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Irreligion and Society

  • Colin Campbell
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Part of the New Perspectives in Sociology book series

Abstract

There are various ways in which a discussion of irreligion tends to involve a discussion of religion and morality. In the first case a discussion of the boundaries of the phenomenon of religion as well as that of irreligion involves distinguishing morality from religion. This, as we have seen, is a special problem when considering those non-supernatural belief systems like Positivism, Ethical Culture and Humanism in which the moral or ethical issues are the primary ones. In the second place there is the whole question of the relationship between religion and morality. Assuming that we can distinguish between them, what is their relationship? This question involves irreligion mainly because of a traditional and widely asserted view that, since religion fosters morality, irreligion fosters immorality. This argument will be considered at some length in this chapter.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    The following discussion is based largely on J. M. Yinger, ‘Religion, Society and the Individual’ (Macmillan, New York, 1957) pp. 24 ff.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    B. S. Rowntree and G. R. Lavers, ‘English Life and Leisure: A Social Study’ (Longmans, 1951) p. 372.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    D. Wright, ‘Morality and Religion: A Review of Empirical Studies’, in ‘Rationalist Annual’ (1967) p. 27.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    M. Argyle, ‘Religious Behaviour’ (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958) p. 99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 15.
    H. Hartshorne and M. A. May, ‘Studies in Deceit’ (Macmillan, New York, 1929).Google Scholar
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    S. Putney and R. Middleton, ‘Ethical Relativism and Anomia’, in ‘American Journal of Sociology’, lxvii 5 (1962) 430–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    D. Wright and E. Cox, ‘Religious Beliefs and Co-education in a Sample of Sixth-form Boys and Girls’, in ‘British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology’, no. 6 (1967).Google Scholar
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    R. M. McIver and C. H. Page, ‘Society: An Introductory Analysis’ (Holt, Rinehart, New York, 1949) p. 168.Google Scholar
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    There are, however, some qualifications to be made to this general rule. Some of the Welsh ethical societies at the turn of the century had very close links with the Independent Labour Party, and Blackham reports that Merthyr Tydfil Ethical Society resolved itself into a branch of the Independent Labour Party and returned Keir Hardie. Blackham, ‘The Ethical Movement during Seventy Years’, p. 149. The ethical movement as a whole, however, did not develop such links. In addition, the Labour Church movement and the associated Socialist Sunday School movement could be regarded as quasi-irreligious movements which had very definite ideological and organisational links with the Labour movement. For details of these movements, see K. S. Inglis, ‘The Labour Church Movement’, in ‘International Review of Social History’, iii (1958) 445–60,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    and F. Reid, ‘Socialist Sunday Schools in Britain, 1892–1939’, in ‘International Review of Social History’, xi (1966) 18–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    It has indeed been long recognised that the relationship between ritual and anxiety is a complex one and that ritual may well arouse anxiety before alleviating it. The crucial question, however, is, as O’Dea puts it, ‘To what extent do institutionalized religion and magic represent a net gain for men with respect to the alleviation of anxiety?’ T. F. O’Dea, ‘The Sociology of Religion’ (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966) p. 10. The position taken here is that for some irreligious people at least, institutionalised religion and magic represented a net loss with respect to such alleviation.Google Scholar
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    S. Budd, ‘The Loss of Faith: Reasons for Unbelief among Members of the Secular Movement in England, 1850–1950’, in ‘Past and Present’, no. 36 (1967) pp. 106–25.Google Scholar
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    See W. G. Katz and H. P. Southerland, ‘Religious Pluralism and the Supreme Court’, in ‘Daedalus’, xcvi (1967) 180–92.Google Scholar
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    H. R. Murphy, ‘The Ethical Revolt against Christian Orthodoxy in Early Victorian England’, in ‘American Historical Review’, ix (July 1955) 800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Colin Campbell 1971

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  • Colin Campbell

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