Friday, July 17, 2009

“The Evolution of God”

"For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” (Malachi 3:6)

God does not change; God does not evolve. Yes? Maybe not, writes Robert Wright in his new book, “The Evolution of God.” Maybe God does change and, surely, people’s understanding of the concept of God changes. We can’t know with certainty, but Wright sees a trend in the history of the Abrahamic God: the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, toward heightened moral imagination: our ability to imagine ourselves from another person’s point of view, to be empathetic. Wright calls this a “non-zero-sum relationship.” The more expansive your moral imagination, the more you lend your support to the other’s cause. He writes: “(This) can be self-serving (and besides, it’s part of the implicit deal through which they support your cause).” In other words, one hand washes the other. He detects a pattern of the change of the Abrahamic religions: “The tendency to find tolerance in one’s religion when the people in question are people you can do business with and to find intolerance or even belligerence when you perceive the relationship to be instead zero-sum” (or I win; you lose, rather than, we both win.) In reviewing the histories of Abrahamic religions, he senses a trend toward more non-zero-sum relationships and counsels that for the sake of the planet, we should be conscious of any evidence of this trend and to work to enhance it. He also rather gingerly proposes that these trends might be taken as evidence of the guiding God of Abraham.
He doesn’t mention Jürgen Moltmann, but such a trend seems in line with Moltmann’s idea of God calling us into the future, a future containing many changes. Moltmann, writes about God not up there but out in front calling us into the future. Moltmann understands Christian faith as essentially hope for the future of human beings and for this world as promised by the God of exodus and by God’s resurrection of the crucified Jesus. Thus, an attitude of expectancy underlies all of faith. An active doctrine of hope gives hope for an alternative (my italics) future to the oppressed and suffering of our present time (adapted from The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology []).
I recommend “The Evolution of God” as a very helpful introduction to the history of Abrahamic religion and as a source of ideas about how they might play a useful role in making the world a better place.

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