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Role of Religion in Social Control

Discuss the role of religion from the Anceit world to the present. Discuss in detail. Thank you.

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The Role of Religion in Social Control


Tell a young child that they must not do something, and the inevitable response is 'Why?' In its infancy, human civilisation was no different.

Rulers ascended to positions of power, and created laws for all their people to follow. But why should they be obeyed? What makes their laws better than your own?

It is possible to compel compliance with the laws through law enforcement alone. Set a few harsh examples, and the people will fall in line. But all this really accomplishes is to convince the people to be more careful in the breaking of the laws. And a lawless people will require so many resources to police that the ruler would never have the opportunity to conquer their neighbours and put them under his rule.

Canny rulers realized this. The people needed to believe that the laws had to be obeyed, and that, regardless of secular authority, punishment in some form was inevitable. So many mysteries in life were attributed to the gods, and gaining the favour of the gods was a full-time pursuit. What better motivation for obedience than that the gods said so?

Obey the laws or your crops will wither, your well will dry up, and your oxen will become diseased. Obey the laws, and your crops will be plentiful, your sons will be strong, and your daughters will marry well and bring a rich dowry. Such logic was simple and effective.

Religion and Authority in the Ancient World

The first thing a ruler had to do was establish their authority to speak for their gods. The oldest existing legal code is that of Hammurabi of Sumer. Hammurabi's Code opens and closes with invocations to the gods, and it establishes Hammurabi's authority to create those laws as coming directly from the gods Anu, Bel, and Marduk. For instance:

Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. - Hammurabi's Code
In the beginning of Western civilisation, the priests and the rulers were often one and the same. For example, Moses climbed a mountain and sat in secluded conversation with the god of the Hebrews before giving their laws to them. This gave him the authority to give his people simple instructions like 'Don't eat pork.' In the ancient times, people would not have known that you had to cook the meat thoroughly to kill contaminants in pork. But after having seen people eat it and die, it was much easier to say, 'It's unclean' than to have to explain that you could die from it, but nobody knew why.

In Egypt, the pharaoh was the reincarnation of the god Horus, who was given rulership over the earth, just as his father Osiris ruled the dead. His power was perceived to influence the cyclical Nile floods, which covered the surrounding land with such a fertile topsoil that the Egyptians could raise two crops per year. It is likely that the accomplishments of the Great Pyramids at Giza are due in no small part to the profound influence that the pharaoh's immediate divinity, and his perceived connection to the life-giving Nile floods, granted him over his people.

The Greeks had a very curious set of gods. They were more or less human, with human foibles and faults, and the things which might please them or offend them were rather arbitrary. This might have been born from the observation of the fickle nature of natural forces. Good things happen sometimes to bad people, and bad things happen to good people, and their theology reflected that. People began to trust in their own ability to govern themselves, and had to figure out the hows and whys of doing so. This led to the development of philosophy, and intelligent people stood around in the town square talking about things related to human behaviour, ...

Solution Summary

Discusses in some detail the role of religion from the Ancient world to the present .