The goal of religion is what? Is it to give praise to a creator of the universe? to be obedient to this creator? or to see him? For Buddhism these questions are almost silly. The goal of religion, as Buddhism understands it, first requires no anthropomorphic-like creator. Truth is to be verified by our very self (pratyatma). It is self-evident, in other words.
The Buddha’s religion is thus a science—science in the formal sense of the apprehension of the true nature of things; more specifically, the apprehension of the animative nature of our biological being which is intrinsically liberated. This is a critically important distinction. To gloss over this is to miss the scope and importance of religion. For all true religion is just this: the direct apprehension of the animative spirit that enlivens us.
To grasp the importance of religion from the Buddha’s perspective, we have to consider the various grades of life from say, primitive bacterial life to human life. Each grade can be characterized as lacking, more or less, the ability to detect and cultivate the animative force that controls its existence. For example, an animal, such as an insect knows nothing of it. Humans, on the other hand, have discussed the animative principle under various forms throughout history but only a few have directly witnessed it.
In this respect, religion as the Buddha might see it is a necessary part of normal human evolution in the example of the gradual development of human knowledge and consciousness whereby we are able to reflect upon ourselves and question the very meaning of our existence. As we might expect, there will always be a very small number of human beings who are more advanced than others—not based upon the power of cunning reason, but upon their capacity to transcend their bodies while animating them; having, instead, realized a higher body; one made of spirit (manomayakaya). As we can imagine, perhaps in another million years such beings will be common instead of rare.
These higher beings (aryans) will be distinctly different from ordinary beings (prthagjana); who have a least accepted, in principle, that matter (i.e., resistance) is moved by invisible spirit whereby its work (karma) is transformed into various emergent conditions (i.e., phenomena). While this seems difficult to grasp, it needs no elaboration to understand that the world set before us is a stark after-image which is continually being modified by some force outside of it. It is at this point that the higher being is separated from the lower being insofar as the higher being seeks to be in accord with spirit, superseding thus the moved.
Under the banner of true religion, looking at our present world, there is virtually little or no interest paid to spirit (i.e., that which animates us). Phenomena takes precedence over the spiritual life, itself, which, ironically, gives phenomena the very sense of being real when, in fact, it is illusory. In this wise, also the practice of religion means almost nothing these days. There is no attempt given to superseding the human creature—to find its ultimate source of being. Under this ethos, religion degenerates into pious hypocrisy that further paves the way for every abomination under the sun. This is the backwardness of modern religion such that it is a mere costume without which man stands as a naked barbarian.