Science in Christian Perspective



Frank E. Houser, M. A.

From JASA 9 (September 1957): 24

When religion affects society religion is considered an independent variable. When society affects religion the latter is considered a dependent variable. Let us consider some contributions being made in sociology which illustrate both situations. We shall begin with functional theory in sociology-an example of dealing with religion as an independent variable.

Following the main emphasis in sociological theory today is the spate of books and articles on religion from the functional perspective. J. Milton Yinger has just had a fine book published in which he presents the sociology of religion using as his main scheme of approach the structural-functional analysis. It is entitled Religion, Society and the Indisidual (published by Macmillan). Here is a book divided into two parts. The first half is Yinger's essay on functionalism, or what religion does for the society and the individual. The second half of the work is composed of selected readings. This column has previously presented in brief form the main tenets of this school. Both the strengths and weaknesses of functional theory are discussed by Yinger. For more extensive treatment of functionalism the reader is invited to look at the chapter on that subject by W. Buckley in Becker and Boskoff's Modern Sociological Theory (published this year by Dryden Press).

A brief critique of the integrative function of religion is offered by Allen Eister in his article in the American Sociological Review for August this year. Here, Eister points out the difficulties of religion unifying or integrating a complex society. The article is brief and adds little to Robert Merton's excellent constructive critique in his famous work, Social Theory and Social Structure. While religion may sometimes be dysfunctional, and even non-functional for a complex society, the insights of functionalism are not destroyed. The), are qualified and sharpened.

just as religion may at times be supportive of society and the individual, and at other times dysfunctional, so ~ve may view society's impact on religion. Religion thus is at times an independent variable, and at other times a dependent variable. To illustrate the latter several articles on aspects of Catholicism in America have been published in the journals lately. A. J. Mayer and Sue Marx publish a study in the January 1957 issue of the American Journal of Sociology which reveals how Catholic birthrates in Hamptranck, Michigan (a largely immigrant Polish community) have declined from 1920 to 1950 to the point where they are quite similar to the general birth rate in the U.S.A. Apparently rural origins, foreign birth, low socio-economic status, and Roman Catholicism did not prevent rapid acceptance of control of births.

This whole business of "Americanization" of Roman Catholics ought to be viewed with some objectivity by Protestants. This may be the kind of index which gives empirical light on just how zealous the American Roman Catholic is to obey church over against American heritage. It is interesting to note that the laity are the first to reveal change. Some regard the recruitment of native Americans to replenish the hierarchy of priests as another source of cultural and social invasion which will have repercussions of far more significance than what happens among the laity.

Of course, this is not to deny the contrary evidence. It is to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church in America is undergoing change and therefore exhibiting various tendencies-some even contradictory. Surely, as Catholicism gets more deeply involved in our culture and society, extensive change must be expected. Every other religious group, regardless of form of government, has been both affected and affecting.