So last time I mentioned that Charon was Pluto's large moon and everyone is buzzing about that. Today I thought I would pick up a news story from a week or so ago about a different mysterious underworldly boatman.
Which turns out to be a guy in costume on a homemade kayak.
Interesting, sure. But why do I bother to comment on it here?
Because without realizing it the man is engaged in religious behavior, and the absurdity of it is sufficient to teach us a lesson about the anthropology of religion He puts on ritually significant clothing and accessories, associated with death, and travels - across water no less - with the express purpose"to give hope to the oppressed and put the fear of God into the oppressors."
If that is not religious behavior I don't know what is. His passage echoes the journey of the soul from one realm to the next. His purpose is to enforce consensual morality, while being a little vague on the particulars. He seeks mystery, a word that originally referred to religious secrets and not who-done-its.
What would it take for this to become an actual religion? Time and attention only. If his appearances became regular, associated with certain times or events, and he gained regular observers, who initially need be nothing more than curiosity seekers. Time and attention give it meaning. Attention that eventually begins to get interpreted. Perhaps someone asks him to make an appearance on the day of a loved ones funeral. Others think this is a good idea. A few years later people in the community begin to think going out to see him on the day of a funeral is just as normal as sending flowers or baking a casserole for the family (which are ritual in my neck of the woods). Maybe he has to have someone help him as he gets older. Ten years later people start to feel like their loved ones cannot go on to rest without it. Someone says that his mother's picture keeps falling of the wall after he didn't get the ferryman to make an appearance. Someone else has a mysterious accident. People begin to make connections even where there are none.
It gets done 1000 times and its a religion. Maybe devoid of dogma beyond the most simple "get a ferryman to appear on the day of a funeral" and maybe associated with another faith system, but nevertheless religious in nature.
When certain ritual behaviors become tied to activities involving faith, death, marriage, or birth they become religious in nature whether they were ever intended to be or not, whether they are consciously thought of that way or not. Pledges, flags, clothing, hair cuts, words, movements. All of them gather on to faith like a snowball collecting twigs and leaves and stones and dirt.
And people get very defensive about it when you point it out.
So this time at least I will not.
I will just ask: What do you do as an expression of your faith that has no clear theological/ideological foundation?
Maybe its just a stray kayaker.