“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King Jr. preached at Washington National Cathedral in March 1968. Robert Wright agrees, sort of, writing in the April Atlantic that “whether or not history has a purpose, its moral direction is hard to deny.” Wright’s essay is an 8,000-word argument that the three great monotheistic faiths may help create a more beneficent world through globalization.
The lengthy deck headline for Wright’s essay puts the question well: “Is globalization, in fact, God’s will?” That teaser, however, offers more than this excerpt from The Evolution of God (due in early June) delivers. Instead, Wright spends what feels like too much space on nitpicking historical criticism of the gospels, making much fuss about how the Gospel of Mark differs so much from Matthew, Luke and John:
The Jesus in Mark, far from calmly forgiving his killers, seems surprised by the Crucifixion and hardly sanguine about it (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). In Mark, there is no Sermon on the Mount, and so no Beatitudes, and there is no good Samaritan; Jesus’ most salient comment on ethnic relations is to compare a woman to a dog because she isn’t from Israel.
At least Wright abstains from other writers’ preening accusation that Jesus was a bigot.
Wright also spends considerable space developing a theory that Saint Paul was an entrepreneur, such that even his encouraging the early Christians to show hospitality had an underlying purpose of spreading “the Jesus brand”:
Paul’s letters to Christian congregations often include requests that they extend hospitality to traveling church leaders. Such privileges, as the scholar E.A. Judge put it, were increasingly “extended to the whole household of faith, who [were] accepted on trust, though complete strangers.” This extension was a revolution of sorts, since “security and hospitality when traveling had traditionally been the privilege of the powerful.” The Roman Empire had made distant travel easier than at any time in history, and Christianity exploited this fact. The young church was, among other things, the Holiday Inn of its day.
This is all written in a brisk and entertaining style, and The Evolution of God will be important reading in June. For now, though, this essay gives short shrift to both Islam and Judaism, and too often it treats early Christianity like a business venture.
I have included the TED video with this post because it depicts Wright’s dry humor. On a related note, he explores religion themes regularly at meaningoflife.tv.