At the heart of the strategy that I propose for replacing esoteric religion with non-esoteric religion lies a crucial conceptual distinction: the distinction between “meaning” and “belief.” A “belief” can be thought of as a certain type of “meaning”: one that a person has accepted for him- or herself as “good” or “meritorious” or “worthy.” Placing emphasis on this conceptual distinction helps us to imagine a society—unlike the society we now have—in which most of its members who spoke the same language could be expected to assign roughly the same meanings to any given assertive communication of a religious nature—without those people also being required to accept those particular meanings as “good” or “meritorious” or “worthy” for themselves.
In other words, I believe it is possible to imagine a society in which the meanings conveyed by assertive communications of a religious nature would be more or less shared in common by everyone, and in which the commonly and generally agreed-upon determination of meaning would always precede belief in, or agreement with, the meaning that was being asserted. It would only be after the meaning had been determined with reasonable certainty by society as a whole that it would be considered permissible for the various members of the society to “go their separate ways” in deciding whether or not to accept that meaning as a personal belief. So it would not be considered permissible for a person to say, “This writing means such-and-such to me, which is why I believe it,” even if the writing did not have roughly that same meaning in the view of most of the other members of the person’s society. It would also not be considered permissible for a person to say, as esoteric religionists often do, that it is necessary to “believe in” or “have faith in” a religious scripture before it will be possible to determine its meaning with reasonable accuracy.
This would represent a definite departure from the way things currently work with the existing, traditional, esoteric religions. According to the thinking of esoteric religionists, the particular esoteric writings that they happen to regard as “holy” or “sacred” should always be interpreted in a way that makes the writings “good” or “meritorious” or “worthy” in their own individual minds. In other words, with an esoteric religion, the reader’s personal belief or wish precedes the determination of the author’s meaning—which is exactly the reverse of how a sane person ought to be thinking.
The mentality found among esoteric religionists is thus essentially the mentality of a spoiled child: “I wish this writing to mean such-and-such; and so it should mean such-and-such; and so it does mean such-and-such.” The upshot is that the reader’s own personal desire comes before the meaning that the author actually intended—that is, personally desired—to convey. So the reader’s desires are always made paramount; and the meaning of an author’s communication is made to conform to the reader’s own idiosyncratic ways of thinking, instead of being allowed to confront the reader on the author’s terms. The result is that genuine communication between persons is not able to occur.