Mesopotamian gods laid out clear ethical guidelines, ranging from the general (try to help people, not harm them) to the specific (don’t urinate or vomit in streams).
The Evolution of God by Robert Wright is broken up into five major sections, each looking at an Abrahamic religion and examining the science, politics and expansion of social groups that played a part in making them what they are today. The book begins by exploring the slow evolution from animistic religion to polytheistic. The second section goes on to show how monotheism as we know it today, with an all-powerful being, eventually developed. The third section takes a look at Christianity and how Jesus’ character and message evolved, changing quite drastically over time. The next part does the same thing for Islam and Mohammad. And finally, the last section of the book delves into religion’s role in the modern world and how it will need to continue evolving and maturing, not only to promote unity among different cultures, but also in order to hold the respect of ‘intellectually critical’ people.
Although I found the whole book interesting, I particularly liked the first two sections. The first was full of cultural anthropology tidbits as we traveled around the world examining the role of religion in hunter gatherer societies and how that role changed as chiefdoms formed, and then states, etc.
I also enjoyed the next section mapping out the course religion took to become monotheistic and how God even changes depending on what section of the bible you read today. For instance, he begins as an anthropomorphic god – Adam and Eve hear him walking through the Garden of Eden and are even able to hide from him, showing he’s not quite the omniscient, abstract power that is to come later on. It also looks at how Judaism started out as a polytheistic religion with hints still left over in the bible along with evidence found in the archaeological record. So there were a lot of fun tidbits in there as well.
The next sections about Christianity and Islam I didn’t find as enthralling. They were still filled with a lot of fun stuff I didn’t know, because I know next to nothing about religion, but I felt it got pretty repetitive at times and my attention wandered.
But all in all I thought it was a really interesting read. For instance did you know an early Scandinavian precursor of the christmas tree was also a demon disperser!? That’d make for a much more interesting Christmas!
If the Abrahamic god – the God of Jews and the God of Christians and the God of Muslims – doesn’t foster tolerance, then we’re all in trouble.