Recently, I wrote a post featuring Andrew Sullivan’s conversation with the author of “The Evolution of God,” Bob Wright. Now, Steve Paulson has interviewed Wright for Salon.com in an article entitled: God, He’s moody.
Here’s an excerpt:
At the very beginning of your book, you describe yourself as a materialist. This raises an interesting question: Can a materialist really explain the history of religion?
I tend to explain things in terms of material causes. So when I see God changing moods, as he does a lot in the Bible and the Quran, I ask, what was going on politically or economically that might explain why the people who wrote this scripture were inclined to depict God as being in a bad mood or a good mood? Sometimes God is advocating horrific things, like annihilating nearby peoples, or sometimes he’s very compassionate and loving. So I wanted to figure out why the mood fluctuates. I do think the answers lie in the facts on the ground. And that’s what I mean by being a materialist.
What do you mean by the facts on the ground?
My basic premise is that when a religious group sees itself as having something to gain through peaceful interaction with another group of people, including a different religion, it will find a basis for tolerance in its scriptures and religion. When groups see each other as being in a non-zero sum relationship — there’s a possibility of a win-win outcome if they play their cards right, or a lose-lose outcome if they don’t — then they tend to warm up to one another. By contrast, if people see themselves in a zero-sum relationship with another group of people — they can only win if the other group loses — that brings out the intolerance and the dark side of religion. You see that in the world today. A lot of Palestinians and Israelis think they’re playing a win-lose game. They think their interests are opposed and inversely correlated. In the long run, I think they’re wrong. They’re either both going to win or both going to lose.