A belief in a god or gods is not a religion. Religions add visions of purpose, ideals, behavioural criteria, rewards, punishments, and much more, to their core belief. (In other words, religions weave and maintain aspects of their followers’ mental environments discussed in Problem Environments.) Many of the most critical of these ideas stem from the religion’s founder. To understand how one person can conceive such notions then convince others that they are true, we must first discuss leadership.
Contrary to popular impression, leaders are plentiful in this world. Many lead for just a short time, but others retain their leadership quality for years. Most guide only a family, a work group, or perhaps one friend, but some lead multitudes.
Social conditions elicit leaders—recall the French and Russian revolutions, India in the 1920s (and on), Germany in the 1930s, or South Africa more recently, for example. Individuals within, or emotionally close to, suffering communities feel driven to change conditions and metamorphose into leaders as they become captivated by powerful ideals. Leadership skills strengthen as these ideals are expressed. Think of Jesus, Muhammad, Ghandi, and Mandela, or Churchill, Hitler and Stalin. Each held fast to an imagined ideal of some kind, their view of how society should be, a future to strive for, a dream of a better world.
All leaders have a vision of an enhanced future. A vision is critical because this is what leaders lead toward—their own mental image of a superior state of affairs. These visions can develop slowly, as perhaps for Genghis Khan; or in a blinding flash, as perhaps for Joan of Arc; or in intermittent surges, as perhaps for many parents.
Religious leaders differ from others in one important aspect: they credit a Supreme Being with providing the insights they convey. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Joan of Arc, and a multitude of saints and lesser religious leaders attributed the words they spoke to their God. Clearly they did so because they believed this to be true. But skeptics might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, reasoning that the vision expressed may have come from the visionary’s “conversion” or “revelation” (terms introduced in Moral Decisions and further discussed in Reformations, Conversions And Revelations), events that were possibly an outcome of their own desire to improve conditions.
Please note that I’m not suggesting that religious leaders or founders do not believe in a God. Almost certainly all do, and many also believe that their God sometimes speaks to, or through, them. What I am stating, however, is that believing that their visions and words come from God does not necessarily make it so. They believe them to be authentic—that is what makes them convincing leaders. Their ideas can be entirely false, but as long as they believe them to be true, the strength of their convictions can convince and convert others.
This raises an important issue. What creates these beliefs? What happens in the minds of religious leaders to convince them that they are God’s emissaries? The logical answers to these questions will be provided in the next chapter.
- It is important not to confuse administration and leadership. Administrators simply follow policies, conventions, and rules. They are told what to do, either by these statements or by other people. (Political heads of state, for example, are often more administrators than leaders; many rule by listening to what the majority are saying before acting.) Leaders, almost by definition, do not heed rules or other’s instructions; they have their own internal guidance system and head where it dictates, fashioning the future as they proceed. Indeed, true leaders frequently feel that rules are made for others to follow, not them. (It might also be noted that leaders are invariably more creative than administrators—see Creativity, Free Will, And A Revelation.)
- As monarchs generally live sheltered lives, few kings (or queens) have been leaders, although all possessed power enough to make their ideas bear fruit.
- The need to improve conditions is just one of many psychological needs that influence individual’s thoughts and deeds. The need for power, the need to achieve, or the need to obtain or express love, are other well-known examples; any one or more of these may well have been the motivating factor that drove the cited individuals to behave as they did.