Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Cult Of Personality and the Secularisation of culture.

So I know two posts in a row is a little obsessive, but I'm feeling like it's the thing to do. In one of my classes today the professor brought up an interesting idea

Weber, the brilliant sociologist (pronounced Vay Ber), theorised that the secularisation of culture opened the door for a cult of personality to replace it. Essentially without some meaning provided by religion, people turned to charismatic leaders.

Something about this struck me as horribly wrong. Not because his assessment of people gravitating towards charismatic leaders was all that flawed, but because religion to a certain extent is governed by those same leaders.

It seemed to me that in a secularised world, the charismatic leaders just preached different things. The charismatic people who before may have become priests or gurus et al. now become messiahs, or messengers of a different shape.

The cult of personality is very strong, and has it's roots in human nature, not in a secularisation of culture. What is Christianity but a cult of personality centred around Christ.

The point is that though secularisation does leave people searching for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world, the things they turn to for comfort are the same things they turned to in a pre-secular world, just in different garb.

The assessment of religion as something unique seems a bit archaic. Essentially other ideas can be their own religions. The fact of religion is that it is a particular coping mechanism for humans to deal with death and possible lack of meaning. If other constructs can fill that void, then who's to say they are particularly different.

If a different gear fits in the same place in a watch, how different are they really?

There are a few reasons we are drawn to strong personalities. I imagine those who weren't charismatic survived by clinging to the charismatics and therfore spread their genes. The large proportion of people were not those charismatics. That explains rather well the cult of personality. Also people who worry about death less tend to take more risks. Religions also tend to emphasise the creation of children. I could go into all of the particularities, and take days writing about this stuff.

I'm simply trying to cement the point that all of this is related to what allowed us to survive. I can't explain the things that don't have an effect on our survival, however much I'd like to, but those which do are pretty clear.

We are at the whim of our heritage.

The interesting thing however is the fact that for the first time, we as individuals can change how beholden to genetics we are. Not just through gene therapy and modification, but through our own decisions.

we are in an era where that cult of personality needn't exist. we are at a point in time where we can escape our bonds. Being so close to this transcendence is what makes the fact we haven't reach out for it all the more painful.

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