Sabine Keller

Chapter 2

Secularisation of Religion

Marx (Fetscher1983) [see references] focuses in his critiques on religion mainly on Protestantism. He explains that religion is manmade  resulting from a lack of power of the individual. The creative power of human beings is projected to the outside world. Turner (1983) suggests that  Marx’s approach to religion is at least partly influenced by Feuerbach’s theory of atheism. Religion is understood by Marx (Fetscher1983) as ‘a sigh of the oppressed’ and ‘the opiate of the people’ to explain social inequality and to put people off for reward in the other realm. In this way the ruling class gains power over the oppressed. The importance of criticising and rejecting religion is pointed out in order to gain self-dependence and to recognise self alienation that prevents one from one’s power. In fighting religion one also fights against the state which created the religion. Marx foresees that with the end of capitalism, religion will also disappear since the only purpose of religion is resolved (Fetcher1983).
In contrast Weber (Harris 2001 [online]) delivers a far more comprehensive analysis of religion and secularisation theory. Weber argues that the Protestant belief system provided an undeniable contribution to the development of capitalism but that ironically the latter will also be responsible for the decline of the former. The increasing rationalisation process in society, mentioned in the last chapter, will lead to secularisation and an end or at least a marginalization of religion caused through ‘zweckrationalität’. Through the mastering of nature and diseases religious explanations will be superfluous. Weber foresees that science will replace religion as a major public form of morality (Harris 2001 [online]). In addition the magical and mystified aspects of religion contradict the spirit of rational capitalism (Aldbridge2000).

Wilson (1992) apprehends the notion of Weber and develops it further. Economic improvements let the need for Christianity appear less urgent to provide explanations and promises for compensation in another world. It is argued that charismatic leadership can only survive on a small basis, however the desire for it finds its embodiment in idealisation of music or movie stars which indicates another aspect of secularisation (Aldbridge2000). Alternatively charismatic leaders could be identified in Indian gurus which might explain the popularity of Eastern religions in the New Age movement, which will be discussed in the next chapter.
Wilson (1976) foresees a privatisation of religion which will reduce religion to one’s personal choice and taste (Wilson 1976/Aldbridge2000). The revival of old wisdom is predicted which is understood as new versions of old religions (examples for this might be paganism or Western versions of Eastern religions). However these new forms of religions often include rationalised parts in their institutions. The simplification and modification of ancient knowledge leads to a rationalisation inside the institutions. The new forms of religion have in common a delivery of more satisfying explanations and proof of their statements (which might be the reason why people feel drawn to New Age). In addition they offer more practice orientated solutions to the individual (healing, religious therapies) as well as being easily accessible. Contrary to this are new forms of religion which place great demand on commitment, but it is argued that for this reason they will maintain neglectably small (Wilson 1992).
Wilson argues that the rise of new religions could be understood as the response of a rationalised society where the individual yearns for some social aspects. ‘The new religions, …are responses to the malaise, not its symptoms or its source’ (Wilson 1992:217) - ‘…their success indicates the spiritual, social and cultural defects of the times’ (Wilson 1992:217).

Alternatively it could be argued that the suggested consumer culture of the Western world is much more suitable for the development of New Age religions compared to Christianity since the former is often based on commercialisation, as will be discussed in the following chapter. An example of the decline of traditional religions in capitalist society is that many Moslems and Christians have adapted and partly deny their religious values for the pleasure of consumption (Bocock 1993).

chapter 3