Most scholars of the phenomenology of religion agree that religious sentiment arises in early humanity at the same time and inseparably with the emergence of individual consciousness.
The gradual irruption of individual consciousness (in which it is possible to see the background of what some religions call “original sin”) is irretrievably accompanied by the anguish of the separate self. This anguish could represent the “fall” and the “expulsion” from paradise of unconscious fusion with the Whole, a fusion proper to the pre-egoic state of consciousness.
How religiosity works nowadays
We can see then in the basis of religious sentiment the yearning for liberation from such anguish of the separated self.
Religiosity takes two basic forms:
The horizontal (translational) religiosity ( laukika in Sanskrit) and the vertical (transforming) religiosity ( lokotara in Sanskrit).
The function of horizontal religiosity is to provide meaning and serenity to the separate self, strengthening individual (the ego) or collective (superego) identity through a system of belief, rituals and socio-cultural norms. Horizontal religiosity is the characteristic modality of pre-rational levels and its own religious form is belief, whether it be archaic-instinctive, magical-animistic or mythical. Its practice is reduced to various rites (propitiatory rites, rites of passage, rites of consolidation of the belief system).
For horizontal religiosity the term “religion” thus means to unite (cohere) one’s own individuality and to unite individualities in a belief system that strengthens social or ethnic identity.
The function of vertical religiosity is to favor the transcendence of the separate self, facilitating access to and consolidation of a state of consciousness of non-dual unity that is beyond the ego. The basis of vertical religiosity is the experience of transcendent and all-embracing unity and its practices constitute a set of psycho-physical techniques developed and experienced over the centuries (yoga, various meditation techniques, Sufi exercises, techniques of access to mystical states, the meditation of the Hessikism of Orthodox Christianity, etc.).
For vertical religiosity, the term “religion” means to merge the consciousness of one’s individuality with the Whole,
It should be noted that almost all the great religious traditions have a central nucleus of vertical religiosity practiced by a minority of followers – what we might also call esoteric religion – while the majority of the religious population practises a horizontal religiosity – which we might also call exoteric religion.
Thus, while horizontal religiosity is based on beliefs, vertical religiosity is based on experiences….. Let’s take a closer look at this.
The importance of beliefs in religion
Belief is the simplest expression of religiosity. In fact, most of the time it operates without any connection to true religiosity. Belief is almost synonymous with militancy. The believer is always a militant. Belief is superstition. Contrary to popular belief, belief is not an act of religious faith, but the blind adoption of a mythical system that operates as a symbol of immortality and transcendence, tending to mitigate – not dissolve – the existential anguish of the separate self.
Belief is a pre-rational expression that supports horizontal religiosity. He doesn’t need the reason. Moreover, in many of its expressions it is anti-rational. The popular expression of most religions today is based on beliefs of this kind.
Belief is not exclusive to religious sentiment. It also occurs in scientific, cultural and ideological fields.
What distinguishes the believer is his passion for converting others and his fierce struggle against the unbeliever. Since it is, in fact, an ideological system that operates as a symbol of immortality and salvation, the believer cannot allow others not to believe in what he believes, since the unbelief of others calls into question the “veracity” of his system of salvation and thus his own belief in it. Therefore, when trying to convert the other, the believer tries above all to dominate his own unbelieving self.
Fanaticisms, fundamentalisms, holy wars, diverse inquisitions, whatever their colour, all come from this level of religiosity based on beliefs.
Beliefs, I repeat, whether archaic-instinctive, magical or mythical, are the basis of horizontal religiosity. Marx’s phrase “religion is the opium of the people” can be perfectly applied to this form of religiosity, since belief only mitigates or narcotizes the existential anguish of the separate self, but in no way solves it.