Thursday, December 10, 2009

Recommended Book Mash-up: Evolution of God and Fingerprints of God

I happened to end up reading these two books at around the same time by chance, but if you are looking for something to read during the holiday break, or you are looking for a gift for a reader I highly recommend this combination.

The two books are:


It's an interesting combination to read together - Wright focuses on high concepts like politics, economics, and power and their influence on religion, whereas Hagerty focuses on the personal spiritual experience and the real impact of spirituality on individual lives. I won't go into it too deeply as I haven't written a book report since the 10th grade and don't intend on writing one now. Suffice to say, they are both good and interesting books and if you happen to read both and want to discuss them further drop me a line.

(Argh - ok, for those that really need more info before they can commit to reading a book here are two short summaries:)

Robert Wright covers the history of God to show how the idea of "God", gods, and god have historically evolved based on the political and economic realities of the communities. The basic premise of the book is that in order for a religion to thrive it needs to attract an audience. In order to attract an audience and grow, successful religions have to address some fundamental needs - either of the people who worship (in a more open society) or of the people in power (in a more closed society). Wright further argues that accepting the fact that human needs influence religion does not mean that "God" does not exist. In an interesting flip, he actually argues that the gradual historic progression of humans towards more understanding and compassion might be more proof of a divine influence rather than less. From that perspective, the evolution of God over time from multiple morally ambivalent deities to a single morally-just deity today may reflect God's plan for the moral evolution of mankind.

While "Evolution of God" focuses on large things like religion, politics, government, and power, "Fingerprints of God" focuses on the personal spiritual experience and the science around those experiences. In the book, Hagerty seeks to document the stories and experiences of those that have had deep spiritual experiences and delves into some of the new scientific studies that are being conducted around spirituality. The interesting takeaway for me was that there is a real, tangible scientific difference between people that have deep spiritual lives and people that do not (It didn't matter what religion they were, brain scans of Christian nuns and Buddhist monks came out remarkably similar in prayer and in meditation). However, even though there are areas in our brain that seem attuned to spirituality it isn't really clear yet whether those areas of the brain are acting more like radio antenna (and picking up signals from a divine source) or they are triggering the sensations themselves.

All in all - good stuff. BTW - the other reason why its good to read them at the same time is that its nice to have a break from the history of Egyptian deities at some point and read a personal story of someone's encounter with something (possibly) divine.