Science in Christian Perspective



Sociology: A Defense
-Part III

From: JASA 14 (September 1962): 91-92.

In the previous article of this series, the general view was developed that a prime factor of determinism in the life of social man is morality. The need to conform to values patterns his life in ways which are externally controlled. It was seen, however, that even this form of "determinism" is not perfectly provided for by society. Instead, there is much need and opportunity to resist and change molding influences. Yet, the individual has not the fight to ignore the patterns to which he is to conform, for to do so would result in anarchy.

This question of maintaining a balance between conformity and freedom within a framework of morality is a critical issue in the sociology of religion. It is particularly well analyzed in a recent article by William Kolb, referred to in the preceding column." For the Christian, Kolb's argument is particularly important because he is disturbed by the lack of objectivity in the field of sociology when attempting to analyze religion and suggests an orientation which is highly favorable to the Christian viewpoint. First, he argues for an image of man based on freedom and moral responsibility in place of the current deterministic views of man. Second, he indicates the complete inadequacy of the present limited view assumed in the sociology of religion. It is precisely the type of reevaluation being done by Kolb which is so essential in sociology today. His article, therefore, also has importance because of the contribution it makes to theory and methodology.

With a true scientific approach, Kolb stresses the point that any concept is valid as long as it fits the observed data. This is a scientific principle too often ignored today because of the ease with which traditional concepts are used to make the observed data support the traditional image. It is Kolb's main hypothesis that the Judaic-Christian image of man more accurately fits that data than the non-Christian image of man.

What does Kolb mean by a non-Christian image of man? Primarily, it is deterministic, omitting the possibility of freedom. The sociological significance of such an image is that the individual must conform to current social standards. The determinism molding the non-Christian image, therefore, is basically social in nature. The question to be raised here is whether such social determinism is truly at the root of sociological theory today. Indeed, Parsons, in the comments which accompany Kolb's article, suggests that such a unified view of social determinism does not exist in sociology today. The field is too dynamic to allow one dominant view to emerge. The argument could also be raised that sociologists are aware of the value of a non-deterministic view of man but have not supported it because the social mechanisms needed to allow deviation to be socially profitable are not well understood. Although some sociological works have preached the value of freedom, they have not shown the means by which it may be satisfactorily achieved. It is suggested here that such general statements favoring deviance and freedom fail to specify constructive functions because they originate in a secular frame of reference which questions authority and threatens society. When based on a non-social, superempirical foundation, however, statements favoring deviance gain their full meaning in fulfilling God's authority. Concepts of freedom would seem to be most clearly specified when based on religious values.

Kolb shows that the deterministic image of man has caused sociology to ignore some basic social values. The individual who cannot be held responsible for his place in society cannot be held liable for his actions. Kolb feels that the problem of juvenile delinquency has been mishandled because the delinquent, as a product of his environment has not been held responsible; it is society which is to blame. Hence, the deterministic image of man becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy helping to cause lack of morality and promoting amorality in sociology and society.

Kolb is very explicit in conceptualizing the Judaic-Christian image of man. He is aware that man and the world are real and knowable. If these are important, then this tradition must seek to know them. He suggests that such knowledge has been gained by the Judaic-Christian view through use of empirical methods and observation. Knowledge becomes existential, historical, and not rational.

The more important characteristics of this image would include the following components. Of the essence is freedom or the conditioned will. Included here is unpredictability, which was considered in the previous column, and uniqueness. Both of these imply that freedom exists in a transcendent frame and cannot be an object of experience or thought. A second characteristic on which Kolb puts much stress is the fact that man has needs which must be met. Such a view is consistent with the freedom of the individual, since, by meeting these needs, social requirements to conform must often be ignored. The key need of man is some sense of meaningfulness. Kolb feels that this may be accomplished best by stressing relations of individual to individual, instead of to groups, and a relationship to a non-empirical entity. Since sociologists have rarely stressed the need to relate to God as an essential feature of religion, Kolb's emphasis here is significant. The elimination of meaninglessness, according to Kolb, depends upon removal of oneself from the relative world of society and relating to the absoluteness of God. Although the Christian may find this function of God to be somewhat limited, it is nevertheless sympathetic with his conception. Kolb further supports the Christian in his statement of the last two dimensions of the Judaic-Christian image. These are that man is incapable of an adequate relationship with both other men and God, which results in an awareness of sinfulness, and that man is characterized by use of reason and finiteness. With this image as his chief tool, Kolb suggests that the sociological conceptions of religion have not been entirely correct.

The traditional view of religion held by sociologists is that it supports the moral system of the society. Conformity to these ultimate values results in cooperation and eventual social harmony. The principal function of religion, therefore, has been stated in terms of the integration of society. Kolb's argument is that it is not possible to conceive of ultimate values without referring their origin back to God. He states that previous attempts to explain the origin of ultimate values have not been satisfactory because they have been based upon an image of man which is socially deterministic. Hence, the values which are accepted by the individual are relative, changeable, and inadequate. Whatever integration is achieved is temporary and dependent upon the concrete situation.

It is for this reason that Kolb has stressed the Judaic-Christian image. Dependence on the non-Christian image results in a distortion of the facts and the statement of a function of religion which is limited. Instead, he suggests that ultimate values can come only from a non-empirical entity to man who acts in accordance with the Judaic-Christian image. It is at this point that his scientific discipline is so well ill He does not argue for his point of view outlines a model which he suggests fits the facts closely than the traditional model based upon s integration. This former model would be stated s thing like this: "We can now recognize 1) that w all ultimate moral value systems have their roots some religion, not all religions give rise to val systems which include morality-the world may sim be rejected; 2) religion may be a social phenomen in the same sense that an individual is social but it not a social phenomenon and need not be a grou phenomenon; 3) a religion may fail to integrate a s ciety not only because it opposed an older system o moral values, but because it does not give rise to a system of moral values, because it is not shared, o because the content of the moral values created are n such as to prevent conflict; 4) all religion is not an a tempt to resolve the problem of social disruptio although social disruption may be one of the fortr. that creates the problem of meaning, the answer which need not be something which will create soci order.' '2 The Christian can be very sympathetic wi such a model, as far as it goes. The sociologist should be aware that it does more accurately portray sect formation as well as the question of function of religion.
Kolb's approach views man as being controlled by God, not society; worshipping God, not society. Using the Judaic-Christian image, society becomes merely one referent in his world of influence. It becomes a means y which values may be achieved but is not an end in itself. It is not a closed system excluding God, but becomes a means by which the individual can relate to God.

1William Kolb, "Images of Man and the Sociology of Religion," journal for The Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 1, no. 1, Oct. 1961, pp. 5-22. 

2Ibid., p. 21 note. 

RFD Kitchell Lake Newfoundland, N.J.