World Religions: A River Runs through Them: How Water Shaped Our Beliefs and Rituals

By Weiss, Jeffrey | Science & Spirit, July-August 2007 | Go to article overview

World Religions: A River Runs through Them: How Water Shaped Our Beliefs and Rituals


Weiss, Jeffrey, Science & Spirit


Religious leaders from many faiths have staked out climate change as an important issue. That's not a surprise, given how central water is to many religions.

Global warming could rearrange Earth's water--flooding coastlines, soaking deserts, and drying out formerly wet regions. Add those shifts to pollution, population pressures, and habitat destruction in the name of development, and people in many parts of the world are justifiably worried about their water supply.

How central is water to many religions? Very:

* In Genesis, water exists before light, as God's spirit hovers over the deep. (Where did the water come from? Maybe the same place as the wives of Cain and Abel. Genesis is silent on the subject.)

* In the New Testament, Jesus starts his ministry with a river dunk, or baptism, from John the Baptist. The Christian Messiah later declares himself the source of the water of everlasting life.

* The Quran says that all life, human and otherwise, was created out of water. The word sharia, now understood as the name for the system of Islamic law, originally meant "the way to the water."

And those are just the religions most familiar to Westerners. How about some less familiar examples?

* Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Devji, who vanished into a river for three days. When he reappeared, he explained that he had spent that time with God who told him "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim," a radical statement in his time and ours.

* The Tao of Taoism is the "way," the moral and spiritual path that followers believe enlightened people should follow. The Lao Tzu, one of Taoism's essential texts, says, "The highest good is like water ... Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water/Yet nothing can better overcome the hard and strong...."

* Hinduism may be the most water-linked faith. India's Ganges River, where many Hindus go for ritual bathing, is not merely sacred. It's considered a deity--the Mother Ganga. In her waters, sins are removed and the karmic burden for the next life is lessened.

* For the Muskogee Creek Indians of Florida's panhandle, Creator first created creatures, then water. Turtle realized that mud was at the bottom of the water and piled up enough to create dry land.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

The sacred stories keep flowing. Ancient people recognized four basic elements: earth, fire, air, and water. Air and earth currently do not have much ritual use in most faiths. But fire still has a starring role, and is used for candles, Yule logs, and sacred cremations.

"But in general water is more important than fire," says Terje Oestigaard, an archaeology professor at the University of Bergen in Norway and a member of the executive council of the International Water History Association. "Water by its very nature dissolves the traditional boundaries between science and religion, facts and beliefs, the sacred and the profane, and questions the scientific method and approaches by which we seek to analyze the world," he and co-author Terje Tvedt wrote in the third volume of the massive A History of Water.

The importance of water explains why many religious leaders have declared water quality in general--and climate change in particular--an important religious issue. Some view green concerns as a stewardship matter--they feel responsible to God for taking care of the environment.

Dozens of Christian evangelical leaders signed a statement last year that called for action against human-induced climate change. The statement says, "Christians must care about climate change because we love God the Creator and Jesus our Lord, through whom and for whom the creation was made. This is God's world, and any damage that we do to God's world is an offense against God Himself."

Baptism is the main Christian ritual use of water. Some sprinkle, some dunk. But the water does not have to be from any particular source or meet specific standards of purity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

World Religions: A River Runs through Them: How Water Shaped Our Beliefs and Rituals
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.