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? Because humans are social creatures, constructing identity according to the groups of which they are a part, a broader question emerges: Where did WE come from?
Nearly all religions are rich with narratives and even legends that help us grasp the question of origin.
EXAMPLEParadise is one place from which humanity emerged, according to the Jewish and Christian tradition.
Similarly, in Islam, the Hadith offers short sayings and actions. These are stories of the prophet Muhammad’s life that have the effect of transmitting the truth of Allah and the tradition of Islam. This originated with the prophet Muhammad and the revelation of the Qur'an. Sacred texts carry with them rich imagery, analogy, poetry, and metaphor. They contain all manner of narrative that is fiery, sweet, and full of love and deceit.
To give another perspective, Buddhism gives a different answer when looking at origin. There is 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. He wanted to know the man’s name, what village he was from, and his social caste. This poisoned man wanted to know everything. The Buddha pointed out that the man would be dead by the time he knew all that.
The lesson is: stop wasting time on unanswerable questions and get on with the work of enlightenment in the here and now. From a modern voice, the English analytic philosopher Bertrand Russell gives a similar message. He 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.”
Religions and schools of philosophy also lay out a purposeful path. In addition to the origin narratives, myths, or the parables, it lays out a path of purpose for life. Many religions carry a strong message of love. In Christianity, in particular, it’s through the stories of the life, teachings, death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Judaism, one of the stories lays out purpose in terms of returning to and inhabiting the promised land, or Canaan. Purpose also lies in fulfilling the covenants and agreements with God, therefore solidifying this bond.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.