Troubling chapter on religion in sociology textbook

 
ckonstanski
 
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ckonstanski
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12 November 2017 11:05
 

I am working towards my computer science degree. One of the required general education requirements is an intro to sociology class. It contains a chapter on religion which is a survey of how sociologists think on the issue. I find it deeply troubling.

It starts with a definition of religion: “a system of common beliefs and rituals centered on sacred things that unites believers and provides a sense of meaning and purpose”. Note the glaring omission: it says nothing about the faith requirement. Religions require that their followers make a leap of faith and believe something on (to use Sam’s words) no evidence or bad evidence. This thing is invariably fashioned to be unfalsifiable and unprovable (e.g. the existence of an invisible sky god). Without this divorcing from reality, it’s not religion. The gullible and superstitious part of the brain has to be wedged open and filled with unbelievable nonsense in order to reprogram the individual. Religion is not a hobby; it is brainwashing.

Once the textbook fails to include this requirement in the definition of religion, all that follows is painfully flimsy and hard to read. It seems that sociology, like so many disciplines, is afraid to challenge the taboo against criticizing religion. For instance this passage: “Religions commonly tell coherent and compelling stories about the forces that transcend everyday life in ways that other aspects of culture such as a belief in democracy typically cannot. Whrere we may not find empirical answers to fundamental questions about life, death and fate, faith may stand in.”  (They used the word “faith” for the first time in this passage and did not first define it, for doing so would put the entire discipline on shaky ground.) There is nothing coherent about any of the claims that religions make. The inclusion of this word in a supposedly neutral treatise is an indication that the author is either fearful of taking a side or downright biased. And the idea that faith is an acceptable replacement for unknowns that science has not yet tackled is nothing more than the god of the gaps. We know how effective this thinking stunts progress, for example Newton missing his chance to develop perturbation theory in the Principia because he threw up his hands and said “it must be god’s work” and thereby stopped working on the problem of how the orbits of nearby bodies affect one another.

The text goes on to peddle the notion of Emile Durkheim’s which states that “the ‘god of the clan’, the object of worship, is ‘nothing else than the clan itself, personified and represented to the imagination’”. God is a personification of the group, an image of the self. While this might be the eventual outcome of religious practice, does anyone believe that a group of elders sat in a conference room and fashioned their initial portrayal of their god based on their self-image and then set about writing a holy book that adhered to this specification? Do people sacrifice children to such manufactured personifications? Or do they really believe in wrathful deities and are so afraid that they will bury a live baby under the cornerstone of a temple erected to said deity in order to avoid a wrake-lust of biblical proportions being visited upon them? And as time goes on and these followers are pressed to describe the deity to the skeptical, do they invariably start to paint a picture of something that looks like a self-image because they have nothing else to draw from?

What I kept waiting for in the reading (but never found) was the notion that while religion might be an attempt to answer the big questions, it does so with exactly the wrong part of the brain. It uses the gullible and superstitious part, not the skeptical and rational part. Sociology (at least as it is described in this text) fails to explore the damage that is being done to society as great numbers of people exercise the very part of the brain that we should be trying to starve to death because it is the root cause of so much suffering. If this portrayal of sociology is accurate, then do not look to it for any useful insights on religion since it refuses to attack the problem with any skepticism. In this regard sociology is not a science, it is marketing.

 
GAD
 
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12 November 2017 14:53
 
ckonstanski - 12 November 2017 11:05 AM

The text goes on to peddle the notion of Emile Durkheim’s which states that “the ‘god of the clan’, the object of worship, is ‘nothing else than the clan itself, personified and represented to the imagination’”. God is a personification of the group, an image of the self. While this might be the eventual outcome of religious practice, does anyone believe that a group of elders sat in a conference room and fashioned their initial portrayal of their god based on their self-image and then set about writing a holy book that adhered to this specification? Do people sacrifice children to such manufactured personifications? Or do they really believe in wrathful deities and are so afraid that they will bury a live baby under the cornerstone of a temple erected to said deity in order to avoid a wrake-lust of biblical proportions being visited upon them? And as time goes on and these followers are pressed to describe the deity to the skeptical, do they invariably start to paint a picture of something that looks like a self-image because they have nothing else to draw from?

It’s both. Shit happens, they are ignorant but attempt to explain it, this is passed down and continuously added to and personified over time.

 
 
burt
 
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burt
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12 November 2017 17:08
 
ckonstanski - 12 November 2017 11:05 AM

I am working towards my computer science degree. One of the required general education requirements is an intro to sociology class. It contains a chapter on religion which is a survey of how sociologists think on the issue. I find it deeply troubling.

It starts with a definition of religion: “a system of common beliefs and rituals centered on sacred things that unites believers and provides a sense of meaning and purpose”. Note the glaring omission: it says nothing about the faith requirement. Religions require that their followers make a leap of faith and believe something on (to use Sam’s words) no evidence or bad evidence. This thing is invariably fashioned to be unfalsifiable and unprovable (e.g. the existence of an invisible sky god). Without this divorcing from reality, it’s not religion. The gullible and superstitious part of the brain has to be wedged open and filled with unbelievable nonsense in order to reprogram the individual. Religion is not a hobby; it is brainwashing.

Once the textbook fails to include this requirement in the definition of religion, all that follows is painfully flimsy and hard to read. It seems that sociology, like so many disciplines, is afraid to challenge the taboo against criticizing religion. For instance this passage: “Religions commonly tell coherent and compelling stories about the forces that transcend everyday life in ways that other aspects of culture such as a belief in democracy typically cannot. Whrere we may not find empirical answers to fundamental questions about life, death and fate, faith may stand in.”  (They used the word “faith” for the first time in this passage and did not first define it, for doing so would put the entire discipline on shaky ground.) There is nothing coherent about any of the claims that religions make. The inclusion of this word in a supposedly neutral treatise is an indication that the author is either fearful of taking a side or downright biased. And the idea that faith is an acceptable replacement for unknowns that science has not yet tackled is nothing more than the god of the gaps. We know how effective this thinking stunts progress, for example Newton missing his chance to develop perturbation theory in the Principia because he threw up his hands and said “it must be god’s work” and thereby stopped working on the problem of how the orbits of nearby bodies affect one another.

The text goes on to peddle the notion of Emile Durkheim’s which states that “the ‘god of the clan’, the object of worship, is ‘nothing else than the clan itself, personified and represented to the imagination’”. God is a personification of the group, an image of the self. While this might be the eventual outcome of religious practice, does anyone believe that a group of elders sat in a conference room and fashioned their initial portrayal of their god based on their self-image and then set about writing a holy book that adhered to this specification? Do people sacrifice children to such manufactured personifications? Or do they really believe in wrathful deities and are so afraid that they will bury a live baby under the cornerstone of a temple erected to said deity in order to avoid a wrake-lust of biblical proportions being visited upon them? And as time goes on and these followers are pressed to describe the deity to the skeptical, do they invariably start to paint a picture of something that looks like a self-image because they have nothing else to draw from?

What I kept waiting for in the reading (but never found) was the notion that while religion might be an attempt to answer the big questions, it does so with exactly the wrong part of the brain. It uses the gullible and superstitious part, not the skeptical and rational part. Sociology (at least as it is described in this text) fails to explore the damage that is being done to society as great numbers of people exercise the very part of the brain that we should be trying to starve to death because it is the root cause of so much suffering. If this portrayal of sociology is accurate, then do not look to it for any useful insights on religion since it refuses to attack the problem with any skepticism. In this regard sociology is not a science, it is marketing.

Much ancient religion is simply accepted, no faith required, it’s just the way things are.  Your understanding of Durkheim is pretty superficial.  His position was that religion arose through the intense impact of group rites on individuals, and was behind cultural creativity in general.

BTW, if you try to cut out the parts of the brain that is susceptible to dogmatic religion, you will also be cutting out all possibility of experiencing meaning and value.

I offer the following definition, a paraphrase since I don’t have the source at hand: “Religion, as the term is commonly used, both by the theologians and by their opponents, is not what it is thought to be. Religion is a vehicle and its rites, practices, and moral teachings are intended to have a certain uplifting effect upon certain communities at certain times. Because of difficulties in maintaining the science of man, religion was chosen as the vehicle for human development. This has always been misunderstood by the superficial for whom the vehicle becomes the idol.” From Idries Shah,  The Sufis.

 
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13 November 2017 05:50
 

Sociology isn’t interested in the veracity of religion, it’s interested in its social effects—same for anthropology. So when sociology and anthropology deal with religion (reifying soc/anthro here of course) they treat it as true in terms of what its believers believe (now reifying religion). That’s because the issue is how the believers think and behave, not whether their beliefs and thoughts are accurate representations of reality.

So soc and anthro treat all religions as the truth simply because that’s what their adherents think and how they behave, generally speaking, which is precisely how they should go about it. You can’t study effects of sociological phenomena if you’re too hung up on the phenomena themselves. That’s simply not what it’s about though—it’s a step removed. Theology is a different field entirely—not so scientific as it turns out.

 
 
Jb8989
 
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14 November 2017 07:23
 
ckonstanski - 12 November 2017 11:05 AM

I am working towards my computer science degree. One of the required general education requirements is an intro to sociology class. It contains a chapter on religion which is a survey of how sociologists think on the issue. I find it deeply troubling.

It starts with a definition of religion: “a system of common beliefs and rituals centered on sacred things that unites believers and provides a sense of meaning and purpose”. Note the glaring omission: it says nothing about the faith requirement. Religions require that their followers make a leap of faith and believe something on (to use Sam’s words) no evidence or bad evidence. This thing is invariably fashioned to be unfalsifiable and unprovable (e.g. the existence of an invisible sky god). Without this divorcing from reality, it’s not religion. The gullible and superstitious part of the brain has to be wedged open and filled with unbelievable nonsense in order to reprogram the individual. Religion is not a hobby; it is brainwashing.

Once the textbook fails to include this requirement in the definition of religion, all that follows is painfully flimsy and hard to read. It seems that sociology, like so many disciplines, is afraid to challenge the taboo against criticizing religion. For instance this passage: “Religions commonly tell coherent and compelling stories about the forces that transcend everyday life in ways that other aspects of culture such as a belief in democracy typically cannot. Whrere we may not find empirical answers to fundamental questions about life, death and fate, faith may stand in.”  (They used the word “faith” for the first time in this passage and did not first define it, for doing so would put the entire discipline on shaky ground.) There is nothing coherent about any of the claims that religions make. The inclusion of this word in a supposedly neutral treatise is an indication that the author is either fearful of taking a side or downright biased. And the idea that faith is an acceptable replacement for unknowns that science has not yet tackled is nothing more than the god of the gaps. We know how effective this thinking stunts progress, for example Newton missing his chance to develop perturbation theory in the Principia because he threw up his hands and said “it must be god’s work” and thereby stopped working on the problem of how the orbits of nearby bodies affect one another.

The text goes on to peddle the notion of Emile Durkheim’s which states that “the ‘god of the clan’, the object of worship, is ‘nothing else than the clan itself, personified and represented to the imagination’”. God is a personification of the group, an image of the self. While this might be the eventual outcome of religious practice, does anyone believe that a group of elders sat in a conference room and fashioned their initial portrayal of their god based on their self-image and then set about writing a holy book that adhered to this specification? Do people sacrifice children to such manufactured personifications? Or do they really believe in wrathful deities and are so afraid that they will bury a live baby under the cornerstone of a temple erected to said deity in order to avoid a wrake-lust of biblical proportions being visited upon them? And as time goes on and these followers are pressed to describe the deity to the skeptical, do they invariably start to paint a picture of something that looks like a self-image because they have nothing else to draw from?

What I kept waiting for in the reading (but never found) was the notion that while religion might be an attempt to answer the big questions, it does so with exactly the wrong part of the brain. It uses the gullible and superstitious part, not the skeptical and rational part. Sociology (at least as it is described in this text) fails to explore the damage that is being done to society as great numbers of people exercise the very part of the brain that we should be trying to starve to death because it is the root cause of so much suffering. If this portrayal of sociology is accurate, then do not look to it for any useful insights on religion since it refuses to attack the problem with any skepticism. In this regard sociology is not a science, it is marketing.

We should define religious faith as a “divorced from reality manufactured personification.” That’s a pretty solid definition, actually.

I’m not being nitpicky, but “a set of common beliefs” technically does encompass faith. Since faith is a cocktail of socially misguided beliefs. Still, I’m with you because I think it requires a drill down. Even so I think that your textbook did a hell of a job of casting doubt. I would have framed it differently, but you have to keep in mind that sociology is soft. It’s the scientific study of society, which as its own definition requires some axioms to get there. Not as many as religion, however. That’s just emotional circular logic.


IMHO We’re never going to live to see the day where religious faith is predominately publicly perceived as cognitively damaging. Even though that’s probably so, that’s asking otherwise sleepwalking aging babies to jump through a lot of hoops. I think of religion as the slowest fade away in human history. A better sociological viewpoint would have been painting it as a cautionary tale for how brain-washable humans are, and just how far they’ll go when committed. In that sense it sounds a lot like a personification.

 

[ Edited: 14 November 2017 07:36 by Jb8989]
 
 
burt
 
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14 November 2017 09:57
 
Jb8989 - 14 November 2017 07:23 AM

IMHO We’re never going to live to see the day where religious faith is predominately publicly perceived as cognitively damaging. Even though that’s probably so, that’s asking otherwise sleepwalking aging babies to jump through a lot of hoops. I think of religion as the slowest fade away in human history. A better sociological viewpoint would have been painting it as a cautionary tale for how brain-washable humans are, and just how far they’ll go when committed. In that sense it sounds a lot like a personification.

Hum… Last Saturday I had dinner with a couple of my cousins and their partners. Cousin S is 67 years old, married to a 65 year old woman who is still a looker. Cousin L is 70 and lives with her lesbian partner of 33 years. Cousin S and his wife are strong Christians and he is an excellent example of religious faith (as contrasted to dogmatic belief). His faith gives him a solid center of reference that has allowed him to live a life of service without damaging his personal presence or cognitive abilities. Quite similar to EN in many ways. So I disagree that his faith has been damaging for him in any way and would argue instead that it has supported him through his life. One sign of this is that he feels no compulsion to try and convince anybody else or convert them.

 
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15 November 2017 06:45
 
burt - 14 November 2017 09:57 AM
Jb8989 - 14 November 2017 07:23 AM

IMHO We’re never going to live to see the day where religious faith is predominately publicly perceived as cognitively damaging. Even though that’s probably so, that’s asking otherwise sleepwalking aging babies to jump through a lot of hoops. I think of religion as the slowest fade away in human history. A better sociological viewpoint would have been painting it as a cautionary tale for how brain-washable humans are, and just how far they’ll go when committed. In that sense it sounds a lot like a personification.

Hum… Last Saturday I had dinner with a couple of my cousins and their partners. Cousin S is 67 years old, married to a 65 year old woman who is still a looker. Cousin L is 70 and lives with her lesbian partner of 33 years. Cousin S and his wife are strong Christians and he is an excellent example of religious faith (as contrasted to dogmatic belief). His faith gives him a solid center of reference that has allowed him to live a life of service without damaging his personal presence or cognitive abilities. Quite similar to EN in many ways. So I disagree that his faith has been damaging for him in any way and would argue instead that it has supported him through his life. One sign of this is that he feels no compulsion to try and convince anybody else or convert them.

One example is just a generalization not evidence. But still I take your point. I don’t know your people so I can’t say for sure, but in my experience every time someone tells me that they are or know someone who is the personality exception to harnessing some known faux beliefs, I always find red herrings and vagueities that have steered their behaviors and thought patterns in super stupid ways they’re just blinded to.

EN’s no exception. He just wants to have his cake and eat it too, so he’s constantly re-crafting his belief system so that it’s unfalsifiable to traditional religious critiques. Of course except for the fact that he wound up believing a known delusion to support his surrounding culture’s most saturated religious story. And then filled in the dots circularly to justify his personality fit. And since I’m a fan of linear over circular reasoning, I don’t think EN is the exception at all, and I doubt that your boy is too. You sure he’s not just another friendly fraidy cat? I mean, it really doesn’t matter because a little good is still good and I’m not into waking the dead especially if they’re happy, but still.

[ Edited: 15 November 2017 06:47 by Jb8989]