Social Control and Support for the Government
How does religion help bind society together and maintain social control? All societies attempt to maintain social control through systems of rewards and punishments. Sacred symbols and beliefs establish powerful. pervasive. long-lasting motivations based on the concept of a general order of existence. In other words. if individuals consider themselves to be part of a larger order that holds the ultimate meaning in life. they will feel bound to one another (and to past and future generations) in a way that might not be possible otherwise (McGuire. 2002). Religion also helps maintain social control in society by conferring supernatural legitimacy on the norms and laws of a society. In some societies. social control occurs as a result of direct collusion between the dominant classes and the dominant religious organizations. Niccolo Machiavelli, an influential sixteenth-century statesman and author, wrote that it was "the duty of princes and heads of republics to uphold the foundations of religion in their countries. for then it is easy
to keep their people religious, and consequently well conducted and united" (qid, in McGuire. 2002: 242). And. as discussed in Chapter 14. absolute monarchs have often claimed a divine right to rule. In the United States. the separation of church and state reduces religious legitimation of political power Nevertheless. political leaders often use religion to justify their decisions. stating that they have prayed for guidance in deciding what to do. This informal relationship between religion and the state has been referred to as civil religion-the set of beliefs. rituals., and symbols that makes sacred the values of the society and places the nation in the context of the ultimate system of meaning. Civil religion is not tied to anyone denomination or religious group; it has an identity nil its own. For example. many civil ceremonies in the United Stales have a marked religious quality. National values are celebrated on "high holy days" such as Memorial Day and the l-ourth of July. Political inaugurations and courtroom trials often require people to place their hand on a Bible while swearing to do their duty or tell the truth, as the case may be. The U.S. flag is the primary sacred object of our civil religion, and the Pledge of Allegiance includes the phrase "one nation under God." u.s. currency bears the inscription "In God We Trust:' Some critics have attempted to eliminate all vestiges
of civil religion from public life. However, the sociologist Robert Bellah (1967), who has studied civil religion extensively, argues that civil religion is not the same thing as Christianity; rather, it is limited to affirrnations that members of any denomination can accept As the sociologist Meredith McGuire (2002: 203) explains, Civil religion is appropriate to actions in the official public sphere, and Christianity and other religions are granted full liberty in the sphere of personal
piety and voluntary social action. Th is division of spheres of relevance is particularly important for countries such as the United States, where religious pluralism is both a valued feature of sociopolitical life and a barrier to achieving a unified perspective for decision making. However, this assertion may not resolve the problem for those who do not believe in the existence of God or for those who believe that true religion is trivialized by civil religion. Civil religion may serve either a priestly function by celebrating the greatness of the United States or a prophetic [unction by pointing out discrepancies between 'the nation's ideals and the realities of its actions. For example, in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King. [r.• appealed to people of all religions to end racial discrimination in the United States based on patriotic values (Roberts. 2004). However. civil religion was also used to [justify two opposing stances on U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam; some bumper stickers read "Erica Love It or Leave It!" while others demanded "America-Change It or Lose It!" (McGuire. 2002).