The appeal of religion is that it’s the art and science of living without fear and anxiety. Our ancestors realized that the fearlessness required for happiness and peace didn’t rely so much on outer circumstances as much as inner.
The true purpose of religion therefore is not only what attracts people to it, but what it does to people. It rids them of pain, suffering, anxiety, worry – the lot. It affords them a glimpse of the true magnificence of living, something that most of us haven’t experienced since maybe a summer day when we were kids.
Psychologists refer to it as an ‘oceanic’ feeling or sense of ‘wholeness’ and ‘completion’ that is one of the deepest modes of satisfaction available to us humans.
So, the purpose and also the power of religion is that once people notice that they can invoke this feeling (or mode of being) at will, they can’t get enough of it.
They religiously remind themselves of a way of looking at existence that rids them of fears by awakening a heart of love and gratitude. The reason it does so is that there are mainly two modes of being in the world, fear or love, and we can’t turn towards love and gratitude and fear at the same time, as they are mutually exclusive in our consciousness.
This can have – and often has – the effect that we realize that ‘fears’ are rather a way of looking at things, than an objective fact, which – once we turn towards love, light, truth – allows fears to literally disintegrate in front of our eyes and makes them seem like a silly, weird, distant dream.
However, make no mistake, fear and anxiety are useful at times, as when approaching a river in Zambia where there’s crocodiles. We become tense, anxious and self-centered. You might even do what under normal circumstances would be considered morally and ethically questionable while worrying foryour own wellbeing, like stepping on a kids sand-castle or someones sandwich left on the riverbank trying to get away from a crocodile etc.
However, fear is a less than beneficial attitude towards the world in the long run, as the myopia, or near-sightedness that comes with fear doesn’t allow for the brilliantly unique human traits like empathy, reciprocity, compassion to bloom – something that’s not only degenerative to our bodies, but also to society and the planet. Moreover, much of our success and brilliance as a species lies in what we call civilisation and society, or to basically ‘act as if other people exist’, something that’s very difficult when you are wrestling with an imaginary crocodile.
So, religion sees our ideal way of being in the world as joyous, grateful and ‘not afraid’. It tries to do so by as I said awakening a heart of love and gratitude, by means of helping us stop judging, and start loving our selves. At least for Christianity that’s pretty much how you can sum up Jesus’ teachings.
Once we’ve rid ourselves of fear, our soul, mind and heart will be healthy, as well as our families, society and earth. Or what is referred to as ‘heaven’.
The trick however is that we need to train our mindset religiously, like going to the gym for our bodies, as there is little hope of ending war, divorce, hate, environmental degradation without doing so.
Our ancestors realised that we exercise this best by consuming stories inspirational scripture (or poetry) art, music and ritual that lures our consciousness away from our learned, fearful and destructive way of looking at the world, towards our true nature of loving kindness for ourselves and everything in the world.
All of this however is complete nonsense if you haven’t experienced it.