Throughout the ages religion has posed as a somewhat necessary governing force for the people. I say necessary because in the earlier stages of human development people were far more primitive and barbaric in nature and needed much stricter parenting/governing tactics in place. Just as a toddler requires a different type of parenting than a teenager, human beings at different levels of consciousness or different stages of spiritual development require different types of parenting/governing as well.
In our former years when our prefrontal cortexes were underdeveloped we were unable to rely on our inner guidance for direction on our journeys. Instead we required a very strict hand and a very short leash for our own protection. Just as parents implement rules to protect their young children from an environment that their brains are not developed enough to understand and handle, the Church used to implement religious laws to protect the people and to keep a certain amount of order. Religion and government, which were one in the same for ages, used fear as a way to keep the masses obedient and bring some form of civil nature to society. People were told to follow the rules or the laws or they would go to “hell”. They were told if they were good and they obeyed the laws then they would go to “heaven”. It was fear of damnation that made it easy for the Church to keep its role in leadership and government for so long.
The earlier stages of human development or consciousness can be equated with the level of development or consciousness of a child. I know when Christmas is near I tell my children that if they are really good Santa will reward them by bringing them lots of presents. They truly believe that there is a Santa, that I indeed talk to him, and that how many presents they get on Christmas is entirely determined by how good they are. Now as an adult and a parent I know that I am the one buying the presents and I know the truth which is that it doesn’t matter what my children do I will still shower them with love and presents on Christmas morning. That doesn’t mean that in the interim I won’t use the holiday to encourage some good behavior. They are still in development and learning how to behave properly and in a respectful and gracious manner is an important part of their learning curriculum. The fact that my children believe in Santa doesn’t make them less intelligent in any way, it is just where they are at in their consciousness development.
The same goes for humans over the ages. Believing in Heaven or Hell doesn’t have anything at all to do with intelligence it is just something that a person can buy into depending on what stage of spiritual development they are in. Is it a bad thing to believe in punishment and damnation? Well I think as long as we know that any stage of development is temporary then the fear imbedded in that stage can have no lasting traumatic effects on the personality. Subconsciously there could be some religious programming within the psyche but as the spirit evolves and expands to new levels of awareness healing the wounds of the subconscious becomes inevitable. Certainly I do not feel scarred in any way for once believing in hell, if anything maybe it kept me out of trouble in some cases when I was less spiritually developed and could not independently navigate my own journey safely. I know that even though I try very hard never to spread a message of fear or bring any negative energy into my home or parenting that sometimes I myself have to resort to educating my kids on the dangers of the physical world. I don’t want to fill their heads with fear but I also don’t want them to run out in the middle of the street without looking for cars first.
Just as every child is capable of different levels of understanding so too are all humans. Certainly just as there are different stages of growth physically there are different stages of growth spiritually. Religion or religious sects can be a great stepping stone on someone’s spiritual journey but just as a child grows physically and mentally earning them more freedom to act independently so do we. For example, a person who just got released from prison and has discovered the bible for the first time would most likely do better in a very strict and regimented spiritual environment. Believing in Heaven and Hell may even be an asset to society with regards to this person in so far as it may keep them from committing further crime and re-entering the prison system. On the other hand an advanced holy man such as the Dali Lama who activates the new brain or his prefrontal cortex daily via meditation would hardly need any regimented spiritual guidance whatsoever. Someone who is advanced consciously and spiritually would have the ability to rely solely on inner wisdom without any exterior help whatsoever. In between those two extreme scenarios though are many levels of spiritual awareness and understanding.
What I really want to touch on though with regards to this topic is the temptation we all have as humans to judge those on different spiritual paths or journeys. By this I mean people of various religious sects who have a tendency to think that their religion or spiritual path is “right” and all other religions or spiritual paths are “wrong”. To be a part of a religion in any culture and to say that it is the “right” religion or the “only” true religion is as silly as studying Geometry and saying that Geometry is the “right” math or the “only” math and that all other math is “wrong”. If someone in Geometry told someone in Calculus that they believed Geometry was the only math that mattered the person in Calculus would see that person as not only judgmental but limited in their thinking as well. If the person in Geometry told a person in Algebra that Geometry was the only math worth learning then the person in Algebra may become disheartened, feeling devalued even which could prevent him or her from fully engaging in their current stage of mathematical development. It is one thing to love the spiritual class or school of thought you are currently learning but it is quite another to judge someone else for not being in the same class. The classes may all be different but they are all equally valuable.
I wish we could eliminate the word “church” altogether as I truly believe it has almost become a derogatory word. If we could replace the word “church” with the word “school” or “class” I think it would be more appropriate. If while we are of a certain school of thought we had an understanding or an awareness that our consciousness is ever-expanding and that we will eventually graduate from a certain school of thought only to enter another school of thought, then we would naturally become more tolerant and we would see judgment and hostility decline rapidly.
Our spiritual path is personal. It is custom made by us for us individually. Even the journey of becoming an atheist is not without a spiritual purpose. Every path although different is of equal value. When we attend a University we don’t ridicule or mock those who take different courses than us. We have an understanding that someone who has chosen to major in science will be enrolled in very different courses then someone who is majoring in Art History. Neither area of study is better than the other, they are just different. It doesn't really matter what courses you take on your road to graduation. In the end we all graduate together. We may have different degrees and different knowledge but we will all have the same diplomas.