Beyond Idols: The Shape of a Secular Society

Beyond Idols: The Shape of a Secular Society

Beyond Idols: The Shape of a Secular Society

Beyond Idols: The Shape of a Secular Society

Synopsis

This book attempts to articulate the nature of a secular society, describe its benefits, and suggests the conditions under which such a society could emerge. To become secular, argues Fenn, is to open oneself and one's society to a wide range of possibilities, some interesting and exciting, some burdensome and dreadful. While some sociologists have argued that a "Civil Religion" is necessary to hold together our newly "religionless" society, Fenn urges that there is nothing to fear--and everything to gain--from living in a society that is not bound together by sacred memories and beliefs, or by sacred institutions and practices.

Excerpt

During the 1950s as Americans were being treated to an effort to purify the nation of un-American tendencies, it became clear that the country was still hostage to the fortunes of fascism. That is, it was necessary for Americans to find some way of personifying their own tendencies toward violence and to punish their longings to break down the barriers that traditionally have separated people of various ethnicities and genders from one another. In his recent study of relationships between Euro- and AfroAmericans, for instance, Orlando Patterson makes it clear that the EuroAmerican majority has long engaged in occasional ethnic cleansing. First tending to lynch other Euro-Americans, the majority after the Civil War found it both more convenient and more satisfying to lynch those whom they blamed for their humiliation in the war itself and for their subsequent degradation at the hands of the North. Negroes were thus lynched in increasing numbers, especially after the Jim Crow reaction in the 1870s, as an outlet for class conflict, hatred, and humiliation, and as a focus for longings that were both sacred and erotic. Following the end of the Second World War, Communists and McCarthyism filled what Patterson (1995, 255) calls “a Dionysian vacuum in American popular culture. ”

Later scholarship has reinforced our awareness that antidemocratic, xenophobic, and authoritarian tendecies have long had deep roots in American society. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Americans were living in communities that claimed to regulate the soul. As Barry McShain has pointed out, the American colonies had more in common with peasant societies of Europe than with the more enlightened tendencies of England during the same period. While claiming for themselves freedom from outside influences and federal intrusions, Americans were eager to school the individual in the virtues held dear by the local community. Deviants were then, just as some still are now, punished with various forms of excommunication. Dragging an Afro-American behind a truck to his . . .

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