Institutional religions of the Western kind (the ‘desert’ religions) are authoritative; they involve control, unlike Hinduism and its derivative offshoots (the ‘forest’ religions). The following are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’.
“What could have been more persuasive? The creation of a hierarchy of gods, angels and other heavenly (or even satanic) intercessionists? A claimed devolution of heavenly (that is, godly) authority, leading to god-kings or their authoritarian priestly equivalents? A created theology seemingly made available to the chosen by a process of revelation from on-high? Inherited authority allied to control of knowledge would have enabled the exercise of power, enforced over time by the use of force by some. So says the history of religious institutions.
Were fragments of the faithful, the fearful, then hived off by the cleverer, the more power-hungry, priests through their creation of theological schisms? Did then come the schismatic wars, some overt by fighting and killing in the name of some god, or by forced conversion? Did the priests insidiously and persistently proselytise in order to claim a relative strength of their faith through numerical size? Even today, there are ordinary Christians continuing to collect souls for Christ in Africa and Asia. To what end?
Later, did not many gods, most local or regional, give way to one god, resulting in supremacy sought by priesthoods on a wider geographical front? Did some priesthoods subsequently develop into a hierarchy, a tower of authority composed entirely of men, enabling a lifestyle of considerable quality, while their flocks survived as best they could? What grandeur these priests must have portrayed, with a pageantry normally associated with god-kings! Indeed, some of them still do. Yet, there were other priesthoods which displayed a simpler lifestyle.
Is this not how religious institutions achieved control and began to mislead the people, even while purporting to guide, lead and comfort? Is this not why the more independent-minded people withdraw from participatory religious events and practices, to the extent that some go to the extreme stance of atheism?”