Author: Helena Aramendia
Humans have felt the need for religion since the earliest of times. Religions are cultural traditions related to spirituality; behind them, human organizations claim a divine origin, in order to ensure little or no challenge to the status quo from their followers. I would like to reflect here about the role that religions had played in our history. However, more importantly, the position that I can foresee for them in the not too distant future.
What are religions and why do we need them?
Since humans became a sentient species, they have felt the need to connect to their source. They have felt, even if it was only intuitively, that there was something else, beyond their physical world. Their spiritual world was personal, intimate and a direct contact to what they could perceive as a bigger reality or God, even if they channeled it through elements like rocks or the sun, as in animists religions. A feeling of vulnerability made them look to it for protection and also made them accept the authority of the ones that seemed to be more able to understand or even communicate with that elusive realm of non-physical realities. Some kind of religious leader was as common in prehistoric human groups as was a hunting leader or a war leader. However, for a leader to differentiate himself from the group, he needed to:
a) have more knowledge, more experience, more ability in his performing tasks, or
b) exert a greater control over the rest of the pack.
And so gradually, the leaders made customs, which then became habits, evolving into rituals and then finally religious laws or cults.
As societies grew more complex, so did the role of the religious leader. Over centuries, traditions accumulate, as well as rituals and rules. History passed orally from generations to generations everywhere, grew rich in details and explanations about our origins, our relationship with the Sacred and the external ways or rituals that we use in order to live and feel that relationship. Once we have: an explanation about where we came from, a specific god or gods, a set of expectations for us in respect to the deities, and specific ways of worshipping, we have a religion. The different traditions are just cultural manifestations. From animist to polytheists to monotheists, religions have evolved.
Four of the five more important religions (I mean important only attending at the number of adepts) are quite recent, relatively speaking. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
The oldest one of those, Judaism, the first monotheist religion, is “just” 3300 years old (since Moses time). A great majority of people in the world have a single religion, because of cultural (through family or societal ties) or physical proximity to the origin of that religion. Even the relatively small amount of people that choose their beliefs once they are discerning adults, are many times influenced by their situation (for instance, marriage) or environment.
Religions are God inspired but human designed and managed organizations. They are useful for millions of people that find in them a way to God, or a way of making sense of some difficult moments in life. They are the easiest way to channel our spiritual needs, because they are like a pre-packed meal: ready to go. We simply need to follow the suggestions of our leader be it priest, rabbi, guru, lama, or medicine man, and he will guide us and take care of our souls.
As our lives have become more complicated, it is easier to delegate into their hands the responsibility for our spiritual life. It is a basic human need to reach towards our origin and is a longing of our spirit to have some kind of contact with the source. It is nourishing, soothing and a source of happiness. It gives our lives a deeper meaning. Moreover, institutionalized religion are so ingrained in society, that they can also give us a sense of approval and acceptance in society, as we comply with the expected liturgy.
Religions have negative aspects too.
Religions can also create separation and duality, by definition belonging to one group often implies not accepting the others as truthful (even if we respect them). If I am Christian I cannot be Muslim, if I am Jew I cannot be Hindu. This is duality. During many point in our history religions have been magnifying and demonizing differences and encouraging rejection of other belief systems, in order to achieve supremacy, even when that tone can’t be found in the original texts. Along history, this has reached the point where more people have died and been tortured in the name of religious considerations than for any other reason.
Due to the human nature of institutionalized religions, they have been linked to power, money or sexual deviations uncountable numbers of times during history, to the point that on many occasions the original spiritual meaning has been lost. Intolerance and longing for supremacy have put religious institutions in a position where they play more a political and social role than a spiritual one.
Nowadays, many people focus upon the external aspects of religions, its rites, forms and precepts. As a consequence, the main function of religion, ones spiritual nourishment or growth, is often unmet. In different credos there are millions of very religious people that are not necessarily spiritual people. They are like the zealots of Jesus´s times, revolving around their own little world, condemning in their minds (and their social lives) everyone that does not abide by their specific worldview or doctrines.
Are religions keeping us apart? How useful to spiritual development is it to have a belief system that claims to be the exclusive religious truth holder, the real one, the one that leads to salvation while all the other pour souls will be lost. Whilst individuation is good in order to survive when we re growing up, it is not so useful once we reach a certain point of growth. As humanity, we are growing up now, and our only chance for survival is in a mature society.
Our next evolutionary step.
As humanity, we are now in a very particular moment in our evolution. Life as we know it is no longer sustainable following our current path. Patterns that worked for us before, are not working now. We need to reconsider and review all aspects of our life, under a different light. It is not about individual survival and competition any more. It is about thriving and growing as a single whole sharing one planet, in order to not only survive, but to reach our potential. Our path forward has to be through synergy instead of competition. It’s time for us to look to our more clear and perfect model: the human body and its relationship with a single cell. If we have a tumor in any part of the body, all the body is affected, as all is a single unit. Only with a perfectly healthy body can all the cells thrive and perform at their best, and vice versa. Our governing mechanism is the spirit, we need to realize that we are all one unit, and whatever happens to one of us, affects the rest.
In spirit, we are all one. We share a divine origin, regardless of the tradition, name and form that we give to it in our conscious minds,. This is common to us all. Our spirit longs for communion with its source, and everybody, left to their own devices will seek out and find a personal path to fulfill that need for communion.
More and more people are becoming conscious of this reality. They feel less need for institutionalized religions, as they meditate more, and increase personal practices that fulfill their spiritual needs, like helping others, for example. They also realize that other religions are like other languages or other foods: something to know, to share, to respect, to learn from, but not something that should become a source of separation for us nor a method to define the value of the other person in relation to ourselves.
What then does the future hold for religions? It is clear that religions will not disappear by suppression (one only needs to consider the reemergence of religion following the fall of communism in Russia), rather they will eventually become redundant. Like the need for living in a cave, or the need to look after the fire in a group, as a species we will outgrow them, in favor of a true spiritual growth based on our further developed understanding. When we come to realize our divine origin, and we rediscover the way to connect directly with the Creator (regardless of the label), we will be able to find in that connection all that our soul longs for.
We are growing up as species, and soon we will have evolved beyond the daily routine centered upon providing for our basic needs and feeding ourselves. We will grow mature and independent, able to assume Love as our nature and source of power.
It is true that looking at our current situation, reading any newspaper, seeing how the world looks now, it does not seem to be very probable that we are nearing a break through. Never the less, we might also reflect that it is also darkest before dawn and like remodeling a house, it gets worse until it gets better. A good purge is necessary and lots of darkness will surface, before the new reality can manifest itself. In the meantime, keeping centered in our purpose and our true self and focusing upon our individual spiritual growth will help to anchor the new earth.
About the Author:
Healer, Bs, Brennan Healing practitioner, Ordained Interfaith minister, writer, passionate about spirituality, human evolution and metaphysics.