Dissenting both from those who see secularization as an inexorable march in one direction and from those who see a resurgence of religion moving in the opposite direction, Peter Berger argues that one of the defining features of modernity is the ability of religion—in fact, many religions—to exist side by side with various forms of secularism. Take, for instance, a hospital:
Except for a small portion of the world’s population (especially in Western Europe and in the international intelligentsia), the relation between religion and modernity is not a matter of either/or but rather of both/and. . . .
Every hospital is a temple to the spirit of modernity: the therapy dispensed there is to be based exclusively on scientific knowledge, and the most advanced technology is applied in its service. However, the organization of a hospital resembles that of a religious hierarchy. All doctors wear long white robes, and the top doctors, surrounded by acolytes, occasionally descend from the heights and pronounce judgments. Lesser medical personnel, nurses, and technicians wear less sacred uniforms. The patients, upon whom this entire hierarchy is imposed, go around in demeaning clothing. . . . They must wait until sentence is pronounced from on high, they hope a merciful one. . . .
But . . . the hospital, flying the banners of modernity, is also ongoingly invaded by religion. Some of it is on the formal level. Large hospitals in Boston employ a multi-religious group of chaplains. Some are sent in by outside religious bodies, some are actually on the hospital’s own payroll. Both groups very commonly go through a program that began many years ago under the heading “clinical training,” intended to teach aspiring chaplains basic techniques of “counseling” (a kind of psychotherapy 101). . . . [And] chaplains prefer to describe their message as “spirituality,” rather than “religion.”
This allows them to fit more easily into the discourse of the medical hierarchy, including doing entries into patients’ charts—a “spirituality” index being potentially added to all the other data: blood pressure, sugar levels, X-ray pictures, and so on.
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