Sunday, April 17, 2016

Berger on the Sacred Canopy -- I.4 Alienation

(<< Chapter 3 -- Theodicy || Chapter 5 -- Secularization >>)

Religion and Alienation

Berger now re-iterates the difference between a physical event and an event with social meaning, taking the example of an accident versus an execution (pp.81f).
The individual may "co-operate" in the execution in a way in which he never can in the accident---namely, by apprehending it in terms of those objective meanings he shares, .... Thus the victim of an execution can die "correctly" in a way that would be more difficult for the victim of an accident. (p.82) 
Giving an example involving polygamy and monogamy (pp.82f), Berger reiterates that the fantasies are lesser realities because of the objective social reality is internalized; even the individual feels real only in his internalized role.
What concerns us here is simply the important fact that the social world retains its character of objective reality as it is internalized. It is there in consciousness too. (p.83)
This consciousness will decompose, analytically speaking, into a socialized and a non-socialized component (p.83).
... the duplication of consciousness [t.t., RCK] brought about by the internalization of the social world has the consequence of setting aside, congealing or estranging one part of consciousness as against the rest. (p.83)
In other words, the duplication of consciousness results in an internal confrontation between socialized and non-socialized components of self, reiterating within consciousness itself the external confrontation between society and the individual. (p.84)
Just as some of the things that man does become part of the objective reality of society and "escape" him (p.85), so even part of his own self escapes, the part shaped by socialization.
As a result, it becomes a possibility not only that the social world seems strange to the individual, but that he becomes strange to himself in certain aspects of his socialized self. (p.85) 
There are time when the externalized self can be reappropriated; but wherever that fails, and the "socialized self confronts the individual as inexorable facticities analogous to the facticities of nature", we can call this process "alienation" (p.85).
... alienation is the process whereby the dialectical relationship between the individual and his world is lost to consciousness. The individual "forgets" that this world was and continues to be co-produced by him. (p.85)
The effect is that social world and natural world merge, because the constructed character of the social world is lost in the alienated, undialectical and false consciousness (p.85). This leads to an inversion of the relationship between man and world and to a loss of meaning.
The actor becomes only that which is acted upon. The producer is apprehended only as product. In this loss of societal dialectic, activity itself comes to appear as something other---namely, as process, destiny, or fate. (p.86)
Berger emphasizes that such alienation is a state of consciousness, a typical stage in onto- and phylogenetic development (p.86), but is different from anomy (p.87), because if anything at all the world as opus alienum is "seemingly everlasting" (p.87).

Berger now observes that the success of religion as "the most effective bulwark against anomy throughout human history" lies in its "alienating propensity" (p.87) due to the numinous presenting itself as the totaliter aliter (p.87).
... the ultimate epistemological status of these reports [of an other reality somehow impinging or bordering upon the empirical world, RCK] of religious men will have to be rigorously bracketed. (p.88)
... whatever else the constellations of the sacred may be "ultimately", empirically they are products of human activity and human signification---that is, they are human projections. (p.89)
Thus because these produced projections of meaning are experienced as external to the individuals, they are alienated projection (p.89).
The fundamental "recipe" of religious legitimation is the transformation of human products into supra- or non-human facticities. (p.89) 
The humanly made world is explained in terms that deny its human production. (p.89)
The human nomos becomes a divine cosmos, or at any rate a reality that derives its meanings from beyond the human sphere. (p.89)
Berger believes that "simply equating religion with alienation"  is too much, as that would "entail an epistemological assumption inadmissible within a scientific frame of reference" (p.89), but is prepared to contend that
the historical part of religion in the world-building and world-maintaining enterprises of man is in large measure due to the alienating power inherent in religion. (p.89)
Again Berger insists that "the presence in reality of beings and forces that are alien to the human world" is an assertion that "in all its forms, is not amenable to empirical inquiry" (p.89).  [[RCK: My philosopher friends would assert that the onus is on the side of religion to provide the empirical proof, not on the side of modern agnostic science. In general, we should eschew entities that are not amenable to empirical inquiry in our theories, even if some entities are very a]]
What is amenable, though, is the very strong tendency of religion to alienate the human world in the process. (p.89)
Thus, religion has contributed to the mystification of the world by allowing man to live with a false consciousness (p.90).
The socio-cultural world, which is an edifice of human meanings, is overlaid with mysteries posited as non-human in their origin. All human productions are, at least potentially, comprehensible in human terms. (p.90)
Berger then turns to the example of marriage and kinship, noting that all societies have worked out "more or less restrictive `programs` for the sexual activity of its members" (p.90). One way to accomplish faithful adherence
is to mystify the institution in religious terms. (p.90)
(to be continued)

Bibliographic Record

Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Garden City, NY (Double Day) 1967.

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