So I wanted to write a positive blog post about this book, which I'm almost finished with, before I turn more negative. As a New York Times review says, there's a good news/bad news joke for religious believers here:
Wright makes it clear that he is tracking people’s conception of the divine, not the divine itself. He describes this as “a good news/bad news joke for traditionalist Christians, Muslims and Jews.” The bad news is that your God was born imperfect. The good news is that he doesn’t really exist.
This is what Wright means by the evolution of God: religious conceptions of divinity have, on the whole, been changing in the direction of more tolerance, inclusiveness, and interconnectedness.
For example, he argues that at first Judaic and early Christian teachings about loving others were limited by tribal, cultural, and nationalistic barriers. Only later was the brotherhood and sisterhood of man extended to include everyone on Earth.
One of Wright's central theses is that non-zero-sum relationships lead to more evolved moral codes.
If two cultures are in a win-win situation where cooperation benefits both, each is going to look more favorably upon the other than if they're engaged in a win-lose battle. Thus as humanity becomes more interrelated (economically and otherwise), people are going to have more of an accepting attitude toward those who aren't like them.
We have some more God-evolving to do, obviously, as Wright points out:
So if the God of the Abrahamic faiths is to keep doing what he has often managed to do before -- evolve in a way that fosters positive-sum outcomes of non-zero-sum games -- he has some growing to do. His character has to develop in a way that permits, for starters, Muslims, Christians, and Jews to get along as globalization keeps pushing them closer together.
Amen to that.
Earth has plenty of problems that require close cooperation between people scattered all over the world: global climate change, famine, epidemics, nuclear weapons proliferation, and such.
The last thing we need is more religion-caused divisiveness.
Nationalism already stands in the way of communal global action, as various countries each consider that their view of the world obviously is correct, so other misguided nations should fall in line.
Wright has a chapter near the end of his book called "Well, Aren't We Special?" Every religion believes that it has a uniquely correct connection with God, or divinity. The false messages of deluded faiths are viewed skeptically, if not scornfully.
Not a very loving or godlike attitude.
So Wright wonders if the next evolution in Godliness will be a diminution, and possibly even a rejection, of religious specialness.
What if the Abrahamic religions really did relax their sense of specialness -- with respect to one another and even, eventually, with respect to non-Abrahamic faiths? No doubt it would feel to many Christians, Jews, and Muslims like an injury to their faith. Yet it would amount to a kind of vindication.
At the core of each faith is the conviction that there is a moral order, and for the Abrahamic conception of God to grow in this fashion would be yet more evidence that such an order exists.
For Jews, Christians, or Muslims to cling to claims of special validity could make their faiths seem, and perhaps be, less valid. As Ashoka [a 3rd century Buddhist emperor] put it in a different context: "If a man extols his own faith and disparages another because of devotion to his own and because he wants to glorify it, he seriously injures his own faith."
Is it crazy to imagine a day when the Abrahamic faiths renounce not only their specific claims to specialness, but even the claim to specialness of the whole Abrahamic enterprise? Are such radical changes in God's character imaginable? Changes this radical have already happened, again and again. Another transformation would be nothing new.
Sounds good, but I'm dubious it'll happen anytime soon.
Religious believers are too fond of feeling that they, and they alone, are the special sons and daughters of God. Humility is cherished in principle, yet not when it means giving up the notion that my way is the best way, or even the only way.