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Religion and Origins

Religion and Origins

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Author: Ted Fairchild
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This lesson will discuss the role played by religion in providing a foundational story or "narrative" about where human beings came from.

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Hello, welcome. One of the major mysteries of life is the origin of life itself. We can chart the development of life and the histories of the species, for example. And for this, science is helpful and offers a great deal of understanding of the many different aspects of life and the different forms of life and different functions of life.

But what about questions of ultimate origin, ultimate origins of life? Well, for this, religion steps in with stories, poems, prayers, ritual demonstration, and celebration, to guide human souls through the maze of life's questions and queries. And today we'll see that religion offers narratives, stories, about human origins, human purpose, and destination.

First of all religion, as an organized, collective search for meaning and purpose, offers a response to the plaguing question that hits almost everybody at some point in their life. Where did I come from? Well, because we're social creatures, constructing our identity in great measure, according to the groups that were part of, a broader question emerges then. Where did we come from?

Nearly all religions are rich with stories and even legends that help us grasp the question of origin, where we came from. And they also provide stories that mark the history of the religion itself. In Christianity, for example. the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth were often in the form of parables-- short, simple stories often referring to everyday life, but referring to some kind of religious truth. There was an important moral lesson and religious truth within the story, many of them pointing to God as the origin and the final resting place.

And similarly, in Islam the Hadith offers short sayings and actions, stories of the prophet Muhammad's life, with the effect of transmitting the truth of Allah and the tradition of Islam that originated with the prophet Muhammad and the revelation of the Quran. Sacred texts carry with them rich imagery and analogy and poetry and metaphor, all manner of narrative, fiery, sweet, and full of love and deceit.

Paradise is one place from which we emerged, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition. And from another perspective, in Buddhism, for example, there's a story that Buddha told that goes something like this. A man was shot with a poisoned arrow, but the foolish man would not allow anyone to pull out the arrow, until it was revealed who shot the arrow. The man's name, what village he was from, his social caste, this man wanted to know everything. The Buddha pointed out that the man would be dead by the he knew all that.

So the lesson is, stop wasting time on unanswerable questions, metaphysical concerns, et cetera, and get on with the work of enlightenment with the here and now. And from a modern voice, a perhaps similar message, the English analytic philosopher Bertrand Russell is quoted as having said, "There is no reason to suppose that the world had the beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our thoughts."

So religions and schools of philosophy indeed also lay out a purposeful path. In addition to the origin narratives and the myths or the parables and absence of them, it lays out a path of purpose for life. Christianity, like other religions too, carries a strong message of love. In Christianity, in particular, it's through the stories of the life and the teachings and the death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. And in Judaism, one of the stories lays out purpose, in terms of returning to and inhabiting the promised land and fulfilling the covenants and agreement with God, solidifying this bond.

So these stores are clearly filled with real-life significance and repercussions for many people. The Promised Land has historically been the site of a lot of confusion and dispute and violence. And today, the story is much the same. Maybe it's like Russell said. It has something to do with the poverty of our thoughts.

So we've been talking about origin. And we've acknowledged that many of the religions have origin stories, narratives, parables, myths, legends that tell the story of where we may have come from as a human species, where we might be going, and that intertwined with these origin stories are messages, morals, and ways and codes of behavior for the here and now.

We talked about Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And all of them have origin stories that are intertwined with that sort of purposeful message-- Buddhism focusing on the here and now; Christianity, in particular, focusing on love. And also in the stories of Hadith, the stories of the prophet Muhammad's life, there are indications as to how to behave and what the purpose is of life on Earth and also a story about where we're going, where we came from, and how there's often a cyclical relationship between all of these things.

Notes on “Religion and Origins”

 Citations

Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera. "The Origin of the World." BuddhaSasana. Mon 18 March, 2013. http://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/297.htm

Dr. Jayatunge, Ruwan M., M.D. "The Origin of Life in the Universe." 27 Jan. 2010. Lanakaweb. Mon 18 March, 2013. http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2010/01/27/the-origin-of-life-in-the-universe-buddhist-perspective/

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Canaan

    An ancient land in the eastern Mediterranean, roughly corresponding to present-day Israel and Palestine; the land promised by God to Abraham in the Hebrew Scriptures.

  • Narrative

    A story; an approach that uses storytelling to make larger points.