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Some of the major functions of religion
The place of religion in the simple , preliterate societies is quite definite ; ;
as a complex it fits into the whole social organization and functions dominantly in every part of it .
In societies like ours , however , its place is less clear and more complex .
With the diversity of religious viewpoints , there are differences of opinion as to the essential features of religion ; ;
and there are different opinions as to the essential functions of religion .
Nevertheless , for most of the population of heterogeneous advanced societies , though less for the less religious portion , religion does perform certain modal individual and social functions .
Although the inner functions of religion are not of direct significance in social organization , they have important indirect consequences .
If the inner functions of religion are performed , the individual is a composed , ordered , motivated , and emotionally secure associate ; ;
he is not greatly frustrated , and he is not anomic ; ;
he is better fitted to perform his social life among his fellows .
There are several closely related inner functions .
In the last analysis , religion is the means of inducing , formulating , expressing , enhancing , implementing , and perpetuating man's deepest experience -- the religious .
Man is first religious ; ;
the instrumentalities follow .
Religion seeks to satisfy human needs of great pertinence .
The significant things in it , at the higher religious levels , are the inner emotional , mental , and spiritual occurrences that fill the pressing human needs of self-preservation , self-pacification , and self-completion .
The chief experience is the sensing of communion , and in the higher religions , of a harmonious relationship with the supernatural power .
Related to this is the fact that most of the higher religions define for the individual his place in the universe and give him a feeling that he is relatively secure in an ordered , dependable universe .
Man has the experience of being helpfully allied with what he cannot fully understand ; ;
he is a coordinate part of all of the mysterious energy and being and movement .
The universe is a safe and permanent home .
A number of religions also satisfy for many the need of being linked with the ultimate and eternal .
Death is not permanent defeat and disappearance ; ;
man has a second chance .
He is not lost in the abyss of endless time ; ;
he has endless being .
Religion at its best also offers the experience of spiritual fulfillment by inviting man into the highest realm of the spirit .
Religion can summate , epitomize , relate , and conserve all the highest ideals and values -- ethical , aesthetic , and religious -- of man formed in his culture .
There is also the possibility , among higher religions , of experiencing consistent meaning in life and enjoying guidance and expansiveness .
The kind of religious experience that most moderns seek not only provides , clarifies , and relates human yearnings , values , ideals , and purposes ; ;
it also provides facilities and incitements for the development of personality , sociality , and creativeness .
Under the religious impulse , whether theistic or humanistic , men have joy in living ; ;
life leads somewhere .
Religion at its best is out in front , ever beckoning and leading on , and , as Lippman put it , `` mobilizing all man's scattered energies in one triumphant sense of his own infinite importance '' .
At the same time that religion binds the individual helpfully to the supernatural and gives him cosmic peace and a sense of supreme fulfillment , it also has great therapeutic value for him .
It gives him aid , comfort , even solace , in meeting mundane life situations where his own unassisted practical knowledge and skill are felt by him to be inadequate .
He is confronted with the recurrent crises , such as great natural catastrophes and the great transitions of life -- marriage , incurable disease , widowhood , old age , the certainty of death .
He has to cope with frustration and other emotional disturbance and anomie .
His religious beliefs provide him with plausible explanations for many conditions which cause him great concern , and his religious faith makes possible fortitude , equanimity , and consolation , enabling him to endure colossal misfortune , fear , frustration , uncertainty , suffering , evil , and danger .
Religion usually also includes a principle of compensation , mainly in a promised perfect future state .
The belief in immortality , where held , functions as a redress for the ills and disappointments of the here and now .
The tensions accompanying a repressive consciousness of wrongdoing or sinning or some tormenting secret are relieved for the less self-contained or self-sufficient by confession , repentance , and penance .
The feeling of individual inferiority , defeat , or humilation growing out of various social situations or individual deficiencies or failures is compensated for by communion in worship or prayer with a friendly , but all-victorious Father-God , as well as by sympathetic fellowship with others who share this faith , and by opportunities in religious acts for giving vent to emotions and energies .
In providing for these inner individual functions , religion undertakes in behalf of individual peace of mind and well-being services for which there is no other institution .
In addition to the functions of religion within man , there have always been the outer social functions for the community and society .
The two have never been separable .
Religion is vitally necessary in both societal maintenance and regulation .
The value-system of a community or society is always correlated with , and to a degree dependent upon , a more or less shared system of religious beliefs and convictions .
The religion supports , re-enforces , reaffirms , and maintains the fundamental values .
Even in the United States , with its freedom of religious belief and worship and its vast denominational differentiation , there is a general consensus regarding the basic Christian values .
This is demonstrated especially when there is awareness of radically different value orientation elsewhere ; ;
for example Americans rally to Christian values vis-a-vis those of atheistic communism .
In America also all of our major religious bodies officially sanction a universalistic ethic which is reflective of our common religion .
Even the non-church members -- the freewheelers , marginal religionists and so on -- have the values of Christian civilization internalized in them .
Furthermore , religion tends to integrate the whole range of values from the highest or ultimate values of God to the intermediary and subordinate values ; ;
for example , those regarding material objects and pragmatic ends .
Finally , it gives sanctity , more than human legitimacy , and even , through super-empirical reference , transcendent and supernatural importance to some values ; ;
for example , marriage as a sacrament , much law-breaking as sinful , occasionally the state as a divine instrument .
It places certain values at least beyond questioning and tampering .
Closely related to this function is the fact that the religious system provides a body of ultimate ends for the society , which are compatible with the supreme eternal ends .
This something leads to a conception of an over-all Social Plan with a meaning interpretable in terms of ultimate ends ; ;
for example , a plan that fulfills the will of God , which advances the Kingdom of God , which involves social life as part of the Grand Design .
This explains some group ends and provides a justification of their primacy .
It gives social guidance and direction and makes for programs of social action .
Finally , it gives meaning to much social endeavor , and logic , consistency , and meaning to life .
In general , there is no society so secularized as to be completely without religiously inspired transcendental ends .
Religion integrates and unifies .
Some of the oldest , most persistent , and most cohesive forms of social groupings have grown out of religion .
These groups have varied widely from mere families , primitive , totemic groups , and small modern cults and sects , to the memberships of great denominations , and great , widely dispersed world religions .
Religion fosters group life in various ways .
The common ultimate values , ends and goals fostered by religion are a most important factor .
Without a system of values there can be no society .
Where such a value system prevails , it always unifies all who possess it ; ;
it enables members of the society to operate as a system .
The beliefs of a religion also reflecting the values are expressed in creeds , dogmas , and doctrines , and form what Durkheim calls a credo .
As he points out , a religious group cannot exist without a collective credo , and the more extensive the credo , the more unified and strong is the group .
The credo unifies and socializes men by attaching them completely to an identical body of doctrine ; ;
the more extensive and firm the body of doctrine , the firmer the group .
The religious symbolism , and especially the closely related rites and worship forms , constitute a powerful bond for the members of the particular faith .
The religion , in fact , is an expression of the unity of the group , small or large .
The common codes , for religious action as such and in their ethical aspects for everyday moral behavior , bind the devotees together .
These are ways of jointly participating in significantly symbolized , standardized , and ordered religiously sanctified behavior .
The codes are mechanism for training in , and directing and enforcing , uniform social interaction , and for continually and publicly reasserting the solidarity of the group .
Durkheim noted long ago that religion as `` a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things unites into one single moral community all those who adhere to them '' .
His view is that every religion pertains to a community , and , conversely , every community is in one aspect a religious unit .
This is brought out in the common religious ethos that prevails even in the denominationally diverse audiences at many secular semi-public and public occasions in the United States ; ;
and it is evidenced in the prayers offered , in the frequent religious allusions , and in the confirmation of points on religious grounds .
The unifying effect of religion is also brought out in the fact that historically peoples have clung together as more or less cohesive cultural units , with religion as the dominant bond , even though spatially dispersed and not politically organized .
The Jews for 2500 years have been a prime example , though the adherents of any world or interpeople religion are cases in point .
It might be pointed out that the integrating function of religion , for good or ill , has often supported or been identified with other groupings -- political , nationality , language , class , racial , sociability , even economic .
Religion usually exercises a stabilizing-conserving function .
As such it acts as an anchor for the people .
There is a marked tendency for religions , once firmly established , to resist change , not only in their own doctrines and policies and practices , but also in secular affairs having religious relevance .
It has thus been a significant factor in the conservation of social values , though also in some measure , an obstacle to the creation or diffusion of new ones .
It tends to support the longstanding precious sentiments , the traditional ways of thinking , and the customary ways of living .
As Yinger has pointed out , the `` reliance on symbols , on tradition , on sacred writings , on the cultivation of emotional feelings of identity and harmony with sacred values , turns one to the past far more than to the future '' .
Historically , religion has also functioned as a tremendous engine of vindication , enforcement , sanction , and perpetuation of various other institutions .
At the same time that religion exercises a conserving influence , it also energizes and motivates both individuals and groups .
Much of the important individual and social action has been owing to religious incentives .
The great ultimate ends of religion have served as magnificent beacon lights that lured people toward them with an almost irresistible force , mobilizing energies and inducing sacrifices ; ;
for example , the Crusades , mission efforts , just wars .
Much effort has been expended in the sincere effort to apply the teaching and admonitions of religion .
The insuperable reward systems that most religions embody have great motivating effects .
Religion provides the most attractive rewards , either in this world or the next , for those who not merely abide by its norms , but who engage in good works .
Religion usually acts as a powerful aid in social control , enforcing what men should or should not do .
Among primitive peoples the sanctions and dictates of religion were more binding than any of the other controls exercised by the group ; ;
and in modern societies such influence is still great .
Religion has its own supernatural prescriptions that are at the same time codes of behavior for the here and now .