What is it that drives religion? What keeps the gears of the masses oiled, the coffers full, the leaders employed?
Predominantly, it is fear of punishment or desire for reward.
Fear of hell-fire and damnation. Fear of a god named satan, a devil, an angel gone bad. Spending eternity in a fire pit ruled by the devil, surrounded by the worst of the worst sort of evil people – rapists, murderers, cannibals, thieves, liars.
Desire to live in a paradise with no pain, no death. Streets that are lined with silver and gold, and mansions galore. Rights to rule over and judge other people, to enact punishments upon others. Ultimate power, to be like a god. Angels floating nearby, surrounded by all of the note-worthy saints and patriarchs of old.
I took up residence in that camp, or one quite similar, for a long period of time.
I’ll concede that there are many variations to this view, and I’ve taken the most liberal case in point. The gist is still the same, however.
I’m no longer fearful of hell or a make-believe devilish character.
I no longer strive to spend eternal days in the heavens, ephemeral beings and blissful promises dispelled.
I’ve chosen my truth. The fact that what I have, what I know, what I live, is what it is. There’s no better place, there’s no better time. This is my life and this is what I have to work with.
The punishment, sans an operational Priesthood to govern, is self-imposed. If I transgress in one of the minor issues, I do the best that I can to make the required restitution. It’s pretty simple, really. Thievery – pay it back, and add a fifth. Liar – okay, there’s no punishment for this unless it’s been as a witness, or to incur punishment on another who is not guilty. If the lie was to hurt another, then the pain should belong to me. If my dog gets out and eats a neighbor’s chicken, I need to repay the chicken.
Major punishments – those I intend to never have to deal with. I don’t want to be expelled from my already virtual camp, nor do I want to die. I’ll keep myself from that evil by remaining faithful to my husband, by keeping the Sabbath. I’ll control my anger and not go into a rage and kill another person.
As a result of grave misdeeds and vile doings, the people I would reside with, the community in the Land of Almighty’s choice, have been expelled, punished, judged to live outside of the Land, outside of the covenanted protection. Therefore, the ultimate reward of Torah, to dwell safely, to have productive lands and productive wombs, is suspended and not available to those who would join the community.
The ability to continue to enjoy Almighty’s creation, however, is still available. The joy of Almighty’s created beauty is still reward. The ability to wake up each day, to know that there is no other; this Creator, this Almighty, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is my God.
What more reward would I desire?