As I mentioned previously I have picked up a book that I started once before,The Evolution Of God, and intend to finish it this summer while I am off from school.
I have to admit that the first section of the book was quite dry, albeit necessary in demonstrating the premise of the book, but dry enough that I put the book down for a while. Having just resumed my reading, I have succeeded in entering the second section of the book, “The emergence of Abrahamic monotheism.” Because I’ve spent a good portion of my life studying the Christian Bible and the ages of antiquity from which it stems, all that makes this section of the book much more interesting to me.
However before I share my thoughts about the development of middle eastern monotheism, I want to pose a question that gets at what I believe Wright is asserting. The question is, what in our world has or does come into existence outside of a cascade or evolution of causes and conditions? That is to say, what exists that hasn’t come to be through a process of different causes and conditions? For some, steeped in their Christian faith and unable (or unwilling) to step back from what they’ve always been taught and consequently have always believed, there is a simple answer: God. This answer is far from convenient, it is necessary for faith. The convenient part comes in the assertion that the object of faith is unseen and the evidence of those things is faith itself (Hebrews 11). In other words faith is self reinforcing and as long as one stays in this convenient and safe circle, the answer to the above question is an easy one.
Interestingly enough, having left that circle, I find that my answer to that question is different but equally as easy. My answer is “Nothing.” That is, I don’t believe that anything just comes into existence, that any entity, belief, culture or perspective comes into existence ex nihilo (i.e. “out of nothing).” Even before reading Wright’s book, I had come to the conclusion that, for instance, the development and change of God’s character in the Bible reflected more a change in human perspectives and culture than it did divine characteristics. The exegetical gymnastics that take place in biblical scholarship so as to interpret one voice or a continuous central theme from the varied texts that make up the bible, are, in my experience, merely to reinforce the circular. Plants grow, humans are conceived, born and develop, human civilizations have developed and become more systematic over the centuries, knowledge has grown; nothing in our (or at least my) experience exists because it simply appears fully formed. I believe that especially holds true of something so intimately intertwined with culture as religion or theology.
Wright’s book does a good job of demonstrating that as human existence became more and more structured, religious thought followed the same trajectory. As cultural groups grew larger and more hierarchal, religious thought was, interestingly enough, on that same trajectory. One might even assert that religious thought is more reflective of human development than of anything divine (I think I already said that but maybe its worth repeating). I am enjoying and appreciating Wright’s scholarship and the continuity of his argument. I wholeheartedly recommend this read. I will write more on what I find in Wright’s book, but this question is central to what I understand him to be saying, so I thought I would begin here too.