Tied to One Understanding
Last Update: 7 January, 2023
What the Issue is:
Religion is a model, normally shared with as many other people who will adopt it, for a person to approach God and orient themselves to the universe around them. As such it usually includes orienting beliefs (especially about the source and purpose of our existence, as well as the Afterlife), moral guidance for life decisions, expectations of members, and prescribed rituals.
Why this Issue is Important:
Religion is a major spiritual, mental, and social force, typically forming at least the moral framework of a person's every decision.
If there's something wrong with the belief system of a person, there's going to be something wrong with all decisions based on that belief system.
What the good is:
Religion is a useful and perhaps necessary model on which we understand our place in the universe and how we should related to it.
Progress in the social sector of religion is marred by fierce loyalty, shielding it from new ideas, which is typically encouraged by the clergy and members of that religion. It is fierce even to the point of lethal violence for any conflicting idea, especially if that idea arises in a member of that relgion. Different ideas tend to be interpreted automatically as a direct challenge to the infallability of the recognized source of instruction, a threat to the entire community, and of evil intent; consequently it is very difficult to raise even the smallest criticism or proposal to change a belief without triggering a backlash. Presumably for this reasons, most religions remain with little or no change for a very long time.
This bull-headedness is based on the belief that the religion comes directly from God and therefore must be complete and perfect.
In most social other sectors, however, such as technology, criticism is welcome without taking offense, and evaluated for any merit which could possibly lead to improvement. Apparently because of that, it's been easy and rapid to make improvements in technology.
The intent in this article is not to dissuade humanity from religion, but to encourage morality and wisdom in religion and, ultimately, better forms of religion.
After all, religion is only a model, limited by understanding of humans, even if the source is above humanity. It can have flaws and should be reviewd towards improvement to more efficient ways of following the purpose when they come available.
The Purpose of Religion:
What is the purpose of religion? It's a question which is extremely rare to even be asked, which is also a way that religion differs from most other pursuits, which are explicit to their purpose. For example, in racing the purpose is to get to the finish line as fast as possible, in agronomy to grow as much food as possible for the land and time you have, and for business to make as much money as possible with the capital and time you have. In religion, however, this question is usually not asked or answered, as though you exist to serve the religion, so it's not supposed to have a purpose in your life, but rather you should perform a function for it.
What is the purpose of religion? The purpose of religion should be to bring people as close to God and His Ways (especially morality) as possible with the time we have in this life. Criticism of any inefficiencies about that, and any ideas on how to do that better should be welcome.
Types of Religious Systems:
This has been a very popular form of religion where people and principles of power are followed above all else, the goal being to become like them as much as possible. It is based on this religion, for example, that show manufacturers will pay a famous basketball athlete to wear their shoes during play, the act of which, even without anyone's claims as to the fitness of the product, will entice those who follow that athlete to the point of mimicry will need to purchase those shoes to continue that mimicry.
It dates at least back to ancient times, where if you were successful enough, such as becoming emperor, you were proclaimed to be a god.
This religion ultimately yields to worship of higher beings if and when they can be identified.
Benefits of this approach:
Proximity to Power: It's not difficult to identify someone stronger than you, and being close to them, by mimicry or service, seems to give you at least some chance to learn or benefit from their higher strength.
Flaws of this approach:
Leader Misidentification: One flaw of this religion is that it's only based on apparent power and succes, not true power. Someone can be presented as powerful who is not, and someone can be powerful but hidden because they are not promoted or known to be strong.
Leader Intent: Selecting beings by their power says nothing about their intent, not even if their intent towards you is benevolent or malevolent. For this oversight many humans have served enemies of humanity and other evil leaders.
Follower Immorality: This religious system doesn't care if those being followed are good or evil, only that they are the most powerful beings known to exist and be accessible for worship. For example, if the most powerful being you find to interact with you is a demon, based on this model you would do whatever evil they demand. Some cultures sacrificed thousands of humans each year to serve the demands of demons.
This is where a person is followed, but not because of their own power but their closer relationship (or supposed relationship) with the supreme power, and therefore their (supposed) ability to catalyze your relationship with that being through them. In practice they are presumed to know the supreme being's will, and communicate to and from the supreme being better than anyone else available.
How is clergy with a (supposed) superior relationship to the supreme being identified? Either they report having had a direct relationship with the supreme being, or else there is a legal system in place for their selection which is presumed to be endorsed by God, or they know the holy book better than you do.
Benefits of this approach:
A quick way to answer any question which comes up because an accessible human mind is always easily accessible to give an answer. If he or she must get the answer from God that's their problem.
A chance of improvement of the priniples of the religion if the cleric's relationship with God is strong, as they lead in higher and higher levels of revelation. Unfortunately the followers might not be ready to progress as fast, and the question might come up of how improvement could be valid if previous clergy didn't think of it or think it was necessary.
Flaws of this approach:
Surrender to Conformity. There is no room for you to disagree with the clergy. They are the human authority in this model, not you; you have no authority to disagree. Consequently there is pressure on you to conform your beliefs immediately.
Incentive to answer from own mind rather than the supreme being's mind. It's much easier to give an answer out of your own mind than try to obtain it from the Supreme Being, so the incentive of clergy is to do just that. It's not easy for the folowers to tell the difference, and even if they know it's just an idea from you, it's interpreted to be what God wants due to your supposedly close relationship to Him. Unfortunately once you start answering questions for the supreme being's will from your own mind, the People are following you not the Supreme Being at all and there really is no sensible reason for them to follow you instead of the Supreme Being. As this misstep continues, the cleric can be accepted more and more like a king or queen, directing as they wish, rather than an intermediary.
Failure to recognize higher levels of clergy due to social conditioning. One flaw of this approach is sometimes the legal and education methods of identifying clergy is so socially entrenched that if someone is chosen by God to relay a message they fail to recognize that, so long as it's true, it would give that person a higher level of spiritual authority than the legal or education methods. For this reason, many clergy selected from the legal and education methods, from their firm establishment in society, were permitted to interrogate visionaries who had a direct relationship with God, such as at Lourdes or Fatima, as though the legally appointed cleric had more spiritual authority than someone who interacts with God directly.
Clergy Selling Out to Government and/or Social Pressures and consequently misleading the flock with false politically correct ideas.
Since the time of Constantine, Governments have learned that the most effective way to control religious people is not to persecute them but partner with their leaders. Typically this exchange is major finanancial benefits and/or tax exemptions for the clergy in exchange for leading the People in support, or at least no challenge of, the Government. This is common to this day as most religious organizations are exempt from taxes and also are able to issue government-recognized tax receipts for any donations, and we saw what they give in exchange clearly when they not only failed to criticize the COVID-19 crisis response from the Government, but actually shut their doors immediately as soon as Government asked them to. In such scenarious, followers may want to do more, but are not permitted because the clergy, by their authority, compel them to stand down.
The failure of our religious leaders to resist or even criticize even the most immoral political initiatives, not even orders to shut their own doors, risks the ruin of our society. Either we've had the wrong clergy in charge, or the wrong way of selecting clergy, or we need an entirely different model of religion where this can't happen.
A risk of degradation of the religious principles if the clergy's relationship with God is weak or non-existent.
A limit of inspiration. When you are constantly taught by the same clergy, and no one else is allowed to speak their ideas, it's not long before they've obviously run out of ideas and are just preaching because the're supposed to prepare a sermon each week. It would be better to let one of the hundreds or thousands of faithful in the congregation speak their inspiration just once than listen to the same one person or few people endlessly after their inspiration is fatigued.
Control by Humans: Obviously, regarding humans as either God themselves, Gods representatives, or God's masters over you puts them in a commanding role over other people without requiring any real link between God and the clergy, so long as the People believe it exists.
This is a very common type of religion where a book published by humans is proclaimed to be infallible and complete spiritual instruction, and all beliefs tied back to the book.
In practice usually functions exactly like the clergy-based model, with all its flaws, with clergy selected who have superior knowledge of and/or access to the book. The clergy exert authority much like the clergy-based model, and, like in the clergy-based model, only they or who they appoint may speak at services, and they may give spiritual direction out of their own mind rather than from the book.
There is slightly more ability for the followers to challenge the clergy, using the book as their source, but since the clergy are selected based on expert knowledge of that book, it's extremely rare that you could succeed in a book-based argument against them.
Benefits of this approach:
A standardized reference which resists degradation of the religious principles.
Flaws of this approach:
Interpretation. Book-based religion isn't as singular a belief system as it might seem. The fact is that there multiple many ways to interpret most statements, and it is the clergy who get to decide what the interpretation the congregation will use is. For example, there are many Christian denominations based on the same Bible.
Surrender to Conformity. In this religious model there is no room for you to disagree with, or add somehing to, what is taught in the Book, and very difficult for you to disagree with the experts of the Book (clergy) successfully. Consequently there is pressure on you to conform your beliefs immediately.
Inspiration Suppression. There is no room for new ideas, not even from clergy or God Himself, in a religion based on a finite book.
Almost always functions on a clergy-based authority in practice, with related flaws (see that section). It's difficult to avoid this problem. Once the book is the way to God, the longer and more complex that book is, and especially if the original language isn't one you know, the less you can trust your own knowedge of it, and the more you are reliant on expert knowlege. That dependency becomes a clergy-based administration in practice.
Cherry-Picking. The clergy is obligated to teach from the Book (as Book-followers won't tolerate a religious argument for long without supporting references from the Book), but the clergy is not required to teach the entire book, which has become extremely rare. The Book often has some imperfections, such as support for slavery or oppression of women for example, and backlash is avoided by never preaching those parts. Other parts may be good but more good than society will currently accept due to the political climate. It's just easier to preach the teachings which everyone can agree on. It' doesn't serve God the best, but that's not the priority in Book-following religion.
Fierce resistsance to criticism. The book usually has plenty of errors and omissions which are glossed over in defending it as complete and infallible. However even the most glaring logical obvious flaws plain on the page are refused to be recognized by someone whose whole universe depends on the belief that the book is infallible. Often they'd rather kill you than admit it.
The resistance to criticism becomes a resistance to improvement. Not all criticism is meant to destroy; it's usually an appeal to uprgrade.
Moral Limitation.Even if he book was perfect it cannot answer some moral questions especially the ones associate with new technologies. The dominance of book-based religion, coupled with the explosion of technolgies, has left us without moral bounds for these technologies, and exposed to disasters.
Control by Humans. Ultimately book-based religion gives control to the reader to open it or not, read what they want or not, and interpret it how they want to using whatever type or direction of arguement they want. A book can't object.
For all followers to serve God directly they need to cultivate their own relatioship with God.
This was apparently how early Christianity flourished, at a time before there were any easily accessible scriptures, when there was great persecution, and when clergy was scattered and unreliable to be available when you need them for one reason or another. The Holy Spirit lead each Christian directly.
Benefits of this approach:
It puts the most people in closest contact with God.
The de-centralized human administration resists corruption and persecution. It's a lot easier to bribe or kill one leader than it is to bribe or kill every follower.
Disadvantages of this approach:
Risk of Degradation. Without a standard of truth and morality for the religious community, it can deteriorate into whatever everyone wants to believe. However this risk is less the more real the link to God is, as He would give correction.
Everyone believing differently(?) This is typically the most feared thing in religion, because it threatens brand loyalty. But it is no threat to God.
It takes more effort from followers to build their own relationship with God than relying on someone else's.
Some Problems with Religion:
Too often there is such a thick certain belief that a choice of religion is the correct one, that not only is any other religion automatically considered incorrect, but any unorthodox idea within the religion also will not be considered as anything but automatically defined as misinformation.
The general attitude is that the religion must be clung to in its present form on the insistent belief that it is already perfect, there is no salvation any other way, a billion people can't be wrong, or some other bull-headed reason.
The focus of the belief is usually an insistence that a certain book or human (office), which the religion is founded on, is considered to be absolutely complete and infallible.
The foundation is the mistake. Only God Himself is complete and infallible, and substituting literally anything however claimed to be associated with God is not the same as God and rather putting that human or book in place of God, which is idolatry. At least these people should recognize that there are limits in basing your understanding on a book authored in a language you don't know, or your truth based on the words of a person you never talk to.
In particular such followers ignore that there must be another path to following God because there were followers of God long before that supposedly infallible book or human (office) arrived, but that insight would require thinking, and it's a lot easier to be wrong with a crowd approving the wrong than be right.
Meanwhile flaws of the supposedly infallible human or book are quietly hidden. For example, passages which make sense are often preached, but passages which don't are not, and there is extreme reluctance to admit that this book or human doesn't have all the answers we need.
This bible or pontiff-based religon works well for consistency in beliefs, but it doesn't work well for the evolution of humanity.
Religion as a Business
Most religions seem to actually be businesses as their primary purpose, that is to say, function to collect money for themselves from the faithful for personal income of the clergy. Typically they not only accept money but teach a certain obligation of the faithful to give a certain percentage of their income to maintain their relationship with God, anything less being portrayed as stealing from God. Furthermore that gift is assumed to be due to their religious organization rather than other charities. For example, it's extremely common for the following passage to be read in Christian churches just before collection:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
(Holy Bible, KJV, Malachi 3:8)
Unlike most businesses, however, religion business isn't required to give any practical benefit in return for the money demanded. The business model is mainly about teaching people and obligation to give to God and leading them to see that religious implement as the one to give all of that money to.
Real servants of God aren't looking for your money, at least not for themselves, and money has nothing to do with what they're after. The only time they collect money is for some good cause. In fact Jesus Christ never asked for money in exchange for His ministry, despite working dramatic miracles for many people, and warned his followers about the conflict in serving money and God:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
(Jesus Christ, Holy Bible, KJV, Matthew 6:24)
Religious Brand Loyalty
In any business it's important to encourage brand loyalty, especially against the nearest substitutes of good or servie on the market (the more distantly related other goods and services are on the market, the less of a threat they are to the business, because the less likely the consumer is to see them as an alternative). For example, if you sell pizza, it's important that when people want pizza they prefer to buy it from you, but less important that when people want food they think of you, and not important at all that when people want fuel they think of you.
Due to this, in religion, it's typically to be taught that there is no other way to God: no other way valid at all.
By heart we believe and by mouth confess the one Church, not of heretics but the Holy Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church outside which we believe that no one is saved.
— Pope Innocent III
This is apparently why the nearest variations of a religion have been the most fiercely attacked (example Protestant versus Roman Catholic), whereas more distant religions less attacked (usually only when an excuse is needed to steal those peoples' land). For example, the Spanish Inquisition persecuted unorthodox ideas within Christianity, but didn't trouble followers of other religions.
Similarly, those who are lax in following tend to be far less persecuted than those who have differeing ideas, the latter being seen as a far greater threat. Even though both are a threat to serving God (at worst, assuming for a moment the differing ideas are always evil), for business reasons it is more important to erradicate the different ideas).
This is contrary to sense in serving truth and God, where the greatest differences should be pursued and corrected before the smaller ones. This is the proof that it is done for business reasons not truth reasons.
Attitudes which add to this problem are a touted duty to persecute differences of opinion and a claimed justification of unlimited force to 'correct' people which try to leave the religion (as though trying to save their soul).
“Not to oppose erroneous doctrine is to approve of it, and not to defend at all true doctrine is to suppress it.”
— Pope Innocent III
“Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.”
— Pope Innocent III
Excessive Religious Confidence:
Religions tend to deliver on what the Public most expects of them: assurances of spiritual security, however groundless. All that matters is that people believe them, and that those who profess them sound really certain about them.
Popular religions tend to offer this in exchange for minimal commitments: usually just a matter of weekly attendance and a financial offering of a certain percentage of the patron's income.
These assurances are groundless because no one but God can give them, and saying they are from God isn't the same as God speaking to the person at risk in the assurance. In other words, unless you hear it directly from God, your assurance is coming from someone who is not your judge and simply not the correct person.
You might find, in the Afterlife, that God isn't bound to what your cleric promised you.
Excessive Religious Allegiances
In some religions, they believe they are bound to support certain nations regardless of any moral conditions on the behaviour of that nation for support and any even greater need by their own bretheren in the same area. Example: How Evangelicals Betray Christians In The Holy Land [Pt. 2]
Lack of Any Desire to Compare and Contrast Religious Ideas
Typically religion is so sure of itself that people who are born into a family adopt the religion of that family with no sense that they should ever explore other religious options. It only makes sense if you are sure that your option is correct, but why should you be sure if you haven't ever checked the other options?
Failure to compare and contrast ideas, and fairly consider new ones, to find the best ones or at least the best ones for you, is proof that conventional religion has lost interest in finding its way to God and serves other purposes.
Consider for example that you meet someone who only wants iphones for their telecommunications hardware. Is that person pursuing the best technology or is some other priority at work?
Those who won't even acknowledge other options before making or keeping a choice of religion should consider why it is that they exclude those other options, and if that reason is good, or serves the purpose of finding the best path to God.
Subjugation of Individual Inspiration
Conventional religions don't require any individual inspiration, since their revelation is already scripted, and therefore have an incentive to discourage it as a threat to the business, rather than welcome it as a way to possibly understand God's' will better. Throughout history religions have actually been very hostile towards their own visionaries who showed no intention of threatening the religion (for example the Lourdes or Fatima visionaries, and those are the successful ones).
It's typical in major religion that individuals are never allowed to speak anyting (except ritual words of agreement pre-scripted by the clergy) during the congregation service.
Followers are encouraged to be loyal to their religion even above and beyond their own conscience or thinking, as though your religion is reliable but your conscience is not. A teaching often used is, Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. (Holy Bible, KJV, Proverbs 3:5), where usually just the part after the semicolon is used, and trusting in God is assumed to be trusting the religion.
Drifting Away from Morality
It's difficult to lead people in two directions, especially to follow a book or cleric and to follow morality, so the tendency is to lead people to follow the book or cleric which supposedly includes all necessary teachings.
It's unnecessary when the goal is leading those people to support the clergy, rather than find God: for this purpose it makes sense to lead them towards the established religious doctrine and ignore any other concept of morality outside of this.
But morality is its own pursuit, with new moral questions certainly arising with each new technology, and possibly with each new situation, and cannot be contained in any finite book. The back cover on a book or the human failings of a cleric are real limits which impede that pursuit if based on them.
Unfortunately, once the religon is adopted as the only morality needed, such believers have no reason to consider moral arguments outside of the teachings of that religion, no matter what sense they make. This is why, for example, slavery persisted for so long and it still remains very difficult to interest religious people in animal compassion: because most religions do not condemn slavery or animal exploitation.
Religion is great when it brings up up to a certain level of character, but it's not great if it holds you back in any way from doing more than that minimum or questioning the morality of existing practices and ideas.
There are some cruelties in the world which are socially protected from criticism because large religions have incorporated these practices in their teachings.
As one example, there is no moral reason to mutilate young boys soon after birth; it's done because a book says so and we haven't evolved enough to question it. So because a book says so, it is protected from being recognized as the cruelty it is.
The misconception that all religions are the same, or at least teach the same things.
This is probably the most foolish misconception, and although mostly a political idea, it has drifted into religion to some extent. Of course religions are NOT the same, being based on different books, different teachings, different leaders, different congregation and just about everything else different.
There may be some general themes which are similar, such as being a 'good' person, but in practice they function differently, because what a 'good' person is is differently in each religion.
The truth is that we need to keep reaching to compare, contrast, and improve our religions, not protect them from change.
The misconception that your supreme human cleric is somehow infallible.
Actually this is probably the most asinine belief in religion. The teaching obviously supports the existing clergy, to command not only the actions but minds of their followers, blindly, and is the worst kind of cultism. It should have instead been obvious that only God is infallible in anything, and pretending that any human is a God or protected by God from failing in any way is fantasy. People who believe in the infallability of clergy have given up all sense and morality to slavish obedience of a human, and not God, and will reap the tares of that foolish investment.
Vows of Obedience
It is typical that religions ask those who seek it as a profession to take a vow of obediene to their administrative superiors as a requirement of initiation.
This consequence of the belief of infallabiltiy of clergy is a tool by which great evil can be wrought within the religion, because the obedience is unconditional.
Righteous obedience always has conditions, and you must not vow them away. God made you an independent mind, to judge for yourself, and you must not give that away because you are seduced into thinking that what God gave you must be surrendered to other people.
Every cleric must obey the Pope, even if he commands what is evil; for no one may judge the Pope.
— Pope Innocent III
The belief that anyone who leaves your religion is spiritually lost.
That's like saying anyone who tries something new is lost because it's new.
Of course the spiritual consequences of leaving one's religion depend on the reasons why you left, but the teaching ignores that, as though no good reason is possible. For example, if you left because you wanted to grant yourself approval to annul your wedding to marry someone else is an immoral reason. If, however, you left your religion because you witnessed something as true which your religion teaches is false, then that's a moral reason. The spiritual consequences follow the type of morality behind the decision.
The belief clergy are independent from human Government.
Increasingly clergy have allied themselves with Government and the proof of this is how willing almost all were, worldwide, to shut their places of worship (or restrict their services to impractical levels of attendance, such as 5 people including the cleric) on Government request on excuse of COVID-19, even while Government arbitrarily left many other estalblishments open, such as liquor stores (and marijuana stores where legal), and allowed certain large gatherings (such as Black Lives Matter protests). This kind of obedience went strongly against God, and sstrongly against the people, but only served the Government's desire for control.
We can speculate on the methods of this influence, but one clear one is that Government typically offers religious institutions very generous tax advantages (such as no tax on them and ability to issue tax-creditable receipts to any donors) which, depending on the country, come with implied or even express conditions of non-criticism of Government.
Some other examples:
Sometimes a prophecy is used to forecast doom and people who believe the prophecy will insist that it is holy and that therefore anyone who tries to stop it is actually working against God. So they will do nothing, or even work to accelerate the destrucion, and wait for their reward.
For example, the Bible's Book of Revelation forecasts doom for the world and few saved in the last days of Earth. Due to believe in this prophecy, many Christians celebrate the ruinous decline in our society, because it is a fulfillment of scripture, and are waiting to be 'raptured' away by God to paradise. Wiser Christians, who actually know God more than just know a book, know that God doesn't work that way, does not forecast inescapable doom, and always expcects us to work for good.
Religious Practical Skill Shortage
One consequence of book-based religions is that the only thing we require of our clergy is to know the book better than us.
If we weren't focused on a book, but on God, our clergy would need to cultivate practical spiritual skill and a functional relationship with the living God for us to have any reason to go to them. It's a different kind of clergy entirely. Too bad if we never see it.
What the Truth Is:
The truth IS the path to God. If your religious institution isn't focused on the truth, of all kinds you have a right and need to know, it's lost the way to God.
The truth is that any book handed to you by another human is not coming directly from God.
The truth is that any book is limited and God is unlimited.
The truth is that the assurances of humans about your relationship with God and security of the Afterlife are false, even if they read from a text which is said to be the Word of God. Like with human relationships, only God Him/Herself can actually tell you how your relationship with Him/Her is, and only the Judge in the Afterlife can give you an accurate portrayal of how your guilt or innocence looks.
Any religious organization which takes money as income is, by definition, a business.
Where religion operates as a business, it can have many advantages over other types of businesses, for personal gain, including:
The ability to demand revenue from followers as a religious obligation.
The ability to demand any new children be brought into following.
Not needing to provide any good or service of practical benefit in return for the revenue received.
Not needing to contribute any new ideas; in fact simply defending old ideas favoured.
Not needing to connect anyone with God, or have that connection yourself, but only connect them to the fixed teachings of the religion, which is as easy as reading them off.
The ability to partner with Government for generous tax advantages beyond any other type of business, such as: no paying income tax, and issuing tax-creditable receipts for donations.
The abiltiy to gain intimate knowledge of people's personal lives, such as if you teach them to confess their sins to you.
Guaranteed prominent community position and influence: sufficient to direct the Public, as well as to resist Government, if desired.
A tendency for your followers to seriously pressure anyone thinking of leaving the group to stay in the group, as well as to bring new recruits to you: tremendous brand loyalty. In fact there tends to be direct teachings on this subject, starting with an expectation on parents to bring their children up in the faith, potentially up to demands for the infidel to be killed. In many places and times, to criticize anything about the community religion, or to teach any new ideas within it, was to risk death. This is why, for example, Jesus Christ was put to death.
Where you have the only copies of a religious text, there is the potential to keep it from the Public so that you control what verses are used or known or not.
Where you determine or make the copies of religious text, there is the potential to insert or alter teachings to suit your own doctrine. As unthinkable as it may seem, it is quite common even today; for example some Bibles are produced to serve a certain viewpoint, such as the LGBT-themed revision of the King James Bible into the 'Queen James Bible'.
This is not to say that there is no God, but only that there is a tremendous potential to exploit religion for personal gain and we should be aware of it. Following a human is not necessarily the best way to follow God, no matter what they tell you.
How can People Tolerate So Much Control for potentially So Little in Return?
Supposed obedience and reverance to God is why. They tolerate mediocre leaders and teachings out of fear of God. They are typically taught that to be obedient and respectful and supportive of clergy is what God wants, and that their relationship with God is through the clergy (establishing dependency).
Religions also typically exaggerate the authroity of their teachings in terms of handedness. Whereas first-hand is to experience God yourself, and second-hand for a witness to tell you directly about their experience, third-hand is for someone to present you with an account of a witness which passes through their hands without your contact to the witness. The holy books of most religion are actually third-hand divine instruction, but they are pretended to be second-hand or even first-hand by 'belief' that they are absolutely unaltered and just as the prophet said or wrote, word for word. That belief doesn't change the fact that it's third-hand information but they pretend it does.
Why We Should have Realized this was Foolish:
Humans are created equal and so it's not the Creator's design to put one as the spiritual master of the other (except the natural authority of parents over young children). Human strutures of controlling each other are artificial.
Deeds are what matters more than religion. That's how human law works, and there are plenty of accounts of people who have had visions or near death experiences regarding the Afterlife, and their report is that the good or evil of our deeds form the primary basis of our Judgment, not our choice of religion.
It's foolish to pursue second and third hand relationships with God when you can pursue a first-hand relationship.
What We Can Do About It:
Seek out God yourself. Stop expecting someone else to do it for you and tell you about it.
Contribute to the good for being here.
Since you are created, if you want your Creator to be happy about making you, you'd better be doing something for Him/Her with the time, resources, and opportunities you have. Don't be a useless creation. No Creator can be expected to like that. Get involved. This website is a resource to help you understand many things wrong with the world, and give you suggestions on what you can do about them. Don't face your Creator empty-handed when you go to meet Him/Her.
“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”
(Holy Bible, King James Version (KJV), Revelation 3:17)
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:”
(Holy Bible, King James Version (KJV), Matthew 6:20)
Challenge your own religion. It's considered too impolite to expect anyone to do it for you. You need to do it for yourself.
As an aside, one of the benefits of being of an unconventional belief is that you tend to face so much criticism that you often must improve your beliefs to surmount it.
Welcome new ideas in religion to fair evaluation as you would welcome new cell phone products: to see if they are better than what you're currently using.
Always yield to superior ideas when found.
If you enter a debate with the attitude that you must defend your belief at all costs then you've already abandoned the Truth as a priority. Seekers of truth must yield to it when they realize a stronger argument, no matter who presents it.
There is no eternal reward for blind loyalty to any religion. Religion is only a mental framework to help you reach God. If you detect a stronger argument, you should take it no matter how inconvenient. If you don't, for sake of loyalty or comfort or any other selfish reason, your religion is no longer your ladder to God but your cage keeping you back from Him.
Be slow to criticize anyone interested to change their religion away from yours, because:
They have freedom of choice, which you must not interfere with.
If they are on the wrong path that is their own punishment without you needing to add to it. If you need to punish them for being on the wrong path then the only thing bad about that path is you.
The merit of their choice depends on their reasons, not loyalty.
They might be onto something important. In fact, what they know could be your opportunity to change.
Don't be too sure that you have the only truth. If you are sure enough to hold your ground and be responsible for that, that's good. If you are sure enough of your own beliefs that you think you have some kind of right or even duty to punish others of differeing beliefs that's really bad.
Don't go imagining that they are a danger to others if they spread their ideas. Truth is never a danger, and the way to promote truth is to encourage sharing of information and ideas, not restrict it, because the truth will always rise to the top in such an open environment.
Not even God punishes people for their beliefs. Rather we are judged on our actions.
As for choosing religious/moral/spiritual leaders to follow:
Beware to follow anyone appointed by humans, or trained merely from books or a human school, because howevermuch they may be man's choice they might not be God's choice. Neither be lured into believing that any election by any humans is somehow God's choice.
Also remember that God doesn't prey upon your money and, although supporting good causes is welcome, that's not necessarily to your preacher.
Notice the best activists for good, who are really on fire for truth and compassion, regardless of their status in society: they are the real clergy of God and this should have been obvious. Their good work is their credentials.
 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
(Bible, KJV, Matthew 7:15-20)