Michael R. Leming, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Spring Semester 1998
The radical transcendence of God confronts a universe of radical immanence, of "closedness" to the sacred. Religiously speaking the world becomes very lonely indeed.
A sky empty of angels becomes open to the intervention of the astronomer and, eventually, of the astronaut. Probably for the first time in history, the religious legitimations of the world have lost their plausibility not only for a few intellectuals and other marginal individuals but for broad masses of entire societies. There has arisen a problem of "meaningfulness" not only for such institutions as the state or of the economy but for the ordinary routines of everyday life. Christian theodicy of suffering lost its plausibility and thereby the way was opened for a variety of secularized soteriologies, most of which, however, proved quite incapable of legitimating the sorrows of individual life even when they achieved some plausibility in the legitimation of history.
Such private religiosity, however "real" it may be to the individuals who adopt it, cannot any longer fulfill the classical task of religion, that of constructing a common world within which all of social life receives ultimate meaning binding on everybody. Instead, this religiosity is limited to specific enclaves of social life that may be effectively segregated from the secularized sectors of modern society. "INSOFAR AS RELIGION IS COMMON IT LACKS 'REALITY,' AND INSOFAR AS IT IS 'REAL' IT LACKS COMMONALITY.
Religious pluralism in America has created a situation where religious groups are tolerated by the state and engage in free competition with each other. These religious groups are also compelled to compete with various non-religious rivals in the business of defining the world, some of them highly organized.
Go back to Peter Berger's Sacred Canopy, Chapters 3 and 4 -- Theodicies and Alienation
Go back to Discussion Questions
If you have any questions or comments please email: