virus: Berger's theory of religion pt. 3: nomos

David McFadzean (
Sun, 4 Apr 1999 12:43:15 -0600

Religion is the ultimate response to this [human] predicament. To understand how this is so, more must be said about the dialectical process of constructing a world. The success of a culture in providing a stable environment for human development 'depends upon the establishment of symmetry between the objective world of society and the subjective world of the individual'. When symmetry is achieved between the objective and subjective definitions of reality, that is, the definitions of the individual and the group, the institutions of society and the roles these institutions prescribe for individuals strike us as 'factual' and hence 'coercive'.

We think we must abide by the dictates of society, its traditional ways of doing things, because these ways are seen as the dictates of reality itself. Under such conditions people do no merely perform their assigned roles in social life, they freely identify with these roles. They seek what another sociologist, Ralph Turner, calls 'role-person merger' -- they become their roles -- and in the process they impart great stability to the received social order.

Human activity becomes very regular and predictable, providing practical and psychological reassurance to everyone about their own and other people's behaviour. Hence, under ideal circumstances, which are never actually achieved, most aspects of the social order should come to be 'taken for granted'. The relatively stable human environment that results is what Berger call a 'nomos', a meaningful world order.

Next: forgetfulness