THINKING AND DESTINY
Harold W. Percival
GODS AND THEIR RELIGIONS
Religions; on what they are founded. Why belief in a personal God. Problems a religion must meet. Any religion is better than none.
RELIGIONS must be considered because they deal with the conscious doer-in-the-body and with Gods. Religions are founded on the belief in a relation between human beings and a superior being or beings to whom the humans are subject. Sickness, accident, death, unavoidable destiny, things that do not depend on or that overcome the action of the human, are ascribed to the presence and power of a superior being. Religions and religious teachings must have and do have a certain foundation in facts, else they could not last for any length of time.
Here are some truths that are fundamentals of religions and their teachings, and for the belief in religions. In every human body there is a deathless conscious something that is not the body but that makes the animal body human. Because of past mistakes the conscious something has hidden itself in the coils of flesh and the flesh prevents it from understanding that it is a small integral and inseparable part of its all-knowing Great Self that is not in the body. One’s own feeling-and-desire is the conscious something in the body, which is here called the doer-in-the-body. The doer-in-the-body feels that it belongs to or is a part of a superior being on whom it must depend and to whom it must appeal for guidance. Like a child who depends on its parent, it desires the recognition and protection and guidance of a superior being. The doer-in-the-body feels and desires and thinks, but it is by its body-mind compelled to think and feel and desire through the body senses; and, it thinks in terms of seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling. The doer is therefore limited by the body-mind to the senses, and is prevented from thinking of its relation to its Great Self that is not in the body. It is led to think of a superior being of nature that is above and beyond the body, and which is all-powerful and all-wise—to whom it must appeal and on whom it must depend.
The need for a religion comes from weakness and helplessness. The human seeking support and refuge wants to feel that there is a superior being to whom one can appeal for help and for protection. Consolation and hope are needed at some time by everybody. Man wants to feel that he is not abandoned and alone. The fear and feeling of abandonment in life and at death are dreadful. Man rarely wants his existence to be blotted out at death, nor does he want to be severed from some of those he has been with in life. He wants security, he wants to feel assured. These feelings and desires develop into belief in a superior being who watches, protects and endows, where the human is helpless.
The wish for a relation with a superior being is inherent in man. Seeing the visible universe moved by something invisible, he believes this invisible to be a being, whose support or protection he seeks. The belief, which is religion, is the belief in nature and in its powers which affect the body and so overawe him. He feels a power in himself, but he sees in nature a power superior to that of his own personality, so his belief is, and has to be, in a personal God as a magnified and sublimated human being.
Man perceives order, power and intelligence in nature. He feels that they are the attributes of a personal ruler. The cause of this belief is that the doer in man identifies itself with its body and feels the power of the body over it. With a loss of knowledge of the Light within, came worship of gods. Such is the need and the wish, and such is the conception which is formed for the belief. When the belief increases to faith it produces phenomena which seem to prove its correctness. The need which man feels is used by his individual Triune Self and by Intelligences to foster religions for the training of human beings. These Intelligences use the belief to nurse humanity along until a very different teaching can be given by them. They allow the revelation, spread and enforcement of teachings concerning the Gods and their will.
There are twelve types of teachings which have appeared cyclically throughout the ages. The Intelligences do not make religious systems or institutions; men make them; the Intelligences allow them now, as they have in the past, because men demand them and need them for experience.
The problems encountered are many. There must be a system or theology, meeting the needs of all from the lowly to the great, from the undeveloped to the educated, from the materialistic to the inspired and from the credulous to the thinkers. It must allow for thousands of different conceptions of the same thing. There must be a system which can, when backed up by innate conservatism, last for centuries and yet permit an advance of interpretation within the prescribed doctrines. There must be a collection of essays, teachings, laws, exhortations, prayers, adventures, magic, stories, which can be called sacred writings and which can be made the foundation for such theology. These must be such that they permit, if not urge, the exercise of literature, architecture, sculpture, music, painting and handicraft, so as to inspire worshippers with sensuous exaltation. These writings must have the strongest appeal to feelings and emotions and must be the foundation on which the ethics and laws of the adherents can rest. Religion as a belief is accompanied by theology, which is a system to justify the belief, by religious institutions and forms of worship in which the belief is exhibited and, most important, by a method of life. If religious belief leads to virtues such as self-control, duty and kindliness, it serves its highest purpose in the training of the human.
The various religions, that is, theological systems and religious institutions for worship, which appear from time to time in different settings, are fitted to meet the special needs of their believers. The institutions have been made by the thoughts of those who will exist as believers and who will live under them. The outer forms of the religions thus fit the beliefs of the adherents. The religious offices are filled by persons who personify the thoughts and desires of the mass of devotees. The actions of these officials are the expression of that mass. Those who are opposed to a religion are often the ones who have helped to bring the conditions about, but have learned of their mistakes and see that what they have is not what they want, yet they must meet the exteriorizations. The history of religions is what it is, because religions as theologies are made by men and as institutions are administered by men.
Religions as beliefs, systems and institutions are both good and bad. This depends on the people who practice them. When a religion is practiced to lead or to allow its devotees to develop reasoning and understanding and to grow into a higher and more enlightened state, it is good. It is bad, when by means of it people are kept in ignorance and darkness, and when vice, crime and cruelty flourish under it. Usually the beginning of a new religion is promising. It comes to meet a demand. It starts out of a decaying religion. It is usually born out of tumult, confusion, dissension and war. It attracts enthusiasts and the changeable crowd. It fails to school the mass of adherents to a higher life, and soon suffers from theology, institutionalism, officialism, hypocrisy, bigotry and corruption. So one religion after another appears, disappears, and reappears. The reason is twofold: the mass of re-existing doers whose religion it is get it because it exteriorizes their thoughts, and the actions of those who figure as its priests and officials reflect and embody the aims of the adherents.
On the whole it is better that there should be even such a religion than none. It keeps the believers from doing worse than they do. Religions are allowed to survive as long as they supply the requirements of belief for a number of persons. They survive chiefly by means of the devotion, virtues and holy lives of some few persons in the great body of adherents. These are so-called mystics, who lead lives of purity and contemplation. Their living infuses strength, vitality and virtue into the organization. The holy life is an active force and invigorates the religion as an organization. This force follows and supports the policy of the heads of the body of devotees and may be used for good or evil. Thus an organization is often enabled to last, because of the virtues of some few of its members.
There are inner and outer parts of religions. The inner parts are the thoughts engendered by the theology and by the virtues, aims, ideals and aspirations, as well as by the faults of those who carry on the religion. The outer parts are the forms in which the inner appear, as offices, institutions, rites and acts of the devotees connected with the belief. The outer aspect is necessary for the practice and propagation of the belief and for the other activities often connected with religions, such as teaching the young, nursing the sick and caring for the poor. Sometimes sciences are studied and advanced by means of religious institutions. Always there is a tendency of the religious officeholders to exercise functions of government and to wield power, because the priests are human and this is natural. Forms are necessary though they become means of abuse. As soon as a religion is started, obscurantism, that is, the tendency to stifle individual development and thinking, comes with it. The forms are given a physical meaning and made rigid, while the claim is made that they are “spiritual” and not physical. Hence come fanaticism, wars, persecutions, and whatever is horrible about religions. The profit is with the religious officeholders whose reach is increased by conservatism and obscurantism. They acquire worldly power and become less inspired and “spiritual” with their successes. Religions may be cheapened by trivialities or abused when put to the service of social or political interests, but there is enough to be found in them to give consolation and hope to those who need these, and morals and faith to those who are willing.
Copyright 1974 by The Word Foundation, Inc.