It's tricky enough for human beings to know what is, but it's equally important to know what is important. It seems that the purpose of religion is to provide a shorthand means to accomplish both, because not everyone -- few people, actually -- have the time or aptitude to do this on their own. Indeed, left to their own devices, they will nearly always get it wrong.
How do we know this? Consider the purpose of college, which was to set aside a space free of worldly concerns, so that Really Smart People could explore the nature of What Is and helps us understand What Is Important. How's that working out?
Note that their theories -- in particular, in the social sciences -- come and go, while premodern approaches such as Christianity and Buddhism are still with us.
The idea we're playing with is that religion is an expression of Religion -- in other words, that there is a universal truth prior to religion, but which religion embodies and expresses. It seems to me that the great majority of religious folk would reject this idea out of hand. But how can any doctrine be self-authenticating? Mustn't there be an external criteria of truth against which to compare it?
I haven't fully thought this through, but I'm guessing that believers appeal to such external criteria all the time, but without acknowledging it. Let's take an obvious example: just because one is a Christian, this doesn't mean one cannot make an appeal to common sense. And yet, common sense is not an explicit part of Christian doctrine.
Analogously, is there an "uncommon sense," an eternal Truth written on our hearts? If so, it is something we have either forgotten or has become obscured by layers of passion, self-interest, cultural nonsense, higher education, what have you.
Here again, a shorthand way of expressing this truth is to simply say that man is fallen and be done with it. Man cannot save himself, which is another way of saying that he no longer has access to the truth that saves and liberates, so he must receive it from an external source. Hence the need of revelation.
It just occurred to me. You know the old gag that where two or three gather in His name, there I AM? Well, conversely, where two or three get together while explicitly excluding Him, then there the anti-Christ appears in their midst. Do you see why? The principle operates as surely and inevitably as a mathematical equation. You can commune with O or with Ø. There is no in between.
You must surrender to what surpasses you. This presupposes recognition of what surpasses oneself, and how many tenured do that? Isn't the whole point of tenure to set oneself up as the authority? It is a spiritual practice, but an inverted one we call the Way of Pride.
There are actually two parts to this: 1) recognition, and 2) surrender. One way to tell if you have truly recognized what transcends you is that you will spontaneously bow before it. This is something the mediocre man cannot -- or more likely, will not -- do.
I'm thinking of a proud atheist of my acquaintance. Several, come to think of it. I cannot imagine them bowing before anything or anyone. But that is only testimony to the fact that they recognize no reality -- and certainly no authority -- higher than themselves.
Which is another way of saying they recognize no reality, full stop. And they are hardly atypical. To recognize greatness is to want to submit to it.
The friend who is staying with us has a weekly men's Bible study group at his house. Being temporarily homeless, it more or less took place at my place. He mentioned that he had always been captivated by the image of the knight, who is a warrior but bows before the good king who in turn bows before God. I can't explain it as well as he did, but the idea is that he is restrained by a kind of vertical reality to which he willingly submits. In the absence of that reality, the knight is just a trained killer.
Back to the main subject: essence and form. Do they apply all the way up through religion and into God? Here is how Schuon explains it: "by definition every religion has to present itself as the only possible one, since its point of view is dependent on the Truth and consequently must exclude any danger of relativism..."
In other words, the Absolute is Absolute, just as God is God. There can be only one. The moment it sets foot in finitude, it is something other than the Absolute, and yet, it must express Absoluteness in a way accessible to man. The most essential lesson from this is that the Absolute is. Knowing it is, we submit to it.
Just so, the Great Danger is relativism in all its forms. It is the metacosmic Error of errors. And isn't this the lesson of Genesis 3? For when man falls, he falls precisely into relativism, tenure, and fake news.