I’ll call this the third in Robert Wright’s Trilogy. He shows us that just like all organisms on the planet, religion itself also developed through the process of evolution. As God is an invention of mankind, the Evolution of God runs in lock step with our own evolution. In short, the notion of God changes as we change, and we are changing for the better.
Wright starts us off with the beginnings of religion – when there was no religion to speak of, just superstition. Humans have always had things they couldn’t explain and superstition was the way we explained it to our groups. He states that this was in fact the beginning of religious belief, the drive to understand why bad things happen. Bad things are those things that limit our ability to proliferate our genes. As with any species, we are out to stop bad things from happening, and as an emerging smart, talking species, we were able to try to figure out why bad things happened and how we could prevent them. Obviously, with a huge gap in knowledge in early civilizations, we would simply conclude that God did it.
When our group could all agree on why that person randomly died or why a big storm came and killed a few people, they found they were stronger. Beliefs are a unifying force and groups that believed the same things had better chances of survival against our now major rivals: other groups of people. Thus began religion as a major adaptation to humanity.
But with so much war in early life, religion took on very dark tones. Life was a power game and religion was customized for the group’s place in that power game. A group on top and a group on the bottom would each have their own religious flavor to match. For the societies who were the dominators, religion was about domination and submission. Domination of other groups and submission to the powerful God ruler of the group. For the underdogs, religion was about kindness to other members of the group and told tales of an afterlife where the members would be rewarded for their suffering and loyalty to the religion. Wright shows us this in early Christianity. Christians, being the underdog religion, preached “kindness to one another” and taught “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.
And so Wright follows the path of humanity and shows us where society has brought us and what this has meant for religion. As we continually develop into a more inclusive society, one where we depend on each other more and more, religion has had to bend as well to accomodate this reality. We see this most clearly with the current Pope’s statement on homosexuals. Once decried as an abomination, the Pope has had to correct his predecessors by saying he supports homosexuals in the church. To not do so would be to alienate more people than he is alienating by going back on church policy that has been in place for hundreds of years. The Pope is the voice of God, how could God change on the whims of people? Hopefully you understand how.
Enjoy the book, it’s an absolutely marvelous read from a most brilliant author.