There are thousands of religions in the world. I’m not talking about denominations of Christianity (of which there are also thousands) but different religions. And these religions each have their own god or gods and each represents the ONE TRUE FAITH in the minds of believers.
How did this happen?
Recent studies have suggested that there is a biological component to religion. This religiosity seems to lie in the temporal lobes. The more active a person’s temporal lobes are, the more religious they will be. But this does not explain how any particular religion – with all its rituals, rules and complexities – can develop apparently from nothing.
I began wondering about the many varieties in religion about the time I received my first Bible Studies diploma – around age 11. I couldn’t answer the question then, but I certainly found it to be perplexing. Over the years I continued to poke and prod at this issue.
Religion clearly flows from the nature of humans, as suggested, but the form of each particular faith is created initially by one person (the founder) and then taken in new directions by his/her disciples (the Inspired ones). So what we now see is that religion is created from two components: One socio-psychological and the other neuro-psychological. In this article, we will concentrate on the sociological process for the creation of a religion.
It has taken a lifetime of study for me to discover that a religion typically happens/arises/becomes “reality” in one of two ways. When you read about this process, you will immediately see just how natural it is.
Method One: Time Fog – Stories become real. Humans love to invent tales to entertain themselves and others. Go shopping at any bookstore and you will see this. This propensity to invent certainly isn’t new. For as long as we’ve had writing, people have written stories. And before there was writing, oral tales entertained and enthralled us for thousands of years.
Of all ancient stories, a tiny fraction became popular enough to have a devoted multi-generational following. Early storytellers surely understood that they were sharing fiction for entertainment purposes, but later tale tellers – and the hearers of those tales – may not have been so sure.
With the old-line religions (Judaism, Christianity) it took a long time for people to start believing that those stories were anything more than interesting tales. At a minimum, a generation passed (in other words, everyone knowing the real history was DEAD) before the seed of fiction germinated to become the Tree Of Knowledge and people began saying, “It really happened.” I call this pathway to religion-birthing, the Time Fog Method. (For a discussion of how this relates to the Christian Bible, visit The Bible And Christianity, Historical Origins.
Anything old has a certain amount of Time Fog. A good contemporary example is that of the tales of King Arthur and The Knights of The Round table. Here, we have stories that were labeled as fiction in the past but today are increasingly presumed to be fact (or fact-based) because just enough time has passed so that people aren’t sure anymore.
The argument you hear after Time Fog begins to kick-in goes something like this: “Well, it was a long time ago and you weren’t there. I wasn’t there, either, but the stories are written as if they actually happened and they even mention some places we know existed. Many people TODAY believe that those things actually happened, and there is no surviving work from the same time period that says those stories didn’t happen. So… they MUST be true!”
Now ask yourself, was fiction just invented last week? Silly question – but why do we automatically think that Harry Potter is a fictional character yet Jesus and Moses are real? People will make a lot of excuses for this double standard, mostly amounting to “well a lot of OTHER people believe they are real.” Yet we wouldn’t consider taking a popular vote to determine the reality of a Stephen King novel. This is Time Fog.
Time Fog makes people think, “if it is old, it must have really happened,” even though there is no more evidence for this assumption than one would have for believing that there is truth behind The Lord of The Rings. Oh, and all those “other people” who believe in old stories have no more information than you do about ancient tales: They too believe because others have believed – and it happened a long time ago, so that “you can’t prove it isn’t true.”
You see then how time gives life to all stories …just keep repeating and wait…
Method Two: Sharing Delusion – if you have brass balls, anyone can do it. Mormonism and Islam come from this category of religion formation, what I call the Brass-balls Method. In this religion-hatching scheme, instead of stories that were gradually mistaken for reality due to Time Fog, you have a con man/fabulist who simply declared himself to be a Prophet of God and demanded that others believe in him. In each case, the vast majority of his contemporaries did not believe. Instead, they recognized the self-proclaimed prophet for what he was; a delusional egomaniac.
Human nature is imperfect at best, however, so you always have a percentage of “true believers” out there – sometimes referred to as sycophants – ready to follow anyone who looks like a spiritual leader. If only one person in a hundred – or even ONE PERSON IN A THOUSAND – is sufficiently gullible, you still get a good-sized cult out of it. And the fact that most people see these new beliefs as crazy and irrational only increases their attractiveness to certain people because so many of us thrive on group identity – which is only enhanced by a sense of persecution. If you want to form a religion from which you may immediately profit, this is the way to go.
And finally, given enough time, any cult can become an accepted religion. Here is where we get a confluence of religion-forming methods: The cult of today eventually turns into a respectable religion over a generation or two via Time Fog as long as the cult leader attracts a sufficient number of followers during his/her lifetime.
The Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology are contemporary examples of the “Brass-Balls” path: Both were originally seen as fringe cults built by lunatics and now they sit on the edge of general acceptance. Eventually they – as Islam has done and as Mormonism is doing – will also become respectable and possibly even dominant religions as Time Fog turns them into “reality.”
After all, it/they “happened” a long time ago and other people believed them at the time, so it MUST be true!