The Evolution of Faith

Whether one evaluates faith through anthropology, history, or biology, it is a bit of a guessing game. Ask a fish about water and one will not receive an objective and thorough understanding about water. When we investigate the evolution of faith, we are as the fish – examining ourselves, biased by our own experience. Nevertheless, the evolution of faith is an entertaining, thoughtful, and always revealing topic.

Dacher Keltner, Director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, recently published “Born to be Good, The Science of a Meaningful Life” The book begins by paying tribute to Jen, a Confucian state of mind that promotes goodness. Jen is expressed through the good emotions we all have in our genes when we are born: compassion, awe, respect, graciousness, empathy, sympathy, kindness and other feelings that not only improve one’s own wellbeing but also the wellbeing of others who are the recipients of your Jen behavior. Confucius said we have the ability to bring goodness to completion in ourselves and in others; we have the choice to bring badness to completion as well through harmful, nasty, disrespectful, and condescending emotions. Keltner makes the point that all mammals have some degree of emotional goodness; otherwise mammalian species would not have survived.

Joseph Campbell, a famous anthropologist, studied human behavior in terms of the cultures within which people experience life. An excellent interview on the experience of release, otherwise called “salvation” in the Christian faith can be found on the Internet at

This short interview is one of the most insightful interpretations the mariner has ever heard. It is a must see experience.

The point of both these writers is that goodness is built in at the beginning. We are prone to seeking the will of God and the “release” that God provides. Yet we are flesh and bone; we have limitations in our intelligence, in our hearts and in our actions. We are tempted at every turn to find comfortable, self-serving solutions that give us physical comfort and undeserved authority; we are bringing badness to completion in ourselves and in others. As both writers explain, negativity diminishes life; goodness expands life. In fact, we wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for goodness.  Walking the path that Jesus walked may take no more effort than always seeking goodness in our lives. Always use good emotions; good acts will follow.

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