The Essence of Religion: What Would Happen If You'd Remove Everything Non-Essential?
How to Approach the Real by Stripping Away the Unreal
article by LiveReal Agents Mary and Blake
Your dedicated and humble LiveReal Agents,
in our mettle-testing, gut-churning quest for The Real Deal,
have emerged, alive and intact,
with what we think are some findings on some really important
- and controversial - subjects.
Let's start with a little thought experiment.
What could you strip away from any religion that would still leave the essential "core" of it intact?
What aspects of religion could you remove, that wouldn't remove the "soul" or "essence" of it?
Or a slightly different angle:
When weird things start happening with your computer, you reboot.
What would it look like to "reboot" a religion? To essentially start it all over again with just the bare essentials?
This is about trying to uncover what's essential and what's inessential, what's necessary and what's inconsequential, what's real and what is phony.
This little exercise has nothing to do with disrespecting anything respectable about religion.
It's more about working to separate the juice from the rind.
A few examples might help.
Let's take the pope's hat.
- er, sorry: the "mitre."
Let's say the MITRE is maybe, roughly, say, eighteen inches tall.
What if it was only sixteen inches instead?
Would that change the essence of Christianity as we know it?
Great. We've made progress.
Now let's keep going, and get really crazy.
What if it was, say, only nine inches?
Would that change the very soul of Christianity?
Great. Let's keep going then and get really crazy: what if the pope didn't wear a hat at all?
(Dangit! "MITRE." Sorry. Apparently some folks get their own word for "hat.")
You see where I'm going with this?
What if, for example, folks didn't have to stand up when singing hymns?
Great, then let's keep going. What if there weren't hymns at all? Would what's most important and essential about Christianity still be intact?
Let's pick on Buddhism a little.
What if, say, Tibeten Buddhist robes (sorry - "saffrons") weren't orange and moroon?
What if they were yellow and blue instead?
Would the heart and soul of Tibeten Buddhism still be intact?
"Sometimes I think what religion is really all about
is wearing funny clothes."
- William Irwin Thompson
Yes? Great. Then we can safely eliminate the color of the robes. More progress.
What if they didn't wear robes at all? What if they wore, say, jeans and t-shirts? Would the essence of Buddhism be able to survive that?
What if the Dalai Llama didn't have really short hair?
What if his hair came down to his shoulders? Or what if he went full-on hippie, and it came down to his waist? Would the core of Tibetan Buddhism still survive?
Wonderful. That's progress.
And so on.
The idea is...we want to take this as far as we can.
We want to strip away everything non-essential.
We want to arrive at the essential.
(Obviously, yet again, just as a thought experiment.)
Why are we doing this?
Are we just picking on folks for no good reason?
No. There's actually something almost scientific going on here. We're trying to uncover something important.
This process is a matter of separating out the real from the unreal, the essence from...well, insignificant, arbitrary, non-essential details.
Humanity has a way of confusing the essential with the non-essential, and confusing small, unimportant, trivial aspects with the key, important stuff.
Let's keep going.
Let's dig a little deeper than the easy stuff we mentioned before.
What if you didn't have a building - no church, temple, or synagogue? What if you had to gather out in the woods, instead of a building? Would the important aspect of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism still be intact?
I think so.
What if you removed prayer or meditation?
Now we've hit something solid. That seems like something you need to keep. If you removed those things, then you're really would be getting rid of something essential. We have to keep those.
Now we're getting somewhere.
What about the Bible - meaning, the physical book?
That's sure essential, isn't it?
But wait a minute.
In the very first days of Christianity, there was no "New Testament" as we know it today. (In the sense of there being a physical book with pages and bookmarks.) The very first Gospels, according to folks who know this stuff, were probably written roughly two decades after the death of Jesus.
Would that mean that the very first Christians, umm, weren't Christians?
That wouldn't make sense.
So then, maybe if there weren't physical, hard-bound copies of the New Testament as a book around...the soul, the essence, the important part of Christianity could still live on, fully intact.
(Again, just to be painfully clear, in hopes that nobody misunderstands what we're doing, deliberately or otherwise, please, for the love of everything that is holy: we aren't saying anyone should literally get rid of mitres or saffrons or buildings or books. We're merely trying to do a little thinking about this, to clarify what is essential, and what isn't, in hopes of understanding things a little more clearly. That's all. That's about as plain as it can get. Any misunderstanding beyond this is on you.)
This is a process. A litmus-test. A chemistry experiment of sorts for religion.
We could keep going.
But now we're going to take a break for a few minutes to approach all this from a different angle.
It's pretty hard to find a topic more controversial than religion and spirituality.
Lots of folks are afraid of the unknown. What is "unknown" seems threatening. And so different religions - with the exception of the religion (or lack thereof) we grew up with - are often "unknown" - and so, are therefore, to many, perceived as a threat.
The result of this is a general culture of mistrust, hostility, and violence between adherents of different religions, as well as those who are against all religions.
Almost everyone agrees that, ultimately, when it really comes to brass tacks, no subject is more important than the areas covered by religion.
Death. What you should do with your life. What happens after death. Happiness. Justice. Love. Meaning. Just to name a few.
Compared to this stuff, everything else is small talk.
When we have a crucially, vitally important topic...a seeming shortage of encouragement towards free-thinking and free discussion around this topic...a topic that is so controversial and heated that most folks just stay as far away from it as absolutely possible...
Sounds like a job for LiveReal.