Recently I had a bout with what I like to call “creative insomnia.” It’s when you’re lying in bed in a state halfway between sleeplessness and a frantic brainstorming session with the hosts of the cosmos. I like to think it’s the dimension where most inventions and scientific theories are born; or revealed to mankind. I’ve drafted many a book chapter or article in this state over the years; even finding solutions to work related issues.
Any-who, on this particular night I found myself pondering religion in a general sense. Like how divisive religion can be; how no other mechanism of division cuts as thin or as deep as religion; severing the muscles of nationality and political affiliation—through the ligaments of ethnicity—down into the bone of family—even splitting the spiritual bond of holy matrimony. And how a singular reality can be interpreted in distinctively different ways, yet each interpretation has seemly the same structure. You know; kind of like how every story, completed story, have a beginning, middle, and end—a plot and climax—a protagonist and antagonist. Then, as if by revelation, it hit me. Organized religions, at least three of the more popular ones (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—in no particular order), each have 3 elements; which I’ll call the Renaissance, Righteousness, and Recourse elements.
Renaissance (Establishment of Mankind’s Spiritual Peonage)
The Renaissance element is where you found a religion’s version of the creation story, origin of life (on Earth or elsewhere), encounters with deity (or deities), and the origin of the religion.
The creation story provides the believer with an explanation of the origin or definition of the deity or deities who created our reality—showing the scope and depth of the deit (ies)—the creation of our reality (e.g. universe), and more specifically origin of life; the creation of mankind and his dominion over the other inhabitants of earth (i.e. the animals).
The encounters with deity or deities tells the story of the deity’s initial contact with mankind as well as subsequent encounters said to be miraculous accounts of divine intervention both random, e.g. instant rewards for acts of faith, as well those specific to establishing the religion, in which the deity appears or some occurrence defies the laws of nature. There may also be accounts of encounters that not physical but rather clairvoyant in nature, e.g. being led or receiving a revelation.
The religion’s origin is the account of the messenger or a series of messengers who received the message as well as the medium in which the message was presented, e.g. audible voice, written in stone, a vision or dream, etc.
The mere fact the deity created our reality coupled with the plan to lead the estranged back to the deity, i.e. the religion, are the foundation of the deity’s authority and sovereignty. It is the reason we are indebted to the deity and therefore exist in a state of spiritual peonage. Thus the religion itself is the method by which we labor towards that debt. Even a religion which boasts freedom from death, darkness, or sin is still obligates one to serve his or her liberator; freedom from one master is to be indebted to another.
Righteousness is the element of organized religion that is least disputed. It is the standard of good and decent behavior promoted by the religion that is congruent to all laws and moral code; that is to say, there is nothing unlawful or immoral about good and decent behavior. Simply put, it is behavior that is at minimum conducive to fair play and at best a catalyst for charity and mercy (mercy being the forfeiture or deferment of full judgment).If a man claims to be religious, it is to this element of his faith that you should make an appeal.
Righteousness is a trademark of love, and love is understood to be a characteristic of the Creator; thus it is the creature’s attempt to be like the Creator. Examples of good behavior, from moderate to extreme, are communicated either as actual events or parables.
By contrast examples of indisputable evil or questionable behavior are referenced to further clarify what it means to be or to do “good.”
The Recourse element is the trait where you find the religion’s disciplines, rule of law, and revelation of what happens after death. It is most specific to the religion’s belief structure, and unfortunately the most divisive element; it is the rationalization fanatical followers use to justify bloodshed and oppression.
The disciplines of a religion cover its initiation rituals, membership requirements, daily and periodic customs, and the mannerisms of its members. In other words the dos and don’ts of the religion.
The Rule of Law section outlines in no uncertain terms compensation for those who are obedient (i.e. “good C/O”) and the consequences of violating ordinances (i.e. “bad C/O”).
And perhaps the most mystical characteristic of the Recourse element is what it professes to happen after death; i.e. the afterlife. This would be the details of everlasting reward and eternal damnation based on the balance of our deeds in this life for some religions, while other religions have replace eternal damnation with either a delayed entry program or some form of do-over (e.g. a final test in purgatory, or reincarnation).
Though overly simplified, it is these three elements that I feel most legitimize a religion; what gives the major religions their staying power and credibility. These 3 elements are the reason we diligently live by or proudly die for our respective faiths; degrees of commitment notwithstanding.
Despite the appearance of cynicism, I consider myself a “man of faith.” However I have come to see religion and religious text, e.g. Bible, as a mirror rather than a pointing stick; intended to guide me on my journey to becoming a better me, not for instructing others on being more compliant.