Is believing in God evolutionary advantageous? NPR asks bravely asked this question yesterday when speaking to Professor Dominic Johnson of the University of Edinburgh. It’s the assertion of this professor that gives me pause. He claims that our individual belief in God does indeed advantageous. Ok. I like that. I like to think that I have an advantage somewhere, somehow. When met with atheists and agnostics, I usually trip over my words in futile attempts to explain why I believe in God. I’m not sure that evolution is the best reason — but I’ll take what I can get. However, the reason that belief in God is advantageous complicates this affirmation. Professor Johnson asserts that this advantage is framed by punishment.
I’m not questioning Professor Johnson’s research or his conclusions. He makes a good argument. It is thoughtful and insightful. However, my faith in God has never been rooted in punishment.
Old Baseball Scoreboard Sign-Naalehu, Hawaii
was taken by R.J. Malfalfa.
As a little girl, whose mother had just died, I had to overcome this idea of punishment. I could not believe in a God that would take my mother’s life. That is not justice. That is not love — no matter how many times I have heard that to love someone is to let them go. For me, this isn’t theology. This is trying to explain the horrible reality that the world doesn’t make sense. Instead of admitting to loss and heartache, it blames God — but that’s not what I needed as a little girl. I didn’t need another thing to blame. I needed to have my hand held. I need to be embraced. I needed comfort. It may not be evolutionary advantageous, but my God is not a God of punishment. My God is God who comforts me when no one else will.
I still get to that place that Professor Johnson articulates. I do indeed alter my behavior out of “concerns for [the] supernatural” — but it’s not because I’m afraid that God is going to smite me. I’m not motivated by terror. This came up in Beach Chair Theology this summer. As we read the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, there were a number of people that felt judged. These theologians by the sea felt that Jesus was making radical exclamations about who will be blessed and who won’t. I guess I can’t blame them. In reading this lesson on judgment or this confusion between two masters, it’s hard not to feel inadequate. It begs the question of whether or not this lesson refers to you. It feels like Jesus is speaking directly to you. After all, he knows all. He knows what you’ve done. He knows what you haven’t done. He know it all.
That’s never really worked for me. I understand the tension. I understand the self examination — but I don’t think that Jesus is keeping score. I don’t think that God is keeping score. I believe that God wants us to be our best. God wants us to seek the best for ourselves and others — but I don’t think that God is keeping a tally of where we failed.
Perhaps that means I will never evolve.
I remember this especially as I read the text I’ll preach from this Sunday. God wants more than our praise. God wants us to care for each other. God wants us to seek justice. God hopes for a better world with us. We might trip over the language we use to talk about this radical shift — as certainly Amos and Jesus use some startling language. And yet, I think that’s exactly the kind of change we want. We want it to be so drastically different from what we know now. Like God, we want more. We want more comfort, more peace and even more love. We want our whole world to evolve.