The Yearning to Belong
How would you envision a new "religion"?
I received a lot of intrigued, supportive comments when I proposed, a few days ago, that we could use something like a new “religion.” As a thought experiment (feel free to disagree in the comments), I want to explore that idea more deeply: What would a new “religion” look like? How would it function? What purposes would it serve?
I tend to feel that we lack an essential piece of social infrastructure in contemporary life, particularly in a city like New York. But it is complicated. Most of us are comfortable with the fuzzy sense of near-anonymity and social detachment that surrounds us. When I am here, I go to the same cafe nearly everyday to write. I see the same faces there. While I know something about some of the people who frequent the cafe, and have at least chatted a bit with many of them over the years, I generally don’t want to get too close.
The density of intimacy brings with it a set of implicit, invisible obligations. It is the same with my neighbors, the people in my building. In a big city, we generally come to prefer this strange combination of proximity and anonymity. It is like a delicate balance that can be easily shattered. We collectively maintain unspoken, undefined taboos around this.
Late 19th Century German sociologists made the distinction between Gemeinschaft, traditional bonds of community, and Gesselschaft, the more impersonal forms of connection found in society today. As critic Fredric Jameson puts it: “Gesellschaft versus Gemeinschaft: impersonal modern society undermining older families and clans, villages, ‘organic’ forms.”
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