Religion

Up to this point two modes of religion have been denoted - religion (religion as the surging of unconditioned forces beneath the surface of a culture) and religion (religion as a discrete sphere within a culture). Religion^ refers to religion as ultimate concern. This is our for the most part pre-conscious faith that existence is worthwhile, the faith that can be found in the depths of each of the spheres of culture - art, science, politics, family, economy, religion, and the media-world - sustaining our conviction that it is a meaningful act to participate in them. Religion1, as Tillich described it, "is the life-blood, the inner power, the ultimate meaning of all life. The 'sacred' or the 'holy' inflames, imbues, inspires, all reality and all aspects of existence."62

Religion2, on the other hand, refers to overt religion, with its scriptures, myths, symbols, rituals, officials, prayers, places of worship, etc., through which people seek to comprehend, respond to, and communicate in an explicit manner the ultimate realities upon which their faith rests. Religion2 relies upon "all forms of meaningful expression" - such as language, music, art, philosophy, architecture, ritual, ethics, and technology (writing, printing presses, telecommunications). Without these cultural forms, religion2 "cannot express itself even in a meaningful silence."63 Human beings "would not be spiritual," Tillich claims, "without words, thoughts, and concepts," which are the gifts of culture.64

These are the two senses of religion captured in Tillich's formula: "Religion is the substance of culture and culture is the form of religion." Religion(1) is the substance of culture; culture is the form of religion^).

But there is also a third mode of religion - one that Tillich did not distinguish, and therefore did not give the attention it deserves - a mode that can be designated as religion. Religion refers to the way that the ideas and values of a particular religion2 come to be absorbed - but not lost - by the culture in which that religion is or has been dominant. As a variation on Herder's notion that each culture may be viewed as the embodiment of an idea of God, it is possible to make some generalizations about different cultures and civilizations based on the religious traditions that have been most active and enduring within them. The way that a culture ages and matures is influenced to a great extent by the religious2 forces that prevailed in its formative periods. While no culture is monolithic, it is still possible to find within modern Arab nations powerful "secular" institutions and enduring moral habits that are inconceivable without the historical influence of Islam. Similarly with China and Taoism, and India and Hinduism. Legal systems, political cultures, aesthetic sensibilities, family structures, modes of entertainment, and educational practices bear the lingering effects of religion2 influence even when it has long ceased to be direct. This is not to say that the institutions and moral habits are explicitly "Islamic," "Taoist," or "Hindu"; it is only to say that ideas and moral predilections that originated in these religions have been sown in the cultures in which they made their home and have germinated and mutated over long stretches of time in ways that are different from, yet resonant with, the development of the same ideas and moral predilections that occur inside the religion traditions themselves. This renegade activity of once explicit religious influences outside the sphere of religion is what is meant by religion. It is not a kind of spontaneous eruption of religion1 inspiring the culture from its ontological depths, but a derivative emergence from religion2.

To offer a more familiar example: in the history of Western cultures, religion2 has established a multitude of institutions to reflect its values and ideals that were subsequently dispersed throughout the West and have come to be taken for granted as elements Westerners expect to find in any livable society. Think about such institutions as universities, hospitals, social service agencies, art patronage, public libraries, urban cemeteries, public parks and playgrounds, the constitutional form of government, family law, and homes for orphans, the destitute and elderly. Each one can be traced back to the founding efforts of organized religion. True, most universities, hospitals, social service agencies, and the rest are now independent non-profit, for-profit, or state-run institutions. But the historical record is that their first appearance in Western civilization in anything like their modern form came by way of the agitations of religious communities who were motivated by religious ideas to launch an institution-producing moral crusade.65

That we largely concur that these institutions and the values they promote are good and for the most part assume that any society we would wish to be members of will address these values through similar institutions and laws, is one of religion2's great achievements. It shows the extent to which the moral habits that have been refined within overt religion have been adopted and internalized by Western secular culture, even though the religious pedigree of these institutions and laws is forgotten and, in some quarters, strenuously denied. Religious2 tendencies, values, and ideals continue to develop and organize life within religious denominations and congregations, but they have also been entrusted to a process of development that is independent of the oversight of religion2. Moral habits that originated in religious communities now travel down two different roads, one still within religion2 and one in its secular diaspora of religion.

With respect to doing a theological analysis of culture, it is important to remember that the moral habits that now travel in secular diaspora in the West were originally conceived as responses to theological convictions about the nature of God, the human condition, covenant, grace and salvation. This raises the possibility that if one digs around in our culture's moral habits - which are found in the non-profit institutions it supports, the mythic stories it tells itself, its founding documents, and the exemplary persons it promotes as worthy to emulate, among other things - a theological layer might be uncovered.

That we value democracy has its historical roots in the Puritan struggles for popular sovereignty, the Calvinist belief that those who have power will inevitably abuse it, and an even deeper root in the biblical admonitions that promoted a feeling of obligation for the poor and humble. The Bible has much to say about championing the side of victims, being suspicious of wealth, refusing to be "respecters of persons," and condemning the delusions of the powerful, all prejudices inclined toward social leveling that persist as moral reflexes in the West, as can be seen in the insistence upon due process in Western legal practice, and the different permutations of the anti-globalization movement of the last decade. In addition to its role in the emergence of human rights, the concept of a higher law that arose in the natural law tradition and was a franchise of Roman Catholicism for centuries has had repercussions in science and art, where it has served to embolden many thinkers and artists to question conventions and common wisdom. The practice of critical interpretation of culture that permeates the West - in journalism, literature, cinema, and higher education - rests at some level on faith in a higher law in relation to which everything falls short, and to which everything is accountable, a law that medieval theologians conceived as emanating from the mind of God.

That the three great American sports - football, baseball, and basketball - were invented by New England Protestants, a pedigree about which few are aware, suggests that they are features of popular culture ripe for analysis as religion3 phenomena. They became organized sports in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through the efforts of students studying for ministry at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, and later as an explicit effort of the Massachusetts-based YMCA, promoted for the purpose of disciplining the excess vitality of youth and cultivating such moral values as cooperation, fair play, and sacrifice.66 They have taken a route in our society surely unintended by their founders. While the mythic, ritual, and moral elements of each of the three still bear vestigial traces of their origins, they have appropriated and given rise to a full-fledged religious3 system that competes with Christianity as much, if not more than, it reinforces certain Christian values. While there is still some impulse to cheer on the underdog, and with the possible exception of Cubs' fans, there is little survival in these sports of Jesus' admonition that "the last shall be first."

Still, one of the ironies is that, in many cases, the very same values that were conceived within religion fare better once they have been released to do their work outside the religious sphere. This can be seen in the sluggish pace with which women have been admitted into leadership within many Christian churches relative to what has occurred within the political, academic, and business spheres of Western culture. Liberation from bondage is a biblical legacy in the West, one that is only gradually coming to be realized. The slow emancipation of women that we have achieved owes its inspiration to the rogue journey of this particular biblical ideal into the wider culture. There is a conservative inertia within religious traditions that can hold back the potential of certain homegrown values within the tradition itself. Because of this, the tradition that gave the culture such a treasured ideal often comes under criticism from those who are indebted to it, viz., the recipients of the ideal who have fostered its development outside the tradition. The full power of many of the symbols that originate in religion2 can remain ineffective until they are bequeathed to the culture outside the religious community and undergo the refinement that the frictions of history force upon them.

What has thus germinated outside of the religious sphere can be understood as a genuine enlargement of reality, a bringing of a revelatory insight into real life tensions and conflicts that has produced subsequent revelations that would have remained dormant but for having entered this secondary track and the conditions that awaited it there. However, this is not a religion! kind of revelation that breaks through directly into the culture from its underlying substance. It is a revelation occurring by means of the historical process itself, with religion2 emptying itself out into its home culture.

Religion1, religion2, and religion3, then, are three different modes in which culture reveals, takes hold of, and develops an apprehension of unconditioned reality. Each one mediates the sacred in a different manner. And while theology of the church develops methods for reflecting on religion2, theology of culture is intended to investigate the apprehensions of the sacred in religion and religion. The specific benefit of analyzing a culture for its religion3 elements is two-fold: It can serve the religious community by drawing attention to how it has squandered some of its greatest symbols; and it can alert the culture to the theological assumptions underlying some of its most treasured ideals, such as human rights, and force it to consider what longevity these ideals might have if these assumptions are abandoned.

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