimension, Experimental and Emotional dimension, Narrative or Mythic dimension, Doctrinal and Philosophical dimension, Ethical and Legal dimension, Social and Institutional dimension and The Material dimension. She argued that religion is not just about belief or ritual but there is much more to it. In order for religion to cause a change in society it must have an impact on all of society and not just particular members or parts of society.

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The Church is a large organization that seeks to be universal and accept all of societies members; therefore, due to the Church being less exclusive they are able to make a significant change in society.

In 2009 Troeltsch argued that all members of society should join the Church due to them being a part of a particular society. Churches are able to make a difference in society, as they are conservative in terms of politics and social change and support the social order.

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Therefore, it can have an influence on politics and government, however it has more of an influence in traditional society rather than contemporary society. Evidence of this is the study from Martin in 1969; he suggested that there s a difference in power depending on the era. In traditional times Henry VIII formed the Church of England so that he had more control over finances and religious decisions such as granting the power for people to divorce.

In contemporary society Monarchs or religious leaders have very little influence over political maters, especially in the UK. In the USA many presidents declare their adherence to Christianity, however in the UK this is very different. In 2003 Brown claimed that although Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister) was a Christian, whenever he was asked about his religious beliefs his spokesperson declared, “We don’t do God”. Although the Church allows all societies members to join, there are alternate religious institutions that think otherwise: Sects. Sects are very different from a Church, they are a small and intense organization that do not accept societies norms and values and are disconnected from society.

Sects claim that they know the truth’ and seek conformity from its members of this ‘truth’. This results in its members withdrawing from society to focus on the Sects beliefs. Sects have very charismatic leaders that are very influential when it comes to controlling its members. An example of a Sect is the Quakers from the 17th century. They separated themselves from the Church of England and priesthood; their behavior was seen as different from the norms and values of the wider society.

They refused to treat people differently and were oppressed from all war and violence. Many sociologists argue that Sects that allow themselves to evolve overtime are actually denominations. However, Sects have been broken away from denominations because they believe they have been compromised by society. Sects are seen as very different from society and therefore don’t cause much change within contemporary or traditional society. However it can have an effect on certain members of society. Evidence of this is the Sect that was led by Jim Jones; he convinced all of his followers that the world was going to end and that they should kill themselves there and then so that they go to heaven.

Marxists provide a persuasive argument claiming that religion holds a large amount of power in society as it acts as a way to divert the working class’ attention from their exploitation and suffering. Marxists believe that religion has an effect on society and the way world is seen by individuals. As Karl Marx grew up in a Christian society during the 19th century he was exposed to the whole concept of religion from a young age. Marx argued that religious teachings are enforced by the Church to oppress the proletariats. Meaning the working class people don’t try and challenge the ruling class they believe that heaven will provide equality.

Marx argued that religion was created to distract the working class and create a false-class-consciousness. He claimed that “religion is the opium of the people”, meaning religion acts as a drug for the working class, comforting them with an illusion. Religions such as Christianity teach that God created social order; therefore the working class has to accept their position in society and not question it. Marx saw religion and the instrument of ruling class control as religion offers emotional comfort for the working class people. The ruling class try and promote religiosity amongst the working class to promote false-class consciousness.

Marxists such as Karl Marx and Feuerbach (who claimed religion was created by humans) state that in order to keep the working class in control, the bourgeoisie encourage religion in society even though they aren’t religious themselves. Although Karl Marx gave a compelling argument sociologists such as Engles criticized with his point of view. In 1895 Engles believed that early Christianity could inspire a sense of opposition against the powers that be. Neo-Marxists believe that the ruling class aren’t in control of the working class but it is controlled indirectly. They argue that those working for institutions such as media and working in Churches do not see themselves as servants of the powerful but are genuinely doing a good job. However, the result of their work is in accordance to the ruling class, they socialise the masses into capitalist ideology without even knowing they are doing it.

NeoMarxists believe that religion is seen as having a relative autonomy, ultimately meaning that the working class use religion to have some independence from the ruling class. The conclusion of the Neo-Marxist point of view is that although being religious may lead an individual to fight against the ruling class, even though the Church is part of the ruling class. Therefore, Marxists argument is evidence that region causes not only a change in society but also diversity and inequality between classes by providing a false-class consciousness for the working class. Although, there are many arguments for why religion causes a change in society, there are also many for why it doesn’t cause a change.

Although religion had a significant impact on traditional society, it doesn’t cause much change in contemporary society. In fact, statistics have shown a decrease in religion all together. And as an alternative to religion people are drifting towards New Age and New Religious Movements instead of Churches, Sects and Cults etc. New Age Movements emerged in the 1970’s/1980’s; they have no clear shape or structure, which makes them appealing for members of society to join. They don’t claim to be a religious group and have no clear beliefs; instead it offers an overall view on life and nature and can lead to various practices that people can engage in such as meditation and mindfulness.

New Age ideology focuses on personal and subjective experiences of the individual, which tends to be popular amongst society. New Age Movements use Internet and media to gain new ideas and spread themselves across the globe; therefore, they’re accepting golbalisation and promoting it. New Age Movements are postmodernists, as they tend to pick and mix their members, beliefs and practices. This makes them very popular amongst contemporary society and members of society today would rather follow a New Age Movement rather than a more traditional religion such as Christianity.

Due to the rising population of New Age Movements, it is becoming clearer that technology and media are having more of an effect on religion as well as society. “Religion is starting have less of an impact on the changes in contemporary society’; evidence of the decline in religion as a whole in the UK supports this statement. Sociologists measure religious belief through the use of survey data, many figures and statistics have been found that support the idea that religion is declining in the UK. The use of survey data provides useful evidence of patterns and trends in the religious society.

The decline in religion in the UK shows that religion is becoming less and less significant in our society and therefore is not causing any change in society. Evidence of this is the results from The Equality and Human Rights Commission; they found that 45.8% people reported that they believe in God in 1991, this declined to 36.7% by 2008. A sociologist named Perfect carried out another survey in 2010, he studied the belief amongst people in European countries and he found that 33% of people reported they believe there is ‘some sort of spirit or life force’. This evidently suggests that although people believe in something they do not believe in a particular religion. Not only has religious belief declines but so has religious practice, the UK Census found that just in 100 years the attendance of Church on a Sunday in the UK has declined half (40% in 1851, 20% in 1950).

The study from Brierly in 2006 supports the UK census; Brierly found that in 1976, 12% of people attended Church in the UK on Sundays, this then decreased to 6.3% in 2005. Therefore, the research of Brierly and the UK Census show a significant decline in religious practice in the UK and therefore supports the idea that change in society is not down to religion at all. However, the measurement of religious practice is criticised by many, as other types of religiosity such as praying, meditating etc. is much harder to calculate. Sociologists such as Jackson support this, as he found that religious instruction and learning for children occurs within the family and is therefore hard to calculate. Finally, the power and influence of religion on society has declined massively. In traditional society the Church of England had a direct link to the state, in fact, many politicians were from the Church of England.

Church of England was used to celebrate matters such as marriages, births, deaths etc. however, these things are now celebrated without the Church of England. A large percentage of ceremonies happen in secular environments such as, marriages happening in registry offices. Secularisation is becoming more and more popular in contemporary UK. Most religious teachings are pointless in the UK, for example, Roman Catholics strongly opposed to abortion; this had very little effect on public policy and the way members of society viewed abortion. Another example is usury; this is a very common occurrence in society even though the Roman Catholic Church was against this. This shows that religion and religious teachings are having less of an affect on society and in fact causes no change in society today.

In contrast to this, it is still mandatory for students to study religious education throughout high school. Not only this but acts of Christian worship is also still mandatory in UK schools, students are still made to sing Christian hymns in primary school. Therefore, children are still exposed to Christian ideas and teachings, this can have an effect on individual’s norms and values, which can later have an effect on society and can, cause a change. Secularisation is one of the main reasons why religion is having less influence on society. Bruce provides a compelling argument for why secularisation is happening in society. Bruce shows evidence for this and provides an explanation for the cause of secularisation. In 2011 Bruce claimed that secularisation is caused by 5 factors: schisms, technology, individualism, social differentiation and pluralism.

For example, individualism claims that people are becoming less connected to institutions and see themselves as individuals who are able to make their own way in life instead of following the instructions of a higher power. Technology claims that religion and the power of God and the Bible has been replaced by technology and the advances in technology mean that people are able to solve their own problems by using technology and no longer need God to solve their problems. Pluralism is the result of diversity of contrasting religious groups within society. There are now different ‘truths’ that people can believe and not only one ‘truth’ that everyone has to believe. Therefore, religion is becoming a private obligation rather than an obligation. This shows evidence for the little power and influence religion has on society and in fact isn’t able to change society at all due to a postmodern society. This essay has provided both for and against arguments giving reasons why religion has and hasn’t caused a change on society.

In conclusion, although religion still exists and is still able to cause a change on particular parts of society it doesn’t have an overall influence on society and the people in contemporary UK. However, religion had more of an impact and a change on traditional society due to it being a significant part of the government and politics and therefore had a massive impact on the laws, the 1969 study carried out by Martin supports this. Although religion has had an impact on societies laws and social policies, the decline in religious practice and religious faith has given valid statistics to state that religion is declining in the UK and therefore doesn’t have the same impact on society than it used to in traditional society. Overall, although religion has had an impact on society, religion is slowly declining and taking its impact with it.

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The Failure of Religion to Cause Changes in Society. (2022, Nov 15). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/the-failure-of-religion-to-cause-changes-in-society-essay

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