Many religious followers understand themselves to be very different from the God or gods they worship. The functionality of religion often centers around the dichotomy between the human and the divine. The world view develops around this notion of a big divide between humanity and divinity. While the divine is often thought to be amazing, supreme and in most cases the ultimate source of good; humans are thought to be broken, sinful and often rather ordinary. In such a dichotomy, it is a long way between heaven and earth. Followers come to understand the world they live in through its differences with divinity. Often illustrating the earthly as the antithesis of the divine.

As world view is dictated through the differences between human and godly things, how we function is similarly affected by how we expect humans and the divine to regard each other in relationship. Does the divine provide daily intervention in human affairs or does it only provide an overarching order and framework for humans to operate within? Are humans to worship the divine, emulate the divine, or fear the divine? Humans’ role in this relationship dictates how we live our lives. From our actions, to what we eat, to what we wear, how we conduct relationships with each other, and the creation and policing of social taboos; all these things are driven by our understanding of the divine’s role in our lives. Religion exists not only as a means to glorify the divine, but help humans navigate earthly life in a way that falls in line with their concept of the divine.

There are instances where this overarching dichotomy seems to break down, namely spiritual matters that are exposed to a high level of scrutiny. If a human has a vision, they are either dubbed a prophet or an occultist. A person exhibiting divine qualities can be labeled a saint or a heretic. Which way the judgement swings has a profound effect, historically being the difference between life and death (calling to mind the Great Inquisition and the witch trial epidemic). Instances where the mundane and divine seem to exist together are often deemed alternative or even evil. Bring to mind traditions that are looked at with skepticism and a lack of respect commonly given to other ‘world religions’. I think of New Age and various pantheistic nature traditions often categorized under the umbrella of ‘indigenous religions’. These are traditions that ultimately don’t operate under that mundane / divine dichotomy. Instead they find the divine in the natural world, or even believe humans to be partly divine.

Is this divide (or lack thereof) an absolute truth? Or is it dependent on the follower’s tradition and beliefs? Are we a world apart from the divine? Or closer than we think?


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