Science in Christian Perspective



Russell Heddendorf, M.A.

From: JASA 11 (September 1959): 13-14.

In continuing to view possible areas of Christianity where sociology may make contributions of a positive and practical nature, it would seem obvious to mention the mission field. Upon incomplete survey it could be pointed out that in at least two areas, sociology has a contribution to make.

Within recent years, the army has shown through a series of studies that there are certain factors which are consistent in all "fighters" whereas "non-fighters" tend to be deficient in these characteristics. Many of these variables center in concepts of home life, civilian roles and class. These studies have pointed out that the ability to adjust to crisis situations and withstand varying types of stress in a new environment largely depends upon previously developed attitudes and behavioral patterns.

It would seem that mission boards have a problem comparable to that of the army. Whereas the armed forces are concerned with maximizing the number of soldiers who actually fight in combat, the mission board, attempts to increase the number of missionaries who return to the field after a first term. An interdisciplinary team composed of sociologists and psychologists might provide some knowledge which would allow for more careful selection of missionary candidates.

Anthropologists have stressed the need the missionary has of knowing the culture in order to work in it. Until such knowledge is gained or, as is often the case, if internalization of the culture should never be able to be adequately achieved, the missionary may be living in a cultural and organizational vacuum. What type of individual is best able to tolerate such a condition? Perhaps it would be possible to maintain a suitably familiar cultural climate with some form of adequate organization or community for the missionary having a low adaptive potential. In this way, such individuals could be brought more slowly into the socialization process, thereby eliminating the shock of a cultural vacuum.

The second area of study would have to do with the relationship of organization and missionary endeavor in a society. The field worker should not expect to find in other societies the same organizational ability characteristic of America. This has been clearly point ed out in a recent book.* What has been referred to as amoral familism tends to pervade most backward societies. The concept refers to an attitude requiring immediate concern for the individual and his family while neglecting the community and the need for mutual organization to meet its needs. In the particular society studied, religion was primarily manifest in an individualistic form with little concern for church forms. This seems a profitable point for further study since the missionary would approach a society with an individualistic form of religion in a different manner from one where there was a strong ecclesiastical organization.

Nor can the missionary neglect the effects which attempts to establish a church in an amoral familist society will have. There are mechanisms built into the church organization which seem to stimulate organizational growth in secular agencies. Study in this area should be of great profit. Religion, therefore, seems to have the property of centering the individual's interests in values and activities outside of himself and his family. This development of loyalties to phenomena outside of the immediate reference area requires the formation of organization. Though such results might be of benefit to the missionary, he should beware of an unanticipated consequence. Once an organizational mechanism is established, whether of a religious or secular nature, it may be turned to purposes other than those for which it was originally designed. History offers many examples of such displacement of ends. The reasons for them, however, are far from being understood.

Whether the missionary could ever be expected to apply such organizational information is a valid question. Nevertheless, science exists for the purpose of understanding the phenomena with which it is concerned and, for sociologists, this includes the relationship of organization and religion.

*The Moral Basi, of a Backward Society, Edward C. Banfield, Research Center in Economic Development and Cultural Change, The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill., 1958.