Happy Saturday…the beginning(?) of the week-end.
Or may be (?) Friday night is the real beginning of the week-end, eh?
Are the Many Religions too different or too similar? Is it like comparing apples to oranges? Both are fruit. Can we trace the ‘beginning’ of religion? What do the world’s religions produce? Edible fruit? Inedible fruit?
28. How can we find out if there is a common origin for the world’s religions?
28 We can get the answer in the same way that linguistic experts got their answers about the origin of language. By placing the languages side by side and noting their similarities, an etymologist can trace the various languages back to their source. Similarly, by placing the religions side by side, we can examine their doctrines, legends, rituals, ceremonies, institutions, and so on, and see if there is any underlying thread of common identity and, if so, to what that thread leads us.
29. To what can many of the differences among religions be attributed?
29 On the surface, the many religions in existence today seem quite different from one another. However, if we strip them of the things that are mere embellishments and later additions, or if we remove those distinctions that are the result of climate, language, peculiar conditions of their native land, and other factors, it is amazing how similar most of them turn out to be.
30. What similarities do you see between Roman Catholicism and Buddhism?
30 For example, most people would think that there could hardly be any two religions more different from each other than the Roman Catholic Church of the West and Buddhism of the East. However, what do we see when we put aside the differences that could be attributed to language and culture? If we are objective about it, we have to admit that there is a great deal that the two have in common. Both Catholicism and Buddhism are steeped in rituals and ceremonies. These include the use of candles, incense, holy water, the rosary, images of saints, chants and prayer books, even the sign of the cross. Both religions maintain institutions of monks and nuns and are noted for celibacy of priests, special garb, holy days, special foods. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it serves to illustrate the point. The question is, Why do two religions that appear to be so different have so many things in common?
31. What similarities do you see among other religions?
31 As enlightening as the comparison of these two religions turns out to be, the same can be done with other religions. When we do so, we find that certain teachings and beliefs are almost universal among them. Most of us are familiar with such doctrines as the immortality of the human soul, heavenly reward for all good people, eternal torment for the wicked in an underworld, purgatory, a triune god or a godhead of many gods, and a mother-of-god or queen-of-heaven goddess. Beyond these, however, there are many legends and myths that are equally commonplace. For example, there are legends about man’s fall from divine grace owing to his illicit attempt to achieve immortality, the need to offer sacrifices to atone for sin, the search for a tree of life or fountain of youth, gods and demigods who lived among humans and produced superhuman offspring, and a catastrophic flood that devastated nearly all of humanity.
32, 33. (a) What can we conclude from the remarkable similarities among the world’s religions? (b) What question needs an answer?
32 What can we conclude from all of this? We note that those who believed in these myths and legends lived far from one another geographically. Their culture and traditions were different and distinct. Their social customs bore no relationship to one another. And yet, when it comes to their religions, they believed in such similar ideas. Although not every one of these peoples believed in all the things mentioned, all of them believed in some of them. The obvious question is, Why? It was as if there was a common pool from which each religion drew its basic beliefs, some more, some less. With the passage of time, these basic ideas were embellished and modified, and other teachings developed from them. But the basic outline is unmistakable.
33 Logically, the similarity in the basic concepts of the many religions of the world is strong evidence that they did not begin each in its own separate and independent way. Rather, going back far enough, their ideas must have come from a common origin. What was that origin?
An Early Golden Age
34. What legend regarding man’s beginning is common to many religions?
34 Interestingly, among the legends common to many religions is one that says humankind began in a golden age in which man was guiltless, lived happily and peacefully in close communion with God, and was free from sickness and death. While details may differ, the same concept of a perfect paradise that once existed is found in the writings and legends of many religions.
35. Describe the ancient Zoroastrians’ belief about an early golden age.
35 The Avesta, the sacred book of the ancient Persian Zoroastrian religion, tells about “the fair Yima, the good shepherd,” who was the first mortal with whom Ahura Mazda (the creator) conversed. He was instructed by Ahura Mazda “to nourish, to rule, and to watch over my world.” To do so, he was to build “a Vara,” an underground abode, for all the living creatures. In it, there “was neither overbearing nor mean-spiritedness, neither stupidity nor violence, neither poverty nor deceit, neither puniness nor deformity, neither huge teeth nor bodies beyond the usual measure. The inhabitants suffered no defilement from the evil spirit. They dwelt among odoriferous trees and golden pillars; these were the largest, best and most beautiful on earth; they were themselves a tall and beautiful race.”
36. How did the Greek poet Hesiod describe a “Golden Age”?
36 Among the ancient Greeks, Hesiod’s poem Works and Days speaks of the Five Ages of Man, the first of which was the “Golden Age” when men enjoyed complete happiness. He wrote:
“The immortal gods, that tread the courts of heaven,
First made a golden race of men.
Like gods they lived, with happy, careless souls,
From toil and pain exempt; nor on them crept
Wretched old age, but all their life was passed
In feasting, and their limbs no changes knew.”
That legendary golden age was lost, according to Greek mythology, when Epimetheus accepted as wife the beautiful Pandora, a gift from the Olympian god Zeus. One day Pandora opened the lid of her great vase, and suddenly there escaped from it troubles, miseries, and illness from which mankind was never to recover.
37. Describe the ancient Chinese legendary account of a “paradise” at the beginning of history.
37 Ancient Chinese legends also tell of a golden age in the days of Huang-Ti (Yellow Emperor), who is said to have ruled for a hundred years in the 26th century B.C.E. He was credited with inventing everything having to do with civilization—clothing and shelter, vehicles of transportation, weapons and warfare, land management, manufacturing, silk culture, music, language, mathematics, the calendar, and so on. During his reign, it is said, “there were no thieves nor fights in China, and the people lived in humility and peace. Timely rain and weather resulted in abundant harvest year after year. Most amazing was that even the wild beasts did not kill, and birds of prey did no harm. In short, the history of China began with a paradise.” To this day, the Chinese still claim to be the descendants of the Yellow Emperor.
38. What conclusion can we draw from all the similar legendary accounts of man’s beginning?
38 Similar legendary accounts of a time of happiness and perfection at the beginning of man’s history can be found in the religions of many other peoples—Egyptians, Tibetans, Peruvians, Mexicans, and others. Was it just by accident that all these peoples, who lived far from each other and who had totally different cultures, languages, and customs, entertained the same ideas about their origin? Was it just by chance or coincidence that all of them chose to explain their beginnings in the same way? Logic and experience tell us that this could hardly be so. On the contrary, interwoven in all these legends, there must be some common elements of truth about the beginning of man and his religion.
39. What composite picture can be assembled from the elements common to the many legends about man’s beginning?
39 Indeed, there are many common elements discernible among all the different legends about man’s beginning. When we put them together, a more complete picture begins to emerge. It tells how God created the first man and woman and placed them in a paradise. They were very content and very happy at first, but soon they became rebellious. That rebellion led to the loss of the perfect paradise, only to be replaced by labor and toil, pain and suffering. Eventually mankind became so bad that God punished them by sending a great deluge of waters that destroyed all but one family. As this family multiplied, some of the offspring banded together and started to build an immense tower in defiance of God. God thwarted their scheme by confusing their language and dispersing them to the far corners of the earth.
40. Explain the Bible’s relationship to the legends about the origin of man’s religions.
40 Is this composite picture purely the result of someone’s mental exercise? No. Basically, that is the picture presented in the Bible, in the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis 1-11. While we will not go into a discussion of the authenticity of the Bible here, let it be noted that the Bible’s account of man’s early history is reflected in the key elements found in many legends. The record reveals that as the human race began to disperse from Mesopotamia, they carried with them their memories, experiences, and ideas everywhere they went. In time these were elaborated and changed and became the warp and woof of religion in every part of the world. In other words, going back to the analogy used earlier, the account in Genesis constitutes the original, crystal-clear pool from which stemmed the basic ideas about the beginning of man and worship found in the various religions of the world. To these they added their particular doctrines and practices, but the link is unmistakable.
41. What should you bear in mind as you study subsequent chapters in this book?
41 In the following chapters of this book, we will discuss in greater detail how specific religions began and developed. You will find it enlightening to note not only how each religion is different from the others but also how it is similar to them. You will also be able to note how each religion fits into the time scheme of human history and the history of religion, how its sacred book or writings relate to the others, how its founder or leader was influenced by other religious ideas, and how it has influenced mankind’s conduct and history. Studying mankind’s long search for God with these points in mind will help you to see more clearly the truth about religion and religious teachings.
Why Is Man Religious?
▪ John B. Noss points out in his book Man’s Religions: “All religions say in one way or another that man does not, and cannot, stand alone. He is vitally related with and even dependent on powers in Nature and Society external to himself. Dimly or clearly, he knows that he is not an independent center of force capable of standing apart from the world.”
Similarly, the book World Religions—From Ancient History to the Present says: “The study of religion reveals that an important feature of it is a longing for value in life, a belief that life is not accidental and meaningless. The search for meaning leads to faith in a power greater than the human, and finally to a universal or superhuman mind which has the intention and will to maintain the highest values for human life.”
So religion satisfies a basic human need, much as food satisfies our hunger. We know that eating indiscriminately when we are hungry may stop the pangs of hunger; in the long run, however, it will damage our health. To lead a healthy life, we need food that is wholesome and nutritious. Likewise, we need wholesome spiritual food to maintain our spiritual health. That is why the Bible tells us: “Not by bread alone does man live but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth.”—Deuteronomy 8:3. [excerpted reading: Mankind’s Search for God, Chapter 2, Religion–How Did It Begin? pp. 39-40]
2:03 p.m. 9/29/18