Untrivializing God


Pentecostal minister and "creatheist" Michael Dowd

Finding common ground for the world's religious fundamentalists may be the most important step the human race can take in the 21st century. Without it, it may be impossible to move toward a combined global effort to end terrorism and address global ecology.

It is in that spirit that Michael Dowd, a progressive Pentecostal Evangelical minister, defines his mission in the world. His book, "Thank God for Evolution" (Viking, 2007, $24.95), reframes both evolutionary theory and religious fundamentalism in a way that elevates both and diminishes neither. He and his wife, noted science writer Connie Barlow, travel around the country talking about why evolution is not a threat to fundamentalism, and can actually make God a more powerful, more spiritual presence in the lives of all religious people.

Are you trying to convert fundamentalists?

What I'm trying to do is offer people the same road map that I experienced. I used to be a total fundamentalist and anti-evolutionary—evolution is of the devil, all the evils of the world can be attributed to Darwinism—I used to believe all that. Now I'm evangelizing evolution; I'm sharing it with the most enthusiasm and excitement I know how because I believe that an evolutionary world view is the only thing that will keep us from having a trivial notion of God, an inconsequential notion of the divine. It's also the only thing that will help us unite as a species across ethnic and religious differences, in service of co-creating a healthy world together. … Only an evolutionary world view can help us understand how all God concepts—or all concepts of ultimate reality—all answer the question, "How did we get here?"

How do you get from "everything that isn't specifically literal in the Bible is 'of the devil'" to what you're talking about? How do you bridge that gap?

It happens in different ways. For myself, I came to see that I got a bigger, more real understanding of God and that my tradition, the core concept of my tradition, moved from being mythic to being real.

Like, for example, original sin. I don't "believe" in original sin; I don't "believe" in the fall of Adam and Eve. I "know" that I have an unchosen nature—so do all human beings—I have inherited proclivities. I have instincts. For example, we all have cravings for sugar, salt and fat, because for 99 percent of human history, it wasn't easy to find sugar, salt and fat. Having cravings for these things allowed our ancestors to survive long enough to reproduce. Today, it's very easy to find sugar, salt and fat. So the craving for sugar, salt and fat doesn't make sense in the world we have to live in; it made sense in a world in which our instincts developed.

Experts say that the rise of fundamentalism came as a rejection of modernity and reason. Can you talk about that?

When you think the universe is like a complex clock and God's the clock-maker outside the universe—that's a trivial God. That's a God that must be believed in or not. That's the kind of God that begs for a book written by Richard Dawkins, "The God Delusion," because that vision of God, if you interpret it literally, is a delusion. It's an illusion; it's a fiction.

God has become so trivial a concept in the West that God—supposedly the creator of the universe—is less real than the universe. Nobody would debate the reality of the universe. And yet it's completely legitimate to debate the reality of God. "Does God exist?" is a totally legitimate question in this culture. … What Darwin did—and not just Darwin, but the whole evolutionary world view—is that it allows us to see that today when people look out and say "universe," what they mean is "everything; everyone and everything."

But what so many fundamentalists are saying is that God put evidence of evolution out there to tempt our faith.

If what you mean by the Gospel, the saving good news, God's great news, is that a select group of people get to avoid the fires of hell when they die, so that the Gospel's reduced to fire insurance, that's a pretty trivial notion of the Gospel—that all the benefits of the Gospel are when I die.

In an evolutionary world-view, the epic of evolution interpreted in a sacred, meaningful way—in a God-glorifying, Christ-edifying, scripture-honoring way—when we interpret the history of the universe through those kinds of lenses, our tradition becomes more realized, more real; undeniably real. Sin, salvation, the kingdom of God, heaven and hell—these become real concepts, not just mythic, otherworldly concepts.

Any supposed faith in God that doesn't include trusting that whatever happens on the other side of death is just fine, is no faith at all. Fear of a hellish, terrifying after-death scenario, or hope of a blissful, heavenly after-death scenario are just that: fear or hope, not faith, not trust. By being in integrity, which is what I think being in Christ means, I experience the heavenly joy that surpasses all understanding now, on this side of death.

What does it mean for the human species to be in integrity, to be aligned with the way life really works, to be in ecological integrity? To be in ecological integrity is to be in Christ, or to be in God. If we think that one can believe certain things about the past, certain miracles about the past, and that's the ticket, that's what gets us into heaven, we've got a trivial notion of heaven, a trivial notion of the Gospel, the good news, definitely a trivial notion of God. That's what I say a sacred, evolutionary perspective REALizes religion. It sanctifies sciences; in other words, science is a sacred endeavor, and it reveals the true magnitude of science and religion.

Endorsed by five Nobel Prize-winning scientists and a host of religious scholars, the first 50 pages of "Thank God for Evolution" is available as a free download from http://www.thankgodforevolution.com.


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