Relgion and the Social Contract

social contract metaphor

The social function of religion is to explicitly codify the unspoken social contract.

In theocratic countries, the population has accepted a restrictive social contract – and any attempts by outsiders – aka Western Christians is an attack on the religion of the country, since it’s the religion that defines their culture and social structures.

People who were dissatisfied with the social contract of their country’s culture immigrated – when Europeans populated the Americas – there was an explosion of religions as population groups were remote from each other.

When population increased and religions overlapped, there were groups of people driving changes to the social contract in many directions – women suffragettes, the sexual revolution starting in the 50’s with rock n roll which caused a rift between teens and adults because Elvis, coming from a social strata where there was no difference between white and black people, showed middle class white American teenagers that they weren’t any better than their black counterparts – this made the civil rights movement of the 60’s for black people possible – Elvis also showed blacks that there was no reason for them to not be treated the same.

To Elvis, this equality was natural and not an intentional concept he brought to national attention – Elvis just wanted to be middle class – to make enough money to take care of his parents and family. Elvis was not the rebel he was portrayed as – Elvis wanted to join the establishment that he was socio-economically unable to join as a child – and after he was economically part of the establishment, he continued to be rejected for his class background and southern roots.

What Elvis showed the artists who followed him was that art is a means of social change – and Bob Dylan and the entire counter-culture arts scene created art to challenge conventions – and they were granted “artist” status with all the street cred that entailed – and Elvis, without whom it would not have been possible – was never included in the emerging culture that he created. Instinctively, the next generation rejected the parent Elvis generation of artists.

Elvis remained an outsider to the establishment and the anti-establishment – which, in a way, gives him the most artistic cred – since he basically died from fame – he truly suffered the ultimate for his art – and continues to be misunderstood 30 some odd years after his death.

Social change is only possible with social clash – one group of people expresses dissatisfaction with the status quo and there are a variety of paths to bringing about change – some form militias and use violence, others public protests, others infiltrate the establishment (which can be government, business, churches, artworld, grassroots activism), and others stand as far away from the status quo and use the social structures – ie legal system – to bring about change.

The most successful employ many of the techniques and best of all, each group is able to build on the groups before.

This is why the gay community appears to have made such fast advances in a short time period and with not a lot of violence.

The larger mainstream community sees the inevitable and resists the change less with each group. Women’s ability to vote was hard fought and won – but women’s equality is a battle that continues, despite equality under the law.

Black rights dominated the ethnic minority discussion and the avenues available to the white women of earlier decades were not available to this community – so they splintered and undertook a multi-pronged front to create social change – from the impassioned reasonableness of Martin Luther King to the violent intimidation of Malcolm X  to the elegance of Rosa Parks.

Gays and lesbians had long been major players in music, movies and theatre – so the struggle for inclusion and dignity that were protests in the 70’s and legal challenges in the 80’s really began with major motion pictures from the 1920’s German film Pandora’s Box (the Bridget Jones of the day) with protagonist Lulu being the first obvious on screen lesbian – and set the tone for lesbian stories for decades as Lulu is murdered by Jack the Ripper.

Louise Brooks is Lulu


Aside: It was funny to me that this film is one of the most dissected film in classes, yet no one else seemed to catch that the movie takes place after WWI, yet Lulu is murdered by Jack the Ripper, as the character is identified in the credits – and Jack had long disappeared before WWI.

Changing the social contract has to come from within that contract – change cannot be imposed from outside – unless there’s a multi-generational plan for occupation.

This is the core of why America is not as liked as they think they should be. From the American POV, they are bringing freedom and technology – from the countries receiving this dubious largess – it is cultural imperialism.

I think it underscores that change must come from inside – since it is largely advances in western medicine that has allowed the global population boom.

Countries that were, for all intents and purposes, pre-industrial, were not culturally or psychologically prepared for the massive changes industrialization would bring. What we tend to ignore is that many countries today were largely in the metal eras of technology when the Industrial revolution changed production, where the jobs were and altered the family structure.

elderly people are treated worse than elderly pets


For the first time in global history, we have a huge elderly population, more people live in urban not rural areas, and habitat destruction and massive changes to the landscape from open pit mining, to damned rivers to bulldozing the Everglades and other swamp areas to create arable and livable land; the agricultural run off of fertilizers and pesticides causing havoc with many wildlife species and algae blooms at river mouths exhausting the water’s resources by overpopulation and leaving a water desert behind.

No other species in Earth’s history has remade the globe in their own image for their own intentional purposes and with so many unintentional results owing to our shortsighted greed and lack of knowledge.

Other animals live in an area and move to the next valley or pond when the one they were in gets too poopy, but not humans – we have left ourselves no where to move and we are opposed to even slowing down the industrial impact never mind cleaning anything up in a meaningful manner.

And, it’s sadly ironic that is it largely religious driven groups that oppose any change to business and industrial practices – possible some with a Pollyanna motivation that daddy-god will make everything better and others with the scary Yay, Armageddon is coming and everyone else is going to get theirs.


Left Behind: The Video Game


If humans are going to continue to survive and be as successful as the dinosaurs who has several millions of years as a good run – we need to change our social contract, because we’re not even at the half million year mark and we are running towards extinction with blindfolds on – and like Ghaddfi in Libya – we are determined to take everything with us.


American bison skull heap. There were as few as 750 bison in 1890 due to overhunting.




4 thoughts on “Relgion and the Social Contract

  1. “There’s hundreds if not thousands of low budget gay movies – comedies, dramas action and other genres of stories that no one has to die in to save the other, because gay is okay so no one has to die.”

    Your comment made me accutely aware of my limited knowledge of the gay movie genre. The only ones I’ve seen have been the ones that hit the mainstream, or clsoe to it, and almost all seemed to carry the mainstream message that gay will make you unhappy or dead.
    Damn it, Nina. It’s just so hard to be educated in this world. Sigh.

    I commented on your comment ( re the post “Kiddie Porn”) on the Darwin Harmless site (my post titled “Damage”), not to argue with you but more to expand on your comment. I’d be very interested in your thoughts. Feeling very exposed there, despite the anonymity.

    • there’s just so much to know now, that there’s no reason to feel badly because you don’t

      we are adrift in an ocean of data – mostly trivia – and trying to sort through to discover what’s individually relevant.

  2. Blushing.

    I agree that the political function of religion is to concentrate power in elite hands.

    When I look at various civilizations they tend to be defined by natural geographic boundaries physically and the cultural boundaries seem to revolve around religion and art – which is often reflecting or rejecting religion.

    But it’s technology aka science that drives the progress of society – developing labour saving devices or process that allow for not only leisure time but also specialization – not everyone has to hunt or gather – people can also make the pottery to store the food – and someone else can paint the pottery and make it pretty.

    I am inclined to think that gay people have been an important part of human evolution – as groups evolved into more complex societies and more labour specialization occurred – we also don’t need everyone to breed – in fact it’s better if they don’t.

    A gay aunt or uncle who doesn’t have offspring will contribute to the resources and protection of nieces and nephews – contributing to their own genetic material being passed down and increasing the number of adults in the child care network.

    If gays and lesbians were a negative in evolutionary terms, there wouldn’t be any of us around – if not a positive, at least we’re a neutral trait in the gene flow.

    In terms of how gays and lesbians have been portrayed in in the last century, yes, we start with the sissy boy, the urbane dandy, the older male wife substitute on the boy side and on the girl – the corrupting diesel dyke and the lost femme to be reclaimed by the man.

    Even Radcliff Hall’s Well of Loneliness, the butch stepped away and forced her femme love to return to the embrace of a man. In the 50’s and 60’s pulp fiction – one of the gay couple had to be murdered or kill themselves in order to free the more normal of the pair to return to the bossom of heterosexuality.

    There’s several good documentaries – Out on Screen, Celluloid Closet, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, Lavender Screen – which has an excellent portion on western movies and the role of the Old Coot.

    Movie with gay people made for a straight audience continue the tragic ending and contain the pressure to conform to heterosexuality – I loathed Will and Grace for this – but also because I think that the most abusive relationship two people can have is the fag/fag hag one.

    and I mean fag hag very specifically as a woman devoting to a particular gay man, not a woman who has a lot of gay male friends – that’s just friends.

    The gay movies made for a gay audience are quite different.

    Understandably, the first gay for gay movies were coming out stories.

    For me, Go Fish as a turning point – it was lesbians trying to get through life, to meet someone to love. It was a revelation.

    There’s hundreds if not thousands of low budget gay movies – comedies, dramas action and other genres of stories that no one has to die in to save the other, because gay is okay so no one has to die.

    they tend to suffer from low budget because distribution isn’t lucrative so tend to have poor sound, uneven acting and look low budget generally.

    but they have a lot more heart and solid stories with characters that a gay audience can relate to and see themselves reflected back in a culturally affirming manner.

    I was at a film event and was pitching a script to a producer, when a man joined the conversation and asked if I had any scripts not involving lesbian characters.

    I replied: Because there’s so few movies made with straight characters?

    he resisted the point and wandered off.

  3. “The social function of religion is to explicitly codify the unspoken social contract.” Well, that’s one assumption religion makes. It’s questionable. More likely the function of religion is to maintain a power base for an elite class of control freaks. But great post. Very thought provoking.
    One thought provoked, triggered by Lulu’s fate in “Pandora’s Box” – it’s interesting how even when we accept something we often accept a negative view of it. Think about how many mainstream movies about gay life have carried the message: being gay will make you suffer, possibly even die. Lulu us murdered (because she’s queer?) Every movie I can think of from “Boys in the Band” to “Boys Don’t Cry” to “Brokeback Mountain”, seems to carry the same message. So what is the appeal? It took “La Cage aux Folles” to show happy, contented gay guys, and that came from Europe. I know there have been a few movies that are exceptions to this rule, but it’s just interesting how often we see the message: Gay makes you dead. Even when wrapped in a cloak of tolerance. A few movies, like “Out” (Kevin Kline 1997) carried a very supportive message, but they also tend to sound preachy. Okay, best movie with queens in it “Best of Show”. Total acceptance, but then everybody, no matter what their orientation, was sent up by that one.
    Sorry. Rambling again. Just wanted to say great post.

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