It is a wonder that all human actions are based on the prism of three trimal beliefs:
1) Origin; this can be creation or some other story;
2) Destiny; this can be an eternal life, a reincarnation, or some other afterlife;
3) Purpose; our purpose in discovery decides the future that we select and actions that we choose to journey to a desirable life. Our discovery during a lifetime mirrors the evolution from the seemingly random and chaotic choices of an infant into the complex patterns of adult choice that we call purpose. This recursion is our reality.
The bible has an origin story as the creation of Genesis and a destiny story as heaven or hell. Fine. There are lots and lots of different ancient stories of origin and destiny so take your pick. The prism of matter time provides stories that guide both a rational science and metascience from which a universe now makes better sense to me.
Besides origin and destiny, where there are a great variety of stories, religion then comes down to guiding human purpose. What is our purpose? Do we even have a purpose? Does it evolve? Religions teach that true purpose lies in a belief in a particular metaphor or dao or nirvana and true purpose will therefore result in a “good” future or good qi or good kami. Furthermore religious stories invariably suggest that without some kind of a divine metaphor for the greatest good, humans can not trust their own feelings for guidance in life.
Humans do have a purpose in discovering how the universe works and discovery exists with or without religion. Religions usually associate something like the greatest or highest good with a supernatural agent and that agent guides human purpose and destiny. Nevertheless, with or without religion humans discover and select desirable futures based on feeling and the feelings of those whose lives we touch.
Even without religion, we all share stories about our lives and experiences and as a result, our feelings evolve while we journey to a more desirable life. Our stories allow the evolution of ours and others feelings for an ever larger number of people.
Summum bonum, the greatest or supreme good, is a concept from the philosopher Kant that has had many manifestations. Religions commonly associate feelings that point to the greatest good with a divine metaphor. Immanuel Kant was a philosopher and religious scholar whose 1781 Critique of Pure Reason "proved" that a greatest good divinity must exist.
"Reason tells us that without a supreme good, moral laws would be idle fantasies,"
is my paraphrase of Immanuel Kant.
Pessimum malum, the worst evil, is the logical antithesis of the greatest good and religions commonly associate a worst evil with various lesser divine and thoroughly bad metaphors. Note that arguments about greater and lesser, good and bad, are often not very productive when it comes to bad. Both secular and religious people in society generally acknowledge that positive emotions are desirable and therefore good: joy, pride, love, pleasure, and contentment.
Correspondingly, both secular and religious society generally finds negative emotions undesirable and therefore bad: misery, shame, hate, anger, and fear. Therefore humans align their feelings by communicating with and touching others and that is how we imagine a desirable future for ourselves and for the lives that we touch.
The stories from the bible can be very uplifting and they also can be very depressing. While the poetry of Solomon is very pleasing and desirable, the diatribes of Leviticus can be correspondingly angry and undesirable. Selecting particular stories from the bible without knowing about their historical context and without knowing about their relation to the many other human stories diminishes their value as wisdom.
There are many bible phrases and stories that only make much sense when they are placed in the context of the ancient times in which they were written. Many bible stories have been lifted from Babylonian or Sumerian or Hittite folklore. Others involve a Judean civil war with the losing side not getting its book in the bible, only denigration. Some bible stories were during times that the Hittites and Egyptians were at war and Judea happened to be in between.
The seven-day creation makes so much more sense with the traditions of Babylon that associated each of the week days with one of the seven heavenly bodies of Sumerian and Babylonian astrology. Given the 40 years of captivity in Babylon, it is not a surprise that Judaism absorbed much Babylonian wisdom including the seven day week. After their return to Judea, Judaic traditions were again challenged by the Greek invasion of Alexander the Great, the time of Macabees. It was during this period that the Jewish bible was written in Greek in about 265 BCE, and it is ironic that it is that Greek version that has survived antiquity.
Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about human stories and said,
“I think that it’s important to live life with knowledge of its mystery, and of your own mystery.”
Noah’s flood story in the bible after all appears in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, told and retold for nearly 1000 years before the bible was conceived. The stories that we create today will be the stories of our future.
Our purpose in life is in knowing our feelings, listening to others, and selecting our journey on that basis. We all journey to a desirable future by actions that best fulfill our destiny and that is our purpose. Religion can either help our purpose or hinder it or they might not be that useful at all.