Every human has a personal religion, and every human community has a collective religion
Originally published in AR in 1970
This issue of Manplan differs from those which have gone before because it deals, not with a field of human applications, but with a primary, fact-supplying medium. ‘Religion’, like ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ is a medium through which man receives the facts with which to live. In today’s society the validity of this medium is contested. Whereas everyone is agreed that ‘Communications’ and ‘Industry’ and ‘Education’ are necessary and good, and that the problem is merely to find the right development for them, not everyone is agreed that ‘Religion’ is either of these things, and there are indeed many who would say that we should do away with it as quickly as possible.
Hence this issue falls into four parts. First we consider what is the characteristic influence of religion on environment? What are the differences between an environment made by people animated-however obscurely-by religion and one made by people without it. In the second part we consider ‘What are the chances of a religious restoration?’ Estimating these to be good, we consider, in the third part, the practical effect this restoration might exert on our society and thus on building technique and architecture, suggesting that the technical reversals involved could be brought about by an intelligent use of the communications’ revolution: Man’s chance of undoing the ill effects of industrialization.
In the last part we turn to religious buildings. We discuss what will be their size, character and distribution and how the activity they house will relate to other aspects of social life. Turning to actual examples, we show how recent trends prefigure the new social architecture which a religious come-back might in the end make universal.
It is not within Manplan’s brief to go deeply into the question of what people should believe. The concern throughout is with architecture and the environment; and religion is seen objectively as a force which, if it were to resume hold of the operative sections of mankind, would exert a revolutionary effect.
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What is the difference between a religious and a non-religious environment? This question is not so easy to answer as it used to be. Thirty years ago it was possible to describe a religionless environment as one which was totally planned, where human life was ordered rationally, taking into account material considerations alone. And there was at least one society, that of the Soviet Union, where this was thought to apply. It is more difficult to answer today, because, though there are still societies which may be easily identified as ‘religious’-particularly enclaves in South East Asia where technology has not penetrated-we are much less sure that any modern society is fairly identifiable as ‘religionless’. On one hand the great extension of human knowledge has not been accompanied by the expected reduction in the area of mystery: and on the other we have been surprised to find that the social objectives on which we are most firmly set-the achievement of unity, the defence of the weak, even the defence of human freedom and dignity-all derive from a religious orientation. It is therefore not correct to describe a society thus animated as ‘without religion’. The most that can be said is that, for many, formal belief is in a state of suspension.
‘Rise in technology in any part of the world is accompanied by a decline in religious practice’
This ‘suspension of belief’ (which has occurred many many times before) creates some of the effects of a religionless society, giving a foretaste of what might happen, if what is now an incipient phenomenon were to become total. People have, at many times during the last hundred years, noted the fact that the rise in technology in any part of the world is accompanied by a decline in religious practice. This fact led writers like Spengler to put out the idea that Religion was linked to a phase in man’s mental development and that we were witnessing the change over from the ‘era of religious man’ to the ‘era of managerial man’. This was a tempting thesis. But the turn of events during the last 30 years does not bear it out. Technology has indeed exerted an unsettling effect on man and therefore on his age-old practices; but it has not changed his objectives. Looked at in itself, it is a tool which has been used to realise more fully the kind of regime man’s religious orientation tells him to be right.