I intend to reach back to the very beginning of religion. Before
the big 3 prophets, before Abraham (allegedly the forefather of all of them), I want to go back to prehistoric man (read human-beings for man and spare me all this gender inclusive language crap). There is no condemnation of historical period or person intended here. We are a work in progress; ever evolving and since crawling out of primordial ooze, we have done the best we can individually and collectively for any given moment (then or now).
Prehistoric hunter / gatherer clans observed things they could
not explain… fire, flood, famine, eclipses. To explain these things gods were created… invisible super-beings manipulating man’s world. Among things man could not explain was his own nature and behaviour. So many gods were created in the image of man’s various aspects; nurturing, loving, passionate, wrathful, cunning etc… each represented by a different god who controlled or bestowed these traits on man. Ever needing to feel in control, man created rituals by which he hoped to influence the gods. The structuring and ordering of these rituals led to religions.
By the time ancient (Roman, Greek, Mayan etc etc) civilizations evolved, religious leaders (the people in charge of structuring god appeasement rituals) were now governments. As
trade and wealth evolved and villages begat cities, which begat kingdoms… people (powerful people) wanted control over city government, so theocracies were created. Priests were no longer chosen by the gods, they were appointed by power brokers. This in large part continues today.
As city states began warring with each other and empires were being built, it became inconvenient to have many small groups with allegiances to the many different gods; it divided loyalties and divided the coffers. So monotheism was born; one god who carried all the aspects of the old pantheon… this is the god of the old testament, a wrathful, selfish, mean S.O.B. We (as a species) had evolved a long way from the ignorance of our prehistoric cave dwelling forefathers, but ever a work in progress we had (still have) a long way to go. At that time religion was political and this continues to various degrees for many centuries to come.
Ultimately politics and religion began to separate, becoming more like kissing cousins then the Siamese-Twins they once were. Both continue to be about power and a strange co-dependent sense of service and control. To belong to a religion you must believe exactly what they tell you to believe and practice exactly as they tell you to practice. The older the church (religious order / philosophy) in question the more pronounced is the power and control issue. But humans are a species in progress, as our brains become more highly developed, as our science expands our awareness of the physical universe, so too our understanding of the metaphysical changes. This is why over the past 100 years or so attendance in established churches has fallen away. What satisfied the imagination of medieval man does not speak the consciousness of modern man. Any church (even a spiritualist community) can become a religion when it is overtaken by human ego and the need for power and control.
Some people enjoy the security and structure of established religious ritual and dogma. Some people enjoy the gothic majesty of old world cathedrals. Some of us enjoy a simple coming together for fellowship and shared learning. The minute you, I or anyone else starts trying to dictate another’s spiritual choices we become what is and always has been wrong with religion. Every person needs to find their own spiritual path and equally allow others to do the same.
Have a joyous day.