Term Paper on Religion and Meaning

Religion and Meaning Term Paper:

1) Secularization has come to mean that modern societies are no longer dominated by any particular belief system. A secular society has no official state religion that is financially supported by the government and that gives legitimacy to government leaders and their policies. Other social institutions, such as education, health care, and the mass media, are also outside the control of religion.

The absence of a dominant belief system also frees up the institution of religion itself, since a variety of religions are now able to develop. This gives greater freedom both to nonreligious people and to believers. Since there is no one religion influencing the state, people are not likely to be put to death for their choices, or «heresies.» (Hamilton, 1995)

The range of religious options characteristic of modern societies allows people to choose the religion that is the most meaningful to them in relation to their life experiences or to choose no religion at all. A person’s choice of religion may be an important aspect of that person’s identity, because religion has the capacity to define who he or she is.

It provides a person with a sense of belonging in relation both to the relatively small unit of a congregation and to the larger unit of a religion that may be located in many different parts of the world. Religious identity may also tie in with ethnic or cultural identity and with the history of a people.

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“Religions develop structures to accomplish all these tasks and others.” (Hamilton, 1995) On the local level the structure may be a congregation, that is, a group of people who gather regularly to worship together. They may choose clergy to carry out special religious functions, or the clergy may be selected by a centralized church administration. These are the usual patterns in Western societies of the religious division of labor–that is, the distinction between clergy, who are responsible for providing leadership and tending to the spiritual needs of the members, and the members themselves, or lay people.

There are some exceptions, such those Quaker congregations that do not have full-time paid clergy but rather share the responsibility for pastoral care among the members, who are all regarded as ministers. In other parts of the world the patterns may be more complex, as in the case of Hinduism, in which religious functions are carried out by a large number of people with different roles. (Hamilton, 1995)

2) “Theorists who attempt to link together the functional and substantive dimensions of religion are presenting a more accurate model of religion than those who present only functional or only substantive dimensions.” I completely agree with the above statement and there are numerous reasons for this. The substantive functions of religion are both recognized and intended. They are, however, not real in the sense that they do not produce the results they are believed to.

Their function is only apparent; one that is, which is not empirically confirmable. Rain-making ritual, for example, has only an apparent not a real function. (Hamilton, 1995) The fact that much religious ritual has no real function has made it seem irrational which has led to the tendency to attribute social functions, such as integration to it. Rain-making ceremonies are said to integrate society. But even if they do, they cannot be explained in this way. Spiro claims that to say that their functions are unreal is, however, not to say that they are irrational.

Religion meets expressive needs by allowing the symbolic expression of certain painful drives and motives. By painful motives the researchers mean those which are culturally forbidden including aggressive and sexual motives. These drives and motives become unconscious but still seek satisfaction. “Religion reduces these drives and motives by symbolically giving expression to them.” (Hamilton, 1995)

All three of these sets of desires that religion satisfies, cognitive, substantive and expressive, refer to the motives underlying religious behavior, that is, to a psychological variable. Yet the sources of these motives are often related to social factors. Again the crucial social context in which such motives are generated is the family.

The researchers, then, seek to integrate psychological and social dimensions and to provide a theory which is couched in terms of both substantive and functional dimension. For them ‘function’ means only certain actual or putative effects. (Hamilton, 1995) A point to note about this type of substantive /functional approach is that it would, of course, explain not only religion but anything that would satisfy cognitive, substantive and expressive desires.

3) What is of greatest importance in Hasidism is the powerful tendency, preserved in personal as well as in communal existence, to overcome the fundamental separation between the sacred and the profane. This separation has formed a part of the foundations of every religion. Everywhere the sacred is removed and set apart from the fullness of the things, properties, and actions belonging to the universal, and the sacred now forms in its totality a self-contained holiness outside of which the diffused profane must pitch its tent.

“The consequence of this separation in the history of man is a twofold one.” (Zellner, 2000) Religion is thereby assured a firm province whose untouchableness is ever again guaranteed it by the representatives of the state and of society, not, for the most part, without compensation. But at the same time the adherents of religion are thereby enabled to allow the essential application of their relation of faith to fulfill itself within this province alone without the sacred being given a corresponding power in the rest of life, and particularly in its public sphere.

In Judaism the border between the two realms appears at first glance to be drawn with utmost sharpness. (Zellner, 2000) To one coming from the outside, the great mass of rituals appears like something existing for itself. Moreover, even from within much testifies to the sharpness of this separation: thus the invocation of God spoken at the end of the Sabbath as that which separates the sacred from the profane. One need only note how many everyday actions are introduced by a blessing, however, to recognize how deep the hallowing reaches here into what is in itself unsanctified.

“In Hasidism this tendency reaches a highly realistic consummation.” (Zellner, 2000) The profane is now regarded only as a preliminary stage of the holy; it is the not-yethallowed. But human life is destined to be hallowed in all its natural, that is, its created structure. “God dwells where one lets Him in,” says a Hasidic saying; the hallowing of man means this letting in. Basically the holy in our world is nothing other than what is open to transcendence, as the profane is nothing other than what at first is closed off from it, and hallowing is the event of opening out.

4) The Hasidim have to contend with many tensions, such as the sentimentalization of Hasidism and the inability of outsiders to recognize their basic tenets: belief in the absolute authority of religious law, in the covenant between Israelites and God, and in the certainty of messianic redemption. Just as troubling are the views of those less sympathetic to Hasidism, Jews and non-Jews, who hold pietists to a higher standard than other men and fail to recognize that every community has its fools and wise men, its saints and charlatans.

“Discord is an inevitable fact of life among true believers.” (Hamilton, 1995) Factional strife within courts, as has occurred in Satmar, is most common following the death of a Rebbe, when partisans of old and new ways may come into conflict. The various courts of devout pietists are frequently entangled in argument and dispute with one another, some of it deeply acrimonious and long-lived. Efforts of one court to control the direction of the Hasidic movement frequently engender hostility between courts.

The arguments take both political and ideological directions: contention over rabbinical supervision of kashrut, control of the bet din, promotion of a particular philosophy, and the quest for disciples. Disagreement over the State of Israel has in recent years been the major stumbling block to the improvement of relationships between courts. (Zellner, 2000)

Orthodox law and established religious myth support the concept of a redeemer who will rescue and restore the Jews from exile. Orthodox Jews believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. Conditions, however, are not conducive to a mass delusion, and the Orthodox maintain a quotient of logic, skepticism, and disbelief that enables them to live with the contradictions and ambiguities of the real and mythic worlds.

While most Orthodox insist they expect the Messiah to arrive momentarily, if someone ran through the streets claiming that the Messiah was at the gates he would surely be regarded with pity or scorn. (Zellner, 2000) And if one Rebbe is acclaimed as the Messiah by his followers, most others outside that particular court are irked at the gall and the egotism of this pretension. Moreover, the Hasidic people are eminently practical. The salvation of the present generation is their primary responsibility.

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