Searching for Life’s Meaning in a Rock

From RABBI RICHARD ADDRESS, director of the department of Jewish Family Concerns at the Union for Reform Judaism:

Fred Grinnell is a professor of cell biology at Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and the author of the new book Everyday Practice of Science. In a recent piece in The Chronicle Review, he illustrates the differences between science and religion by describing a case in which you find yourself walking on a beach and coming upon a large and unusual rock. There are two possible types of questions you can ask, he says. Questions of the first kind include: What kind of rock is this, how did it get here, and what can be done with it? A second type of question would be: What does it mean that this rock is here sharing this beach with me and what can this rock, or moment, teach me about the meaning of life? “The first set represents science and technology. Knowing the answers enables the control essential to obtain and use the rock according to one’s needs and desires,” he writes. “The second set represents religion and spirituality. It concerns the meaning and purpose of the individual and of life. If your religion requires six literal days of creation, then it clashes with science. But if your religion teaches that the unseen order of the world has purpose and meaning, then is it at odds with science?”
Here we are introduced to a fantastic question, maybe the question of human existence. If there is some unseen order or force or power in the universe, what is my place in that order? It all does come down to finding one’s sense of meaning. This month, much of the world’s religious focus will be on the celebrations of Passover and Easter—both of which focus on the possibilities in life, the potential for renewal and rebirth on both an individual and communal perspective. Both, in the end, ask each of us to look at our lives and how we find meaning. The questions we ask provide the pathway to the answers we seek. At the root of each search is a belief in a type of faith that transcends the individual: Each question is based on a belief, a faith that at the end of our search there is meaning.

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