Humans are different from the other animals, in that we have evolved the ability to reason in the abstract; we can contemplate and comprehend concepts that are beyond our immediate physical realm: because of this, mankind is spiritual by nature. People are controlled by the instinctive drives that are innate to all living things; but due to our ability to reason, we are not bound by them: which has both positive and negative connotations.
Our intelligence permits us to be aware of concepts that are worrisome to sentient beings, but are of no concern to other life. Certain “evil” individuals live long and carefree lives, while other “good” people suffer throughout their existence; humans see this, and desire some form of supreme justice. Mankind realizes that ultimately there is no escape from physical death, and consequently desires some way to avoid this fate. These fears have led to the development of tens of thousands of religions; with mystical entities, created in the image of man, providing a way to assuage such fears. The fundamental ideals behind organized religions are reasonably sound: providing people with a sense of purpose, a feeling of belonging, reasons to behave in a moral fashion, and hope for a better future. Most people cannot grasp the more complex principles concerning existence, so it has been necessary to create anthropomorphic representations (applying human characteristics to non-human things), to introduce concepts in a way that people can understand. Although formal sectarian doctrine capitalizes on the fears and selfish nature of many people, it can be a relatively successful method of conditioning: providing mystical rewards (heaven, rebirth, etc.) for good behaviour, and punishment (hell, ethereal castes, etc.) for evil. So far, there is no spiritual panacea that can be applied to all of humanity; therefore, the numerous forms of religion are necessary in order to impose a moral structure. Different individuals have different levels of understanding, which means that diverse approaches are needed to reach the maximum number of people.
The problem with organized religions is that they are subject to manipulation. Charismatic individuals can create or change doctrine, in order to serve their own purposes. Studying the progression of documentation in any religion will demonstrate how concepts are introduced, or removed, due to the differing needs of the elite. The most basic and problematic characteristic of sectarian division, is that size is perceived as power; and each belief system attempts to convert as many people as possible to their specific ideology, using the argument that they are following the path to reward, while all others are doomed. Such an attitude promotes intolerance: you are following your god’s instructions, and are consequently “good”; while others are following a misguided doctrine, and therefore must be “evil”.
Certain basic principles must be accepted, in order for the variety of belief systems to function in harmony.
- Human intelligence creates a fear of things that are beyond our control, and also enables us to behave in a manner contrary to the natural balance; that is to say: only humans can be “evil”. Therefore, spirituality is essential: to provide for a sense of purpose and mental well-being in the general population, and as a method of controlling social behaviour.
- There will never be one belief system; we will always need to make a wide spectrum of explanations available, in order to accommodate the differing mental abilities of the members of society. Organized religions surely realize this, yet they continue to compete for membership; this must be viewed as primarily a materialistic, rather than spiritual, pursuit.
- Fundamentally, if followers of any specific form of spirituality have their needs fulfilled, are guided toward a moral existence, and cause no significant harm to others; there is no valid reason to interfere with them. Condemning, or attempting to force conversion upon, others has resulted in the murders of hundreds of millions of people throughout history, all in the name of narrowly defined gods; this can hardly be defined as moral, or righteous, behaviour.
- People must learn to differentiate between ideals that are in the best interests of humanity in general, and doctrine that promotes an advantage for one particular race, organization, social class, or individual. To view this from the perspective of an anthropomorphic religion: principles that are “inspired by God” must be just, unbiased, and equally beneficial to every individual member of the human race; standards that encourage intolerance, segregation, and elitism, must be inspired by man.
Copyright B.W. Holmes 1999. All rights reserved.