Creation & Destruction Myths: A Common Theme Across Religions
Sunday September 25 marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the beginning of the New Year, as defined by the creation of Adam and Eve, the first two humans, according to the Hebrew Bible.
Creation and destruction are two sides of the same force. For there to be creation there must be destruction — in the case of cells, of life, and indeed, of the entire cosmos. All religions believe that God is both the creator and the destroyer. And all religions have created myths to help understand this mysterious force.
Creation myths can work as messages of promised renewal that help us to accept the ups and downs of life. While there is a lot of commonality, in that there are creation myths across all religions, there are unique variations that give different communities a sense of identity.
The ancient Hindus believed — as physicists and cosmologists do today — in a universe that expands and contracts, and which has gone through many births and deaths. In Hindu cosmology, the creation and destruction of the universe occurs regularly in cyclical periods over astronomical scales of time.
“For every up there is a down; for every plus there is a minus. Every pleasure is balanced by an equal displeasure; every joy, by an equal sorrow,” said Paramhansa Yogananda, a popular Hindu monk.
One of the most famous creation stories is the Biblical account of Genesis — shared, though with slight variations, by the three Abrahamic traditions. It tells of how God created the entire universe in six days, only to wipe the slate clean later in the same book by bringing on the flood so that humanity would have a fresh start. Shared by these three faiths (along with Baha’i) is the attitude that all creation, with God as its source, reflects the qualities of God.
From a more existential perspective what seems to matter most to people about creation and destruction myths is the origin and purpose of life and humanity. That we all come from the same source of creation would instill humility in all and eliminate any feelings of superiority over the other. Ultimately, there is a profound sense of mystery regarding the origin, purpose, and fate of our universe that has been acknowledged by philosophers and thinkers across millennia. But underlying the mystery remains a deep sense of connectivity and belonging.
Creation and Destruction Myths
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
— The New Testament (Corinthians 5:17), Christian text
“On that Day, We shall roll up the skies as a writer rolls up [his] scrolls. We shall reproduce creation just as We produced it the first time: this is Our binding promise. We shall certainly do all these things.”
— The Qur’an (21:104), Muslim text
“All creation is a rotating wheel, revolving and alternating. Everything goes in cycles. Man becomes angel, and angel, man. Head becomes foot, and foot head. All these things have a single root. All interchange, raising the low, lowering the high, spinning on the wheel of creation.”
— Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, collection of Jewish writings
“In the beginning God created heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
— Hebrew Bible (Genesis 1:1–3), Jewish text
“The world of creation has had no beginning and will have no end, because it is the arena upon which the attributes and qualities of the spirit are being manifested. Can we limit God and his power? In the same manner we cannot limit his creations and attributes.”
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader
“In these two aspects of my nature is the womb of all creation. The birth and dissolution of the cosmos itself take place in me.”
— The Bhagavad Gita (7:6), Hindu text
“That is why we have so many problems in this world. When we forget the fundamental source of our creation, we are like children who do not know what to do when they lose their parents.”
— Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Buddhist monk and teacher
“At the great Origin there was nothing, nothing, no name.
The One arose from it; there was One without form.
In taking different forms, it brought life, and became known as Virtue.
Before any shape was given, their roles were assigned,
varied and diverse but all linked to one another.
This was their lot.”
— The Book of Chuang Tzu, Daoist text
“All things originate from one another and vanish into one another, according to necessity.”
— Anaximander, ancient Greek philosopher
“The creation myth was the essential bond that held the tribe together. It provided its believers with a unique identity, commanded their fidelity, strengthened order, vouchsafed law, encouraged valor and sacrifice, and offered meaning to the cycles of life and death. No tribe could long survive without the meaning of its existence defined by a creation story.”
— E.O. Wilson, biologist
To learn more about other common themes across religions, visit us at uef.org/weekly-wisdom.