Introducing the hierarchy of religious beliefs, as basically defined by Crispian Jago. It’s fairly easy to read, with the most harmless at the bottom and the most harmful at the top. The hierarchy argues that an individual or institution cannot make their way up the pyramid without hitting all the levels below. It can be described, simply, as a ladder. Everyone, as individuals, or every collection of institutions, as a society, starts at the very bottom and will accordingly adjust towards the environment surrounding them and the emotions within them.
Before anyone can believe in the utterly ridiculous and hateful ideologies within upper-levels of religion, one must go through a religious cleansing. To take the foundation of religious thought – something less ridiculous and not perceived as hateful – and lay it as the groundwork. From there, the groundwork sets itself up as a cultural norm. When the world stops questioning it, it begins to believe it. From there, it evolves. It’ll continue climbing the pyramid in an attempt to fully comprehend the belief that is routed towards the overall formula presented. In short, you have to dip your feet into the lake before jumping into the ice cold water religious offers. Once that is done, you become “numb” to everything else.
Religion, in a whole, is something that is oftentimes looked towards for safety and guidance. It’s hard for individuals to understand the complex nature of life, and most individuals frown upon the rather pessimistic and nihilistic questioning that leads to the upheaval of “the meaning of life” that everyone so desperately desires to obtain. It’s something that offers a centuries-old answer to the meaning of life. I mean, think of it.
We don’t understand so much in today’s world. Why would we take the literary texts of two millenniums ago and apply them to questions that we still have now. It is ignorance mixed with desire that creates the lowest and least harmful level of the religious pyramid. As the original model of this pyramid put it, “assorted fuckery” is what creates the basis for religious thought. I, personally, don’t go as far as that. I put the quest for spiritual guidance as an important level of self-interest and philosophical thought.
For example, the world has found itself in a timeline consisting of Auguste Comte’s three epochs. The Theological Stage, made up of the animistic, polytheistic, and monotheistic methods of thought, is what grandfathered society itself. The four pillars of social institutional thought – where each generation learns of social norms and values – can be established through this age.
RELIGION, of course, plays a major role as the first pillar. With the later creation of an established church and the spread of holy books containing stories of God’s word came morals and values that set up the earliest stages of our society’s growth.
FAMILY comes next, with parents and guardians injecting social and cultural norms and customs into younger minds.
EDUCATION falls in line afterwards, with socialization and the assumed roles of social guidance being placed into the next generation, as seen through neo-Marxist expectations and theories.
COMMUNITY creates the final pillar – with neighborhoods and the three other pillars coming together to form what embryonic society is based upon.
This Theological Age, the very first epoch in social creation, is what set up our entire history. In a primitive stage of humanity, where desperation merged with desire, religion was turned to in an attempt to create “sensible” answers and form “exceptional” morals. Thou shall not kill was much easier for a primitive society to understand and reciprocate through the commandments of an omnipresent deity than the exception of morals and values within our minds. In an era where medicine didn’t exist, where scientific thought was unable to create itself in a really early stage of our intellectual journey, it was religion which explained the meaning of life and death.
As much as it would pain a member of religion to say this, the creation of religion allowed for so much pain, misery, and chaos in our human history. But, as much as it would pain an atheist to say this, religion played a rather important role in setting up our society. Without religion, the original set up of social laws and morals would have been set back. It is important to mention that said social laws and morals most likely would have created themselves through human nature. To say that morals and values do not exist without religion is more than asinine. Religion was simply used as a jump-start, in which all societies were expected and eventually forced to take in the previously written “rules” that their geographically dominant faith had accustomed for it.
I use the words “geographically dominant” here for a reason. In an early world where influence is spread through trading routes and missionary status, religion to this day has found itself majorly limited to specified spheres of influence. Someone who is born in the subcontinent of India has a much higher chance of becoming a member of the Hindi faith than someone who was born in the United States of America. That same person in America would have a much higher chance of becoming Christian than someone born in the Middle East. Faith is always something acquired through social interaction and personal discovery. But, when in a society, the major influences of cultural norms and social pressures come forth to present an obvious choice for the individual.
Of course, not everyone is limited to this social norm. That is oftentimes left to the laws of government. For example, in a country with freedom of religion, one has an opportunity to pick whatever religion they feel fit. While the majority would still be present within the Christian nomenclature, someone in this “free” society could decide to become a member of any faith – or no faith at all. However, in a society where government laws lay in bed with religious texts such as Saudi Arabia, it becomes illegal to speak out against the pillar of religion. Thus, we see a higher concentration in the form of the majority, making it even harsher to come out against it.
This simple fact brings me to the characteristics that circle around how a society goes “too far” with the religious pyramid. In a society where any questioning of the pressured faith is considered blasphemous and treason, with biblical death penalties resting over the heads of civilians, it becomes easier for radical religious reformation to take a society by the neck. In short, it allows a society to begin the brainwashing of individuals to climb the pyramid – one step at a time. In a more “free” society, one that allows the freedom of thought and expression (or at least claims to) by allowing the freedom of religion, it’s harder – though not impossible – for a religious majority to rise higher in the pyramid.
For example, I would place the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the fifth level of the religious pyramid: religious fundamentalism. One might even place the Kingdom in the sixth and highest, but I reserve this spot for the absolute most extreme and historically displeasing examples. Some of the aspects concerning this fifth level include human sacrifices (think of the Aztec faith of five centuries ago), honor killings, strong creationism, stoning, tyranny, and forced conversions. However, as the pyramid works, the fifth level also includes everything underneath it: the features of the lower four levels. Think of all these qualities when considering the society that Saudi Arabia has created for itself.
Saudi Arabia has an official state religion, of course being the geographically dominant one of the Middle East: Islam. By government law, Saudi Arabia requires all citizens be Muslims. Their government refuses to legally protect the freedom of religion, and anyone attempting to acquire Saudi nationality is forced to convert. The history of this country is filled with religious tragedy. From implementing Islamic “Holy laws” on the public to having one of the poorest human rights records in the world, Saudi Arabia is the perfect representation of an Islamic theocracy.
Any religious minority within the country is prohibited from practicing their religion of choice, as the forced conversions keep them from admitting any faith than the practices of Islam. Even merely questioning any “fundamental creed” of Islam – from the prophet-hood of Muhammad to the divinity of God – leads to the death penalty. Non-Muslim religious books, especially Holy Books other than the Quran, are strictly prohibited, with laws as late as 2014 calling for the death penalty for anyone caught reading or distributing them.
The Kingdom itself, being an Islamic theocracy headed by a royal and absolute monarchy, has this Sunni fundamentalist idealism as an official state religion; a code of conduct that must be strictly followed by any citizen residing within the borders. Of course, there are other minority religions residing within the nation – but they are fiercely discriminated and have no guaranteed right of public protection. So, with this in mind, what religion would a man born in this culture most likely find himself apart of? And thus, how easy was it for Saudi Arabia to climb the religious pyramid from the general spirituality that society perceives as innocently victimized to the level of radicalism that it resides at today?
I would place the United States of America within the third level of the religious pyramid – residing within religious orthodoxy. Of course, remember, that the third level would have the aspects of the first and second as well. Interfaith divisiveness, misogyny, homophobia, genital mutilation, loss of freedom, forced marriages, and prejudices reside within the section of religious orthodoxy. Although forced marriages aren’t common in the western world, arguments and evidence can definitely showcase examples of nearly every other attribute of this third level.
Interfaith divisiveness is becoming more and more communal with Islamophobia reaching into the crevices of social fears. With terrorism on a “global march” and Americans still ready to push for revenge since the attacks on 9/11, religious intolerance has been common – splitting up a country that was founded on the basis of “freedom of religion”. Misogyny and homophobia are entirely easy to witness in American society. Genital mutilation can be shown as circumcisions. Loss of freedom comes with any implements of a majority religion, as can prejudices.
Bringing in the lower levels, America is predominantly defined by the spread of misinformation through churches and the sexual health issues – from the religious right’s positions on simple contraceptives to the scramble to shut down abortion clinics. It’s a shame when government laws from 1920 Spain – a country and time with a 92% registered Catholicism rating – are being represented by 2020.
But, recognizing the differences between the third and fifth levels of the religious pyramid, which society can be considered more radical? Which country does more harm to civilians and to human rights as a whole?
It’s an easy question to answer: it is obvious that Saudi Arabia is much more at “fault” for the problems with institutionalized religion than the United States of America. It’s a matter of geographical and political differences, combined with the cultural norms that have embedded themselves in two separate social communities, that separate a fundamentalist institution from an orthodox institution in terms of the religious pyramid. It’s a matter of rising through the levels due to external and internal factors, including the ideology itself.
An ideology can only get radical if the institution it belongs to allows it. An ideology can only spread as an institution if individuals persist hard enough. Thus, religion continues in an endless cycle in this hierarchy. Some societies will witness general spirituality, but others will witness religious fanaticism.
Read More: Religion’s God Complex