Family, Marriage, and Parenthood

By Howard Becker; Reuben Hill | Go to book overview

Chapter Twenty
Religion in Family Life

ROCKWELL C. SMITH

SINCE the preceding chapters of the text have been devoted to making the meaning and nature of the family explicit, it seems appropriate to begin this chapter with some statement as to the nature and meaning of religion. Though many of us have experienced religion in some degree and though all of us are familiar with the external manifestations of religion, we may not have considered what its essential nature is. Religion represents man's effort to orient his life to the final realities of his experience. It represents his search for an ultimate meaning within the changing flow of his experience -- a meaning which can at once bring order out of what is apparently chaos and promote within man a sense of security and dignity in the midst of a daily life that often renders him insecure and mean. Once man finds this ultimate meaning, religion becomes his effort to preserve and promote that meaning on every level and in every act of his life. This latter statement of course describes the religion of the self-aware and thoughtful person. Many sincerely religious people accept the interpretation of the meaning of the universe offered by someone else and act as they are instructed without being intimately involved in the transaction. The motive which feeds such piety as they have; however, is essentially the same as that which motivates the saint; both are seeking to ally their lives with the significant meanings of the universe around them.1

Religion as defined above expresses itself typically in three ways or on three levels. First of all, it is "thought," i.e., a fundamental philosophy of the world and man's place therein. This thought expresses itself in creed, dogma, sacred books, doctrine, teaching, theology. In the second place, it is rite and ritual. There are proper ways of acting with reference to the ultimate reality and these are regarded as divinely sanctioned. Third, religion develops a unique fellowship involving not only the human participants but the divinity or divinities as well. Entirely apart from our opinion as to the reality of the objects of worship -- of the gods -- there remains the fact that a fellowship which, in the minds of the participants, brings in not simply the visible but also a divine company is a unique kind of fellowship.

The importance of marriage and the family in the eyes of religious persons is indicated by a study of families representative of the best in their several religious groupings in rural Wisconsin. Members of Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed churches were interviewed in relatively equal numbers. When they were asked about their social interaction with other

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1
See Harris Franklin Rail, Christianity, an Inquiry into Its Nature and Truth ( New York: Scribner's, 1940), chap. 1, for a summary discussion of the nature of religion and J. Milton Yinger , Religion in the Struggle or Power ( Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1946), chap. 1.

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