The Final Thought: Is Religion in our DNA?

The Final Thought: Is Religion In Our DNA?


Leonard Zwelling

Humans want to understand the world. It is what drives science and the humanities.

It is reasonable to assume that humans have been searching for our origins and the origin of the planet as well as our place in the universe since we stood on two legs in Africa somewhere. It is my view that our belief in gods or later in one God derives from this need to know where we came from and perhaps, where we are going. It also may be a longing to know that some force is in charge and all of life is not a series of random events, even if it just may be exactly what life is.

All three of the major religions of the west, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, have their roots in the soil of Israel. The Christianity story began in Jerusalem. Islam’s third holiest site is there. And Judaism has sought the Promised Land for almost two thousand years before 1948 and the birth of the modern state of Israel.

In the United States, religion, by decree of the First Amendment, is largely a private matter except for those who choose to blend their religion with their politics as a litmus test for citizenship. America is not supposed to be a Christian nation, but it largely still is. We Jews were fortunate to find a home in the U.S. long before our ancestral home became available to us in 1948. But as the Jewish people established the state of Israel and expanded its borders, particularly in 1967, the center of world Judaism is now there.

And in Jerusalem, it is on the streets. The ultra-orthodox black hats are everywhere, often with their wigged wives and many, many children. The hijab is a common site in Jerusalem and Christian pilgrims are at all the Biblical sites.

This is manifested most sharply on and around the Temple Mount. Religious Jews are always at the Western Wall. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is brimming with people who wait in line to kneel before a statue of Christ at the site of his crucifixion, or bless a newly purchased religious icon at the site where his corpse was laid, or wait for hours for three minutes at the place of his resurrection. Above, on the Temple Mount, religious Jews try to sneak in a prayer as the Israeli police try to stop them. Muslims flock in and out of the Dome of the Rock or sit near its walls. What are all these people doing near these holy sites?

They are trying to find meaning and understand the nature of life and the purpose of their own lives. The religions are different, but the thirst for the divine seems universal. It also seems to be most manifest in Jerusalem, the crossroads of faith and the site of so much bloodshed in the name of faith.

It never fails to move you.

You cannot avoid the importance of religion to mankind. Most people believe in one God. The expression of that belief takes many forms, but it is hard to escape the reality that there is a human drive for religion, a belief in things beyond our understanding that somehow started it all and still has some power over the universe.

Is it logical? It is not. It is not supposed to be. But in Jerusalem, it is palpable and surrounds you everywhere you look. It is the sight, the sound, the taste, the smell and the feel of the many ways man seeks God. It’s on the street all around you.

Religious Jews believe that the top of Mount Moriah, over which is the Dome of the Rock, is the place from which the world was born. Who’s to say they are wrong? It doesn’t matter.

What I came away with from this trip is that whether the Bible is right or wrong does not matter if so many believe it is so. The sites we visited are real. The stories are more alive than the places. And Israel is at a crossroads. Will it go the way of many other democracies of late and lapse into autocracy or will the center hold? Where is that center?

Stay tuned. In Israel, it’s always complicated. Having faith is a good plan.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

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