When did people start changing their religion? By which I mean, when did people begin to have the option of saying, “This religion isn’t working for me, I’m choosing that one.”
We don’t know exactly how religion developed among human beings, but I think it’s safe to say that evidence indicates that at one time most human groups believed a common set of things about the nature of their reality. Perhaps religious professionals were involved, perhaps not. These beliefs were probably at first quite localized.
However, somewhere along the line, changing religions became an option for many people. (And I should quickly add a caveat: For some people, changing their religion isn’t an option to this day. But let’s say we are talking about the lucky ones. The ones with choice.)
Was that moment the one when one group met up with another and began talking? Along the Silk Road, say; or among the entourage of Alexander the Great’s army? However, it happened, somewhere along the line, changing religion—or at least adding onto an existing one—became a possibility.
After all, it appears that denizens of the Roman world had the option of choosing more than one.
Ascendant Christianity took care of the all-of-the-above option, insisting upon “saved” or “damned.” Binary. However, Christianity also sowed the seeds of its own destruction in that it showed people that they could change their religion totally, eschewing all past models.
As the Christians moved north, they chopped down the sacred groves of past religions, also demonstrating that religious power was political power. And we know what many people think of politics, don’t we?
And so, here we are. In the United States, anyway, the consumer model of religion has become such a part of American culture that you can change your religion just as easily and as often as you change your hair style. In this, too, Christianity has demonstrated the way to its own demise: If I can be Baptist and then become Episcopalian, why can’t I move from there to Buddhism? Or “none”?
Well, chances are you can.
Sticking with the consumer model a moment: some people don’t need shoes; some don’t care about shoes; and others will take whatever pair is easiest at hand.
Making the job of cobblers difficult.