Reflection 3/12

This week, we read McGuire’s “The Impact of Religion on Social Change,” which showed how religion can be used to support the status quo or to disrupt it. She began with a discussion of Marxism, which saw religion as “the opiate of the people,” an institution exclusively used to perpetuate social inequality. In his vision, on a local level, religious specialists and rituals drew off public dissent that might otherwise lead to revolution. As a larger institution, Marx saw religion instilling values of obedience in the lower classes and justifying the “divine right” of the elite. In particular, Weber speaks of theodicies, “religious explanations that provide meaning for problematic experiences” such as economic or racial inequality (241). Examples of this theory playing out in real life come from the Russian Orthodox’s upholding of the czar’s leadership and serfs’ submission, or from American churches preaching whites’ manifest destiny over Native Americans.
On the other hand, McGuire also discusses how religion can promote social change, reaching beyond the Marxian framework. Religious imagery such as the “kingdom of God” creates opportunities for believers to imagine a better world. Additionally, the advent of Protestantism and created a whole group of Christians eager to prove their faith by bettering society, since the sacraments no longer provided a clear expression of one’s dedication to God. In the end, McGuire points out that different religious groups are more conducive to either reinforcing or overturning the status quo, depending on whether they place their focus on this world or the next one.