DISCUSSIONS ABOUT CLASSICAL SOCIOLOGISTS
moderated by Phil Bartle, PhD
Contributions will be added to the top of this collection as I receive them
Phil Bartle wrote
Humans were not created; they evolved. Durkheim did not claim that they were created. Because some religions had social functions, does not logically lead to their validity.
From Selk firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Dr. Bartle,
As an independent researcher in sociology and related topics, I have for some time regarded Durkheim as of central value in understanding religion functionally. As you may be aware, Durkheim set forth the view that the central teachings of a religion constitute the core social rules upon which its society is structured. What makes these teachings religious is that they are assumptions, not conclusions, and so they cannot be proven to be true-- i.e., they are accepted "on faith".
Just because an assumption cannot be proven to be true, it can still have social validity. Assumptions that a society should be preserved, that there should be protection by those who rule against robbery, rape, murder, slavery, etc. are unprovable moral assumptions; yet they are generally looked upon as valid even though unprovable. But if a doctrine is unprovable, it must be maintained against efforts to discredit it. The institution that provides this ongoing affirmation is, by definition, religion. If religion does not validate functionally valid social rules, or ignores moral rules altogether, it is a failure as a religion.
Of course, religious narratives are literature, and serve the function that literature generally does in a culture -- unites a group around generally-known stories, stories that have moral validity. Ritual should serve the same function -- to symbolically validate the moral ideas upon which the society is structured.
The great value of a monotheistic system lies in its customary doctrine of the Deity (the central object of worship) as the source of Creation. The ancient Greek system spoke of the creator-god as the Demiurge, but ignored this personality in favor of their polytheistic panoply. On the other hand, the Biblical narrative of the Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish people shows how their theological ideas went from worship of the Creator of the Universe to worship of the Source of moral rules revealed first to Moses and later interpreted by the rabbinic commentators. A key idea in the Jewish Biblical evolution of these rules is that the source of Creation includes the creation of humans, and, since humans are by nature social, valid rules of social relations emanate from the Creation of humans. Such rules are also described as Natural Law, with the Creator as their ultimate author.
Thus: Humans, due to their Created nature, will form societies; the viability of these societies requires moral rules, which to be viable will enhance human nature; and good rules should be affirmed because human existence in society is assumed to be desirable. Of course, neither humans nor the rules they live by have to be perfect, but they should be good enough to maintain society and flexible enough to change with changed circumstances.
I am sure that as an experienced sociologist you are familiar with most of these concepts. I just wanted to point out the logical links between creation-religion, society, and viable rules of social relationships.
Larry Selk, J.D.
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