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We Aren'T Same Religion But We Have Common Genes

IN THE WORLD of warm and fuzzy religion, there is an oft repeated line: We are all one.

Sounds nice, but is it really true? Looking at the religious landscape of our Earth, it doesn't seem so: Muslim vs. Jew, Protestant vs. Catholic, Mainliner vs. Pentecostal. If we judge purely by our collective religious histories, we are not one. We are a disparate and divided species.

Fortunately where religion has often failed to see our commonality, science may finally redeem us. According to research gleaned from the ongoing human genome project, all humans are almost 100 percent alike genetically. What about race? Well, science has proved there's no such thing.

"The external differences that most people would use in defining race - skin color, eye shape, height - are genetically inconsequential," writes Nancy Shute in the Jan. 29 cover story for U.S. News and World Report. Racial features are "minor variations that evolved in response to the environment. (Racial features) are the genetic equivalent of a sunburn."

What's fascinating, too, is that scientists have found there are more genetic variations within ethnic groups than between ethnic groups. Put simply, this means there are more genetic differences between my Scandinavian neighbor and Scotch-Irish me than between my African-American co-worker and me.

The phrase, "we are all one" isn't just a New Ager's mantra anymore.

It's a scientific reality.

Want another mind-boggler? We all come from Africa.

The tools of biotechnology have unlocked this secret of human origins, Shute writes, making it possible to now "deduce ancient human history from a drop of blood or a few shed skin cells."

Using these new tools, genetic anthropologists have deduced that all humanity sprang from a common African origin about 150,000 years ago. Geneticists have found that "the DNA of present-day Africans is more diverse than that of people on other continents, indicating that humans have lived there longest. Traces of ancient African genes can be found in everyone living today."

Let me repeat that last sentence: Traces of ancient African genes can be found in everyone living today. Gives new meaning to the phrase "out of Africa," doesn't it?

So how did folks like me get so white? Evidently, contrary to common thought, it's easier for skin to whiten up genetically than to grow darker.

Once my African ancestors moved from the continent, they migrated to places where the sun didn't shine as long or as hot. After generations and generations, the human body adapted and fair skin evolved, which enabled these people of the north to better absorb sunlight and synthesize vitamin D. This "fair skin" mutation comes from the evolution of just one single gene.

What has all this got to do with religion? I think this was best explained last weekend at the monthly Nexus session. The topic was "Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity and Religion," with a panel of two Christians, a Jew, a Baha'i and a Muslim. As has often been the case with this year's interfaith dialogue, the panelists agreed more than they disagreed.

One common theological point shone clearly: We are all one.

I believe Rabbi Michael Panitz, of Temple Israel in Norfolk, best put it when he said that Judaism believes in one God who is the common parent of the human family. He then told a story, which I've paraphrased: Why does the Bible teach the singular creation of the human species by telling of one man, Adam, and one woman, Eve, who form one couple? It does so to teach that no one can say they are superior.

While Christians, Jews, Baha'i and Muslims all embrace the story of Adam and Eve, no one faith can claim the first couple as its very own. In theological terms, this could mean that no one faith is superior to another. All provide access to the common parent, God.

The other point that can be made - especially considering the "out of Africa" thing - is that the Western world has put far, far too much emphasis on skin color and not enough on the depth of human character. There is great wisdom and theological truth within indigenous people throughout the world.

Will these two concepts triumph? Will religion catch up with science?

As Baha'i Alice Bing said the other night at Nexus, "I think it's going to take years and years, probably hundreds of years and years, for humans to realize our true equality."

Sadly, I find myself in agreement.

Responses are published every other week. Submissions are edited and sometimes condensed. Write: Issues of Faith, The Virginian- Pilot, 921 N. Battlefield Blvd., Chesapeake, VA 23320; call 222- 5216; fax 222-5258; e-mail bmw(AT) Please include your name, city and phone number.

©Copyright 2001, The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA

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