Re: Religion and stuff

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Mon, 15 Apr 1996 16:18:34 -0600

On Sat, 13 Apr 1996, Ronald Kephart wrote:

> (2) Could it be that is (mostly) the ecclesiastic religious cults, which tend to
> develop along with state formation, that are the ones typically most guilty of
> violence against non-believers? And, could this be related to the fact that
> they are tied so closely to states (sometimes there really is no distinction)
> and thus are a part of the burocratic, stratified, and centralized power
> structure? (I use the term ecclesiastic in contrast to religious organization
> more typical of small-scale societies: individualistic, shamanistic, and
> communal cults.)

Leslie White long ago identified this phenomenon, which he called the
'state-church.' "Civil societies are characterized by a number of
diverse parts and specialized functions, on the one hand, and a special
mechanism of coordination, integration, and control, on the other. This
special mechanism should have a name, and we have decided to call it the
_state-church_. We do this because this mechanism always has both a
secular and civil aspect and an ecclesiastical aspect; _state_ and
_church_ properly designate _aspects_ of this coordinative, integrative
mechanism rather than separate entities." He compares this to the
time-space continuum of modern physical theory (1959:303).

"The function of the state-church, in a word, is the preservation of the
integrity of the sociocultural system of which it is a part. This
means...coordination and control of parts and regulation of the system as
a whole. The integrity of civil social systems is threatened from two
directions: outside and inside" (1959:313).

"The subjugation of the masses, and the attitudes of dominant and
subordinate classes toward each other, have been graphically described by
'In the alliance of the priest class and the military class
(i.e., the secular arm of the state-church) religious duty, legal
right, and force were fused, and the original peasant-village
attitude of acquiescence to the overworld of spirits was
elaborated into a subservient manner toward earthly superiors. As
the masses became servile, the priestly and military classes
became lordly and arrogant."

"In addition to preserving the integrity of its own sociocultural system
against enemy attack from abroad and from revolt and insurrection from
within, the state-church has other functions of internal organization,
regulation, and control. These have to do with..._education_, with
relationships between persons in marriage and the family, with crime and
punishment, property relations, public health, social welfare, means of
transportation and communication, and so on" (1959:314).

"we should expect to find that the functions of the church, and the role
that it plays in the social organism, are fundamentally like those of the
state. ... In a word, the function of the church in civil society is to
preserve the integrity of the sociocultural system of which it is a part
by (1) offensive-defensive relations with neighboring nations, (2)
keeping the subordinate class at home obedient and docile in order to
prevent disintegration as a consequence of insurrection and civil war,
and (3) carrying on intrasocietal processes of various kinds, such as
agriculture, irrigation,... public works, and in influencing the lives of
individuals by means of education and rituals" (1959:323)

"...whereas the gods did not intrude into the domestic affairs of
primitive peoples, they became very much concerned with the behavior of
the masses in civil societies; that is to say, the priesthoods employed
theology and ritual to instill obedience and docility into the minds of
the masses and make them loyal to the established order. The military
force of the state was not enough to cope with the chronic and
ever-recurring threat of insurrection, civil war, and anarchy; the
resources of the church must be employed to this end also. So it was
that the priests taught the masses, and validated these teachings with the
wonders and mysteries of religion, that they should accept, and even
defend, the established order " (1959:324).

Thus, if I may interpolate from White, in response to Ron Kephart - May
not violence on the part of organized state religion be an expression of
1) expansionist predilections on the part of the state-church, and 2) a
defensive strategem designed to rally the believers (and citizens) behind
the state in its defense *against* the outsiders, the others, the
"barbarians" clamoring at the gate. How better to rally the faithful
than to portray the outsiders as pagans, heretics, even non-humans? Thus
any violence or atrocity perpetrated against them is not only
justifiable, but even praiseworthy.

In recent times (Cold War) the most horrendous atrocities have been
perpetrated and justified against the state's own citizens (post WW II
Greece, Argentina's Dirty War, Guatemala since 1954) by portraying them
as 'enemies of society.' These too have been promoted as 'holy wars' of
a sort.

> (3) And finally, to carry Kristin Gudnadotti's point a little farther, it
> certainly is true that practitioners of ecclesiastic religion do not really lose
> elements inherited from the other types of cult. So, we still practice
> animatism and animism, but these become marginalized just as reciprocity and
> egalitarian redistribution become marginalized to capitalist exchange, but don't
> totally disappear.

Christianity has been very effective in incorporating 'pagan' beliefs and
practises into its institutional structure, so long as none of the
central beliefs were threatened. Thus we observe Christmas at the time
of the ancient Roman Saturnalia, Hallowe'en is the date of the
Celtic-Druidic observance of the return of the spirits of the dead. Even
Easter conveniently falls in the Spring, when new life is emerging from
the ground and animals are birthing. Note all the fertility symbolism of
eggs, rabbits, etc. The Spanish missionaries similarly incorporated many
indigenous beliefs of the American Indians when 'converting' them to
Christianity. The 'Day of the Dead' in Mexico is far more important than
any European Hallowe'en because it conformed to very strong Aztec beliefs
about the dead and their relationship to the living. Is it mere
coincidence that the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the most revered
Marian site in the Western Hemisphere is on the site of the ancient Aztec
temple of Tonantzin, the Nahuatl Earth Mother? The Virgin of Guadalupe
is also conveniently dark complected, thus identifying her more closely
with the native population. I remember Ralph Beals talking about how
the Jesuits stamped out many 'pagan beliefs' among the Yaqui because
they conflicted with Christian doctrine, but they allowed them to keep
such rituals as the Deer Dance, because these did not seem to threaten
the basic tenets of Christianity. These are just a few examples of this
assimilating process that was more or less consciously followed by the
missionary fathers in aiding the conquest of the New World.

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

There are people who will help you get your basket
on your head because they want to see what is in it.
-- African proverb