And now for something completely different. And no, this has nothing to do with Monty Python. I swear. Though maybe I’ll get to them another time.
There’s an old saying: “People are alike all over.” To me, that means that despite all of our apparent differences, if you boil people down to their true essence, you’ll find that most of us are pretty much the same despite color, creed, nationality, or wealth.
I’ve thought about this saying and think it can be expanded to include not just the foundation of Mankind, but religions as well. Because to me, it seems that religions are alike all over, too. At least for the most part. It may seem like the different spiritual paths out there are entirely separate entities, but are they really? I may be overly simplistic in my thought processes (or perhaps in the alternative, I over-analyze things), but I believe that when you trace back many religions to their roots (much like moving down a family tree) you in fact will find all sorts of similarities at their base.
Look at the myths that exist in each religion to explain their belief system. A lot of them are really, really similar. It’s almost as if centuries ago a lot of religions were actually based on one single religion and as people started migrating to different parts of the world, their stories shifted to suit their new surroundings. Or perhaps it’s like that game of telephone we old folks played back in kindergarten. The story changed ever so slightly as it got retold down the line.
I wish I could take credit for this idea, but sadly I can’t. If I could, I’d be reaping the rewards of all the books I would’ve written on it, living a much better life right now on a beach or in a cottage somewhere in France with a much prettier view. What I just described, in a nutshell, is a branch of study called “comparative religion/mythology.” The idea being that religions, by and large, are fairly complementary at their core.
So, let’s start with the basics: creation myths. That’s my favorite. How did we get here? There’s no getting around that question. Everyone wants to know that, so every religion has an answer ready to go.
According to the Old Testament, God the Supreme Being created man. Eventually he got around to making a woman too and soon the two of them were prancing around together in a garden east of Eden. Satan, in the guise of a snake, butted in and got Eve to disobey God’s word. Then, she got Adam to do the same. (Yep, the fall of man was all Eve’s fault! Go figure.) There’s a whole thing involving another of God’s little creations known as Lilith. Yeah, don’t get me started on that one. I’ll get into that story another day.
Anyway, we know this as the story of Adam and Eve, but if you take a look at the creation stories from around the world, it’s hardly a unique tale. In reality, the Babylonians told it first. This was centuries before Judaism and Christianity even existed.
Then there’s the stories told by a multitude of Native American tribes that lived an entire continent away. They all have a similar progression. A “Great Spirit” created everything and men and women came from the Earth. I have to admit, I like these stories better than the ones that say we were created out of God’s snot. (I swear I remember reading that somewhere, but when I went back to look for it, all I came up with was webpage after webpage devoted to our snot — and I don’t think I want to go there. Yuck.)
Getting back to Native American myth, the Great Spirit had an enemy (i.e. Satan) who sought to destroy the Great Spirit’s creation. Then comes the part of the story where the humans rebel against the desires of the Great Spirit and then there’s a great flood that destroys everyone, except a handful of people the Spirit decides to spare so they can repopulate the Earth and well, we all know how that goes. We just heard it a bit differently.
Which brings me round to the popular flood story.
There’s an old Babylonian flood story in the “Epic of Gilgamesh” that predates the Hebrew Bible story by centuries. The gods who lived in a city by a river wanted to create a flood. One of the gods warns a human to tear down his house and use it to build a ship so that he will survive. Sound familiar? It’s not the only flood story by a long shot. There are several.
Then there’s the story of Jesus. The ultimate tale of death and resurrection. Except…this story shows up in other religions around the world as well.
For example, Egyptian mythology features the god Osiris, whose death and resurrection resembles that of Jesus. (And, of course, the whole culture of ancient Egypt was about ensuring that those who died would live happily ever after in the Afterlife — or paradise.)
Then there’s the Indo-Iranian Mithra myth whose story so parallels that of Jesus that it’s downright uncanny. Born to a virgin mother (Anahita), he gathered 12 followers, and traveled around performing miracles. His sacred day was Sunday and when he died, he arose from the grave three days later. In the end, he sacrificed himself for world peace and ascended to the Heavens.
Some religions are ancient. Some religions are relatively new. Yet many of them share a common core of mythology. But what do I get from all of this? My personal conclusion is that perhaps people really have more in common than they think. And to me, that is a good thing, a very good thing. I wish more people could see that. The world would be a better place.
It’s most definitely interesting though, isn’t it? Compare all these similar stories, or these “parallels” to use the technical term…and it makes you wonder about our beliefs and where they really came from and how we’re all connected. It does me, anyway, even though I’m not what you would call a religious person.