Since the dawn of humanity, we’ve always created stories—stories that are imaginary or grounded in real events or anything in between. I’ve started to view religion as a story itself, about light and darkness, gods and children of gods, of ordinary and not so ordinary men and women who have a craving for truth. Whether it’s a warrior struggling to rise up and destroy his evil relatives, or a visionary declaring the value of mankind, religion is full of stories that reflect on the nature of human existence. I believe that, untainted by the lens of religious triumphalism, anyone, regardless of their religious or irreligious background, can appreciate the beauty and value of religious narratives, with their detailing of struggles of figures that are both viscerally human and something greater. Siddhartha Gautama struggles with suffering. Zoroaster struggles with the existence of evil. The story of religion shows a unique way of looking at the universe.
To be clear, I am not using the term “story” to disparage or discredit religion, but rather to reflect on the narratives of belief. I believe that religion and belief itself is a story, a complex and compelling narrative that our ancestors developed and subsequent generations continued to revise and contribute to. Because of our creative nature, we need stories, and regardless of how literal stories are to us, they are very much real in our minds, and have a very tangible effect on our worldviews. The greatest stories are real, regardless of their historical or scientific reality, because of the impact of their values and messages on our lives.
During my time as an interfaith fellow, I’ve heard many new stories, plucked straight from the unique experiences of other fellows I’ve had the pleasure to work with. I’ve heard stories of experiences of unity, like a group of Muslims praying together in a church. I’ve heard stories of growth, about how stepping into the threshold of adulthood has deepened and matured one’s spirituality. These stories are the descendants of and are linked to the wonderful collective creation of our faiths. Religion and belief are a beautiful and amazing story, a mural or tapestry weaved over thousands of years. If we truly take the time to approach it with an open mind and appreciate it, for all of its unique quirks and viewpoints, this great tapestry can have an incredible impact on our lives today.