There comes a point in time when one must begin to question his own beliefs about God and the afterlife, and to a larger extent, the beliefs of the society within which he lives. Where do our individual beliefs stop and our collective begin? How is it that we can be so diametrically opposed by religious preference on one level and so aligned by common humanness on another? How does society remain intact?
It would seem that, particularly in this day and age, a society based on a mythos (a philosophy that honors free-thinking and archetypal engagement) far outweighs one which honors dogma and restrictive thinking; such as that of religion. But, why such a distinction between the two? For weren't the Mithraic cults of Rome and the mystery schools of Osiris considered religions?
The distinction between the two paths of Myth and Religion can be found when one considers the level of empowerment afforded by their respective followers.
Ritual has been a part of human society for millennia. Our culture is based upon the intrinsic human necessity to repeat our actions. Repetition gives our actions validity. Subconsciously, we arise in the morning to a ritual of preparation for the day because we have proven to ourselves that it is an effective way to maintain a state of being which is complimentary to society's view of a well-adjusted individual. We must actualize this image of ourselves; engage in this preparatory assembly of imagined procedures to become the 'persona' by which the world knows us. Arranging our lives in this way is comforting and conclusively necessary for our well-being.
Let's take a look at worship. Again, this is a common human indulgence; an unconscious drive to bring validity to the world around us. We instinctually develop degrees of worship in all of our relationships, finding comfort in the attachment they bring. We worship our pets, our mate, our friends, our family, our political leaders, and our beliefs (large and small). We give homage in conversation to our dead-set beliefs of the way the world functions. These worshipful beliefs are our safety nets from complete dislocation from the "normal" reality we've created in our minds. We worship these things and others because they have control over our sense of well-being.
But, what if we were to look at a wider range of ritual than just the brushing of our teeth, the performance of push-ups, or the application of make-up products? What if the examination of our unconscious worship of the minutia of our lives could be expanded to reveal unhealthy attachments to our concepts of God or the afterlife?
Religion is described as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, such as a God or gods. A concept which, at first glance, sounds much like a mythos, or a societal narrative which dictates the actions and belief structures of its inhabitants to such a degree that it influences their morality. On the surface, these two ideas seem very similar; both contain worship, both contain ritual, which again, fulfill basic human needs for validity and well-being. But if we look deeper, we see that the opposing concepts of morality are the defining factors between the two belief structures.
Mythology separated from religion unveils a loving core waiting to nurture its dedicated seekers. Interestingly, organized religion was born of 'myth' when we consider the classical interpretation of the concept. Myth overtly displays a narrative of intertwining dramas which provide parables for self-dissection and development, much like religion. Myth, as interpreted by its devotees, implies a worship of a superhuman controlling power, much like religion. A common human reaction to this devotion is the giving of offerings and prayer to this controlling power, much like religion. But what happens when we separate the two? Perhaps we can begin to see the true outcomes sought by followers of both concepts becoming unearthed. I submit that all who seek a controlling power externally are unconsciously seeking to align with this power internally - through archetypal means.
Myth, separate from religion, puts the moral compass in the hands of the believer, activating an intrinsic form of self-worship, glorifying and celebrating the personification of ancient archetypes for the empowerment of the individual. Religion disempowers the follower, placing the moral framework into an arbitrary set of laws dictated by an external deity or deities. This, in its most fundamental of aspects, creates a surrendering of personal power, a 'giving-away' of the very thing that makes us human - our free will.
Gnosticism is the belief in a conscious being's capacity for spiritual discernment, for intuition, or the employment of 'Gnosis', which simply means knowledge. The Gnostics believe that it is this inner knowing, this intuition in which one can place their faith, that brings the power back to the individual. For it is this natural trait that aligns every man and woman to the archetype of the Sage or Mystic. This mythical archetype, the personification of wisdom, exists within the collective understanding of human consciousness and can be activated when one puts their faith back in themselves - aligning with myth over dogma.
Consider the Warrior archetype invoked by the woman lifting the car to save her child. See in the devoted nurse, the archetype of the Healer. The Mage in the master manifestor of reality, the Athlete in the sports star. We evoke these ageless prototypes of the human condition into our lives as if by accident. Mythology is so engrained in our collective experience that we forget that the power to be heroic has always lived deep within.
With the philosophies espoused by Gnosticism, we can see that both ritual (meditation to look within for answers), as well as worship (reliance on one's own power) are sated when Gnosis is developed. Religion supplies a great deal of comfort in its tenets, allowing its followers to feel safe in the grace of their God. However, the pitfall of religion lies in the certainty of its unfounded claims and the uncertainty of its necessity for blind faith.
Will you put faith in the God within you or the God external from you? Of whom you truly know very little...
Societally, I believe it is our duty to choose to return to a reliance on the self. Many of us, in a frantic search for an external deity, simply forgot to consider the one whom they see in the mirror. As powerful conjurors of the ubiquitous world, co-creators of our shared environment, we have a duty to take back the power of which we've been robbed. We literally have the power of the gods at our fingertips. We must remember to focus on cultivating self-love to an optimal height suitable for the giving of true, unattached love. Service to self engenders service to others. Look within for the hidden master. Look within for your answers to the world's questions.
The Gnosis within holds the wisdom you seek.