Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Evolution of God

I'm really enjoying Robert Wright's book, the Evolution of God. Robert Wright taught philosophy at Princeton and religion at University of Pennsylvania. I'm 120 pages into this 459 page book which is written in a friendly manner which makes it the best seller it is. I picked it up at the airport as an "airplane" book. Its definitely not a 'beach book' though. I've found myself reading it with a pen and making notes in the margin and underling other points of interest. It's a book once read that I'll put in the library and probably refer to whether I agree with this philosopher theologian (oxymoron, if ever there was one). I don't know where he's going with this book either but I'm really enjoying the journey.

It's a myth smasher for sure. It's looking at the stories from Judaeism, Islam and Christianity that shaped the view of God that is present today. Wright draws from archeology and anthropology. I'm a big fan of Jared Diamond and Wright does to religion what Diamond does to economics.

I believe each day miraculously springs into existence and each moment is a God given fact but human interpretation of the unfolding of time, the universe and God seems always a matter of difference.

Wright first explores the Hunter Gatherer, Shaman and Chiefdon, developments and later looks at the 'warrior' gods and God which are part of the Yahweh tradition of the God of Abraham and indeed the God of Jacob. Archeologists have indeed uncovered so much of Canaan and Egypt that they're able to cross reference the highly edited biblical account of the Old Testament against what is found in the ground. "The story told in the Bible has in some cases been obliterated by story told in the ground." There was 'no mass exodus out of Egypt."

The development of monotheism indeed occurred in Egypt with Amun and Aten and it is quite possible that some of the herdsmen of Canaan were slaves and brought this back with them. It seems undeniable though that the Israelites were originally Canaanites and that their God was perceieved as one of the many Gods of the day. Why else would God be 'jealous', were there no other Gods. "Who is like thee, O Lord, among the Gods." Asks scriptures. The 'transcendent' God derives from the 'tribal' God of Gods. Whether there was ever more than one God with many dimensions, its pretty clear that the early Israelites were polytheistic , monolateralist, before their eventual monotheism.

El , the Canaan creator God of Northern Israel appears to coalesce with the Yahweh warrior God of southern Israel and the character of God grows.

Wright is really discussing at length the development of a Monotheism with ethical core and universalism.

Given the editing and 're editting' of the Bible the question does arise at how much of the 'story' survived given the later writers desire to paint Israel in the best light and show their God as the best and only God.

It's equally not surprising that Jesus got crucified for 'messing' with this. Wright is definitely 'messing' himself. I am enjoying reading him as he does, like Jesus, question the Phillistines of then and now. Certainly God, of Jesus and the Bible, are big enough to take a little poking from this very fine scholar.

I'm looking forward to reading more, whether I agree or not. Of course I could be consorting with the devil. Listening to the woman talking about the apple is what got us into trouble in the first place. But since we're still talking and sometimes listening to women I am willing to listen to Wright even if at the end of his book I'll have to smite him for 'heresy'. Better still I could "censor" him and 'blacklist' him and maybe even call his writing 'smut'. Much as I prefer smiting, the God of Jesus and God of the Bible is today a forgiving God.


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