Religious knowledge is numinous, not nominal. Simply put, if religion merely imitates what is available in various other strata, it is ultimately invalid, because the practice of religion requires the application of massive amounts of unproductive labor and great expense.
Granted, the world would be the poorer if Michelangelo never climbed a scaffold and equally poor if no Leo had ever been Pope. However, one would be hard put to prove the world is richer for the advent of idol worship and that is religion, too. Much labor is required to build a Temple, much expense to maintain it and even more to staff such a place. When one no longer believes in the substance behind religious expression, the beauty of an idol, carved to entice a demon to take up and maintain residence, is of benefit only as a curiosity.
Religious knowledge has a pragmatic value but this is not primary. Religion appeals to us as does art. Art and religion inform us (and so call out of us) in ways we strive to describe and can only barely explain.
Religious knowledge (and there is such a thing, or religion would not survive across generations and cultures) is a way to find meaning. Meaning is our primary defense against despair. Religion is often called an escape in the same way art is labelled a diversion because each lifts the spirits by transcendence.
In our day, paradoxically, religious explanation, to be relevant, requires one thing most religions now practice but are willingly in forfeit of, and another thing none of us seem to have or want. The first is an educated clergy and the second (hold your breath) is a uniquely feminine initiative rite.
Educated clergy have the ability to discern truth under reliable control. An educated clergyperson may have various mentors but must finally have the ability to reason personally. He/she need not reinvent the wheel for every vesper's service but Sermon Central must not replace his cerebral cortex.
Education is the ability to offer the follow-up question rather than regurgitate absorbed information. Knowledge, through various forms of education, serve to help form, direct and enact policy. Educated clergy transcend the "gig" mentality and, so, bring a richness to their sacred calling. The educated clergy can do more than gather a flock and fleece it.
Most religious bodies today practice some form of education beyond the primary grades for their clergy. It is with the greatest sadness we notice the way Christians seem ready to forego a trained clergy today for simple crowd-gatherers. This is like a civilization that eschews farmers for hunter-gatherers. The hunter-gatherer technique ultimately leads to poverty and starvation. The wealth of nations is said to be in its cities but cities only occur (and recur) only in societies with agricultural surplus.
Just as important, and less replicated, is a religious form of feminine initiation, or rite of passage. Since much of history is dominated by masculinity, either of masculine men and their descendants, or of women forced into the masculine role because of the absence of masculine males, religion, like politics and commerce, developed certain, specific rites of passage for the young males. These rites of passage (which might include spirit treks, circumcision, tatooing, fasts, costuming, et al) represent transferences of power, ala "the divine right of kings," as well as serving as social-sexual rites of passage.
The ancients and historical moderns lived (live?) in fearful times, by which one means eras of anxiety. Physical strength and personal courage were combined with the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of the whole to form masculine virtues, which became social ethics. Religious rites of passage (transfers of power), then, were almost totally reserved for the male. Young boys were wrenched from their families (meaning, mostly, mothers), forced to surrender the needs of childhood, terrorized, victimized (often) and made to survive. The survivors were the fittest, the strongest, the smartest or the luckiest.
We will talk about "luck" later. "Luck" plays a large part in religious development and social structure. Lincoln often picked and discarded generals based on their "luck."
Female rites of passage into the religious cult were dissimilar to those of the male. They still are dissimilar and do not so much relate to a transfer of power from generation to generation as they do transfer of power over the female from the home (Father) to the husband or the cult itself. Feminine virtues (ethics) include chastity and faithfulness to the father/husband/cult, with simpler self-sacrifice limited to the nuclear (and, in some cultures, the extended) family unit. A female who wants something other must waive the feminine virtues (ethos) for masculine sacrifices. Supposed religious repression of the female is mostly cultural but it is one of the ways/places/mores where religion is not allowed/encouraged to surpass acculturation.
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