Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

Phases of Religion-Building

In an earlier post, the term architheology was coined to represent the study of how religions are formed. There seem to be four distinct stages that must happen for a successful religion to achieve prominence. This might be called phases of religion-building, as in each of the four phases different people must perform different tasks in order to result in the final product of a religion.


The first phase is accomplished by the parents of the future religious founder, and by others who serve as guardians, trainers, mentors and educators. They must take the infant founder, and provide him with all the necessary motivation and knowledge to enable him to perform the next phase.


The science of raising children is somewhat below water level, in that there is a great amount of controversial and mostly incorrect or dubious material purporting to tell people how to raise their children. The field suffers from a lack of understanding of what a parent might want their child to become, what traits he should have and what capabilities would be emphasized. With no clear goal for child-rearing, there are no metrics which might enable the erroneous material to be isolated and discarded. Instead, people write guidebooks on child-rearing based on their own emotions and feelings, much of it inherited from their parents or other examples, rather than upon some science-based knowledge of how the young mind absorbs knowledge, what are the different portions of the brain and how they work independently and in connection with other portions, how neurochemicals function within the brain and the role they play in learning and training, and how various environmental factors affect the outcome. The influence of peers at different ages, experiences of different types, the variety of ways that a parent might interact with a child and the effects, the hierarchy of skills that grow, first in an infant, then in a toddler, and then in a young child, and many other factors are as opaque now as they were two thousand years ago, and perhaps more so. Back then, there was a good amount of observation of children and rearing practices, and knowledge was handed down, and in fact became a part of culture. Everyone who grew up in a village knew how to raise their child; it may not have been the best way, nor destined to come up with certain outcomes, but at least there was less of a chaos of possible methods and variations.


Neither do we yet understand the influence of genetic and epigenetic factors in creating dominant personality types, of influencing the goals that a young adult will adopt, and how much success they might find. Our knowledge of genetics is quite primitive, as even a categorization of which genes affect which traits is lacking; indeed, a listing of which traits are affected by genetics and which are not is missing as well. The genome is slowly being mapped and translated into functions, but it appears it will be a long and laborious process and the data will not be available in the near future. So only generic guidelines are possible, which is what virtually all commenters on child-rearing do.


The parents and other influencers of the new human do something which emphasizes their ability to think clearly and analytically, which allows them to learn several key skills, including persuasion, trait recognition in others, empathy or its conscious display, organization and management, and politeness and humility, and which provides them with a motivation to accomplish some particular goal that has as a side effect, the foundation of a religion and the formation of a group to manage it. We cannot describe what the parents must do, as we do not understand how to accomplish virtually anything in child rearing, but we can describe the necessary outcome.

The second phase of religion-building involves the religion's founder. He was, in his infancy and youth, motivated to become a teacher, to find joy in leading others, to have both personal empathy and what might be called social empathy or empathy for a group, the capability to creatively come up with all the rules and fables and principles and entities that would comprise the religion, and the desire to leave a legacy. We do not know how exactly to do this, but we do know that it has happened. The founder then devotes the next part of his life to preparing himself, and then begins his foundational work. A wide variety of skills are necessary, but they do not all have to be present in the founder when he begins, provided he possesses the desire to learn and train himself, and he can foresee what he needs to be able to do to leave his legacy.


The self-preparation involves creating a set of messages or teachings for different elements of society, or perhaps just clarifying and completing a set of messages created when younger. This can only be done by someone who has a good picture of the different elements of society and of different personality types as well. Someone who has never had access to one group, say the upper strata, can not expect to be able to devise some message that would appeal to them. Thus, the founder has to have, in his background, contact with all kinds of people and not just contact, but an ability to understand them, and what they respond positively to. A third dimension of his social knowledge involves how these different people, different social levels and professions and different personalities, react in situations, more specifically, how they respond to different stresses that life poses, such as losses of various kinds, illness, old age, and personal conflicts. People are more open to a new religion when they are in the midst of troubles rather than when everything is rosy. For some, achieving success is a stress, as their goals have been met and they face the void of not knowing what to turn to to again achieve the thrill of working to accomplish their goals. The founder should understand as much of these situations as possible, and have a repertoire of concepts which can be transformed into personal guidance. Again, this is a learning experience, and having the ability to instantly recognize what is providing a person relief and what is not would be essential in accelerating the founder's learning how to be this sort of universal advisor.


The founder needs to make sure his highest level concepts are conveyed in a memorable way, both that they contain some elements that make people want to remember them, and that there is some method by which they might be remembered after he has finished teaching them. In ancient times, this meant relying on the memory of followers, or on some primitive writing system, which might have to be highly maintained to remain useful. This set of high level concepts does not have to be more than self-consistent and not too novel compared to the cultural learning that each person absorbs just by being born into the society and by keeping their eyes and ears open. The high level concepts cannot simply clash with and deny the large body of cultural learning that individuals in the society receive, but must instead build on it, and create changes by subtly adding to it.


The third stage of religion-building involves the successive generations of followers of the founder. Initially, the closest followers need to codify his teachings and principles, concepts and rules, as well as his biography, and ensure that it is remembered accurately. This may not be possible, leading to schisms and differences of opinion within the religion. There would need to be some sort of hierarchy of decision-making, so that these differences can be sorted out as much as possible, and some sort of general acceptance of the rules by which the hierarchy is formed, to prevent as much of the power struggles for higher levels of control that arise in almost any hierarchy.


The development of the hierarchy and the codification of the body of knowledge that constitutes the religion would receive much less public attention that does the words and actions and life of the founder. The founder is the image of the religion that receives all the public attention, even though there may have been individuals involved in the religion's development as talented and creative and decisive as the founder, or even more so. They receive recognition, but at a lesser level and scale that the founder does. These followers also need to devote much of their effort to proselyting and continuing to spread the messages of the founder. There should be many who have this singular talent, that of understanding the three dimensions of their audience and of being able to provide the right response at the right time. Someone with different talents, those for organization, needs to be able to recognize the abilities of the followers, one by one, and then fit them into the structure in the most useful way. The chief organizers need to be able to recognize both the obvious developed talents, and also the latent talent that the people available to them have.


The other activity that needs to be organized is that of support for the religion, in a financial way or the equivalent. This needs to have been started by the founder, who would have used his interpersonal talents to develop a set of donors, both incidental ones who provide something when asked and a repeated one, who provides much more and in a continuing fashion.


The last step is done by those in the hierarchy of power in the regions where the religion operates, and most specifically, by the individuals at the summit of power. These, and to a lesser extent, donors and non-involved followers who are the celebrities of the region, provide examples to others of their choice of which religion to support. This is another source of followers, and can be a decisive one in making the religion a dominant one. If the king or emperor or chief general accepts a religion and indicates that he will prefer to be with others who do the same, it is like a great wind blowing through society. And of course, this decision made by a top leader is not done because of the clarity of the message of the religion, but because of the utility of the religion in consolidating his power and preventing rebellion and uprising, secession and revolt. The founder would have needed to understood this final step and have prepared for it, or otherwise have been a very lucky person to have happened to have chosen just the right concepts to appeal to a top leader seeking to preserve his position.


It would be most interesting to examine a wide variey of religions, those extinct and those just beginning, as well as existing ones, to see if the above breakdown holds for each of them, and if not, how exceptions were formed.

Go Back


Blog Search


There are currently no blog comments.