Religion is good, as long as you know it’s performance and performative. It is how you dramatize your spiritual being if you believe you have a non-material aspect to your existence.

It should be beautiful, releasing, profound, personal, communal, needing no defense. It is a sacred story that you perform through ritual. These stories can also be visceral and fearful when what we want to express is beyond your own human comprehension.

For example, many religions have an aspect of a terrible sacrifice as part of their salvation story. The idea that someone innocent has to descend into the depths of undeserved pain, dismemberment and darkness in order to free us into light.

A father (Yahweh) gets his own innocent son killed in a gruesome manner. A god (Prometheus) saves humanity by stealing fire for them and for punishment he gets chained to a rock for eternity while an eagle eats his liver. A god (Ogun) sacrifices himself in a punishing descent to earth to clear the path for human civilization by bringing them iron.

It’s a shocking formula for a plot, one repeated in many cultures, as confounding as the non-material concepts that it tries to explore – love, suffering, forgiveness, purpose, belonging, etc.

But when we perform these stories, we know to do them with beauty, song, dance, costume, reverence and symbol. Nobody gets crucified every Sunday, or chained to rocks, or thrown down from the skies.

No one should be fasting for 40 days and nights either for a miracle, on account of a story about their deity having fasted that long. Do it for three days as ritual. I used to do it before opening night of every show I directed and I’d get a rush.

I found out the act possibly released a load of dopamine. The science makes sense. The rush was neither a miracle nor a sign from god that my show will be a box-office record breaker. I was simply performing my spirituality and enjoying the dopamine reward.

It is when we lose the performance and performative aspect of religion that we create cults. It never ends well. To the victims of Shakahola and your families, may you find grace.

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