Organized religions are traditionally seen as the upholders of morality in a given society. People turn to them for ethical guidance, as well as advice on spiritual matters. But, ironically, many organized religions are notorious for unethical practices. Anomalies such as religious wars, slavery, child molestation, gay bashing, bombing of abortion clinics and the destruction of the World Trade Center were all attributed to organized religions. It must be made clear that not all organized religions are guilty of unethical practices.
It is those that turn to fanaticism are the ones that are capable of wreaking suffering and havoc on others. Indeed, fanaticism is what turns organized religions into establishments that promote violence and intolerance. In the context of fanaticism, religion is used as a justification even for the most unspeakable acts of brutality. In order to understand the nature of religious fanaticism, the role of organized religion in society must first be analyzed. Numerous thinkers have sought to identify the true societal function of organized religion.
The French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that organized religion “(divided) the world into…the sacred and the profane” (Morrison 234). Organized religion demarcated the difference between right and wrong. This disparity, in turn, became the basis for the actions and behaviors of a given collective. For the German sociologist Max Weber, organized religion served as a means of rationalizing human society. In his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), he asserted that there was a strong historical link between the growth of Protestant religious doctrine and the development of modern capitalism.
Protestants, according to Weber, were more economically well-off than Jews and Catholics due to their strict observance of ethical maxims such as restraint, time-thrift and the rejection of luxury in pursuit of wealth. Instead of spending on needless opulence, Protestants devoted their resources to enterprise-building (Morison 313). Such perseverance and diligence eventually paid off in the form of a very lucrative economic system. But Weber’s compatriot, sociologist and political economist Karl Marx, was not as enthusiastic when it came to the subject of organized religion’s role in society.
Marx dismissed organized religion as the “opiate of the masses” – a temporary escape from whatever plight they were experiencing (Pippin and Aichele 6). Instead of actually working towards solving their problems, the hoi polloi of a class society would instead seek the illusion of spiritual comfort in organized religion. The ruling class, on the other hand, used organized religion as a means of perpetuating social injustice. The social elite brainwashed the masses into enduring oppression and exploitation by making them place their hopes in grace hereafter in a heavenly kingdom (Luo, Lo and MacInnis 152).
The theories of Durkheim, Weber and Marx regarding the role of organized religion in society share certain commonalities. First, all three thinkers considered organized religion as a powerful means of social control. In the context of Durkheim’s conjecture, deviating from the doctrines of organized religion meant being regarded as “evil” or “immoral. ” In Weber’s perspective, religion was a venue for the promotion of values such as industry, frugality, temperance, orderliness and punctuality.
For Marx, religion suppressed dissent against oppression through the doctrine of eternal reward or punishment in the afterlife. Second, they all believed that organized religion legitimized particular actions and or institutions. According to Durkheim, organized religion gave credibility to societal norms and customs. For Weber, modern capitalism derived its success from the fact that it was the result of faithful observance of Protestant ethical maxims. Marx argued that organized religion justified subjugation – endurance of tyranny and mistreatment is supposedly a way to attain eternal reward in the afterworld.
Lastly, they all affirmed that organized religion provides explanations to incomprehensible phenomena. Durkheim argued that a particular action or behavior, no matter how proper, was dismissed as deviant for the simple reason that it did not conform to the teachings of a certain religious denomination. According to Weber, faithful observance of Protestant ethical maxims brought about the rise of modern capitalism. Marx believed that religion instilled in people the notion that oppression and exploitation occurred because enduring these were necessary to attain eternal reward in the hereafter.
Indeed, there are numerous theories on the role of organized religion in society. But this fact is potentially dangerous, as many unscrupulous parties could easily claim that the societal role of organized religion is to cause suffering and bloodshed. Such is the premise behind religious fanaticism. Even the most appalling forms of violence are rendered “religious duties,” provided that these are used to attain the objectives of a given religious denomination. Certain social, political and economic factors are responsible for the emergence of religious fanaticism: a.
There is a perceived exploitation of a religious group that often results in a severe decrease in its standing, power and status. The exploiters are usually a regime, international actors or even the international system (Crotty 228). The victim group, in turn, would view their plight as an affront to their faith. As a result, they might resort to violence in order to avenge whatever injustice they experienced and “restore” the honor of their religion. b. The oppression of the victim group must reach to the point that its very existence as a distinct cultural, national or religious community was already threatened.
Simply put, a cultural genocide must already be taking place. By this time, the victim group feels that it has lost its land and language, as well the right to continue its religious and ethnic practices (Crotty 229). Out of desperation, the victim group would eventually consider violence as a viable option. c. The regime or dominant majority would not allow the members of the victim group to speak freely. In most cases, they are jailed or even executed as a means of social control (Crotty 229). d.
Although they are ignored or even pushed around by those whom they consider their inferiors or even their enemies, religious fanatics believe that others should regard their values as superior (Crotty 229). e. Religious fanatics believe in a greater cause than themselves. This cause is usually political or religious and is often based on a messianic or millenarian view of the world. There is a strong emphasis on self-sacrifice – religious fanatics should never hesitate to die for their cause. Furthermore, parties who do not share their views are deemed expendable in the struggle to attain their objectives (Crotty 229).
f. Religious fanatics frequently come from societies that suffer from anomalies such as racism, ethnic oppression, xenophobia and the extreme polarization of wealth. These irregularities create fertile ground for the rise of religious fanaticism because they are rampant in societies where political and economic dominance are exclusive to certain religious communities. The marginalized religious groups, on the other hand, would feel that they have no other choice but use violence in order to achieve their vision of a better community.
For them, violence is justified so as long as it is used to combat political, ideological, religious or ethnic prejudice (Crotty 229). Organized religions were originally intended to defend morality in a given society. But religious fanaticism has allowed unscrupulous parties to use them as a means of wreaking suffering and havoc on other people. The most unspeakable acts of violence are justifiable, provided that these are used to attain the goals of a religious fanatical organization. In the process, many innocent people suffer and die.
But if looked upon closely, religious fanaticism is a product of social inequality. The members of a religious group that experiences poverty and discrimination are vulnerable to organizations that call for bloody resolution of conflicts. In the end, therefore, equal access to educational and economic opportunities, regardless of race, creed and social status, is still the best solution to religious fanaticism. The members of religious fanatical organizations, after all, will not even join these groups in the first place if they were too busy studying or working.
Works Cited Crotty, William J. Democratic Development and Political Terrorism: The Global Perspective. Lebanon: UPNE, 2005. Luo, Zhufeng, Chu-feng Lo, and Donald E. MacInnis. Religion under Socialism in China. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1991. Morrison, Kenneth L. Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought. 2nd ed. London: SAGE, 2006. Pippin, Tina, and George Aichele. Violence, Utopia, and the Kingdom of God: Fantasy and Ideology in the Bible. London: CRC Press, 2002.Sample Essay of EduBirdie.com