"I know that both Jesus and Saint Paul said that our faith would save us. And I get that. But I wonder if it is equally true to say that if we are to be saved, it will not be by faith alone but by love as well. After all, didn't Jesus say that love is the one greatest command, and didn't Paul say that without love, nothing else we have (including faith that moves mountains) amounts to a hill of beans? Maybe love includes as a given the kind of faith that really matters. That would certainly be the case if another voice in the New Testament was correct when he said, without qualification, 'God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them' (I John 4:16 NRSV).

"Could that be why, for about two hundred thousand people each year, it's worth the time and expense to fly to the Galapagos Islands and join one another, and perhaps even join their Creator, in loving these creations, these tortoises, marine iguanas, land iguanas, sea turtles, lava lizards -- this bunch of reptiles?

"Could this experience of a loving gaze be the holy prize of a holy pilgrimage?

"Darwin inherited a God-concept that didn't match with the intricacy of plankton, the extinction of species, or the processes of evolution. So did many of us.

"If we'd like to bring our God-concepts into better sync with a Creator who makes sense in this particular universe, we'd better face up to this sobering fact: God loves tortoises. And really, God loves reptiles in general. (Not to mention insects, if we judge based on how many species exist: three hundred thousand beetles, seventeen thousand butterflies, and five thousand dragonflies, for example, out of over two million insects in total.)

"Fathom it: For 245 million years, there were zero people around, but lots and lots of reptiles. And because there were no people, there was no religion. No churches. No rituals. No sermons. No holidays. No offerings. No excommunications, fatwas, pedophilia scandals, sleazy televangelists, or holy wars either. (Nor were there religious authors, for that matter.) There were just millions of reptiles, doing their reptilian things, in the presence of whatever truly exists above and beyond and apart from human concepts.

"Apparently, God did not say, 'Wow. These things are boring. What I really need is a prelude. And a narthex. And some juicy excommunications over sexual variation in the human population. And what I wouldn't give for some organ music or a smoking-hot praise band -- with literal smoke machines and hellfire preaching! Praise be to me, for my sake let's get these reptiles out of here so we can get some religious primates evolving, fast!'

"No. For 245 million years, and for 99,999 percent of the 66 million years since, God was happy to have a good universe that included neither a single human nor a single religion, but lots and lots and lots of reptiles. . . .

"For humans to make sense to ourselves, I think we're going to have to rediscover our kinship with the reptiles -- and the fish, insects, birds, mammals, and palo santo trees -- with which we shape the world."