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Tom Chaney: The Developing Image of God

Of Writers And Their Books: The Developing Image of God. Tom says Robert Wright nibbles at the underpinnings of the way we normally see the world. This column first appeared 3 January 2010.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: The Ledger of a Country Store

By Tom Chaney

The Developing Image of God

Robert Wright writes fascinating and thought provoking books. One reviewer observes that his Moral Animal illuminates "such topics as friendship, monogamy, and xenophobia. Wright linked Darwinian thought to game theory to suggest that human history is moving inexorably toward 'win-win' global amity, that hatred has lost its usefulness in an increasingly interdependent world."

His latest book, The Evolution of God [Little-Brown, 2009], continues the study of the phenomenon of change from the early views of god in various cultures where deities were seen as capricious and cruel through millennia to the early polytheism of the Hebrews, "Thou shalt have no other gods (plural) before me."

In the process Yahweh, the Hebrew god, can early be compassionate, vengeful, mercurial, or wise. "In short, the Hebrew God shakes off his adolescent belligerence and assumes a kinder, gentler persona."

In The Evolution of God, Wright looks at the three Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- as they develop toward the good.

The image of God in the three religions moves from that of a God with "a whip in his hand and a sneer on his lip" into the compassionate divinity who cares about his creation -- the god of love of Hosea and Paul.

At one point Wright argues for a "morally directional" history. "Human conceptions of the divine do get morally richer. God tends to grow morally because humankind is itself growing morally."

He observes the gradual development of a god capable of maturing. The writer Philo is cited for his observation on the changing treatment of aliens by the Jews, citing the stories of Ruth and Jonah for inter-ethnic tolerance.

And in his discussion of the development of both Christianity and Islam, offspring of the Abrahamic tradition, Wright notes that when the relationship between cultures is more tolerant, the religion tends to be more tolerant.

In the long view as the world becomes more interdependent this tolerance on the part of religion is more propitious.

God may be immutable and unchangeable, but he is perceived by struggling man -- a decidedly mutable, changeable, and non-ultimate being. Our minds are capable of asking questions for which there cannot be complete answers. This search nonetheless is essential to our nature.

Andrew Sullivan in reviewing Wright's book for The Times of London notes that, "The challenge of our time is neither the arrogant dismissal of religious life and heritage, nor the rigid insistence that all metaphysical questions are already answered or unaskable, but a humble openness to history and science and revelation in the journey of faith....

"If we are to endure past the darkness of the Taliban and the religious right, this process of religious reform is not an option. It is a necessity. How relieving to have a sane, sober rationalist point this out."

We tend to project our view of god on to the idea of god, assuming that what we now perceive is true for all time. How refreshing it is to find a writer who helps us distinguish between what we are taught is true and unchangeable and what has been perceived as true in other times and by other thinkers.

Mr. Wright is heavy going. He nibbles at the underpinnings of the way we normally see the world. But the questions he raises are essential to our survival.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2015-01-04 02:23:34
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