Monday, May 30, 2016

Lord Sauron Wins the Nobel Peace Prize!

Sauron was awarded, in part,
for his breakthrough in low-carbon
lighting, as exhibited here.
The Nobel Prize Committee yesterday unanimously awarded Sauron the Great the Nobel Prize for Peace, citing his numerous contributions to combatting global warming, along with his efforts to bridge the gap between the Dark Tower and the Orthanc.

"This is the first time a Nobel Prize has been awarded to an individual from the mortality-challenged community," noted Svein Eriksen, spokesman for the committee.  "We regard this as an historical gesture, which we hope will help integrate the so-called 'undead' and the still living, overcoming centuries of unwarranted bias against zombies, werewolves, vampires and the like."

In a spectacular display of technical and engineering inventiveness, sponsored in part by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Sauron lowered temperatures more than 7 degrees C across Gondor, the Rohan, and surrounding regions, some 35,000 square miles in all, over several days.  Some critics contend that this achievement was more than matched during the Medieval Great Darkness (MGD), but after the recent rampage by ent terrorists, no one was able to take any tree samples for comparative purposes.

Inside sources suggest that the White Witch
may have been passed over again
due to accusations of exploiting
polar bears.
"It is pure sexism that denied me the award," complained the White Witch. "It was always winter and never Christmas in Narnia."  However, supporters of the Nobel committee noted that Global Climate change, not necessarily warming, is the problem, suggesting that winter in Narnia may have paradoxically been set off by ice melting in Greenland, which reversed ocean currents in the Mid-Atlantic.

A Dark Rider, exhibiting the manuevering skills of
his low-carbon footprint mount. (With darkened clothing
to enhance solar heating.)    
Sauron was also lauded, off the record, for eco-friendly experiments in rapid transit.  "Nazgul have an extremely low carbon footprint," one official noted, without offering his name.  "Political pressure, however, was brought to bear by lobbyists from the Hobbit Homeland set up by the founder of Shirism, Gandalf the Grey. And as usual, the committee caved."

Furthermore, it was noted in the report that the Eye of Sauron illuminates hundreds of miles without producing much heat, from decaying biomass, presumed to be prisoners.

In response to complaints about Mordor's past military involvements, Eriksen replied with a trace of scorn in his voice.  "Barack Obama?  Henry Kissinger? Yasser Arafat?  Teddy Roosevelt?  People -- or unpeople, let us remain inclusive -- often have a history before they turn over a new leaf.  We welcome such changes of heart -- not to imply that winners must possess a traditional circulatory system to be considered."

Mr. Smeagol Gollum remarked, in a prepared speech, "Well that is just precious."

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The New Atheism Toasts itself, Again

Are they getting worse, or am I growing more cynical?  It seems I had a more favorable perception of atheists before I wrote The Truth Behind the New Atheism.  I had an image of atheists as mostly intelligent and well-read, at least.  But since then, it seems (with some admirable exceptions) that so many atheists have done their darndest to live down to the worst complaints in that book, or take them as a ceiling for logic and civility, then sink below it.

Another "review" of my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, appeared on Amazon three days ago.  It appears that the reader, an ardent atheist who confesses his unwillingness to believe in God no matter what at the outset of his essay (about where the honesty ends), has at least scanned the book.  He knows roughly some of the topics I cover.  But he is relentless in misrepresenting both the book and its author. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gospel According to John Marshall: The Half-Life of Pie

Chapter Three: The Half-Life of Pie

Patricia Campbell first noticed “Jack” in Study Hall at West Seattle High School.  (Which is just two blocks north of West Side Presbyterian Church on California Avenue in West Seattle, also a similar distance from both their houses, a few blocks east.)  John was talking with another student, maybe a girl, about his Christian faith.  "I sort of listened in on the conversation, and was impressed that he would share his faith."  As a new Christian herself, and either a freshman or sophomore, "I was kind of shy, I didn't have the nerve to go up and talk with him."

They began to get to know one another at West Side, where the young people’s group “did everything together,” and where it turned out Jack also had a mischievous streak:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Does Richard Carrier Exist II: Claimant to the Throne

Is this Richard Carrier?
A few years ago, several of us had fun deconstructing the alleged existence of a world-renowned philosopher, historian, and all-around polymath named Richard Carrier.  While the original conversation actually took place somewhere between Heaven and Earth, as reported most accurately elsewhere right here on this site, it was also reported in a straighter version here. (As you can see from the former post, I am the "David last name removed" mentioned in the latter post, removed I hope not due to embarrassment.)

Or is this / or that Richard Carrier?
This afternoon, I received notification by e-mail that there is a claimant to Richard Carrier's throne.  This is, of course, not surprising, given what thrones tend to be made of and valued at, especially one of such illustrious and legendary character.  We should not, needless to say, treat such claims with simple naivite.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Ten Greek Books (or collections) Worth Reading

What ancient non-canonical or non-Christian books give you the most valuable background to the New Testament, including by making you invulnerable to half the skeptical arguments out there? Here's my Top Ten list:
1. James Robinson's The Nag Hammadi Library. (Almost all the extant Gnostic works -- most of them boring as all get-out, but highly revealing. Read with Plato's Parable of the Cave.)
2. Bart Ehrman's al-Scripture collection, Lost Scriptures: Books That did not make it into the New Testament. (My disagreement begins with the first two words -- not having these books, which are not "Scriptures," in our Bible is no loss, really. But seeing their unsuitability for yourself is part of the value of the collection - and some are interesting in their own right.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Are the Gospels Myth? Contra Kris Komarnitsky

Alexander and his horse
One of the hobbies I am coming to enjoy as I advance in age, is collecting fake “Jesus doubles.”  No, I don’t mean Christian baublehead dolls, or Orthodox icons.  I mean the phony parallels that skeptics so often point to in an increasingly desperate attempt to find someone, anyone, in the ancient world at all like Jesus of Nazareth, to defuse his embarrassing, intractable uniqueness and historical credibility.  

I have featured some Jesus Doubles (JD) on this site in the past.  (And plan to tackle more in my coming book.)  First, foremost, and among the most amusing, is the ever-popular Apollonius of Tyana.  The only thing he really shares in common with Jesus of Nazareth, is the middle name, "of."  But I love the Saturday Night Live style of the dialogue, the crested dragons and the cures for rabies and Jack the Ripper syndrome (drink lots of beer!)  Richard Carrier suggested the Golden Ass in (which really is gold), Matthew Ferguson The Contest of Hesiod and Homer (no contest with Jesus; see Part IV), and then (as if competing at the carnival to see who can come up with the most flamboyant outfit) Bart Ehrman came up with a real whopper, Baal Shem Tov, a Hasidic Polish Jew also known as the Besht, in a story that features a reincarnated, talking 500-year old frog, among other stars.  

These stories make fascinating and amusing reading, and also show just how desperate the skeptical cause has become.  

Recently, though, a reader sent me an article, by an amateur historian named Kris Komarnitsky, that offers a JD that may outdue the lot.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

"Real Men support Donald Trump!"

My first article for The Stream was posted yesterday.  ("The Spiritual Dangers of a Trump Presidency.")  (Later note: 5000 Facebook shares so far!)  Someone calling himself The Bechtloff, showing a picture of a hand with a gun, responded (typically for a Trump supporter) by questioning my masculity:

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Conversation with a Cold Trump Supporter

I remember once, wandering through the streets of Taipei, praying for girls in Snake Alley who were forced to sell their bodies to all comers.  Ahead of me I noticed two Americans carrying big black books.  I went up to them to chat, hoping they were missionaries and they were carrying Bibles.  

"Pretty girls, huh!"

One asked me.  

"Pretty?  Don't you know some of these girls are sold by their own families at age 15?  And they have to have sex with dozens of men a day?"

"Oh, yeah, some even younger," one replied nonchalantly.

And it was brought home to me how flimsy a shared nationality or culture can be: barbarians are to be met with everywhere.

This came to mind just now as I was chatting with a Trump supporter who calls himself "Glacier," appropriately: 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

It's Rush Limbaugh's fault.

So, the greatest and oldest democracy in the world (no offense, India) has now been given a grand choice of leaders to take up the yoke after eight years of Barack Obama. Door Number One, "the lady," a woman who lied and smeared her way to the top, enabling her sexual predator of a husband, raking in millions from America's enemies and bankers for speeches, and cheering whenever Planned Parenthood put another baby part on E-Bay.  Door Number Two: "the tiger," a casino-owning playboy and political Sugar Daddy who promises to get tough with strawberry pickers and the wives and children of our enemies.

A pox on both your houses.  And a pox on Rush Limbaugh.

Yes, I am blaming Rush Limbaugh for this mess.

It's not just that, after decades of telling us how important conservatism is, Limbaugh spent months yacking and yucking it up with the phoniest conservative who ever set sail, one who wouldn't fool a child who thinks his sister in a mask on Halloween really has turned into a witch, or that Pro Wrestling is a genuine competitive sport.  Nor is it just that Limbaugh spent so much of previous elections, by contrast, ruining the good names of genuine, if impure, conservatives like John McCain, who had a long record of opposing abortion and Big Government, and standing up for a strong military. (Not to mention risking his life for America in a navy jet and a Hanoi prison.)

Limbaugh's guilt goes deeper than such obvious double standards.

Limbaugh's fundamental error lies in the theme of his propaganda, the "Us vs. Them" model, that is his basic product, what coffee is to Starkbucks, and mass-produced beef is to McDonalds.  His essential heresy is his whole Conservative Vs. Liberal schtick.

Not that I repudiate conservatism!  I read Edmund Burke as a young man, concluded he was right (especially in view of communism, which proved the value of many of his warnings), and remain convinced.  I still believe government is a necessary evil that should be kept in its place.  I still believe in the "little platoons" Burke wrote about, and that Charles Colson exemplified, which sociologist Robert Woodberry showed led to so much freedom around the world.  I think it wise, when contemplating unborn children, to err on the side of protection.  I recognize the world contains evil forces, which must be challenged and checked to be kept from harming America's interests and friends, and keep a modicum of sanity in the world.

But as Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it, I also recognize that the line between good and evil runs through every heart.

Failure to keep that in mind is Limbaugh's fundamental error.  While recognizing the value and truth of conservative positions, one of those positions is to recognize that "liberals" are not our most fundamental opponents -- our own hearts are.  And Limbaugh's pride, self-righteousness, and self-satisfaction, while affording a Trumpean amusement to his fans, are also serious character flaws, serious misreadings of reality, trash-talking and over-simplifications at which liberals are right to scoff.

"With half my brain tied behind my back." "Talent on loan from G-A-W-D."

Trump in embryonic form on the EIB Network.

Yes, Limbaugh was mocking the pretensions and false pieties of liberalism, which could stand to be mocked.  But egoism is not, in the end, a virtue, nor is blasphemy something that Christians should encourage.  

Also, Limbaugh's world was fundamentally too simple.  He knew that, because away from the mic, he golfed with those people, and met them as friends.  But his schtick could not model reality, and so his daily Us vs. Them diatribes over-simplified conservative perceptions (sometimes I fell for it), and set us up for a fundamental disconnect with reality.

We forgot that "right" and "wrong" are more fundamental, and more complex, than "right" and "left."

But then Classic Coke got old, and Limbaugh adopted a new business model.  From now on, having secured an audience, he sicced it less and less on "liberals," which was old and lacked the tang of adventure, but on "rinos," Republicans In Name Only, or the Republican "Establishment:" John McCain, Mitt Romney at times, John Boehner, perhaps even Marco Rubio, when he strayed.

But such rhetoric was even more unreal, because it was unbiblical.  It smelled more of Karl Marx than Jesus Christ.  It neglected the fact that no category of human beings is simply good or simply evil, but that a line runs through every heart, dividing motives and ambitions, and revealing the primary need to open our hearts before God in confession and repentance.

Are McCain, Romney, Boehner, Cruz, Trump, and Rubio good men, or bad?

During the long campaign that is now winding up, the peculiar thing is that so few even bothered to ask such fundamental questions.  Hardly anyone asked if Ted Cruz is a decent person.  And Trump's supporters, and Cruz's supporters (he was also guilty of fostering this perversely un-Christian psychology, for instance in his purity-wars against Rubio), never stopped to ask that fundamental question, focusing on the Marxist question of how close their men stood in relation to the halls of power, instead.

If you belonged to the Establishment, you were a traitor by definition: part of the problem, a quisling who allowed Barack Obama to run wild.  (I doubt Obama feels that way.)

But virtue is not defined by wealth or poverty.  Jesus met each person as an individual, lunching with the rich and poor, praising the politically-connected and prostitutes, beggars, along with little old ladies with homes hardly worth eminent-domaining to build a casino parking lot.

So Rush Limbaugh is a heretic.  Which is to say, while intelligent,entertaining, often insightful, Limbaugh is, in the end, a pagan and fundamentally simple-minded fellow.

I am not Joseph in Egypt, and have no vouchsafed vision of the future.  But the next four years look rough.  Perhaps we can begin saving America, during those years, by turning off our radios, opening our Bibles, and listening again to the man whom George Bush (of all people) called his favorite political philosopher.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Did God Really Evolve?

What follows is my review several years ago of Robert Wright's The Evolution of God on the First Things website.   I don't think the question of how faith in God appeared has lost its poignancy or relevance in the past seven years. --DM
Historians of God most often gather to bury, rather than praise, their Creator; Karen Armstrong, Pascal Boyer, and Daniel Dennett being recent examples. Robert Wright offers an interesting break in the pattern with The Evolution of God . 
Wright, in his own way, is solidly in the materialist camp. In an earlier book he told how, like E.O. Wilson, he abandoned his Southern Baptist roots when he discovered evolution and recognized its power to tell the story of life. But he left God with regret. And today, it seems, “we need a god whose sympathies correspond to the scale of social organization, the global scale.” Wright looks at religion not with one eye shut and the other twitching down the sights of a Civil War“era carbine (signed personally by Colonel Ingersoll) but with eyes open to both the genius and inhumanity of man. His sketch thus rises not only to the dignity of error, but also to significant flashes of insight. 

The first part of Wright’s story is familiar enough. Humanity first appears in tribes. Our early gods mirror and justify the limit of our social commitments, mainly to kin. But social evolution, like biological, works an alchemic magic whereby selfishness is transmuted into altruism. Through conquest, tribes form into nations, and nations into empires. The gods justified tribal loyalties, and therefore conquest. But imperial religion slowly evolves a new role as a social glue, allowing amicable relations between tribes that now need to do business in an expanding world. 

Gibbon said that in ancient Rome, philosophers saw all religions as equally false, commoners saw them as equally true, and politicians as equally useful. Strident attacks on religion by iconic intellectuals like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are similarly matched today by popular defenses of the the truth and utility of all faiths. (Huston Smith is probably the ablest modern proponent of the commoner’s position.) 

The genius of Wright’s theory lies in an evolutionary two-step that allows him to look at religion, like clouds, “from both sides, now.” Thus, on how Marduk, city god of Babylon, became “a kind of grand unified theory of nature”:
 For Babylonians bent on ruling Mesopotamia forever, what better theological weapon than to reduce Marduk’s would-be rivals to parts of his anatomy? Or, to put it less cynically: For Babylonians who want to suffuse all of Mesopotamia in multicultural amity and understanding,what better social cement than a single god that encompasses all gods?
The term Wright favors to describe the binding element in that cement is non-zero sum . Marduk makes a “subtle conquest . . . assimilating other gods into his being””allowing his subjects to relate to one another symbiotically as subjects of a cosmopolitan God, without losing the social capital of tribal affiliations. 

While not a completely original idea, it seems plausible as far as it goes. A fair chunk of the Chinese classic The Book of Poetry is, for example, dedicated to proving that the Zhou Dynasty Heaven”now identified with the Shang Di , or “God above,” of the previous Shang dynasty”justified, even demanded, conquest of the corrupt losing dynasty, and that his rule and that of the Zhou has no territorial bound: “This King Wen, carefully and with reverence, served God with intelligence, and by that service secured the Great Blessing. Unswerving in his virtue, he received the allegiance of states from all quarters.” 

Wright fingers King Josiah as the Hebrew king who elevated Yahweh to the position of Supreme deity. The next step came when Jewish intellectuals, exiled traumatically to Babylon, banned all other gods to explain and compensate for the defeat of Israel, thus inventing monotheism. If God punished us for our idolatrous ways, then brought us home, they thought, it appeared that he “controlled the empire that had conquered the empire than had conquered the Assyrian Empire,” and was the One True God. 

My friend Ard Louis, an Oxford physicist who studies protein folding, once compared the origin of life in terms of children’s toys. Find cars and spaceships made out of Legos, he told me, and you’ll be impressed. (And so I will be, having boys who do brilliant things with Legos.) But come into a room and find Legos snapping themselves into complex, coherent shapes, and the wonder is all the greater. Thus evolution itself is (he believes) a subtler but ultimately more impressive expression of God’s creative activity than direct design would be. 

Wright extends the logic of theistic evolution to the evolution of theism. Suppose, he asks, the real God is the purpose or intent, the divine logos behind the evolution of the inferior and no longer believable God of orthodox tradition? 

Wright is like a gardening enthusiast who explains (with dramatic pauses and frequent repetition) how a walnut seed grows into a mature tree. He describes how a seed opens and sprouts, tap root down and shoot up, breaks ground, and spreads its leaves, with all the excitement of scientific induction. He obviously thinks he is telling you something you don’t know (being, no doubt, a rube from the city). His first job is to undermine naive teleological explanations. Nuts fall by themselves, and sprout with spring rains. Like a squirrel, natural selection may plant genes in us, but for its own pragmatic evolutionary purposes, without envisioning the moral tree that will grow up and put all nations in its ethical shade. 

But then, Wright recalls, nuts fall from trees. For those who care to follow the argument (Wright is careful not to overreach here) the existence of a “moral arrow” built into nature may be taken as evidence of some kind of purpose, or even of some kind of God. 

The first serious problem with this story is one Wright shares with Armstrong. Did God really evolve? Early in their respective narratives, both mention the curious phenomena of “sky gods,” concepts of a Supreme God quite like the Judeo“Christian God that appear in hunter-gatherer and herding cultures around the world. (And sometimes survives in more advanced civilizations, like China.) They then move on to other matters”telling how God evolved (“more and more scholars [acknowledge] a gradual evolution of a complex Yahweistic religion from a polytheistic past”)”forgetting that a recognizable God in prehistory renders the idea that God evolved through history unnecessary. 

Marduk, Wright tells us, was Mesopotamia’s “closest approach yet to a universalist monotheism.” He “had sovereignty over the whole world,” named the four quarters of the world, and created humanity. 

But so did the “High God” of many aboriginal tribes. As even so firm a materialist as Emile Durkheim has acknowledged, the Aussie High God was seen as Creator of all, “benefactor of humanity,” and Judge after death. Observers have been offering similar quotes from Africa, the Americas, and parts of Asia for close to a century and a half now; Wright mentions the phenomena himself. 

Why do we need modern empires to explain God, if aboriginal nomads reached the same conception just by staring at the stars? And how does Wright know the Hebrew conception of God didn’t fall like a nut from more primitive remembrances? 

Problems deepen as Wright moves to the New Testament. Here Wright’s major concern is to argue that the historical Jesus “didn’t emphasize universal love at all,” unanimous early Christian testimony to the contrary. The problem here is Wright’s evolutionary scheme, which requires that universal morality grow up like a tender shoot, and not flower too early. Like a rabbit in the pre-Cambrian, a premature conception of forgiving enemies, for example, would complicate Wright’s evolutionary scheme. 

Wright points out that Mark, the earliest gospel, has little to say about loving Gentiles. In fact, Mark’s Jesus obliquely refers to a Gentile woman as a dog. Wright notes that the “Great Commission” postscript at the end of Mark was added after the fact. (Unfortunately, he overlooks verses in chapters 13 and 14 in which Jesus also says that “the gospel must be preached to all nations.”) 

Throwing out most or all of the early records to save a theory is, of course, poor historical method. (Though nothing that has not exasperated careful New Testament scholars before!) But Wright later sabotages his own argument by reminding us (when he wants us to know Jesus believed in a resurrection) that Paul is a good source for what Jesus said, too: “Paul’s credentials as a witness to Jesus’ teachings are good, as such credentials go. Paul was alive when Jesus died and was attuned to the doctrines of Jesus’ followers.” 

By that criteria, unfortunately, not only Paul, but all Christians who lived within the plausible lifespan of Jesus’ first followers”including the authors of the canonical gospels”were unlikely to be completely mistaken about so fundamental an issue as whether they were to preach to goyim . And by the same criteria, Wright’s second-guessing is late, weak, and contradicted by anything that can be called real evidence. 

Wright has read little New Testament scholarship, and what he has read is mostly by scholars like Bart Erhman, Elaine Pagels, and Morton Smith. He even cites the latter’s Jesus the Magician ”failing to recognize that Smith was the real magician, his main legacy being to conjure up the Secret Gospel of Mark out of an imaginary letter from Clement. 

I once wrote a book refuting the Jesus Seminar, but here I could almost wish Robert Funk’s merry gang on Wright. Funk was deeply hostile to Christianity. Nevertheless, he noted that the story of the Good Samaritan “passed the coherence test” because it fit the remarkable portrait of Jesus in all four gospels so perfectly:
 Jesus steadily privileged those marginalized in his society”the diseased, the infirm, women, children, toll collectors, gentile suppliants, perhaps even Samaritans”precisely because they were regarded as the enemy, the outsider, the victim. The Samaritan as helper was an implausible role in the everyday world of Jesus; that is what makes the Samaritan plausible as a helper in a story told by Jesus.
But in the evolutionary story told by Wright, a Jesus who cares for Gentiles and taught the Sermon on the Mount is not at all plausible. Wright’s Jesus, by contrast, is a “fire-and-brimstone apocalyptic preacher” (and xenophobe) who shares “a lot in common” with Muhammad. And here we come to the point of the exegesis. 

To an untutored reader of the Sermon on the Mount, the life of Muhammad as described in standard biographies”attacks on neighboring tribes, enslavement and murder of enemies, forcible relations with a woman whose husband his troops had just killed”is less than inspiring. But Wright can hardly leave Muhammad out of his evolutionary tale, and the story must show progress. 

The genius of Wright’s scheme at this point lies in its dialectic. 

The temptation may be to play down violent episodes in the prophet’s life, as Armstrong does in her history of Islam, or to ignore them (in John Esposito’s 700-page Oxford History of Islam , they merit a single sentence). Wright attempts though to view Islam with both eyes without blinking”“at one point Muhammad is urging Moslems to kill infidels and at another he is a beacon of religious tolerance””then integrate that dual vision. 

Wright recognizes that the more savage Quranic revelations come later, when Muhammad is safely ensconced in Medina. But as Muhammad’s tribe grew, it worked the same dialectic of exclusion, expansion, and inclusion that mark the pains of racial tribes growing into empires. “It was a deft maneuver that Muhammad’s successors pulled off: Declare war on a people because of their religion and then, shortly after the conquest, feel tolerance welling up.” Hadiths, like memory stones, mark stages of the path to an inclusive society. And therein lie resources with which to solve our modern dilemma. 

Unlike Marx, Wright sees human beings as free agents, rather than as ciphers to the historical dialectic. Being clever, we pick and choose and interpret our Scriptures according to the needs of the moment. Each of the Abrahamic religions thus bares within it the potential for a humanistic interpretation. The chance for goodwill is an unexpected but inevitable byproduct of expansion, as human interactions become a “non zero-sum game.” (Putting a new spin on Muhammad’s old adage: “the way to paradise is lit by the flash of the sword!”) 

We are the world. For secularists like Dawkins and Sam Harris, theistic religions are the dangerous holdouts”Buddhists and Jains are assumed to be on board. But Wright integrates Abrahamic traditions within a fulfillment scheme leading to a humanism that embraces religious and secular worldviews. Sweetening the pot, he adds that this historical dialectic may even be taken as an argument for God. Wright does not seem to recognize it, but he is at this point trodding almost in the footsteps of Clement of Alexandria. 

Clement is cited early in Evolution of God . Wright credits him for attacking racism and embracing a “monotheism that has an ethical core and is universalist.” He then faults Clement for assuming the Christian God to be utterly different from the polytheistic swarm from which, Wright believes, Yahweh emerged. 

But Clement actually found a more interesting role for Greco-Roman thought in the divine order. “Truth is one,” he insisted. Reminding his readers of Euripides’ racy story of how Dionysius maddened the women of Thebes so they tore their king to bloody pieces, Clement added: “Just as the Bacchantes tore asunder the limbs of Pentheus, so the sects both of barbarian and Hellenic philosophy have done with truth, and each vaunts as the whole truth the portion which has fallen to its lot. But all, in my opinion, are illuminated by the dawn of Light.” 

Like Clement, Wright views theology as “preparatory instruction” toward a truer conception of God. Wright’s goal is to do to theology what Clement did to Greek philosophy: “ The Stromata will contain the truth mixed up in the dogmas of philosophy, or rather covered over and hidden, as the edible part of the nut in the shell.” 

Wright and Clement differ about which part of the nut is edible, of course. But one hopes that reading Wright, Clement might again be able to affirm: “But all are illuminated by the dawn of life.” 

There are a lot of problems with this book, many deriving from the fact that when it comes to the Christian tradition, Wright often does not know what he is talking about. But truth is one. And surely Wright is onto something in supposing that the history of religion itself reveals the hand of God. It would have been better if he had considered earlier Christian sketches of God’s universal handiwork, from Clement himself, Matteo Ricci, Chesterton’s immortal Everlasting Man , or Rodney Stark’s fascinating recent Discovery of God . Still, Wright usefully challenges believers to tell the “old, old story” of Jesus, and his love, in a broader context”sketching a tree with roots in every tradition, and with leaves and fruit for the healing of all nations.