The legitimacy of the recently published book, Abdication: God Steps Down for Good rests entirely upon acceptance of two premises. The first asserts that our age is one of immediate planetary crisis due to pollution and climate change, and the threat of nuclear war in the not distant future. The Doomsday Clock is used to measure the immediacy of nuclear peril. “Not distant” is defined arbitrarily as within the next two hundred years, a pittance of time when viewed against the perspective of the origin of earth 4600 million years ago. The concern would be just as legitimate if the standard were 300 or 500 years. The issue is survival of our species and life on the planet.
The second premise is that religion, God, and the three monotheisms of Abraham are deeply complicit in war-making activity and participants in the quiet drumbeat toward nuclear war. Their mortifying view of the fall of man, their certainty of revealed truth, their availability of redemption and escape routes to heaven, their deep ruthless schisms, and their apocalyptic vision of the end of days provide the impetus. The image of terrorist with nuclear weapon in hand is the poster child of religious failure and global peril in our times.
Reject these two premises, and the book loses meaning and credibility. Accept the premises and the central question focused on in the book follows:
Have the three monotheisms stemming from Abraham—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—reached a dead end from which no more generous universal view of humanity can be expected? Will believers in the shared lineage be forever inclined to choose one of the three monotheisms and, within the one chosen, select a sectarian variation as their lens for viewing human nature and its prospects? Have the multiple, divergent storylines of the three religions descended into a morass from which it is necessary that humanity escape in order to rewrite its story from a more promising vantage point, one friendlier to the abilities and potentials of the species? Is that time now? Can humanity ameliorate its deteriorating condition under its existing notions of God? (p. 12)
Neither the book’s central question nor the two underlying premises on which it rests have appeared to date in reader comments and reviews. That is why I am bringing them to the attention of past and future readers at this time. I will be discussing other important, neglected ideas in subsequent blog essays. Hopefully this will deepen reader understanding of the text.
I hope readers will realize that I am not attacking religion unconditionally by raising the question of the possible exhaustion of the Abrahamic monotheisms. My focus is imminent peril to life on earth, and relief from religion’s part in and contribution to that peril.
I know that religions do abundant good for the great majority of their members and for the larger community, society, and world of which they are part. I know too that all three religions have produced and continue to produce magnificent, fine citizens, beacons and exemplars to all humanity, and that religious beliefs are instrumental to this result. I also know that daughters and sons of these great religions have been and are among the most committed and successful ambassadors of peace, and that religious beliefs directly explain their commitment to and passion for this cause. Is it not ironic that religions so often both value peace and cause war?
But all of this good, even when in excess of the bad, may not be good enough to save our species and retain a planet hospitable to life. It is within this larger context that I suggest that humanity must do better still, and reinvent itself.
The more general problem of religion, including of the three monotheisms, are—to repeat and reemphasize—their derogatory assumptions of the nature of man; their division of humans into good (saved) and evil (damned); their supernatural vision of hellish and paradisiacal afterlife; their apocalyptic vision of the end of time; their inflexible certainty of belief; and their insistence that God is on their particular side in conflict and war. Otherwise, I consider religion both good and necessary, and I do not ask believers to forsake their particular faiths, but only practice that faith peacefully. Religion is one of the institutions I attempt in the third section of the book to reimagine and reinvent. More on that in a future blog entry.
To summarize, the book assumes that the economic, technological, and social gains that have brought us to this resplendent yet sobering moment in global civilization, a moment to which the great world religions have made great and indispensable contributions, have nevertheless conflated into an unforeseen and unwanted crisis that cannot be overcome by religious values, beliefs and actions alone. Our species will have to do better. We have to reinvent ourselves.
This explanation is fundamental to understanding the book, even if the reader is unable to concur with its premises. Surprisingly, more than a few readers who reject the premises report significant learning from the book. Apparently, the book is valuable to some people who disagree with me. That is surely a happy circumstance for any author.
Will Callender, Jr. ©
May 14, 2015
Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good