There are times in one’s life in which you stop in the middle of a media activity and say “whoa!” The TV show Lost became famous for its ability to shock and perplex its viewers. As much as I love the church, there are fewer of these moments within Christian media. Reading Don Richardson seems perhaps the exception. Within pages ofRichardson’s introduction to Eternity in their Hearts, I found myself pushing back from my table at Starbucks, pulling my glasses off, rubbing my eyes, and looking for someone with whom to talk about this book. Since the coffee drinkers seemed otherwise content, I made do with the social networks. When someone says, “You must read this book.” We are all trained to roll our eyes; yet, for me this book legitimizes that very phrase.
For the past 25 years excellent theologians, sociologists, and historians such as Rodney Stark, Mark Noll, and Rowan Williams have sought to contend with that nasty viral theory known as the ‘Secularization Theory.’ The main idea being that the more ‘secularized’ a society becomes, the more religion assumes a back seat as a motivating force. While their work has convinced many minds, including the occasional secularist, the work continues.
In a way Don Richardson’s work hints at another way to answer such a riddle. His research and others quoted and referenced repeatedly, attempts to show the folly of the evolutionary hypothesis surrounding monotheism. This theory that god belief evolved from pantheism to polytheism to monotheism has largely influenced an entire century’s worth of philosophy, theology, and biblical criticism. It was even implied in my conservative divinity school, and impacted a lot of missions work, especially the finding of the 1902 Edinburgh Conference which sought to set Christianity at the top of the evolutionary pyramid for purposes of evangelizing other races and religions.
In the legal community there exists a protection known as the “fruit of a poisoned tree.” That means that prosecutorial or police misconduct destroys all ‘evidence’ discovered via these means.Richardsonin the later portions of his work seems to be arguing for a philosophical addendum of the same sort for this evolutionary theory. By going to varied people groups spanning the globe, and attempting to show monotheism at the root and not just the end of the theistic movement,Richardsonattempts to pull the tree out by the roots rather than just content himself with pruning the limbs of its implied theories.
That said questions remain. How fixed were these beliefs? How early? How repeated? The reader may not become as convinced asRichardsonwould like. Additionally one can hear the scientific materialist screaming that it matters not whether the ‘god delusion’ is a one person phenomenon or a group thing.Richardson, they might argue, is simply categorizing the nature of this strange mass delusion. As a Christian with the presupposition that God truly exists, I am tempted to whole-heartedly embraceRichardsonand his unique argument for the pre-eminence of monotheism. If nothing elseRichardsonhas succeeded in changing the nature of the debate, and taking the offensive by going after the heart of scientific materialism’s beliefs. That at least is worth, a ‘whoa.’