Frederick Streng defined religion as “a means of ultimate transformation, that is, a fundamental change from being caught up in the troubles of common existence to living in such a way that one can cope at the deepest level with these troubles”. This definition finds particular resonance in the Lucius' classical tale, the Golden Ass where the protagonist is unwittingly transformed into an ass and is subjected to all manner of humiliations and defeats, not to mention, exposure to the bawdy behavior of his mistreated, poor countrymen. Intended as a satire of the foibles of his countrymen the novel also also describes the the path that leads men to religion, and in this sense underlines Streng's definition.
Early in the novel Lucius' protagonist is driven by sensual motives much as the poor people around him but since he is no longer protected from the more brutal aspects of such lives since as an ass he is now now a beast of burden, he sees the worst of such behavior. Towards the end of the novel, Lucius' protagonist despairs at the inherent brutality of a life that is dedicated only to realizing an animal existence, an existence that he once relished but now he sees as repetitious and devoid of meaning.
At this point, he is rescued by the goddess Isis and from that point on he sees the value in religion, in trying to find meaning beyond the repetitious patterns of satisfying primal drives. It is important to emphasize that Streng's definition is ideally illustrated in Lucius' work since it conveys the sense that the journey to realization is part of the process of transformation and a fundamental part of all men's quest for meaning in their lives.
This is underscored with the feature of Cupid rescuing Pysche as part of the story, the idea being that the higher value of love is what saves a battered consciousness. Streng identifies four reasons for studying religion that are in keeping with his thesis that religion as means of ultimate transformation. His reasons address the following four areas: Religious experience in terms of the story and ritual that surround it. Imagination and how it is manifested in terms of models and analogies. Concepts and beliefs and how the two relate. How beliefs influence experience and one's interpretation of them. Keeping in mind these four areas Streng asks why do certain values exist and what are their value in relation to the experienced world.
In other words what makes a belief intrinsically good or bad based on the experienced world. Appreciating this aspect of religion that often takes place without consciousnessin an intellectual sense allows one to undergo the process of appreciating all that is involved in another's religious beliefs.
Streng argues his case persuasively. I find myself allowing into my consciousness that a person whose religious belief is Buddhism is shaped by tradition in his society and to view the physical aspects of his life experience in light of the shared wisdom of his cultural group's belief system. The understanding comes when one realizes that there are many levels of processing that goes on before that ultimate transformation takes place. Unless one understands, and this is the point that Streng is making, that religious belief grows out of experience, received wisdom and the physical emotional responses that all that entails then one cannot appreciate another's religious belief in an honest manner.