It’s 1000 BCE and the tribe living across the mountains is considering its future. It was a simple village that lived in harmony with the seasons and each other. Everyone in the village took responsibility for themselves but was also generous in their support of others. They knew that life had meaning when it was lived in connection to the ‘all.’ An onlooker would have called this balance between the practical and energetic elements a ‘religious way of life.’
But change was afoot…
The executive team over in hut number one felt the responsibility for the survival of the tribe and were wanting to earn some extra cash to support the tribe. They already had corn, fabrics and sheep that they sold to other tribes, but this was dependent on the weather and seasons. They had no control over the seasons, so they looked for something with a more consistent stream of income.
As they looked around, they noticed that some of the tribe were a superstitious bunch, feeling at the mercy of the weather and given to pleading to the gods for their good fortune.
The new product was clear – if they could SELL safety they would be on to a winner, if they could sell external salvation, they would have struck gold.
They dispatched an ox to hut number six, asking the marketing team to find out how to sell salvation in a new form of religion. The team thought it strange to try to replace something that worked, but nonetheless set to crafting a plan…
Stage One – Fear and doubt
The team came up with ways to show the tribe that they didn’t know as much about life as they thought. They played up the fragility of life and the tribe’s lack of security, both now, in the future and of course in the ‘afterlife.’
The focus group testing showed that instilling fear was actually easy because people were innately sensitive, so a big enough outer threat to their security could destabilise people. Add to that the threat of eternal damnation of their Soul in the afterlife and they had people eating out of their hands.
Stage Two – Redirect Responsibility
Everyone knew that whilst working together delivered important dividends, each individual was ultimately responsible for their own lives. Generations had shown them that there is a cause and effect relationship with life. This meant salvation would be trickier to sell if the ultimate responsibility was within.
You can’t sell something someone already owns.
They then got a consultant from hut seven to help them workshop the problem and found their answer – what they needed were experts. If they created experts, their message would be beyond critique. The experts, of course, needed to be skilled at making others feel like they did not know enough.
Interestingly enough, the concept of ‘priesthood’ tested well. Many people were surprisingly keen to hand over the responsibility for their spiritual wellbeing to the direction of others.
Stage Three – Exclusivity and Belonging
Of course being a tribe, they knew that sticking together was important so they needed to look at how to get people to join this new group.
The subtle approach would be to invent or appropriate holidays and rituals that already existed and assign them importance in this new ‘religion.’ The less subtle but very effective way was to shun, shame and even torture anyone that didn’t want to join.
They knew that someone scared for their own survival would be easily ‘converted’ at the threat of being rejected. Some would just need more convincing than others.
Stage Four – Distribution Channels
This was trickier, as the product would only have a limited financial benefit in this tribe, so they needed to spread the ‘message’ to other tribes. The answer was to develop an emissary programme, where missionaries would be given power to convert, cajole and if need be torture others into ‘believing.’
Proud of their plan, the marketing team despatched the ox back to hut number one and awaited the response.
The executive team looked at the proposal carefully and though they were uncomfortable with the suggestions of force and even torture, they knew they had to pursue it for the benefit of the whole.
Little did they know that the tribe over the mountain had been hatching much the same plan.
For the next few centuries both tribes battled in often bloodied wars to prove whose religion was best at offering salvation.
Some in the tribes preached tolerance, encouraging co-existence of both religions; some got turned off religion altogether. Some felt there had to be more; they felt a there was connection to something within that was more innate and required less external control.
This group was rediscovering the original expression of religion, one which was based on a simple way of living that fostered an inner connection. They worked hard to explore the possibility that the religion that had been sold was very different to what they could feel religion truly was.
Of course this approach of feeling what true religion was, was an inherent threat to the existing powers. Many of this ‘new,’ but in reality, ‘old’ group suffered at the hands of both dominant religions. However they persisted, and whilst their numbers fluctuated, it was the years of bloodshed, abuse, cruelty and killing carried out in the name of ‘salvation’ that led others to ask the same questions and then also explore if there was a simpler ‘way.’
However, there would be no missionaries, and no conversion programs, it could only be a choice. All they needed to do was live The Way they had rediscovered and allow time for others to also remember that being religious was not the problem.
The problem was HOW people had been taught to be religious in life.
By Joel Levin