We get into so many dead end arguments about religion -- generally ending in either violence or ostracism because we consistently start at the wrong end: the end of the formal institution rather than at the other extreme, which is the emergent meanings of people interacting with the world.
Institutions have only one faith, one demand, one principle, always the same: the perpetuation of themselves. Beginning with small groups who share a point of view, the origination development path proceeds through buying property (declaring it sacred) and hiring specialists (often granting them “supernatural” power), excluding dissenters (heretics), gathering power through legal status that gives exemptions in exchange for endorsements, and finally justifying war. The newest wrinkle is claiming to be a virtual person. Not an iconic person like Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed, but a virtual person, institutional and corporate, with all the rights and entitlements of an actual human being. At the same time, persons who are not IN the institution are considered non-persons -- animals.
Its helpful to reflect in the terms of "Game of Thrones." The naked self-perpetuating institution clothes itself in theologies drawn from the local ecology: sky theologies in the desert, tree theologies in the forests, bison valorized on the prairie, axolotl connected to the god of deformations and death -- Xolotl in the Aztec underworld imagery. The most clever institutions hold up the human family -- sons and kings and virtuous mothers -- because that part of the ecology is always with us. Hard to explain a tiger salamander to an Inuit, though he’d have no trouble with an Irish selkie who was his mother and disappeared.
"This is the forest primeval."
The evolutionary point of all this is simply survival, but on two levels: if the survival is meant to save the individual, that’s quite different from survival of the group. For the individual, abortion or killing is sometimes survival. For the group, anything that diminishes the total number of members is a threat to survival. The sin/evil/heresy labels are assigned accordingly: no abortion, no birth control, no morning-after pill, no infanticide except by neglect and poverty. Kill only "others" or those who break the succession of power. The civil laws follow the religious thinking, because a civil society cannot afford dissension because it breaks the illusion of consensus that are constitutions and laws.
But now we realize that the survival of ourselves and other species may depend upon reducing the number of people consuming resources. How can global religions dependent upon birth as a sacred event respond without revealing that they are derived from different circumstances, different times? Of course, if there is a major population die-off of humans (pandemic, famine), producing children will be highly relevant again.
She is not virginal -- simply childless.
Thus powerful like Elizabeth I, not II.
The more powerful and protective a nation is, the more patriotism it can muster, the more it becomes a religious institution itself. If it is destructive and oppressive, or simply chaotic and ineffective, it will trigger movements from both inside and outside that will struggle to replace or control it. This is the principle of “Game of Thrones.” The dragons are only window-dressing. The real power is Daenarys as what a mother is supposed to be, dressed in Della Robbia blue robes. She’s Pinocchio’s fairy godmother, Dorothy’s Glinda the Good Witch. In the end she is the only kind of survival that MUST survive because otherwise there will be no babies and there must be SOME. Same with Gillie. Violence and strategy are all very well, but in the end there is either creation or transformation or extinction. Those are the real options of power.
The Catholic church, the Jewish diaspora, the Buddhists, the Amish and so on all know this. At their best, they guard the basics and discard the irrelevancies. The Blackfeet are just now trying to understand what is basic and what is irrelevant. I’m working on myself. The USA is having a very hard time with it, but remember that Daenarys comes from the most primitive and harsh kingdom. When she steps into the fire, she is purified enough to walk on into the future. Otherwise, her people would be ended but, like Jesus, she frees the slaves and gains a population. (India needs to think again -- burning 25,000 women a year won't work.)
So if we want to imitate George W.W. Martin, how do we develop our own philosophical/ecological understanding and where does it come from? Some is inherited from the great anthropological and literary ransacking of the planet, of course. Maybe some is from today’s dragon eggs: science as it cracks open the genome, the cosmos, and the paleo-past. Some of it will be forced upon a person by assumptions from history and family and their genealogies, the locale of your childhood -- which may be multiple -- and the extent of your schooling. Much will depend on what generation you are.
But the point is that spiritual meaning -- as opposed to institutional meaning -- is EMERGENT. It doesn’t drop down from the sky, but climbs up from your bowels to your throat and bursts out as song. It is a relationship with the universe that gives you something to put in your hand, whether a sword, a flag, a cup, a ring, or another human hand. Possibly a paw. Some like -- oh, you know -- roses -- but the Inuit hold bones.
You should wander a while, then sit. You might end up on an outcropping, or floating in a spaceship or at a keyboard, trying to remember to get up and walk around now and then. Probably not a throne of swords. Anyway, that bit of furniture is occupied as usual. (Putin squats there now.) Maybe you’ll take a seat on an old unmaintained bus on a narrow high road and unsurvivably crash. Them’s the breaks. Or lack of brakes. Living forever is not possible on this planet. You could have been in the one-fifth of conceptions that barely get past implantation -- not even a zygote before they are resorbed.
Attending a church, joining a denomination, is not necessary for accessing the deep meaning we call “spiritual.” It wells up now and then, sometimes with no warning and with no message except “you are here.” It’s not so much the next step in evolution but in the skillful management of the brains we already have so as to step outside our assumptions without freaking. It is not denying formal religions, but reaching back through them to their creations. This is the way the brain itself works: the prefrontal cortex reaching back through the limbic brain and the reptile brain, until it grips the spine.
Inuit Shaman Mask