the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

evolution of god

In books on July 20, 2009 at 11:11 pm


robert wright’s exploration of “god,” and everything contained within and represented by those quotation marks, was—how should i put this?—dense. wright’s central argument—the presence (or absence) of capital G God, being beyond our cognitive capabilities to confirm, does not preclude some sort of moral meta-arc to be traced across history (like natural selection is the master narrative of evolution) that resembles something like “god.”

“god” has been and will always be an illusion, wright asserts (agreed); but it is a shared invention—or, rather, mankind’s collective invention. the evolution of god does a superb job at ripping any layers of specialness that the big three (judaism, christianity, islam) have wrapped this universal illusion in. and it does so by connecting, via fun (really… at least for the first hundred pages) biblical translation wordplay and in-depth analysis of the sociopolitical drivers behind the creation and revision of the bible and the koran.

in wright’s detangling of the historical and textual “god,” we get surprising (Muhammad dabbled in polytheism for a bit) and not-so-surprising (Isaiah and other old testament kings adjusted their theology to help maintain their growing empire) revelations. but the book never seriously engages with the idea of bible stories or the koran’s revelations as historiographical foci. i wanted more discussion not of the interpretations of the big 3’s texts (at a certain point, the innumerable layers of interpretation obscure any causal or pedagogical point to the story), but of the way these texts’ histories have been altered in modern times for political or social ends. what does the state of current textual or theological (over?) interpretation say about our society?

like too many “serious” books out these days, the evolution of god seems to try to preempt any arguments against its thesis—leaving its truly transformative message unspoken; an afterthought only pointed to in its final pages. wright leaves us with a fascinating discussion (that’s the actual afterword in the link… it’s worth a read) of the possibility of objective belief: if scientists construct the physical world out of building block (the electron) they can’t see or can’t call matter or wave, why do we chastise religious individuals who base their morals around a similarly unknowable but safe invention?

What’s left unsaid is this: natural selection may yield, on the whole, a beautiful and interdependent biosphere—but it’s m.o. is mutation, chance mistakes; similarly, throughout the evolution of god, wright shows that mistakes are the key to moral growth of mankind’s shared illusion… but these setbacks or mutations in the moral meta-arc of history are, at their core, conscious, human decisions. knowing (objectively) that we’re on a divinely ordained path, while eloquently supported and legitimized by wright, is not worth the surrender of our agency to make, for better or worse, our own future. “god” started, in our ancestors’ minds, as a subjective truth—and we’ll be a better society if He/She/It remains in those quotation marks.


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