It’s 1000 BCE and the tribe across the mountains is considering their future. It was a simple village that lived in harmony with the seasons and each other. Everyone 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 a ‘religious way of life’.
But change was afoot…
The executive team over in hut number one, felt responsible for the survival of the tribe and were wanting to earn some extra cash. 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 salvation and safety they would be onto a winner.
They dispatched an ox to hut number six asking the marketing team to find how to sell salvation as a new form of religion. The team thought it strange to try to replace something that worked but none the less 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 tribes lack of security now, in the future and of course in the ‘after life’.
The focus group testing showed instilling fear was actually easy, because people where innately sensitive, so a big enough outer threat to their security could destabilise people, add to that the threat of eternal damnation and you had people eating out of your hand.
Stage two — Redirect responsibility
Everyone knew that while 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 got a consultant from hut seven to help them workshop the problem and found their answer, what they needed were experts. These experts needed to be skilled at making others feel like they did not know enough and needed to be given enough power that they where beyond critique.
Interestingly enough the concept of ‘priesthood’ tested well and many people where surprisingly keen to hand over responsibility for their lives to the direction of others.
Stage three — exclusivity and belonging
Of course being a tribe, they knew 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 have a limited return on investment in one tribe, so they knew they needed to spread the ‘message’ to other tribes. The answer was to develop an emissary program, where missionaries were given power to convert, cajole and if need be torture others into ‘believing’.
Proud of their plan, the marketing team dispatched 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. Not to mention the power they would acquire.
Little did they know that the tribe over the mountain had been hatching a very similar plan. And so, for the next few centuries both tribes battled in often bloodied wars to prove whose religion was best at offering salvation.
Some in the tribe preached tolerance, some got turned off religion all together and some knew what was happening was not right. They felt some kind of connection back to the original expression of religion, one where it was based on a simple way of living that started with and fostered that inner connection. They explored the possibility that the religious life they were sold and the way of life they felt within were different.
Of course this approach was an inherent threat to the existing powers but after years of bloodshed, cruelty and killing in the name of salvation, those that lived The Way, knew there could be no other way to be.
In time, others too might tire of the battle and also remember that being religious was not the problem. The problem was HOW people have been taught to be religious in life.