Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 36 (December
This is a modified version of a paper presented at the XIth International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, held at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, on August 21-22, 1983.
The 19th century positivist, Auguste Comte, predicted that scientific study of society will eventually replace religious and metaphysical efforts, especially those studies which assume supernaturalism in religion and metaphysics. Naturalism in the form of scientism seemingly dominates most serious sociocultural research and theory todayeven affecting traditional evangelical Christian scholarship with some poorly disguised acceptance of naturalistic humanism in both postulate and model for research.
Our focal question is: Will religion, a universal in human societies and cultures, persist with supernaturalism as a basic assumption? Furthermore, will this assumption persevere in evolving sociocultural systems as modern scholars seek resolutions to problems confronting mankind today in national and international situations? Middle Eastern data are used to support this essay's conclusion that religion, viewed as belief and behavior blended into supernaturalism will persist as an imperative factor, either positively or negatively, for understanding sociocultural phenomena, especially in attacking various problems therein.
Giancarlo Zizola in his article, "China's Great Restoration: 'Clinging To Heaven' Despite State Atheism," in Panorama (cited in World Press Review, April, 1984, p. 61) concludes that "God is alive in China." He notes that the conventional image is of a China devoid of religion with a supernatural presupposition. Of course as all Sinologists hold, religion defined in terms of the supernatural has never found a favorable sociocultural milieu in China, as for example, in India or the Middle East.
A Chinese government, which is committed to official atheism, has decided to finance the restoration of religious monuments which had been destroyed, or were marked for removal, including Taoist pillars, Confucian temples, pagodas, churches, and mosques. Whatever may be the political or other motivations behind this dramatic reversal in policy, the present regime's new policy is to be explained and implemented in the "Institute for Research in the Study of Great Religions," established in 1983 in Peking.
The serious ethnologist, along with other scholars, will need more substantial evidence from qualified field work before concluding that the Chinese people have retained or are returning to supernatural assumptions. Nevertheless, one may well anticipate support here for the thesis of this essay.Auguste Comte on Religion
Western thought, with its pronounced drift into secularism and humanism, cannot be identified with any single scholar, or even with some philosophical school at some temporal stage in history. Western culture can be seen as an ideational stream with its headwaters rising in Middle Eastern antiquity and early Mediterranean societies. As this metaphorical stream flowed through medieval Europe, the Renaissance and the Reformation became significant tributaries to become a swelling current under the influence of the emerging skeptics and agnostics in the 18th and 19th centuries, Then, as this stream of thought crested in Euro-American culture, it overflowed into many non-Western ideational streams of thought to affect markedly those of radically different assumptions.
Auguste Comte, a leading French social philosopher, made lasting contributions to the stream in the 19th century. This founder of modern sociology actually expressed little more than what many of his contemporaries had already proposed. He, however, provided a structured and comprehensive organization for the growing ideational shift from a mystical world view to a radically contrasting approach to foster the understanding of societies by science in what became known as positivism.
Comte's positivistic philosophy, by its suggestions for understanding society through science, established five propositional categories: (1) the rigorous adoption of the positive or scientific method; (2) the law of three stages of intellectual development; (3) the classification of the sciences; (4) the conception of the special and incomplete philosophy of each of the sciences anterior to sociology; and (5) the synthesis of the positivist social philosophies. One is immediately reminded of E.O. Wilson's 20th century effort to do just that in his controversial writings (1975, 1978) with his commitment to ethological postulates and conclusions.
As he failed to give due recognition to the many scholars who obviously conditioned his thinking, Comte for the most part did little more than dogmatize the ideas of Turgot, Burdin, and Saint Simon (Comte, 1975; also see Harris, 1968). His ideas and interpretations of evolution in human thought illustrate this, for he posited human knowledge progressing from a theological stage through a metaphysical state on to a climax that is wholly scientific. This French savant's classification of the sciences hinged on a hypothesis that empirical efforts must inevitably develop in the direction of decreasing generality and increasing complexity.
In essence, this scheme makes science the final court of appeal for establishing knowledge, although the theological and metaphysical approaches could also contribute (along with intuitive insights, perhaps) if they were modified to conform to the positivistic dictum. It is quite evident that in such a proposal the future of religion implicit in a theological approach, especially if based upon supernatural assumptions, would become vitiated and very likely disappear as a significant means to acquire "truth" or reality.
In his scheme for social reorganization, Comte dedicated himself to social planning to produce an utopian society; this has been emulated somewhat more recently by E. 0. Wilson in his "sociobiology" (1975), and by B. F. Skinner in his notions of "Walden Two" (1962) and "beyond freedom and dignity" (1971). But Comte thought he found that theological concepts survive most tenaciously in sociology. As a matter of fact, his rationalistic admirers became astonished when Comte's conception of the ideal positivistic society was revealed as a religious utopia. Unexpectedly, he believed that, in his view of religion, the organization of the Catholic Church, when divorced from its supernaturalism, might well provide an ideally structured and symbolic model for the new positivist society. It became a cardinal tenet of Comte's proposal that any desirable and permanent social improvement must be preceded by an appropriate moral transformation.
One critical question in such thought is: Whence the source
of recommended morality? For the Catholic God, the Supernatural Being, Comte substituted devotion to what he termed
the "Great Being," by which he meant humanity, past,
present, and the future. Morality then is to stem from such
religion." This new "faith" was "the religion of humanity,"
but subsequent explanations revealed the faith to be essentially a system of social ethics. With considerable arrogance,
Comte envisioned himself as the supreme social architect of
the new social system to be built on a worship of the Great
Being. One is reminded again of Wilson, Skinner, and others
of more recent views.
Futurology and Supernaturalism
R religion. We may read, for example, Toffler's Future Shock in which, with journalistic flair, he concludes: "Science first gave man a sense of mastery over his environment, and hence over the future. By making the future seem malleable, instead of immutable, it shattered the opiate religions that preached passivity and mysticism.... In consequence, we witness a garish revival of mysticism" (1970:449-450).
On a more scholarly level, Toffler has edited The Futurists (1972). Among the "Philosophers and Planners" we find Ossip Flechtheim as a pioneer in his attempt to introduce "futurology" as a new science (1972:264-276). This mildmannered German professor advocates that such a new science become a required course of study in all curricula of all institutions for higher education. His firm conviction is that scholarly prophecies are of crucial value even though the prediction might accomplish little more than unveil the inevitable.
According to Flechtheim's "Futurology-The New
Science of Probability" (the essay's title) mankind has been
traditionally concerned with destiny in terms of family, tribe,
city, or nation as long as people have been preoccupied with a
supernatural future. Most, perhaps all, primeval and nonliterate peoples have been fully absorbed with death and an
after-life. Although this German futurist does not make
mention of the Old Testament, it seems certain that he would
cite the miserable job's probe: "If a man die, shall he live
Flechtheim notes that the ancient
Egyptians sought to resolve this problem by remarkable
means of body preservation. Again, he would certainly agree
that the hope among the early Christians for an imminent
millenium with resurrected bodies must be included, and
rejected, in the world view that is to be committed to science,
As Flechtheim looks at history, secularization of Western thought has challenged such theological and mystical assumptions-the Biblical view that human history is but a brief chapter in an eternal book of God's creation. The secularist tends to replace such thought by a this-world theory of progress. Such conclusions, advocated of ten in liberal and philosophical writings, including some by theologians, have been categorized as "technolatry" and "scientism" with the emphasis on the here and now. The psychologist Keniston aptly labels this stance as "the cult of the present" (1960: 209). Whatever Utopia may be sought (as Skinner's Walden Two) it is not attained through death and supernatural salvation, but rather through mankind's striving for improvement in time and space by scientific effort and accomplishment.
Within Flechtheim's Futurology are: (1) Mankind's prospective and psychological evolution together with the entire range of sociocultural activities. By ignoring the supernatural, Homo sapiens is to seek reality as defined by science with, as its ultimate purpose, the promotion of ecological harmony with the physical universe in general and the earth in particular. (2) Futuristic quests must objectively pursue questions for improving the destiny of our civilization. Relevant questions must include: (a) Can we anticipate the uninterrupted growth of Western civilization along lines firmly drawn throughout its history? (b) Will our civilization be characterized by a new functional organization which is to be attained by eliminating separate economic, political, and social powers, and by the emergence of an inclusive world culture based on secularism? And (c) will the so-called .1 civilizational process" (i.e., the scientific, technological, and developments which previously have proved to be cumulative and progressive) irreversibly persist until it will have transferred, for the first time in human history, the planet into a unified and technological world civilization devoid of the supernatural?
Even while he ponders these futurological questions,
Flechtheim betrays forebodings which reminds one of the
Russian- American sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin, in his ominous
pronouncements directed at Western "Sensate" culture
Flechtheim's essential scenario is the very thing that
Sorokin asserts is threatened by collapse and disappearance
unless some dramatic alteration occurs within the Sensate
process. The very nature of this essay is a confession of
scanning the horizons ahead; no supernatural viewpoint can
ignore what lies ahead!
Listen to Flechtheim's own dire option facing mankind:
... will the so-called social and cultural lag, which has become so painfully evident since Hiroshima, stop or even reverse this civilizational process? Is our Western civilization irrevocably doomed to decline as the economic crises and social upheavals, of bloody revolutions and deadly wars, leading up to a complete relapse into another Dark Age of primitivism and ruralism, localism and bestialism? In other words, will war and want, hunger and servitude prove passing clouds on a bright horizon or will they reveal themselves as the long shadows of death? (1972:273).
During this essay's original preparation, the news media were reacting to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's recent apocalyptic scenario at an award ceremony in London. Although I have not seen his complete text, several responses pointed to this scholar's censure on the declining spirituality (surely we must admit that he sees "spiritual" as supernatural from his writings) in American values. One news analyst, George F. Will, had reacted earlier to Solzhenitsyn's eloquent Harvard commencement address in 1978 with these words: "We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find that we were deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life" (Beaver County (PA) Times, June 20, 1978).
Religion is belief in the supernatural with attending emotions and activities both in ritual and lifestyle.
Solzhenitsyn's charge is appropriate in reference to what we have sought to note in Flechtheim's ideas, for the Russian sage also stated at Harvard these accusations:
Such views tend to be overwhelmingly rejected by most American scientists and philosophers, especially my colleagues in the social sciences. Thus, Sidney Hook, an influential philosopher with interest in scientific models, responds with these words: "Solzhenitsyn speaks in the tradition of Dostoyevsky, who taught that if man did not worship God, he would worship the devil or himself in the form of Caesar. Organized religions in the past have supported despotism, and some churchmen in our own time still do" (Time, June 26, 1978:22). To me it is tragic indeed that Western scholars more and more conclude that mysticism and supernatural interpretations are synonymous with institutionalized religion; as I see it, they are not. Such assumptions distort Solzhenitsyn's plea to admit and accept what ethnological research finds to be a human imperative, namely, the belief in the supernatural realm and its reality in sociocultural systems however bizarre and fantastic the concepts may be in terms of beings or power. Flechtheim's "Futurology" is but another heuristic proposal to join others which rest upon dubious postulates.
How did the West decline from its triumphant march to its present sickness? The mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. [An erroneous world view] became the basis for government and social science, and could be defined as rationalistic humanism of humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous need to worship man and his material needs.
However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious supernatural responsibility. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West: a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer (Tirne, June 19,1978:33).
And what is the contemporary view which is the logical consequence of what Comte formalized for science and which Flechtheim sees ahead? Perhaps we may suggest that Comte's "religion of humanity" finds an eloquent definition by Sellars:
Naturalistic humanism ... is largely a contemporary development, at once religious, scientific and philosophical, which postulates the necessity of an overt, conscious and decisive break with the framework and emphases of theism or supernaturalism, orthodox or esoteric.... It sees all phases of the past as part of man's immemorial march toward mastery of himself and his environment, a march begun in ignorance, but in these days, illumined by ever-increasing knowledge and-what is still more encouraging-the means and methods for extending and deepening that knowledge.
... It seeks to develop, for man, a positive perspective within the framework of a mature type of naturalism, capable of doing justice to the actualities of human life. It is thus, in essence, an attempt at a reorientation of religion, holding, as it does, that the heart of religion is man's need to possess a working complex of attitudes, sentiments and ideas about the meaning of life, the human situation, the kind of universe man is in, and the ideals he should embrace. Humanism holds that religion is Dot a static thing but something which evolves and reflects the stage of human culture (1958:417).
The Apostle Paul would find this orientation incomprehensible to him as he penned the opening words to the Romans. Paul would suggest that this is precisely what he had in mind when he wrote: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Romans 1:21-23 NIV).
Beyond the Apostle Paul's rebuke just cited, we cannot elaborate on certain fundamental weaknesses in this religious notion of Sellars with its roots in Comte's 19th century vision. Such an effort is worthy of an extended essay in itself. As a fitting response, let us turn to an apt summarization by James Sire. This evangelical Christian scholar has outlined the process wherein supernaturalism in theistic views has declined to a frightening void and a meaningless state for mankind. Or, as Sire addresses it, mankind has abandoned supernaturalism in the quest for meaning in human existence with the end result of aggravated frustration and futility. its logical end is complete abandonment to nihilism. But let us allow Sire to put it in his lucid phrases:
To summarize: the first reason why naturalism, inseparable from humanism as noted in Sellars' view, turns into nihilism is that naturalism does not supply a basis on which man can act significantly. Rather, it denies the possibility of an innate self-conscious character. Man is a machine-determined and capricious. He is not a person with self-consciousness and self-determination (1976:83).
Towards an Ethnological Definition of Religion
In previous studies we have sought to define religion as we believe such can provide the most helpful assumption for cross-cultural research in ethnological efforts which encompass all of human societies temporally and spatially (Jennings, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1983). Rather than reiterating those comments, but retaining the fundamental premise, we now seek to document how others subscribe to the supernaturalistic assumption. Hence, the ethnologist, John Middleton, reflects like views in his "The Religious System" (1970). Significantly, Middleton's analysis is found in a theoretical work which advocates various models for ethnological research; therefore his proposals for advancing understanding of religion in cross-cultural efforts become quite pertinent to our present thinking.
Middleton's assumptions include: (1) If one is to study such an all-pervasive part" of cultures and human experiences, one must have some reasonable conceptualization encapsulated in an operational rubric. (2) Anthropological scholars agree that religion is a social fact, hence it requires analysis in sociological terms. Of course as part of human behavior it can be examined by using other assumptions, but the social feature is primary for ethnological study. And (3) the ethnological analysis postulates a system which rests upon an underlying pattern or structure.
Middleton's second assumption occurs in a monumental study by Gottwald entitled The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250-1050 B.C.E. (1979). The undergirding postulate held by Gottwald is essentially that expressed in the Old Testament's opening words: "In the beginning God ... (Hebrew: elohim, a plural form of supernatural beings but when the definite article is used or inferred the reference is to the single supernatural Being).
Gottwald states that if, however, it turns out that religion is a more pervasive form of consciousness that cannot be restricted to any of the known religions, or to all of them taken together, and is further separable from belief in gods as personal beings or as invisible forces, it may be that its origins are anterior to social stratification in a form of ideation which tries to grasp the synthetic human experience of the interpenetrating mode of total lifestyle within groups and elaborated cultural products as a coherent but changing, even fragile, whole. Of course Gottwald's "religious consciousness" cannot be separated from dogmatic beliefs in supernatural beings (1979:637) even though his analysis is geared primarily to sociological theory and data rather than theological views : In his words: "What I am pointing out is that the Marxian view of religion cannot be settled by merely reaffirming or denying its truth, but only by extended scientific research and by future unfolding of human life in changing social relations" (1979:637).
Middleton notes that some ethnological ef forts have sought to support evolutionary schemes in religion, but he calls for rigorous field work by ethnologists rather than the earlier armchair speculations. Unfortunately, recent field work has tended to slight religion in favor of politics, kinship, economics, and other cultural phenomena because (1) in rapidly changing cultures, religious behavior is much more difficult to reduce to empirical data, and (2) the failure to agree as to what constitutes a "religious sphere" in social life.
While paying respect to useful surnmarizations already attempting to define the "religious," including such noted ethnologists as Horton (1960), Goody (1961), Geertz (1965), and Spiro (1966), Middleton observes that the religious usually has been delineated with "common-sense" terms: myths and cosmologies, rituals, belief in gods, spirits, ancestral deities, belief in magic, oracles, witches, and various ceremonial activities. He correctly reminds us that ethnologists most frequently detect many beliefs in overt behaviors such as rituals but in many cases the religious phenomena must be explicated by informants with such inherent faults as the informants' lack of understanding, the absence of adequate terminology (with the possible confusion between the .1 emic" and the "etic" concepts as suggested by Pike, the linguist, 1950), or possible misrepresentation to protect sacred secrets in dogma and behavior.
Nevertheless at the heart of all ethnological research which deals with this universal but variegated, complicated, and sometimes esoteric human behavior, Middleton arrives at w at e claims to be "the central attribute of the religious"; it is the concept of a "spiritual being" or power which is thought
To an ethnologist even greater significance than the dogmatic tenets of the faith (not usually articulated by the majority) is the manner in which the Qur'an and the Hadith are incorporated, with many contradictions, into daily life.
Consequent to these vague and diverse forms, ethnologists have considered these mystical beliefs and expressions to represent various kinds of social forces and experience. This supernatural being-power constellation of varying opinions gives rise to differing analytic ideas by various scholars: To Tylor (1873) it is understood as "belief in Spiritual Beings," while Durkheim (1954) proposed the "sacred" as the symbol for the power of society and human interdependence, but Otto (1917) suggested that it must be seen as an attribute of holiness. These and similar proposals have proven unsatisfactory, says Middleton, when there is a consideration of any particular religion. He holds that ultimately in trying to establish a religious nucleus or core, we must return "to the notion of a spiritual, divine power at the center" (1970:501).
Assuming that we can accept Middleton's "center" of the religious sphere, the supernatural, we are faced then by a controversial morass as to what constitutes the reasonable limits of behavioral phenomena to be included in the religious. It is almost impossible for people in a nonliterate culture to discern sharply the religious from the non-religious in terms of social reality. Many times this same confusion exists among literate cultures as well. The reason is that even with an institutionalized priesthood and theological treatises, the great body of "common" or "lay" members of the religion do not engage in esoteric abstractions to establish formal limits that govern behavioral decisions in social reality. And in those cases where limits are delineated there is seldom complete agreement among those who give serious thought to religious peripheries in human behavior. (The reader undoubtedly recognizes that this cause gives rise to many of the divisions within Christianity in "civilized, literate, and educated" Western peoples.)
Middleton's further analysis into religious studies by ethnologists extends beyond what is directly pertinent to this essay. Rather we believe that some reiteration may show our accord with his fundamental conclusion about the meaning of religion, or the "religious" as useful in scientific study of any people. At the core of cultural thinking, feeling and acting (i.e., the beliefs, the emotions, and the overt activity in rituals as well as total lifestyle) lies the supernatural or spiritual-the mystical or "extra-human" in some ethnologists terminology-concepts which are basic to appreciate the religious for both cross-cultural theory and research. Here then is my conclusion: Religion is belief in the supernatural with attending emotions and activities both in ritual and lifestyle.
To contend that belief occurs before behavior (rituals) or
vice versa is to engage in a futile chicken and egg argument.
However the behavior and belief system may not be given
theological exactitude or structure by the adherents, nor may
there be a clear demarcation between what is sacred and
what is profane, but "confession of the faith" is nonetheless
maintained by those marked by degrees of hypocrisy; a hiatus
between confession of faith and demonstration in conduct is
universal among mankind in whatever culture. There is
always a difference between the ideal and the real.
The Middle East as a General Example of Persisting Supernaturalism
General consensus among scholars, including ethnologists, today, both in the Middle East and elsewhere, often suggests that religion as just defined is opposed by powerful forces. Some maintain that the threat to supernaturalism in the Middle East has reached critical proportions which causes alarm among militant Muslims who have reacted with what has been termed "resurgence" or "revival."
As an ethnologist seeking empirical data for scientific interpretation, I must remember that (1) the present crisis in religion may not be more serious than in the past (e.g., the crisis confronting Christianity and Judaism in the Middle East at the inception and explosion of Islam), but merely that the exigency now assumes a different form as we, in field study, observe it among Muslim people (or other religious groups for that matter) in the Middle East; and (2) a crisis such as the Reformation in Europe was essentially a problem within supernaturalistic views of religion, whereas the contemporary difficulty may be described as an attack on supernaturalism in general and upon Middle Eastern Islam in particular by anti-religious forces.
My research for over three decades in Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria has revealed varying degrees of adherence to religious supernaturalism, but at practically all levels there is the dominance of the mystical among most of the "mosaic" (Coon, 1966) of peoples, Muslims or otherwise. In spite of the headlines and cover stories about the Middle East, the cynosure on a supernatural Allah (God) in the lives of Muslims is rarely appreciated even by those who ought to know better. My reiteration is that the message of the Prophet Muhammad continues to be proclaimed and heard by diverse Islamic
We must emphasize that very few scholars in the Middle East have committed themselves without reservation to secularism in their retention Of supernaturalistic Islamic dogma.
At some risk of stating the wellknown, Western impact upon Middle East culture includes degrees of naturalistic humanism which surely must infer some attack upon Islamic supernaturalism. What is sometimes labeled "scientism" as a world view by some opponents in the West seeks the minds and hearts of "developing" peoples who are of course to be found in the Middle East. Scientism in Islamic lands, as elsewhere, is committed to the dogma that science is the ultimate means by which Muslims and minorities there are to solve sociocultural problems in a progression toward utopian life. Since this scientism is introduced as a form of Western humanism, the intrusive thrust is accompanied by an individualism in its excessive form of self-reliance unwittingly disseminated by the Western innovators.
This individualistic concentration on personal morality and piety neglects traditional features in Islam and other Middle Eastern faiths; consequently the attack on the religion(s) is more than a challenge to the theistic postulate which is almost universal: it is a thrust at the social structure through which Islam finds its traditional expression and strength (Turner, 1974). In the Middle East, as elsewhere for most of human history, religion as herein defined has been directly relevant to societal life as a whole-ethnologists concur in this. As a matter of fact, it was the societal phenomena among Australian aborigines that led Durkheim (1954) to conclude that society is apotheosized because the group supplied individual needs; that is, the society possessed "supernatural" power for the individual.
Furthermore, in the Middle East, the Arabic term din designates the total life of a community or what T8nnies would call, Gemeinschaft (family-like "community" in contrast to a state-like "society," which he termed Gesellschaft, 1957). Hence, din is even more than a Weltanschauung with related cult practices. In Islam it encompasses civil and criminal law, personal ethics, matters of etiquette and hygiene, and the entire gamut of social customs (e.g., hospitality). The contrast between the Islamic view of religion and that characteristic in the West is obscured when Western Christians propose that religion should be applied to economic, social and political affairs. In Middle Eastern Islam, religion is within and inherently inseparable from social and cultural institutions.
Such an interpretation of religion, especially when part of a dominant supernaturalism with a preordained fatalism (not random fate), is more in agreement with what has been traditionally religious throughout human experience. This view compels the ethnologist to pose questions: Is there something that only supernaturalistic religion can do? Or that it can best do? Is the future function of religion likely to be in greater accord with Western ideas or those of Islam? Answers that appreciate such questions become highly relevant because the distinction between the contrasting views enables the ethnologist to anticipate acculturative ends in the contemporary and future Middle Eastern scene.
Thus far the acculturative forces are dominated by a secularizing process readily apparent to the field worker, especially in urban settings but also in most villages except those most remote from the cities. We must exercise caution here, though, to recognize a distinction between "secularization" and "secularism." The former is a process which allows science and technology to replace some need sources, while the latter is a philosophical stance.
To clarify this distinction, we may note that in cultural change, or acculturation, secularization occurs when activities formerly controlled explicitly by religious institutions are increasingly directed by a non-religious body. Such a case is obvious in Western social welfare. The care of the indigent or orphans is now, for better or for worse, largely under governmental supervision rather than by churches (admitting that the latter continue to provide significant aid in many instances). The same is true in the decline of ecclesiastical supervision when education gives way to state control. This secularizing process is quite evident from my field observations in the Middle East but at present it lags far behind the West.
Yet while secularization may be noted in the Middle East, we believe that it is devoid of scientism. which explicitly rejects the supernaturalism so traditional in the people's religious dogma and ritual. Western secularism has appeared in the Middle East among some of the elite who have received education in Western schools of higher learning; such incipient agnosticism is retained in certain urban enclaves where traditional religious supernaturalism has less rigid control over the people's lives. But even here, the secularism tends to be a veneer over hidden Islamic supernaturalism.
In other words, secularism with a base of scientism has not developed any elaborate literary expression. Some scholars do cite such philosophical expression in the laicism advocated by Ataturk in Turkey following the first World War, but my research finds confirmation from others that this laicism has proven to be a rather fragile facade largely held by some of the educated elite in positions of power. The great majority of Turkish people never relinquished supernaturalism.
Acculturative Forces and Reactions in the Middle East
Education offers an excellent demonstration of the culture change impact stemming from Western innovations in the Middle East. A brief history of this contact form illustrates this. Political leaders in the Ottoman's decline of the 18th century sought to emulate the aggressive and victorious European intruders by sending their young people, mostly men, to the West, especially England, France and Germany, for military training seemingly unaware that it could effect far more change than anticipated. They believed that they could develop a Western type of military organization with officers learning only those sciences and language terms directly bearing on military expertise; they did not foresee such education altering the student's intellectual orientation in other ways.
The ruling elite justified this erroneous conclusion by concluding that the Western exposure was essential for achieving military prowess; the cadets would remain unaffected by the theological and philosophical views in Western thought. After all, Islam had very early in its history immunized itself against Christian ideas when it conquered much of the old Byzantine world as well as North Africa and most of Spain-all areas with peoples committed to Christianity, at least in theory.
This traditional immunization found support in those early victorious encounters by the doctrine of tahrif-"corruption of the scriptures" by both peoples of "the Book," Jews and Christians (Watt, 1969:612). Though far less sophisticated in theological expression than that of the Christians, this doctrine enabled them to reject the Christian thrusts on the ground that the Christian Bible had been tampered with and could not be accepted. Early in Islam's history, a few Muslim scholars seem to have given some serious investigation to biblical study but this limited interest disappeared and left no legacy in Islam. Consequent suspicion of all Christian thought persisted to become important dogma in Islam. This negative stance was not confined to religion per se, but, as we have come to observe during our field work, is part of the inclusive holism in Islam, including social and political spheres.
With the return of the Western educated youth to the Middle East, there arose two systems of education: the traditional system controlled by the establishment and the military system, which was not considered education at all by the'ulama' or learned scholars who interpreted the shari'a or divine law. But this emerging second education, tolerated by the 'ulama' because of its primary military focus, was actually an acculturative step toward much more unanticipated alterations, Western Christian missions followed with their programs and personnel as well; not the least of these innovations was the establishment of "modern" educational systems in strategic Middle Eastern cities such as Beirut, Cairo and Istanbul.
These acculturative forces were welcomed because the previous educational contacts had revealed certain features, such as military superiority, increasingly sought by Middle Eastern leaders. Not surprisingly, then, the Christian educational institution provided much religious instruction in Christianity at the expense of Islamic beliefs-indeed, that
Arab nationalism or Arabism ('uruba') has always been closely linked with Islamic supernaturalism, and thus it is not surprising to find a marked proximity between mysticism or the sacred and Arab socialism.
Thus education (as one of significant acculturative forces in the Middle East) became a means par excellence to foster secularization in the Muslim world. Secularization became most advanced in the major metropolitan centers such as Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Tehran, and others. Cities, of course, have always been strategic centers for acculturation in most countries throughout historv (e.g., Jerusalem and Rome in Christianity, Mecca and Medina in Islam). Reviewing acculturational patterns, the ethnologist, Foster, notes this when writing: "Most social and economic change begins among the upper classes [who are almost urbanites] and then spreads downward to the traditionally inarticulate lower classes and outward to the countryside. The cultural innovation of urban areas have prestige attached to them" (1962:29).
This writer's field efforts in villages both in Iran and Lebanon found such diffusion from Tehran and Beirut respectively even though there was far less acculturative secularization in such villages (Jennings, 1957-58, 1960, 1972). For instance, in our conclusion to the study of an Iranian village, Mamazan, located 25 miles southeast of Tehran, we offered this summary:
First, there is the alteration in the economic system with the more or less autonomous subsistence type giving way to a cash economy that links the village inextricably to the national system. Secondly, there is a decline in village autonomy under large landowners or administrators to increasing integration within larger political structures. Third, there is a change from a value system focused upon family and community solidarity to one emphasizing adventurism and individualism. And finally, there is a drift from a pronounced religious orientation to a secularization with the sacred and profane assuming sharper distinctions in economic and political areas of life (195758:325, emphasis added).
Notwithstanding the secularization to he found in Mamazan and other villages under this writer's study, and admitting that the profane has become more advanced in the cities, we must emphasize that very few scholars in the Middle East have committed themselves without reservation to secularism in their retention of supernaturalistic Islamic dogma. We can assert this as valid despite the appearance of Marxist Communism that scholars such as Laqueur have held to be Islam's undoing. This recognized student of Middle Eastern affairs goes so far as to say three decades ago that "Islam has gradually ceased to be a serious competition of Communism in the struggle for the soul of the present and potential elites in the countries of the Middle East" (1956:6). Evidently the Ayatollah has neglected to read such genres of writing! And the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in Egypt was not by Marxists but by the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Musli mun), as has been clearly outlined by Aly and Wenner (1982).
While Communism has grown with increased numbers of Communist sympathizers in the Middle East, a comparison with other world regions reveals important differences. In Burma and China, there has appeared synthesis or syncretism between Marxist ideas and those of Buddhism and Confucianism respectively. This has not happened in the Middle East-indeed, it is unthinkable, Marxist atheism has been rejected overwhelmingly. Even where a Communist political program has been somewhat accepted-and this is not always the case-those promoting it have usually been, or claimed to be, good Muslims (e.g., Nasser in Egypt, Assad, though an Alawite, in Syria, and even Saddam Hussein as the Ba'ath Party leader in Iraq).
Because "socialism" is frequently linked with secularism among many scholars, Christian and otherwise, a word of explanation is in order. In some cases, socialism is viewed as a diluted form of Communism. But in the Middle East there are growing evidences of positive-and militant-reactions to the presence of Marxist Communism as Watt has noted (1969:629-631) and as is clearly obvious in Khomeini's leadership among Shi'ite Muslims. My field research suggests that the more thoughtful Muslim politicians realize that it is futile to denounce the Communists as atheists; rather these leaders realize that they must devise positive programs to correct the economic and social ills that have been the avowed target of the Communists.
There are even some Middle Eastern leaders (during my three decades of observation there) though relatively few, who allow themselves to be known as "Muslim socialists," but on the whole there has been far less talk of Islamic socialism, than, for example, of African socialism. Even the late Nasser's attempt to weave together socialism, which he labeled "Arab socialism," with his fervent nationalism in Egypt met with very limited success as demonstrated by the drastic reversal in Sadat's policies. Arab nationalism or Arabism ('uruba') has always been closely linked with Islamic supernaturalism, and thus it is not surprising to find a marked proximity between mysticism or the sacred and Arab socialism (von Grunebaum, 1962; Haim, 1962).
We may note briefly that most Middle Eastern students give attention to the tragic drama associated with the abandonment of Turkey's laicism program under Ataturk and the futile efforts of the Pahlevi Dynasty to modernize Iran. In both cases the supernaturalism of Islamic leaders and followers prevailed. We may also note in passing the case of the late Anwar al-Sadat in Egypt. As we observed Sadat's leadership, it became clear that he gained much more esteem among Western people than among his own Egyptians, especially as time moved along. Significantly, his role reflected a syncretism of Middle Eastern and Western ideas in that he enjoyed English apparel and his presidential perquisites (including nine official residences which he shared with but one wife), and he remained faithful to Islamic tenets of mysticism. It could be noted that his forehead bore the mark that is common to devout Muslims who touch the ground while praying.
Even in his unprecedented visit to Israel in November, 1977, to carry his diplomacy into an arena where Islam could not be allowed to overshadow political aspirations for peace, Sadat referred to his visit as a "Sacred Mission." Further on that epochal visit, he did not neglect a devout Muslim's imperative, namely, to pray at the revered al-Masdjid alAksa (al-Aksa Mosque) adjacent to the "Dome of the Rock" in the "Temple Square," which ranks in sacredness to Muslims only below that of Mecca and Medina. Obviously it seems precarious to cite a single autobiography as supporting datum for our argument of supernatural persistence, especially when that datum source, Sadat, was opposed and slain by fanatical supernaturalists of his own country. Yet accepting this seeming weakness, we think it defensible to use Sadat's own life history as valid evidence of Middle Eastern supernaturalism in Islam. He wrote what amounts to a manifesto for the spiritual dimension with these words:
God says: "We offered Responsibility to the Earth, the Heavens and the Mountains but they declined to bear it and felt unequal to it: Man bears it (the Koran).- God has assigned to man a role which distinguishes him from all other creatures. In the Bible we are told that God created man in His own image and in the Koran that He breathed His Spirit into man. Without a vocation, man's existence would be meaningless. We have been created to bear the responsibility God has entrusted us with. Though different, each man should fulfill his specific vocation and shoulder his individual responsibility. To do this he should first recognize and be loyal to his real entity within, regardless of any external factors; for it is this alone which will enable him to belong and owe allegiance to that Entity which is greater, vaster, and more permanent than his individual self (1978:82).
If leaders of major influence like Sadat subscribe to supernaturalism in their world view, we may state that the great mass of lower class people in the Middle East are much more committed to that stance. After years of research in the Middle East I confess that it is difficult to determine how wide and how deep is the acceptance of secularism as a creed or philosophical stance. Among those of my informants who have had Euro-American education, a number do argue on behalf of a secularistic Weltanschauung. My overall observations, however, convince me that the same people retain varying degrees of clear mystical attachment. As I see it now, for the rest of the present century few are apt to adopt mere ecularism as distinct from some form of Marxism.
On the whole my ethnological efforts show that the wave of secularism as an assumption opposed to supernaturalism is receding. We are joined in this conclusion by seri6us scholars in the Middle East as they realize the gravity in such crises as that in Lebanon and the Iran-Iraq conflict, to cite but two of the many. As the horrendous atrocities assume repeated and
We believe that the Islamic resurgence in reemphasizing supernaturalism is evidence for the indefinite continuity of that spiritual dimension in religion, in the Middle East as elsewhere.
The reassertion of Islam that is evident worldwide coincides with the deep disillusionment of Third World peoples with Western models and packages that have failed to provide them with satisfactory answers to the particular social and political ailments.... After decades of experimenting with alien ideologies such as socialism, Marxism, Ba'athism, Nasserism, liberalism, and western capitalism, they have chosen to move back to Islam-an all-encompassing ideology and way of life that is an integral part of their history and culture. Although it is true that Islam has always been very much alive in the region, this great religion is now being actively reexamined, reemphasized, and renewed as an overarching sociopolitical system of principles to be applied to all aspects of life. This assertion and reemphasis upon Islam is evident in every Gulf community....
The most important aspect of the surge of Islam in the Gulf is that it is not something promulgated and propagated from above but rather is a massive movement bubbling up from below, It is Popular Islam (Al-Islam Al-Sha'bi) as opposed to Establishment Islam (Al-Islarn Al-Rasmi). In the Gulf, there are at least five major identifiable movements that represent Popular Islam: (1) the Al-Salafi (traditional /ancestral) movement; (2) AI-Islah (reform) fundamentalism; (3) the new Al-lkhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) movement; (4) popular Sufism; and (5) Shi'a populism (1984: 4-5).
Ethnological studies have been marked with findings which Linton identified as "Nativistic Movements" (1943), what Wallace called "Revitalistic Movements" (1956), and what Barber had earlier described as "Acculturation and Messianic Movements" (1941). In these and similar theoretical efforts, there is general consensus that victims undergoing acculturation (mostly from the West) that threatens their culture with its values, including world view and religion, react by anticipating deliverance and restoration through supernatural power and means. Thus there occurred the "Ghost Dance" among the American Plains Indians (Mooney, 1965), the "Cargo Cults" in Melanesia (Worsley, 1968), the viable "Peyote Way" among North American Indians (Slotkin, 1955-56), and similar reactive developments which find peoples shocked from acculturation appealing to supernatural aid for relief and compensation.
Admittedly, it may be straining the acculturative concept when it is used for large sociocultural areas such as the Middle East; it must be used with caution and for general conclusions. Be that as it may, we believe that the recurring supernatural frame of reference in response to culture change is present in the Middle East as this has been evident among smaller, "tribal" societies. In other words, we believe that the Islamic resurgence in reemphasizing supernaturalism is evidence for the indefinite continuity of that spiritual dimension in religion, in the Middle East as elsewhere.
It seems reasonable, therefore, that the Middle Eastern data is relevant for all of mankind in that human beings cannot or will not be satisfied-" culturally content"-when confronted by imponderables of existence or ultimate meaning by excluding what the ethnologist, Bharati, refers to as the "extra-human" (1976). Whether we choose to speak of that realm as "extra-human," the "spiritual," the "mystical," or the "supernatural," we find that all serious ethnological studies of religion from all known societies live in reference, directly or indirectly, to that realm, We may indeed cite one reason in particular: It is that human beings everywhere recognize human limitations in the face of adverse circumstances over which they have little or no control. The late Robert Lowie, eminent ethnologist who specialized with American Indians and was professor at the University of California (Berkeley), was not one who admitted to any religious identification in his numerous publications dealing with religion. Yet he concluded one essay with these words that suggest the supernaturalistic imperative for mankind:
What the average man wants above everything else is security. But does science supply this? The answer is "No." That complete worldview that science explicitly renounces is precisely what the layman craves. In this perilous universe he is forever beset with dangers beyond his control. He wants at all odds to survive, and here science leaves him in the lurcb--not everywhere and always but often enough to make him keenly sensible of its imperfections. If be is dying of an incurable disease, it cheers him little to be told that medical science has made great strides in the past decades and that a remedy will almost certainly be found a hundred years hence, and probably sooner.... Science has achieved remarkable results, both practical and theoretical, but it has not made man a superman; so long as the enormous chasm yawns between man's rational control of nature and his biologico-psychological drives, there will still be room for belief in a Providence that grants not mere comfort, but security-not mere probability, but certainty. (1963)
The late Loren Eiseley, a leading ethnologist but hardly a theist in religious commitment, wrote late in life about 11 science and the sense of the holy" (1978) in which essay he made reference to Das Heilige, The Idea of the Holy, authored by the German theologian, Rudolf Otto. That book appeared in 1917, a time of bitterness and disillusionment in the Western world, especially in Germany where the seething condition later erupted in the horror of the Nazi holocaust. The book continues to command attention because it cuts across denominational lines or cleavages with its concern for a 11 mysterium tremendum," that very awe before mankind which Freud had sighed over and dismissed as irrational, only an illusion derived from childhood fantasies. But, as Eiseley notes, Freud left human adults considerably shrunken and misjudged-misjudged because some of the world's greatest scientists and artists have been deeply affected by the great 11 mystery," less so the child at one's knee, who frequently must be enculturated to what in India has been called "the opening of the heavenly eye" (Otto, 1917).
To those of us who rest our case upon the Bible (not upon scientific models of biblical interpretation which makes science the ultimate court of appeal rather than the commanding postulate that God can and has revealed His truth to be accepted by faith) for ultimate answers, we recall the Apostle Paul's confession to a younger associate:
... I am writing these instructions ... that ... you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He [God) was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (I Timothy 3:14-16 RSV).
We who pursue an ethnology which specializes in religious theory are quite aware that we may find our offices as "ivory towers" in which we may be snug and secure when speculating about mankind's problems in respect to changing sociocultural phenomena. Often we do not face undue stress from consequences stemming from our opinions about how remedial action should be taken in respect to mankind anywhere. It is usually quite safe to recommend to Middle Eastern peoples, or those in any other cultural sphere, that they must accept science and/or religion as we see one or the other as the means for their adequate entry into Western civilization.
There are those of us who may denigrate, or at least be scornful of, those who seek to employ ethnological findings of supernaturalism while defending our scientific aloofness with the questionable conclusion that "science is to be the quest for truth, wherever that may lead with little or no concern for valid application" and to ignore overwhelming problems among peoples outside the West. Such an indulgence is a luxury of the West that can no longer be tolerated. It must be replaced by recognition of the supernatural in religious experience, which in turn can give greater responsibility toward coping with the sociocultural malignancies which threaten mankind today.
To me, there cannot be a substitute or viable alternative for applied ethnology for cross-cultural communication and understanding that denies the enduring premise of the supernatural in religion. That there is desperate need to respect this assumption is forcefully supported by the Swiss theistic psychiatrist, Tournier, who holds this firmly in his therapy, and states:
Further, I have a threefold vocation: medical, psychological and spiritual. It is bad enough to fall into a technical routine as a doctor or as a psychologist; it is much worse to turn soul-healing into a matter of routine. I confess that it is this spiritual vocation which interests me most, for the very reason that all my experience has taught me the limits of medicine and of psychology, and because the supreme and universal need of man is to find God (1957:37, emphasis added).
Why this from a scientist in medical practice seeking to correct mental pathological stress so common even in Western culture? His therapeutic procedures stem from long experience with people steeped in naturalistic humanism or scientism or secularism that in one form or another has deprived them of a supernatural context with the spiritual void that proves intolerable for human beings. As this same therapist puts it:
There is the positivist who thinks himself free from all metaphysical preoccupations, and yet confesses that he is beset by religious longings that have never come to the surface of his consciousness (1957:59).
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