Any religion whose prerequisites for individual salvation don’t conduce to the salvation of the whole world is a religion whose time has passed.
I am getting towards the end of Robert Wright’s fascinating book – I’ve been fitting the reading of it into the narrow gaps between other major commitments recently. I’ve just got to the point where he discusses how the expansion of the moral imagination (page 428) can ‘bring us closer to moral truth.’
His line of argument will not appeal to everyone: it’s probably too materialistic for many religious people and too sympathetic to religion for many materialists. He states:
The moral imagination was ‘designed’ by natural selection . . . . . to help us cement fruitfully peaceful relations when they’re available.
He is aware that this sounds like a glorified pursuit of self-interest. He argues, though, that it leads beyond that.
The expansion of the moral imagination forces us to see the interior of more and more other people for what the interior of other people is – namely remarkably like our own interior.
He rescues this from cliché by pointing out that the idea of common humanity may be a self-evident point when we read or hear it, but it’s far from obvious if you look at the way we act. This is because we are under the illusion that we are special.
We all base our daily lives on this premise – that our welfare is more important than the welfare of pretty much anyone else, with the possible exception of close kin. . . . We see our own resentments as bona fide grievances and we see the grievances of others as mere resentments.
He links the progress of humanity with the application of the unifying insight in daily life.
. . . . the salvation of the global social system entails moral progress not just in the sense of human welfare; there has to be as a prerequisite for that growth, a closer encounter by individual human beings with moral truth.
He feels that it is inevitable that we will either move closer to moral truth or descend into chaos.He feels that
. . . history has driven us closer and closer to moral truth, and now our moving still closer to moral truth is the only path to salvation . . .
by which he means salvation of the social structure. He feels (page 430) that religions that have ‘failed to align individual salvation with social salvation have not, in the end, fared well.’
As I have quoted in an earlier post, Wright argues (page 435) that as social organisation grows God tends to draw ‘a larger expanse of humanity under his protection, or at least a larger expanse of humanity under his toleration.’
I find this tremendously encouraging after the evangelical atheists have, for what seems an age, been partially successful in their attempt to sound like the only scientific take on God. Wright’s view and Reitan’s complement each other beautifully. Eric Reitan contends in Is God a Delusion? that, while you cannot prove the existence of God by rational argument, it is entirely reasonable to believe that there is a God: Wright appears to agree and he speaks from the point of view of evolution, the world-view that Dawkins has sought to colonise and exploit as providing an absolute refutation of God’s existence for all time.
As Wright’s words quoted at the start of this post explain, the challenge now is for all religions everywhere to recognise that the time for making special and divisive claims about their God is well and truly over. The core of the moral vision of all faiths, though often encrusted with contradictory and partisan traditions, is that all human beings are members of the same family – the human family. Any religion that does not express its recognition of this courageously and persistently is doomed and may doom everyone else along with it.
. . . that interfaith discourse, if it is to contribute meaningfully to healing the ills that afflict a desperate humanity, must now address honestly and without further evasion the implications of the over-arching truth that called the movement into being: that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one.
And they close with the following appeal:
The crisis calls on religious leadership for a break with the past as decisive as those that opened the way for society to address equally corrosive prejudices of race, gender and nation. Whatever justification exists for exercising influence in matters of conscience lies in serving the well-being of humankind.
Wright and religion are definitely not a million miles apart. Bahá’ís believe that our moral imagination can and must expand to embrace the whole of humanity within its compass of compassion.