Religion in Secular Society: A Sociological Comment

By Bryan R. Wilson | Go to book overview

V
SECULARIZATION AND THE CLERICAL PROFESSION

THE loss of association with other major social institutions has not been accomplished without some effects on the religious profession itself. We have already seen that the clergy tend to have lost social standing. Scientists have increasingly replaced them as the intellectual stratum of society, and literature and the arts have passed almost completely out of the religious sphere. The scepticism of modern society has affected the clerical profession profoundly. The attempt to find other levels at which religious propositions are true -- that is to say, levels other than the common-sense and literal level -- has led to widely diverse clerical interpretations of religion in its contemporary meaning. Clerics have now come to disbelieve in the ultimacy of any answers which they can supply about social questions, as they did earlier about physical questions. As the range of empirical information has increased, acquisition of the knowledge of it and the skills to analyse it and interpret it pass beyond the range of clerical education. The awareness of the relativity of modern knowledge has made the cleric more guarded and less confident in the intellectual content of religion. The man-in-the-street, even if less concerned by this relativity, in a society in which he is bombarded unceasingly with information, and exposed mercilessly to persuaders, has developed a protective cynicism about what is being "put over".

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