Resurrecting the God Idea

We recommend “The Evolution of God,” by Robert Wright. It's the single most logically argued book we read in many years. Wright has read widely and has understood the scholarly insights into numerous biblical studies issues. He presents them lucidly and all within a framework of analysis that seeks to trace exactly what he promises, the evolution of an idea, a social construct, and with that the meaning and import of the development of the concept over centuries and through several cultures.

Not many writers could pull off this task. Wright does it with great skill. And he even tries to rescue God out of his historical account and construct a universal theology of sorts. We admire that attempt at resurrecting the God Idea after having parsed it into its little pieces.

 The Time's reviewer seems to like this book too.
The Religious Wars
Just a few years ago, it seemed curious that an omniscient, omnipotent God wouldn’t smite tormentors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. They all published best-selling books excoriating religion and practically inviting lightning bolts.

Traditionally, religious wars were fought with swords and sieges; today, they often are fought with books. And in literary circles, these battles have usually been fought at the extremes.

Fundamentalists fired volleys of Left Behind novels, in which Jesus returns to Earth to battle the Anti-Christ (whose day job was secretary general of the United Nations). Meanwhile, devout atheists built mocking Web sites like www.whydoesGodhateamputees.com. That site notes that although believers periodically credit prayer with curing cancer, God never seems to regrow lost limbs. It demands an end to divine discrimination against amputees.

This year is different, with a crop of books that are less combative and more thoughtful. One of these is “The Evolution of God,” by Robert Wright, who explores how religions have changed — improved — over the millennia. He notes that God, as perceived by humans, has mellowed from the capricious warlord sometimes depicted in the Old Testament who periodically orders genocides.

(In 1 Samuel 15:3, the Lord orders a mass slaughter of the Amalekite tribe: “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child.” These days, that would earn God an indictment before the International Criminal Court.)

Mr. Wright also argues that monotheism emerged only gradually among Israelites, and that the God familiar to us may have resulted from a merger of a creator god, El, and a warrior god, Yahweh. Mr. Wright also argues that monotheism wasn’t firmly established until after the Babylonian exile, and he says that Moses’s point was that other gods shouldn’t be worshiped, not that they didn’t exist. For example, he notes the troubling references to a “divine council” and “gods” — plural — in Psalm 82.

In another revelation not usually found in Sunday School classes, Mr. Wright cites Biblical evidence that God (both El and Yahweh) had a sex life, rather like the Greek gods, and notes archaeological discoveries indicating that Yahweh may have had a wife, Asherah...more...

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