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Introduction and First Thoughts 
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Post Introduction and First Thoughts
My copy of TEOG came this week. My you all are eager, the discussion wasn't to start until September and the posts are ticking away.

Robert Wright is one of those authors whose prose is like a good cup of coffee. It has some body to it but it is easy to consume and pleasing. As a participant in a BT discussion, I suppose some objectivity is in order, or at least some latitude given to the author and I will do my best to do so but I also do not intend to pull any punches.

I wonder if Mr. Wright has an agenda of his own given the anecdote he chooses to start the book with.

I do agree with him with respect to the concluding paragraphs of the Introduction. Wright posits the eventual emergence of a worldwide religion. We touched on this in another discussion, The Inevitable. It is widely expected that near the end of time there will be a falling away from Christianity in favor of a world religion.

A rather odd thing I is that given the title of the book I expected Wright to open with his identification of who or what God or at least our current concept of God is. He doesn't seem to get around to that until page 539 in the Afterword, where he writes: By the way, what is God. That seem bass ackward if you know what I mean.


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Fri Sep 03, 2010 2:23 pm
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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
stahrwe wrote:
My copy of TEOG came this week. My you all are eager, the discussion wasn't to start until September and the posts are ticking away.

Robert Wright is one of those authors whose prose is like a good cup of coffee. It has some body to it but it is easy to consume and pleasing. As a participant in a BT discussion, I suppose some objectivity is in order, or at least some latitude given to the author and I will do my best to do so but I also do not intend to pull any punches.

I wonder if Mr. Wright has an agenda of his own given the anecdote he chooses to start the book with.

I do agree with him with respect to the concluding paragraphs of the Introduction. Wright posits the eventual emergence of a worldwide religion. We touched on this in another discussion, The Inevitable. It is widely expected that near the end of time there will be a falling away from Christianity in favor of a world religion.

A rather odd thing I is that given the title of the book I expected Wright to open with his identification of who or what God or at least our current concept of God is. He doesn't seem to get around to that until page 539 in the Afterword, where he writes: By the way, what is God. That seem bass ackward if you know what I mean.

We're all hunkering down, girding the loins, or whatever, for the stahwre express. Seriously, welcome to the discussion of the book. This will give us some street cred for diversity. I agree about his writing style. Sometimes he takes informality to an extreme, but he certainly never tries to "put on the dog" or conceal unclarity of thought behind a screen of verbiage. I didn't react as you did to his opening (not surprising, I guess). I found it disarming and not at all intended to imply that he's come a long way since the days when he believed everything he heard in church. In whatever direction it happens, whether believing to non-believing or the opposite way, often the writer's insinuation is that since he or she is now at X, the former position has to be all wrong. It just doesn't work that way, and I don't think that Wright sends a message emphasizing any current enlightenment of his own. It's likely, in fact, that his past makes him much less doctrinaire concerning religion than the popular atheist writers of our time. Is he an atheist? He doesn't self-identify as such, which is always good enough for me.

You are up to some, well, I want to say devilish, ways in your last paragraph. If we can expect more of this, it promises to spice up the discussion. I would hope we can all copy this example of restraint.


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Last edited by DWill on Fri Sep 03, 2010 7:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
stahrwe wrote:
A rather odd thing I is that given the title of the book I expected Wright to open with his identification of who or what God or at least our current concept of God is. He doesn't seem to get around to that until page 539 in the Afterword, where he writes: By the way, what is God. That seem bass ackward if you know what I mean.


The title of the book is “The Evolution of God”, this title suggests that the concept of God is ever changing. With the ever changing concept, or identity, or meaning of God, it would be difficult if not impossible for Wright to capture a finite identification of what God means today. An ever changing world, consisting of constant and evolving needs and feelings would produce an ever changing view of God.

What you may feel is awkward is the notion that God has evolved at all over time. People will change over time, and the perception of God will change as well, this does not feel awkward, it feels natural.



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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
DWill wrote:
You are up to some, well, I want to say devilish, ways in your last paragraph. If we can expect more of this, it promises to spice up the discussion. I would hope we can all copy this example of restraint.

Sorry for quoting myself, but I did it in order to point out my mistake. I should have said "in your next-to-last paragraph."


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Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Sat Sep 04, 2010 5:34 am
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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
First, a correction. In my initial post I said that God isn't defined until page 539. That is actually a footnote I intended to comment on. God actually is defined on page 444 in the Afterword which I revise my initial comment to note.

As to Wright's style, it is easy reading but now that I am at page 61, I am getting a bit frustrated. The book is supposed to be about the Evolution of God and I appreciate Wright is trying to make a point but do we need to hear about every animist god. The farting story was cute and a few page summary of similarities of primitive religions would be fine, but page after page of it is becoming tedious. I am pretty sure I know where he is going with all this, and it doesn't need to be a surprise. State your objective [I intend to show that Christianity evolved from primitive animistic religions] and then present you case. I don't especially care that some polynesians eat eyeballs.

One of the 'theories' of Biblical interpretation is called Dispensationalism. It posits that God had dealt with people in different ways (dispensations) throughout history. This theory could be rephrased, a bit inaccurately, as Judaism/Christianity evolving over time.

I don't intend to point out every doctrinal error Wright commits but I don't promise not to mention them either.


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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
One of the critiques I have heard of this book is that he only glosses over the early or primitive religions.



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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
stahrwe wrote:
First, a correction. In my initial post I said that God isn't defined until page 539. That is actually a footnote I intended to comment on. God actually is defined on page 444 in the Afterword which I revise my initial comment to note.

But you still apparently find it strange that he doesn't tell us what God is now, right off the bat? Maybe now that you're into the book a bit you see what his method is and why he wouldn't be concerned with defining God.
Quote:
As to Wright's style, it is easy reading but now that I am at page 61, I am getting a bit frustrated. The book is supposed to be about the Evolution of God and I appreciate Wright is trying to make a point but do we need to hear about every animist god. The farting story was cute and a few page summary of similarities of primitive religions would be fine, but page after page of it is becoming tedious. I am pretty sure I know where he is going with all this, and it doesn't need to be a surprise. State your objective [I intend to show that Christianity evolved from primitive animistic religions] and then present you case. I don't especially care that some polynesians eat eyeballs.

This is interesting in view of Chris's following note on the criticism of the book for glossing over primitive religion. I see all that detail as being necessary for his argument, although I'm sure he didn't mind that it lent his chapters considerable color as well. I'm frustrated, too. I can't find the place where Wright says that he doesn't claim any direct line from the Chukchee or Polynesians to the Jews or Christians, that their religions didn't grow out of those religions (even though they did grow out of the religions of people neighboring the Jews). His claim is that human being shares common traits and so in general we can use the religions of more primitive people to assess the religious beginnings of humanity. You have to buy into this essential continuity of human being to be willing to follow Wright.....

Quote:
One of the 'theories' of Biblical interpretation is called Dispensationalism. It posits that God had dealt with people in different ways (dispensations) throughout history. This theory could be rephrased, a bit inaccurately, as Judaism/Christianity evolving over time.

I don't intend to point out every doctrinal error Wright commits but I don't promise not to mention them either.

....but you appear to believe in a discontinuity instead. I'm sure he will commit many, many doctrinal errors. What is the significance of that?


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Last edited by DWill on Mon Sep 06, 2010 6:21 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
I am not very far in the book yet, but I already agree with the criticism of the book brought up several times now that Wright’s ideas about the evolution of god do not adequately consider the non and pre Judeo Christian gods and I would add the goddess. If he had taken a closer look at the archeological evidence and what is known about early religions around the globe he may have come to different conclusions.

One of the earliest artifact that we have and that may well be religious is the Venus of Wilendorf created 24-22,000BC. There have been others of the same type of figurine found that date as far back as 500,000 to 300,000 years ago. To put the age of these earliest known representations of a human being into chronologicall perspective, the cave paintings of Lascaux date from 15-10,000BC and agriculture begins to happens about 10,000BC. These figurines conform to the generic type of artifacts found in the Middle East that are associated with goddess deities. This is not to say there is a direct lineage between the two. I do not believe we will ever know for sure what these early images were meant to signify or how they were used. All we know is that they are similar to those created in the Middle East 10,000 years later. The figurines of this type found during the Neolithic period are generally interpreted as goddess figures. It is widely accepted that Goddess worship was prevalent if not a dominant feature in early forms of religion. The Ġgantija temples in Gozo were constructed during the Neolithic Age (c. 3600-2500 BC), which makes these temples more than 5500 years old and some of the world's oldest manmade religious structures. Ġgantija is referred to as the Giant Lady in Maltese. According to local Gozitan folklore, a giantess built these temples and used them as places of worship. It is believed that a huge sculpture of the Mother Goddess statue was at this temple in Xaghra. A large 4 meters high statue of the Mother Goddess (Ggantija) with a lion-shaped head still survives today in Qala in Gozo. During the Neolithic period there is an explosion of types of these figures. They show up in all the archeological sites from this period. If anyone is interested a good discussion of the archeological evidence that supports the prevalence of goddess worship try the writings of Riane Eisler, especially her book The Chalice & The Blade. Another book I expect would make for good reading is Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman, although I can’t be sure – I just came across the title while researching for this post.

All this said, what am I getting at? These Venus figurines or goddess figures are considered to be symbols of fertility and plenty. Many of the figures are round and voluptuous with attention to the details of the vulva. If the history of god begins with the goddess and she is large, voluptuous, sexual and often pregnant I think Wright may have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

I will now try to catch up on my reading and the lot of you in the discussion.


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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
Absolutely, Saffron! I was extremely fortunate in being able to attend 2 courses on pre-historic ritual (notice a trend here?--I love the subject area) and have been to Stonehenge and to Malta to look at the archaeological evidence. The sites are simply overwhelming! But the reason I mention them is that, although most everyone the world over is familiar with Stonehenge and the site is literally run over with tourists, the sites on Malta are relatively unknown, even for Europeans, and finding literature on Malta's sites is a quest of its own. The sites on Malta are almost free from tourists and I like to imagine, just as impressive as they were upon construction.Stonehenge, here again, obviously has better PR. But the questions (and awe) raised when actually visiting these sites on Malta are answered by the authorities there with questions, with "I don't know" and with "could be".
What I'm getting at is that this area seems to only now be getting into swing, following a short trend in the 70s.
I'm certainly not trying to defend Wright, but these hugely interesting and impressive sites are simply too important to just skid across. Perhaps he would had had to have done too much personal research in order to make a proper mention?


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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
It seems what Saffron is implying is that Wright may not be starting "in the beginning" after all. Did the very earliest religion have a different character than what Wright presents as religion at its origin, or was there at least more diversity in the picture? It wouldn't matter to his argument, of course, whether fertility worship was prominent in areas other than those that he is able to survey, unless it affected the perceived relationship of the human to the divine. We'd have to know the difference god-gender makes when it comes to early morality. I'd like to know more about this because I sense I'm missing something.

Wright can only give us information from first-hand accounts of Europeans who contacted indigenous peoples in the new world. He assumes that h-g societies would have the same social and religious structure at this time as they always had. There isn't a way to know one way or the other.


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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
I am almost finished with Part I and so far my impression is that it has been a waste of time. Most of what has been covered could have been covered in a 10 page chapter. I agree with the comments by Saffron and Oblivion. I would find a discussion of Stonehenge and the origins of the monolithic religions and goddess worhip origins preferable to the interminable recitation of polynesian animism.

It also seems like Wright is just spinning a yarn, well preparing to spin one at least since it still seems like reading an introduction.

And why all the mentions of Marx? Is Wright a closet Marxist?


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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
stahrwe wrote:

And why all the mentions of Marx? Is Wright a closet Marxist?

I'm not there in the book yet, but I suppect a little idea called Materialism.


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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
stahrwe wrote:
I am almost finished with Part I and so far my impression is that it has been a waste of time. Most of what has been covered could have been covered in a 10 page chapter. I agree with the comments by Saffron and Oblivion. I would find a discussion of Stonehenge and the origins of the monolithic religions and goddess worhip origins preferable to the interminable recitation of polynesian animism.

It also seems like Wright is just spinning a yarn, well preparing to spin one at least since it still seems like reading an introduction.

And why all the mentions of Marx? Is Wright a closet Marxist?

Robert mentioned Marx in the Chapter 2 thread, and I responded with what I thought was clarification. Each reference I've seen in Part 1 is actually to "Marxist," the quotation marks meaning that the cynical view of religion is attributed to a statement of Marx, but is a misinterpretation. So there aren't in fact any real references to Marx.

The points of these early chapters seem clear enough to me: 1.) In h-g religion, the gods did not reward and punish people for their actions towards the fellow humans. Morality was not of divine concern, and people took care themselves
of the rewarding and punishing. The gods had to be worked only in order for people to avoid calamity. 2.) In the next level of organization, the chiefdom, rewarding and (especially) punishing moved up to the heavens as a more efficient and socially acceptable way of providing needed social controls.

There is more than this. At the end of Chapter 3, for example (p. 66), Wright introduces what is perhaps the key mechanism in the evolution of god: that as peoples' earthly circumstances change, so do their concepts of god.


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Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Last edited by DWill on Mon Sep 06, 2010 8:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
DWill wrote:
It seems what Saffron is implying is that Wright may not be starting "in the beginning" after all. Did the very earliest religion have a different character than what Wright presents as religion at its origin, or was there at least more diversity in the picture? It wouldn't matter to his argument, of course, whether fertility worship was prominent in areas other than those that he is able to survey, unless it affected the perceived relationship of the human to the divine. We'd have to know the difference god-gender makes when it comes to early morality. I'd like to know more about this because I sense I'm missing something.

Wright can only give us information from first-hand accounts of Europeans who contacted indigenous peoples in the new world. He assumes that h-g societies would have the same social and religious structure at this time as they always had. There isn't a way to know one way or the other.


I've got fireworks in my brain! One reason I am getting behind with Wright is I've picked up Riane Eisler's The Chalice & The Blade as a refence for the posts I've made about the goddess and now am reading it as a companion to The Evolution of God. I am trying to work out an answer to your implied question of whether the goddess piece is important in relation to Wright's book. I promise to drop it right away if I can't make an adequate case for myself soon. Hang with me just a bit longer.


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Post Re: Introduction and First Thoughts
DWill wrote:

There is more than this. At the end of Chapter 3, for example (p. 66), Wright introduces what is perhaps the key mechanism is the evolution of god: that as peoples' earthly circumstances change, so do their concepts of god.


Yes! And I think he is right (oh, what an opportunity to make bad jokes). This is in fact one of the key ideas in Riane Eisler's book too. She is trying to make the case that Western patriarchal colored eyes looked upon the oldest human artifacts and archaeological remains and interpreted based on the current conditions on the ground, rather than looking at the artifacts and asking what these artifacts might imply about life during the Neolithic period. I have not read all of Eisler's book, but I think she would say that artifacts and specifically the images a culture chooses to create correlate to some aspect of the conditions of everyday life.

Edit in: I just re-read my post and boy, am I off topic. Sorry.


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Mon Sep 06, 2010 8:42 pm
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