[[Oops. Forgot this on the first post. MAJeff here.]]
It appears we’ve got more than a few Ottawans here (Ottawegians? Ottawites?) It also seems they’d like to meet each other. I’ve also seen a few Massholes (what do we call ourselves?) saying they’d like to get together again. I’m not surprised. We are, after all, a social species.
It’s kind of funny to see Nisbet complaining about the loners over here when we are actually engaging in very social activity by sitting here chatting. Some of us may be sitting alone in physical space, but the intensive communicative action in which we engage is pretty much the opposite of “lonerness.” (You’d think someone who’s supposedly an expert in communication would recognize that it’s a form of social activity, but….) We’ve gotten to know things about each other; many of us have connected off-line; we sit and chat about each other’s lives in these very threads, often ignoring or forgetting what the original post was about.
It’s the social I want to talk about this morning. In 1912, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim published his classic work, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. I think that one of the most powerful conclusions to be taken from the book is that religion is simply the group worshipping itself. His analysis divided social space into two basic categories–the sacred and the profane. Now, being in profane space doesn’t mean being in space where everyone gets to “take the name of the Lord in vain” or say, “fuck-fuckity-fuck-fuck-fuck,” but I won’t complain about doing either of those. The profane is simply the space of everyday life, of eating, drinking, working, fucking, playing, whatever.
Sacred space is set off from everyday practice as a special place where the group comes together to engage in ritual practice. These practices serve to reinforce the group itself. Members are reminded of the values and identity they share, and of the importance of the relationships between them. The ritual activity occurring in these sacred spaces is an enactment of the community, and in doing so, they are worshipping themselves. Why do gods always reflect the various values of different groups? Because those groups are their gods.
I know a number of atheists who attend Unitarian and Quaker services, as I’m sure many of you do as well. In TGD, Dawkins discussed atheists he knows attending Anglican services. These folks are all reinforcing relationships between themselves and the other members of the group. On a weekly basis, at a minimum for many of these folks, they get together with people they know and care about and re-establish their relationships with each other in order to reinforce their values and sense of collective self. Again, they enact community. I think we make a mistake when we fail to engage in some of these wider analyses, when we fail to see the other things going on because we focus only on the dumb ideas.
Religion is more than stupid beliefs.
As social beings, we all–at some level–desire to know and be known by the others in our communities. Religious organizations allow for that. While we can focus on the really dumb things it does, focusing on what religion–not religious belief, but religious practice–provides for people is absolutely necessary. If we are going to attack religion–or, at a minimum, its privileged position in society–we need an analysis that recognizes these social aspects. And, we need to understand how people might find them in other spaces. How do we create other “sacred” sites?
Well, the Pharyngufest is one of them, however small. I think I sort of got the first one going here in Boston this past winter. On a few of the threads recently, Boston-area folks have been sort of asking for another one. I’m going to refer folks around here to the Boston-area Skeptics-in-the-Pub, run and organized by Rebecca of Skepchick. There seems to be a pretty big overlap of readership, so the piggy-backing scheme seems to make sense. (I see on the Skepchick calendar that there’s one scheduled for the 25th of this month.)
The ability to overcome religion means providing alternatives to it, and that means providing spaces for humans to enact community. So, let’s chat about the social, about how we create spaces of community, and how we’ll meet for food and drink.