virus: Berger's theory of religion pt. 5: anomie and alienation

David McFadzean (
Sun, 11 Apr 1999 12:29:41 -0600

In a world where the human microcosm has been conceptually merged with the natural macrocosm, where social roles become the mimetic [not memetic] reiterations of cosmic realities, through the mediation of the supernatural the experience of anomie is crucially ameliorated. It is not eliminated, since death, nightmares, and unanticipated twists of fate persist. But these are given a meaning in light of some larger divine scheme, whether through reference to good and evil, or the consequences of karma. This meaningfulness allows individuals to maintain hope and endure suffering.

The promise of ultimate order provides comfort, and more, it ensures that individuals will continue to willingly sacrifice themselves and their own selfish interests for the benefit and survival of the group, the social system, and the culture. The price of this security, for the society and its individual members, is 'alienation', or the forgetfulness spoken of above. For the illusion of world-building to work, humans must 'forget' their own creative role in the dialectic. They must become estranged from their own responsibility for the nature and fate of their society.

To recollect and reappropriate one's creative role would be to call into question the objectivity of the social order and hence the veracity of the ultimate meaning attributed to life. In Berger's theory, then, every society must strike some balance between the evils of anomie and alienation. Anomie can only be staved off at a certain price in alienation, while the reduction of alienation means a certain increase in the anomie that must be tolerated.

Next: secularization

p.s. Does anyone have any objections to Berger's theory so far?