Religion and World-Maintenance
Supported by human activity, ... [all socially constructed worlds, RCK] are constantly threatened by the human facts of self-interest and stupidity. (p.29)
The institutional programs are sabotaged by individuals with conflicting interests. (p.29)
The role of keeping everyone with the program and in line is delegated to the process of legitimation.
By legitimation is meant socially objectivated "knowledge" that serves to explain and justify the social order. ... legitimations are answers to any questions about the "why" of social arrangements. (p.29)
At the basis of legitimation is pure ontology, the "what's what" that distinguishes the categories that the rules then utilize (p.30) --- Berger illustrates that with an incest example. These categories should not be confused with ideas.
There are always some people with an interest in "ideas", but they have never yet constituted more than a rather small minority. (p.30)
Clearly o some extent, all social knowledge is legitimating (p.30).
... the socially constructed world legitimates itself by virtue of its objective facticity. (p.30)
The need for legitimation beyond that is to address the "why?" questions of the new members of society as well as to help all, including the adults, remember (pp.30f). In the face of any challenge, the legitimacy of the social world order must be defended (p.31). Berger divides up the forms of legitimization, which range from the maxims (p.31) to the Weltanschauung (p.32), which Berger glosses as the level where "the nomos of society attains theoretical self-consciousness" (p.32).
The essential purpose of all forms of legitimation may thus be described as reality-maintenance, both on the objective and the subjective levels. (p.32)
Though there is no congruence between legitimation and religion, there is significant overlap.
... religion has been the historically most widespread and effective instrumentality of legitimation. (p.32)
Religion is so good at this because it has access to the category of the "ultimate reality" (p.32).
The tenuous realities of the social world are grounded in the sacred realissimum, which by definition is beyond the contingencies of human meanings and activities. (p.32)
Because of its need to appear just like nature, which is unchanging and from the beginning, society is best served by a legitimization that obfuscates its origin ex nihilo.
Let the institutional order be so interpreted as to hide, as much as possible, its constructed character. Let that which has been stamped out of the ground ex nihilo appear as the manifestation of something that has been existent from the beginning of time, or at least from the beginning of this group. (p.33)
Thus, Berger can recap
Religion legitimates social institutions by bestowing upon them an ultimately valid ontological status that is, by locating them within a sacred and cosmic frame of reference. (p.33)
There are multiple ways to implement this: The mode of direct reflection means that the down here mirrors the up there (p.34)---Berger calls this the "microcosm/macrocosm scheme" of legitimization (p.34). Berger points out that later civilizations would transform this obvious scheme into something more subtle.
Israel legitimized its institutions in terms of the divinely revealed law throughout its existence as an autonomous society. (p.35)Thus, in religion,
... the humanly constructed nomoi are given a cosmic status. (p.36)This is beneficial for institutions and for individuals.
[Through religious legitimations, RCK] institutions are ... given a semblance of inevitability, firmness and durability that is analogous to these qualities as ascribed to gods themselves. Empirically, institutions are always changing as the exigencies of human activity upon which they are based change. (p.36)
Looked at from the viewpoint of individual subjective consciousness, the cosmization of the institutions permits the individual to have an ultimate sense of rightness, both cognitively and normatively, in the roles he is expected to play in society. (p.37)
He is whatever society has identified him as by virtue of a cosmic truth, as it were, and his social being becomes rooted in the sacred reality of the universe. (p.37)Even if society were not to withdraw the identifications, e.g. because the others forget or change the identification (p.37), threatening his own recollections of identity (p.38). The godhead is above such fickleness, becoming "the most reliable and ultimately significant other" (p.38). Such roles are then even stable against the foibles of the individual (p.38). Berger illustrates this with the example of fatherhood (pp.38f).
If social legitimation is tied to the cosmic order, then rebellion is a compact with the dark forces of chaos and the realm of demonic monstrosities (p.39).
Because men forget, religion must remind, and it does so through ritual re-enactment (p.40).
Both religious acts and religious legitimations, ritual and mythology, dromena [i.e. "the things that have to be done", RCK] and legoumena [i.e. "the things that have to be said", RCK], together serve to "recall" the traditional meanings embodied in the culture and its major institutions. (p.40)This reconnects the moment to the transcendental history.
It has been rightly said [by Maurice Halbwachs in Les cadres sociaux de la memoire, Paris 1925, RCK] that society, in its essence, is a memory. It may be added that, through most of human history, this memory has been a religious one. (p.41)This insight implies
the rootedness of religion in the practical concerns of everyday life. (p.41)
Religion thus serves to maintain the reality of that socially constructed world within which men exist in their everyday lives. (p.42)That reality is challenged by marginal experiences, some of which such as sleep occur very regularly and frequently (p.42).
The reality of everyday life, therefore, is continuously surrounded by a penumbra of vastly different realities. (p.42)
Death radically challenges all socially objectivated definitions of reality---of the world, of others, and of self. (p.43)
Religion, then, maintains the socially defined reality by legitimating marginal situations in terms of an all-encompassing sacred reality. (p.44)Because the meaning of the marginal situation has been preserved,
[it RCK] is thus possible to have a "good death", that is, to die while retaining to the end a meaningful relationship with the nomos of one's society---subjectively meaningful to oneself and objectively meaningful in the minds of others. (p.44)Berger points out that such effects are not limited to individuals, but might affect larger groups or the entirety of a society.
... in other words, there are events affecting entire societies or social groups that provide massive threats to the reality previously taken for granted. Such situations may occur as the result of natural catastrophe, war, or social upheaval. (p.44)Berger also reminds us that the need for religious legitimation is especially high when a marginal situation is induced, e.g. through killing in war or through execution in the case of capital punishment (p.44).
The ongoing maintenance of the socially constructed world generates a plausibility structure that can be subverted---Berger gives the example of Pizarro killing the Inca Atahualpa (p.45)---which effectively destroys the world of those participating in that society (p.46). The plausibility structure is therefore related to the specific community for which this structure is meaningful (p.46).
The reality of the Christian world depends upon the presence of social structures within which this reality is taken for granted and within which successive generations of individuals are socialized in such a way that this world will be real to them. (p.46)This means that a world under threat will ratchet up its legitimization effort.
The less firm the plausibility structure becomes, the more acute will be the need for world-maintaining legitimations. (p.47)Berger points to the mutual pressure generated by Christendom and Islam to legitimate and vindicate one's own stance with respect to the other (p.47).
This example is particularly instructive because the antagonistic theoreticians employed an essentially similar intellectual apparatus for their contradictory purposes. (p.47)Berger however wants to guard against being misunderstood in one crucial way.
The implication of the rootage of religion in human activity is not that religion is always a dependent variable in the history of a society, but rather that it derives its objective and subjective reality from human beings, who produce and reproduce it in their ongoing lives. (p.48)Religious ideation can cause social processes and social processes can cause religious ideation (p.48); that is their dialectic, as Berger insists repeatedly.
The opportunity for such "social engineering" to maintain the plausibility structure of a particular religion, however, is tied to the reach of the group. In a situation of little competition, such as the Christian Middle Ages, other moves are possible (p.48) than in the situation of religious plurality (p.49), where competing interpretations exist. Extermination and segregation are less successful in this case (p.49).
The problem of "social engineering" is then transformed into one of constructing and maintaining subsocieties that may serve as plausibility structures for the demonopolized religious systems. (p.49)The plurality of solutions reveals the precarious nature of the individual solution and undercuts the inevitability effect.
Since every religious world is "based" on a plausibility structure that is itself the product of human activity, every religious world is inherently precarious in its reality. (p.50)This means that conversions remains a possibility, and the de-ghettoized Jews of the Modern era are more prone to it than their Medieval ancestors, as Berger illustrates (p.50). There are modes of conversion control---apologetics (p.50) on the one hand, and other forms of defense
education, and sociability, voluntary restrictions of social contacts that are dangerous to reality-maintenance, voluntary group endogamy (p.50)to name but a few, yet the co-existence makes these more difficult to implement.
At the same time, once the migration from one plausibility structure to another has taken place, the individual has to work hard to maintain his new attachment (p.51). "Evangelism" and "care of souls" are two sides of the same coin (p.51).
Every human society is, in the last resort, men banded together in the face of death. The power of religion depends, in the last resort, upon the credibility of the banners it puts in the hands of men ... as they walk, inevitably, toward it [i.e. death, RCK]. (p.51)
Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Garden City, NY (Double Day) 1967.