Evolution of God: intro

This is the first of my posts regarding the book I am reading entitled The Evolution Of God by Robert Wright. I plan to attempt at least a weekly post, probably on Saturday or Sunday. There may be a friend or two who join me in this read, providing their own commentary.

If you have read my blog for any length of time or had real or honest conversations regarding faith, God and knowledge, then what follows will not surprise you. One of the biggest challenges to Christians (and probably other mono-theistic religions) is the nature of how we approach “Truth.” Western religious perspectives of the evangelical and more conservative type have a very definitive view of God and the truth they believe to have received over the centuries, especially from holy writ.

I perceive that there is a negation of  the idea that other ancient traditions theologically contributed to what they now hold as  truth regarding  God (an exception would be the obvious contributions of the Jewish faith into Christian theology). This is sort of a purest view.  For instance, creation stories and flood accounts, while there are many such views in different cultural groups in the near vicinity to where the Judeo-Christian faith originated, these are not believed to have informed or influenced the biblical narratives.  Wright cites examples where early “pagan” rituals made it into the Hebrew Scriptures, and supporting the view that the monotheistic versions of religion were built upon earlier pagan and animistic religions.  He cites Genesis 6 and the Nephalim, who were sons of God who had sex with the women of the world and the offspring were giants and heroes.  Now there are many different ways that OT scholars have explained what exactly this passage is about, however it seems that Wright’s explanation is reasonable too.  The point is that Judaism and Christianity are not unique religious expressions but are part of a continuum of religious development.

While I no longer have any definitive view or f theology of what God might be, I have held such a position in my past.  Such a posture seemed to automatically put me at odds with other religious thought, because it differed from the belief of my particular brand of Christianity. In my experience this was not helpful.  Our exploration into the sacred (both in our tradition and others),  rather than watering down our faith, can actually deepen and enrich one’s religious experience.

In the Introduction of Wright’s book, the following perspective is introduced.

“I don’t think a “materialist” account of religion’s origin, history, and future − like the one I’m giving here − precludes the validity of a religious worldview. In fact, I contend that the history of religion presented in this book, materialist though it is, actually affirms the validity of a religious worldview; not a traditionally religious worldview, but a worldview that is in some meaningful sense religious.
It sounds paradoxical. On the one hand, I think gods arose as illusions, and that the subsequent history of the idea of god is, in some sense, the evolution of an illusion. On the other hand: (1) The story of this evolution itself points to the existence of something you can meaningfully call divinity; and (2) the “illusion,” in the course of evolving, has gotten streamlined in a way that moved it closer to plausibility. In both of these senses, the illusion has gotten less and less illusory.”

This is,  for many monotheistic believers,  a characterization way outside what they are comfortable considering as in any way true, nor would  it be an idea they would consider helpful to their present understanding and belief. However, if such believers could learn to set aside, even temporarily, that perspective of which they are so certain, the result could be surprisingly helpful and deepen the faith they have. In addition such an openness to other perspectives might just provide the opportunity to work together towards a future that reflects more genuinely the world for which we all hope.

Try reading this to honestly entertain the ideas put forth, not simply to refute that with which you already know you disagree.  The benefit could be significant!

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2 thoughts on “Evolution of God: intro

  1. I started it and am thoroughly intrigued. I am a person who runs almost completely off of intuition, so it’s good to read a scholarly articulation of things that I have felt but not known how to describe.

  2. I think I may have posted my response to the introduction in the incorrect place! Was I supposed to put it here in the response area? My newbie status as a blogger is showing, isn’t it?
    I finished reading the first chapter this morning around 3 am. I just HAD to finish off the remnants of that 2-liter of Coke right before bed and that earned me some insomnia.
    The first insight that I found interesting in this chapter was that aboriginal, animistic peoples usually would not call their mystical concepts religion. Wright says,

    “The kinds of beliefs and rituals we label “religious” are so tightly interwoven into their everyday thought and action that they don’t have a word for them. We may label some of their explanations of how the world works “supernatural” and others “naturalistic,” but those are our categories, not theirs. To them it seems fitting to respond to illness by trying to figure out which god caused it, just as to us it seems fitting to look for the germ that caused it. This fine intertwining of the–in our terms–religious and nonreligious parts of culture would continue well into recorded history. Ancient Hebrew, the language of most of the Holy Bible, had no word for religion”

    I wonder if the lack of the word for religion is due to the lack of interaction with people from very different backgrounds? I was thinking that early Hebrews probably didn’t have a word for chopticks, or chicken Mcnuggets, either. But I imagine myself in that time and in one of those groups. Were none of them skeptical, or were their arguments drowned out at the time and buried so deeply that there isn’t even a record of a word to describe a different perspectives?

    The second point I found interesting was Wright’s treatment of animistic faiths compared to modern ones. I think he could be more gracious to the animists. Wright said,

    Theologians in the Abrahamic lineage — Jewish, Christian,. or Islamic — are constrained from the outset by a stiff premise: that reality is governed by an all-knowing, all-powerful and good god” … and later… “In the hunter -gatherer universe, the problem of evil isn’t so baffling, because the supernatural doesn’t take the form of a single, all-powerful being…”

    I thought that he could have given the animists credit for formulating a religious view that avoided this problem. I’d like to point out that the idea of a benevolent and all-powerful creator might have been rejected early on. This is one point where the hunter-gatherers might be given credit for having what Wright might call a ‘less illusory illusion.’
    I just realized that most of what I wrote must make it seem like my view of the book is negative. This is not true. I am enjoying the book and the criticisms I am presenting are critiques on concepts that are new to me. I am intrigued by the ideas and am chewing them up a bit to get my head around them.
    I’m looking forward to chapter 2!

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