"The Evolution of God" book review...

There's a review on The New York Times website today, of a new book - "The Evolution of God" - by author Robert Wright.

Wright doesn't sound like a person of faith, but he's found some things to be "optimistic" about, regarding monotheism.

God has mellowed. The God that most Americans worship occasionally gets upset about abortion and gay marriage, but he is a softy compared with the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible. That was a warrior God, savagely tribal, deeply insecure about his status and willing to commit mass murder to show off his powers. But at least Yahweh had strong moral views, occasionally enlightened ones, about how the Israelites should behave. His hunter-gatherer ancestors, by contrast, were doofus gods. Morally clueless, they were often yelled at by their people and tended toward quirky obsessions. One thunder god would get mad if people combed their hair during a storm or watched dogs mate.

Wright sees the progression of God's continual "enlightenment" (reflecting society's general moral progression) as a sign for hope. I hope he wouldn't argue that the 20th Century was a particular high point in the order of human morality. War, poverty, paranoia and genocide. But I suppose even during this time, we saw the Civil Rights Movement in America, powerfully bolstered by Mainline Protestants, rejecting old and often-religious conceptions of racial mores and gender roles. Great goodness is many times birthed alongside and in the midst of great evil.

In “The Evolution of God,” Wright... [proposes] that the increasing goodness of God reflects the increasing goodness of our species. “As the scope of social organization grows, God tends to eventually catch up, drawing a larger expanse of humanity under his protection, or at least a larger expanse of humanity under his toleration.” Wright argues that each of the major Abrahamic faiths has been forced toward moral growth as it found itself interacting with other faiths on a multinational level, and that this expansion of the moral imagination reflects “a higher purpose, a transcendent moral order.”

I hope he's right. And even as I believe in a God who is absolutely good (not progressively good) all of these concepts fit well with my own understanding of humanity's flawed, limited, and continually-expanding understanding of who God is, and has always been. As we understand more deeply what it means to be human beings in creation, we rethink, redefine and reapproach the God we thought we knew. And, in my own personal experience, we fall in love all over again with that God. IF we can manage to forgive the god of our past and be introduced to the God of our future. That's not meant to sound heretical. Many walk away from faith, and from God, when they feel their own moral compass can no longer tolerate their religion of origin. In these situations, it takes genuine forgiveness to forge ahead, even if the true God (the God beyond all of our conceptions and understandings) played no active part in our spiritual wounds.

Althought Wright is not a "believer" per se, he is by no means an atheist. The Times review begins its conclusion with a quotation from the book:

If history naturally pushes people toward moral improvement, toward moral truth, and their God, as they conceive their God, grows accordingly, becoming morally richer, then maybe this growth is evidence of some higher purpose, and maybe — conceivably — the source of that purpose is worthy of the name divinity.


Brent said...

Do humans really push toward moral truth when left to their own?

Despite my initial reaction It sound like he could have an interesting view of these things. Outside the beltway kinda thing.

Peter said...

I know exactly what you mean, Brent. Are we REALLY making moral progress?

As I suggested, the 20th Century seems pretty problematic if we're arguing that humankind is on an upward-swing.

But perhaps, with a broader swath of history, the argument can still be made that human morality is *slowly* and continually progressing. Will have to grab a copy of this book to see where Wright goes.

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