XXI. Diversity and Religious Evolution

The fact that religions evolve contributes in some measure to the internal diversity of an orthodox tradition. Such evolution is directly evident in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, and without acknowledgement of that process there is difficulty in reconciling the vengeful tribal deity of the Old Testament record of the ancient Israelites with the much more spiritually conceived and universal being in the writings of the later prophets and in the New Testament. Attempts to make compatible these divergent depictions of deity have given rise to disputes within and between churches and movements, and among theologians. The basic assumptions of Christian theologians have steadily shifted over the course of centuries, but there is nothing like consensus among them, whilst among lay Christians far more widely diverse attitudes can be found concerning all the fundamentals of faith. Some of those attitudes are characteristic of positions more generally held in centuries past, and their persistence among some lay people makes apparent the need for an appreciation of the phenomenon of religious evolution if the diversity within the one orthodox tradition is to be understood. Thus, to provide examples, most liberal, self-styled “enlightened” Christians, today no longer believe in hell or the Devil, but there are many Christians who do, and not only those described as “fundamentalists”. Or again, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries most Christians professed belief in the literal resurrection of the body, but today only a minority of orthodox believers appear to subscribe to this article of faith. Yet again, Christians have for centuries disputed the prophesied time of the onset of the millennium, whether it would precede or succeed the second advent of Christ, whilst many appear to have abandoned this prospect altogether.

XXII. Theological Opinions and Religious Belief