Category Archives: Religious Belief

Sacred and Profane

Religion has had a major impact on our global society. We would not be where we are without it. In this world, some people cling to religion like a life vest in the middle of the ocean, while others pay little or no attention at all. We cannot deny, however, that it has affected our lives. Religion causes people to do things they might not normally do. Some kill and destroy in the name of religion and others give everything they have to the needy in the name of religion. Either way, we are changed by the things people do in the name of religion. One thing many people seem to argue about, regarding religion, is what is defined as sacred and what is defined as profane.

Sociologically, things that are sacred are “elements beyond everyday life that inspire respect, awe, and even fear” (Witt 192). Simply put, things that are sacred need to be taken seriously because they are holy. Sacred things, however, all depend on what religion you adhere to. Praying 5 times a day is sacred to Muslims, but not necessarily to Christians. Bread becomes sacred to Christians when taking communion, but to most people, bread is just bread. Most times, people interact with the sacred through rituals. Rituals are “practices required or expected of members of a faith” (Witt 195). Every religion has numerous rituals for many different things. Christians have the ritual of communion, water baptism, confession, prayer, and many others. Muslims have the ritual of prayer, different holidays, a hajj, and many more, I’m sure. Each group has sacred rituals that, essentially, make up their religion.

Each person defines what is sacred to them based on their religious beliefs. Religious beliefs are, “statements to which members of a particular religion adhere” (Witt 194). There are hundreds of religions around the world and each one has its own set of widely varying beliefs. Some believe in a God, some believe in no God, some believe in many Gods, and some even believe aliens will come and take us to our next lives. For many people, what religion you are depends on how you grew up as a child. Some religions are very strict about their beliefs. This refers to the term fundamentalism. It’s when people “rigidly adhere to core religious doctrines” (Witt 194). When I think of fundamentalists, I think of the people who never cut their hair and only eat certain things because they take what’s in the Bible literally. In the Bible, women weren’t supposed to cut their hair, so they adhere to that standard because they view it as sacred. It seems like a very legalistic approach to religion, but they only do these things because they believe it is sacred.

On the flip side of this coin are things defined as profane. The profane are simply things that are “ordinary and commonplace” (Witt 193). As with things that are sacred, things that are profane vary between religions as well. A menorah might be sacred to Jews, but to others it’s just a fancy candle holder. As we grow up we learn, through our parents, what things are sacred and what things are profane. I think we can apply these words, not only in religion, but in other situations as well. If parents believe than drinking is wrong and show that to their kids, their kids will pick up on that and believe it as well. The parents have, in a way, placed not drinking in the sacred category and told their kids they need to uphold these standards. This is just one example, but there are many different applications for things that are sacred or profane, even if you’re not religious.

I grew up in the Pentecostal church, so I understand Christianity better than other religions. In my experience, I’ve found that some things can transform from profane to sacred. For example, I think the order of service has become sacred to the church. No one told us this is the way a service is held; it’s just always been that way. If that, somehow, changes, people will get upset because we are messing with what they believe to be sacred. When you mess with things that are perceived as sacred, you better watch out. People guard what is sacred to them with everything they’ve got and don’t want to give it up. I think the church needs to evaluate what is truly sacred and what is, in actuality, profane. People in the church always seem to be arguing about the carpet color or how to run the nurseries, or something of the sort. Are these really things worth arguing about? Are these things truly sacred to the church, or are they just profane? These are the questions, I believe, the church needs to ask themselves.

Not only does the church need to ask these questions, but I think each person, individually, needs to ask these questions. People need to find out what things are truly worth fighting for and what things are inconsequential. Everyone seems to be fighting for every little detail of life, when they should be compromising on the little things and choosing their battles wisely. Don’t waver on what is truly sacred to you, but if something is profane, normal and not holy, allow the possibility that it could be changed. For example, I firmly believe that there is a God and that he loves me. I’m not going to let anyone tell me otherwise. I also believe that Captain Crunch is delicious. Captain Crunch is profane, while my belief in God is sacred to me. Just because I think that cereal is good doesn’t mean I’m going to put it on a pedestal and fight for it. This is a dramatic example, but the concept still applies. Don’t let all the profane things in life become more than they really are. Find for yourself what you truly believe to be sacred and fight for it.

Works Cited

Witt, Jon. Soc. Ed. Gina Boedeker. 2011th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. N. pag. Print.




Imagine that you’re a boy of the Algonquin Indian tribe from Quebec. When you reached the age of 13 you would be taken to a secluded area, probably caged, and given a very strong hallucinogen, called Wysoccan, which is said to be 100 times stronger than LSD. After being given this drug, the boys are forced to stay secluded for 20 days and fend for themselves. This drug was meant to force all of the childhood memories out of your head. In some cases taking this drug caused the boys to lose memories of their families, their identities, the ability to speak, and sometimes it even caused death. If one of the boys came back with some of their childhood memories left, they were sent back and given a second lethal does and forced to try and cheat death a second time. This is a very extreme example of something that is known as a rite of passage, and it is seen only in this culture. A rite of passage is a ritual or event that marks a transition from one social position to another.

There are many different types of cultures throughout the world. Culture is the characteristics of a specific group of people, such as language, religion, social habits, music, and arts. The Rites of Passage that a person will go through during their life is very dependent on their culture. Different cultures have their own special rites of passage that people must go through at various times in their life. The ritual that I talked about above is a very good example of how different cultures have different rites of passages. Taking a child to a secluded area and giving them drugs that could possibly kill them would be very frowned upon by an American ethnocentric point of view, but it is seen as necessary to become a man within the Algonquin tribe.

Ethnocentrism is the judging of someone else’s culture based only on the views and standards of your culture. When people from the American culture look at the Algonquin ritual they are only looking at it based on their beliefs about drugs and children. To avoid ethnocentrism, people should try and open up their minds while looking at different cultures. People need to realize that some of the behaviors and activities that we participate in within American also look weird to people from other countries. For example, there are a few religions who view cows as sacred creatures and slaughtering one is seen as a taboo.   They would see the way that Americans eat beef as very offensive, but it is just part of our normal lives.


The way that we look at different rituals preformed in different places around the world also depends a lot on Socialization. Socialization is the way in which people learn their culture and the appropriate way to act within that culture. Another big factor in deciding the rites of passage that we will go through in our life are agents of socialization. Agents of socialization are the people and groups that influence the way that people learn their culture. This includes family, religion, mass media, and peers. The two biggest agents of socialization for the boys of the Algonquin Indian tribe would be family and religion. When a boy reaches the age of 13 he is pressured by his family to take place in this ritual. His father did it and so did his grandfather, so it’s mandatory for him to do so too. Religion also plays a big role in the socialization of this ritual. When the ritual first took place it was built on strong religious beliefs.

Two other good examples of rites of passages are high school graduation and wedding ceremonies. High school graduation marks a very important time in a person’s life where they are switching roles between being a child to being an adult.   This rite of passage has been taking place in American since 1821 at the first public high school, The English High School. Wedding ceremonies are also a very important rite of passage that marks the transition from being single to being part of a married couple. Both of these rites of passages have been put into place so that family and friends can help celebrate and show their support during these important steps in life.