I'm always dissing religion, and I really need to stop. Religion isn't such a bad thing. It irks me to no end that it sucks the life out of our spiritual lives, but comparing religion to a bloodsucking vampire isn't very nice. I'm thorry. Really. What can I say? I'm like a drunken sailor when it comes to metaphors – just can't seem to help myself.
Religion isn't the work of God, but neither is it the work of the devil. It's the expression of a culture. The study of religion is the study of cultures and their unique interpretations of God. What a fascinating study that would be! If I had just a little more free time I'd do it myself. I'd study how ancient cultures carved out their God or gods, I'd look at their gods' strongest attributes, and from that infer what the culture most valued, what it feared, and determine its strong and weak points. But y'know, it's probably been done, like, a couple hundred times. Besides, I'd rather be an artist than an anthropologist.
WARNING: METAPHOR AHEAD!
In lieu of my admittedly bleak "Religion As Vampire" metaphor, I'd like to propose the following. (I reserve the right to revert to the "R.A.V." theory when applicable, but will try to use it less often, due to excessive provocation).
Religions are beautiful threads that, when woven together, create a sacred tapestry. Each thread is unique, expressing an aspect of God. Hinduism has many threads: Shiva is God in his fierceness, Ganesha is God as protector, Shakti is God as ecstatic energy, Lakshmi is God in the form of overflowing abundance. In Islam, there is a monolithic thread in the form of Allah, the magnificent and all-pervasive. Kuan Yin is the Buddhist goddess in the form of intense compassion for her creation. Christianity has three strands, intertwining to become one, consisting of Yahweh (who isn't so different than Allah, but don't tell anyone), the Holy Spirit, (separated at birth from Shakti), and Jesus, who is the strand of redemption. And so on.
Each thread offers a unique aspect of God, but not an exclusive one. There's the rub. Most cultures think that their thread is the most beautiful thread – indeed, the only thread there is. But in fact, it's just another strand in the divine pattern. "God" is found in the weaving together of all the threads, like a holographic tapestry. It would be absurd to unravel a tapestry to determine the most beautiful thread. The whole thing would fall apart, and you're left with a heap of sacred but smelly wool.
I'm going to leave it there. You've probably had enough, and I'll bet you catch my drift. As far as metaphors go, you have to admit that this one's better than the soul-sucking vampire, and will make me more friends than enemies.