September 14, 2009 / 10:08 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. author traces "evolution" of God

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - U.S. author Robert Wright traces the history of God and suggests that it might point to the unfolding of something divine, though perhaps not in the sense that most people of faith would envision.

In his new book “The Evolution of God,” he takes his readers on a journey through the spiritual beliefs of our ancestors to the development of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The book has two convergent paths. One traces the material history of faith looking among other things at how “scriptural interpretation is obedient to facts on the ground.”

The other path is a more speculative one that Wright compares to Darwinian evolution and leads to the notion that our history has been one of moral progress, which suggests that something divine may be afoot.

Wright spoke to Reuters about his book and his ideas, which are sure to provoke a lot of debate.

Q: “One question you raise — and it seems to be a central thesis of your book — is the notion that if history is naturally pushing us toward moral improvement perhaps it is a sign of divine purpose. Can you elaborate for our readers?”

A: “Ever since hunter-gatherer days the scale of social organization has increased to the point where now we are on the brink of a global society. All along the way that has forced us to expand our moral horizons in the sense of including more and more people of different ethnicities and nationalities in the category of neighbor in some sense.

“So in America, in some sense, we consider all Americans our neighbors and I think that’s moral progress ... compare that kind of really inclusive perspective to what prevailed 2,000 years ago or 2,500 years ago when members of one Greek city state viewed members of another Greek city state sub-human. And we are challenged to expand our moral horizons in the sense that if we fail to social chaos can ensue.

“And I think we are at that point now with globalization ... we tend to expand our moral imagination. And I think the fact that history keeps putting us in this morally challenging position at least suggests the possibility that there is some sort of larger purpose working itself, unfolding through the workings of nature.”

Q: “As you note, many critics may find this questionable looking at the history of the 20th century.”

A: “Most seem to, yes ... first of all the progress doesn’t only proceed in fits and starts with backsliding. Even so I would say that the average American has a more elevated view of the average Japanese or German, not only than Americans did during World War II, but even before World War II. And I think that’s a sign of progress.

“Also it apparently is the case that as massive as the violence may seem to us in the 20th century that actually the percentage of the whole world’s population that died violently has actually been decreasing and apparently that even includes the 20th century ... And I think the fact that we have such a dim view of the 20th century is itself a sign of our moral progress.

“All you have to do is go read the Old Testament to be convinced that people back then would not have taken a dim view of that sort of slaughter; it was proscribed by God back then. Wipe out whole cities because they believe in the wrong god.”

Q: “You don’t believe in the Abrahamic God, though you did come to Christ as a Southern Baptist in El Paso in Texas when you were a child. But you aren’t part of the neo-Atheist movement either. How would you describe yourself?”

A: “I describe myself as someone who sees evidence that there is a larger purpose unfolding and is therefore I guess not an atheist. And I see the purpose as having a moral dimension ... That suggests some notion of the divine, however abstract.

“But I don’t purport to know whether there is anything you could call a God. I don’t buy any of the claims of special revelation of anyone ever in the history of the world. I think if there is a revelation it is in the unfolding of history and it is equally accessible to anyone who wants to pay attention. I don’t think anyone has been singled out by God for private communication about this.”

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