Mark Twain once wrote in his work, "The Lowest Animal":
'Man is a religious animal. He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the true religion--several of them...'
While the tone of Mark Twain's statement was clearly sardonic, he cleverly draws our attention to an interesting human tendency; religion building.
The practice of religion building is thousands of years old, and it is as integral to our nature as is our as the instinct to form families and clans. Just as in families and villages, where the dominant member, or members, assert their right to establish the rules as they see fit; the founders of great religions assume power in very similar fashion. In one notable instance a great religion actually began as a family, and that family's father was Abraham.
Abraham, the biblical patriarch, is patronized by three world religions as the man who planted the seeds of their faith. Christians, Jews and Muslims all pay homage to the man whose faith and obedience united men under the rule of the one true God. As a reward for his humble obedience, God promised that He would make Abraham's descendents as numberless as the stars in the sky or the sands on the seashore. Inspired by this promise, Abraham would go on to father two children; Isaac and Ishmael; however, it was from Isaac that the great religion known as Judaism was born.
Fatherhood is not the only model upon which the founders of great religions establish their authority. There is also the tried and true method of being selected by the Almighty for a secret and holy purpose. For this, there is no better example than that of Joseph Smith; founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Joseph Smith, was by no means a fatherly figure when he set out to establish his truer and purer Christianity. He was quite young and socially insignificant on the night that the angel Moroni appeared to him. He was stunned and totally unworthy when Moroni mentioned some mysterious golden plates that were hidden away for safe keeping, and that he, Joseph, would soon be given to translate the restored gospel of Jesus Christ from.
But Joseph quickly learned that it was not necessary to be the dominant and fatherly patriarch in order to make his religion building vision a reality. He had something just as effective; he had hidden mystical knowledge. He had the angel that brought him his divine mission. All he needed now was a group of trustworthy men to act as his inner circle. This group of disciples would share his secrets and spread the news of this great new prophet of the restored christian faith.
In contrast to the Hebrew patriarch, Abraham, who raised a great religion from his loins; Joseph Smith was, in a sense, 'born' into his religion, through a sort of mystical rebirth.
Either way these men distinguished themselves from the 'herd' in a unique and powerful way; and success was the inevitable result.