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How's God Doing? Despite today's headlines, much better than you think

By Richard Handler

November/December 2009


The Evolution of God
Robert Wright
Little, Brown. 567 pp. ISBN: 9780316734912

In his earlier books, The Moral Animal and NonZero, Richard Wright insisted that humans are maturing morally, and his new book continues that argument. Human beings are expanding "the circle of brotherhood," neighborliness, and care for others, he claims. They're learning to play "non zero sum games." Taken from game theory, that's a fancy way of saying that when human beings on opposite sides of a question see themselves as beneficiaries of an arrangement, everybody wins.

In The Evolution of God, Wright argues that, despite all the evidence of the violence done in the name of religion and the direct exhortation to kill those who stand in the way of God as defined in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, our concept of God actually is becoming more compassionate and inclusive.

The ancient gods were typically feuding nature spirits, and it was the job of humans to placate them with prayers and sacrifices. Tribal leaders from Polynesia to aboriginal America allied themselves with their gods and "drenched themselves in authority that emanated from Ôthe divine.'" A chieftain's word became an expression of a something transcendent, superhuman. In the wars between tribes, the gods chose sides (or perhaps more accurately, their followers chose for them).

As tribes and federations began to centralize, so did religion, as…

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