All Is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism

By Marsha G. Witten | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Secular Culture and the
Churches' Responses

SINCE SECULARITY MAY have a profound effect on the doctrines and ideologies of modern religion, the study of religious language may provide an important new direction for secularization research. Although social scientists have not tended to turn their attention systematically to religious speech, it is possible to glean ideas about the responses religious speakers can make to secular culture from some of their writings. These include the works of those who study religion as a meaning system—especially Peter Berger, James Hunter, and Thomas Luckmann—and others concerned with the role of symbols in religio-cultural expression—Robert Bellah, Mary Douglas, Richard Fenn, George Lindbeck and Robert Wuthnow. 1

In this chapter, I discuss three general categories of discursive response to secularity: accommodation, resistance, and reframing. 2 In the discussion of accommodation, I also note the social processes that induce religious speakers to adapt their teaching to the norms of the secular world. The three categories are meant to be read as ideal types, of course, none totally characterizing a single concrete case of response. Indeed, as we shall see, the speech of many of the sermons discussed here defies simple categorization, as speakers meld attributes of the three formulations in complex patterns. But the discussion in this chapter should provide a general idea of the possibilities for religious talk within the context of modernity, and of the configuration taken by the talk as it replies to the offerings of the secular world.


ACCOMMODATION TO THE WORLD

Accommodation refers to the adjustments that religion makes in its practices, pronouncements, and creeds to bring them in conformity with the values and behavior of secularity. According to sociologists who have examined the shifts in practices and beliefs of Western religious groups over time, three social processes in modern culture have

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