Ritual and meaning in post Christian society…
Religion, according to sociologists like Durkheim, plays a vital role in society.
It unites and solidifies our morality, our world view and facilitates social cohesion. According to Durkheim, religion is very real; it is an expression of society itself, and indeed, there is no society that does not have religion.
Since Durkheim, there have been many discussions about the value of religion to society. Some have been critical, and seen organised religion as a form of social control and a supporter of oppression and a reactionary force in favour of the status quo. It seems clear that it has indeed been used for this purpose.
The interesting question for those of us living in a post Christian world in Western Europe, is if organised religion has lost a central place at the heart of society, then are there measurable sociological effects of this on our societies?
As we lose the unifying and cohesive affect of shared faith, might we expect to see an erosion of some of the key aspects of our society? Our social and class structures, our sense of community and belonging etc?
I have been enough of a social science student to avoid making broad unsupported generalisations, and I am yet to find some recent research about this (If you come across any, I would love to hear from you.)However, it is clear that some of the cohesion seen in modern society has now gone. What we appear to unite behind these days is very different from what motivated our collectivisation 50 years ago.
So if Durkheim is right, and all societies have a shared religion, then how might we understand this in our post-Christian western societies? Particularly when the drive appears to be towards increasingly individualistic activities based on ‘choice’.
What brings meaning to life?
What allows us to express our collective consciousness?
Some have suggested that football fills this slot in many people’s lives.
We are just back from a journey down south to visit family in the Midlands. I took the photograph above at the site of the death of a young man killed on a road crossing. Family and friends had left flowers and cans of beer hanging on the railings, as well as football scarves. It occurred to me that what we regard as central to life will shape the rituals and ceremony we use to mark the stuff of humanity.
I also had a conversation with my brother in law- a great bloke. He jokingly described how his i-pod, when set to random, seemed to constantly pick appropriate songs from the thousands stored on it, to fit in with the activity or mood he was experiencing.
Is this evidence of our human need for ritual and meaning beyond the temporal and mundane? For a collectivisation of our consciousness and the need to mythologise this in the form of things sacred beyond the profane?
Or is this a fluid society in the middle of huge social change, struggling to fill what we used to call ‘the God shaped hole’ in the middle of all of us?
However we understand it, the need for meaning and ritual seems pretty universal, even for we post-moderns. And I think that God is not done with us, nor we with him.