God: A Human History

God: A Human History

From the bestselling author of Zealot and host of the new CNN series Believer comes a fascinating account of humanity’s struggle to make sense of the divine, and how the idea of god, from its prehistoric origins to its emergence as a single divine personality, continues to offer new ways of connecting people of different faiths today....

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Title:God: A Human History
Author:Reza Aslan
Rating:

God: A Human History Reviews

  • Anton

    5 ⭐ stuff. Many thanks to NetGalley, publisher and author for sharing the ARC.

    Honestly, my experience with ARCs so far was very disappointing. Also, I haven't encountered

    before. So my expectations were pretty low to start with.

    But then I started reading... and was blown away. This is such a strong book. It is succinct, very balanced, logical and delightful to follow. The author is a fantastic storyteller! This is a non-fiction story that will steal you away from your fiction TBR. Th

    5 ⭐️ stuff. Many thanks to NetGalley, publisher and author for sharing the ARC.

    Honestly, my experience with ARCs so far was very disappointing. Also, I haven't encountered

    before. So my expectations were pretty low to start with.

    But then I started reading... and was blown away. This is such a strong book. It is succinct, very balanced, logical and delightful to follow. The author is a fantastic storyteller! This is a non-fiction story that will steal you away from your fiction TBR. The language is gripping and immersive.

    If you have enjoyed

    books

    and

    - you will enjoy this book too, I am sure.

    I started making highlights/notes on my Kindle and probably ended up highlighting over a quarter of the book! This gem is full of insightful facts, examples and observations. It is also remarkably accessible. I freely admit to a long history of giving up midway many other books on comparative religion. This one is remarkable.

    I guess what I am saying, this book is out next month. Check it out. It is well worth your time. I will be getting myself a hardback copy for my bookshelf and future reference.

    I also plan to give another Reza Aslan's title a go

    . He appears to be top shelf non-fiction writer.

  • Roger DeBlanck

    Each of Reza Aslan’s previous books made a lasting impact on me, and with

    he has once again delivered a narrative study that leaves an empowering impression. It is at once a book that relies on impeccable scholarship and yet reads with the lyricism and emotion of great literature. With page-turning intensity, Aslan takes us on a journey through history by showing how we have made sense of God and the divine by giving them human attributes.

    He starts with the first humans of

    Each of Reza Aslan’s previous books made a lasting impact on me, and with

    he has once again delivered a narrative study that leaves an empowering impression. It is at once a book that relies on impeccable scholarship and yet reads with the lyricism and emotion of great literature. With page-turning intensity, Aslan takes us on a journey through history by showing how we have made sense of God and the divine by giving them human attributes.

    He starts with the first humans of “Adam and Eve” and explains how they performed burial rituals that sought to embrace an afterworld, a realm where the deceased took on spiritual forms. Aslan shows how this idea of a transcendent soul has been part of every society and culture throughout human evolution. Then, with the birth of agriculture, the humanization of gods intensified as it was fitting to transfer the powers of the gods from heaven to earth so that humans could fulfill the harvest. With the Sumerians’ invention of writing, humans had the ability to chronicle history, and with the power of writing came the “compulsion to humanize the divine.” This led to the widespread worship of idols with each idol serving as a type of adobe where a spirit dwelled, often with a degree of superhuman powers. However, this super humanization of the gods reached a point of folly with the Greeks, casting doubts on the legitimacy of the divine.

    It wasn’t until the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten and later on the Iranian priest Zarathustra (founder of Zoroastrianism) experienced singular visions of god as a ubiquitous creator of the cosmos that the idea of monotheism emerged. Even though ancient civilizations believed in a “High God” that governed among their many gods, they had a hard time accepting the concept of a sole, all-encompassing god. Only by stripping the gods of their human qualities could the idea of a single god be elevated as the “creative substance underlying the universe.” But the evolution of a singular god depended on the merging of Abraham’s High God named “El” with Moses’s Midian God named “Yahweh.” With the upstart of Christianity, the “god-man” of Jesus only complicated the notion of understanding the abstract, eternal, and divine essence of God. Such complication required the inception of the Trinity.

    It wasn’t until Muhammad received God’s final instruction to humankind that he was able to put a seal on Zoroastrian Dualism and Christian Trinitarianism in order to identify God/Allah as the only god. For Aslan, Islam represents the totality of monotheism through the idea of

    , which seeks to understand God’s essence as a divine unity of oneness. The God of Islam resembles no created thing, nor do created things resemble God. This unified belief in God quests to satisfy a oneness with Him, a starting and returning to God’s divinity, which is the sum of all things. To arrive at this relationship, believers must dehumanize God and become one with the pure existence of an entity without name, essence, or personality. Aslan arrives at a brilliant point where he makes clear that whether you believe in science or God, you rely on an understanding of the “animating spirit that underlies the universe.” Both science and God are essentially the same, both offering plausible or impossible platforms from which to carry out one’s belief, depending on your choice.

    Provocative, fascinating, and earnest with its passion, Aslan’s study of God steers us towards a more reflective and appreciative view of God’s origins and how we can develop a deeper relationship with God. His knowledge of God throughout history enables him to construct a picture of God that almost seems to take on the same direct access to the divinity that Sufism tries to achieve. Aslan’s book is an achievement of scholarship at its finest, but it’s also a brilliant piece of poetry that offers empowerment to experience God in a clearer and more inspiring way.

  • Fiona

    In July, I read a book called

    by E. Fuller Torrey. It presents the evolutionary theory of the creation of gods by examining the cognitive development of man and I found it truly fascinating.

    In this short work, Reza Aslan similarly explores the creation of gods by man. It's not a scientific approach and I found little if nothing new in the first two thirds of the book. I appreciate this is largely because I'd already read To

    In July, I read a book called

    by E. Fuller Torrey. It presents the evolutionary theory of the creation of gods by examining the cognitive development of man and I found it truly fascinating.

    In this short work, Reza Aslan similarly explores the creation of gods by man. It's not a scientific approach and I found little if nothing new in the first two thirds of the book. I appreciate this is largely because I'd already read Torrey's work. In the final third however, Aslan explores comparative theories of gods or God, looking closely at Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His analysis is excellent and leaves me wanting to learn more about the origins of religious thought, narratives and materials.

    It seemed inevitable to me that Aslan's arguments would lead to the firm conclusion that gods are, or God is, a human construct. In his work

    he provides a critical analysis of the human construction of the Jesus narrative and this work looked to be heading to a similar rational conclusion. Then, in the final pages, Aslan, who was raised in Islam, converted to Christianity and then returned to Islam, talks about his most recent conversion to Sufism and his 'epiphany' when he came to realise that God is all. In other words, God is everything and everything is God, whether you believe it from a spiritual viewpoint, religious or scientific stance, everything in our universe including ourselves is God. We are evolutionarily programmed to humanise our gods but "God" in his / the Sufi view has no material existence.

    I was rather taken aback by this, what seemed to me, sudden change in direction from a logical, measured view to a spiritual one.

    I enjoy Aslan's writing and thinking but I was a little bit disappointed that his conclusion, to me at least, appeared to signal that he wasn't so much exploring the question of who or what or why or if there is a god or gods but seeking in the end to justify his own belief. I'm left wondering how someone with such depth of knowledge and learning of the human construct of gods, the historical machinations that led to, for example, the creation of the Jesus cult and monotheism, can still have such a profound faith. The answer is that throughout the evolution of man this need for a superior being or beings has continued to be innate. Belief in a soul that is separate from the body has emerged in every society throughout time and it is this belief that, in Aslan's own words,

    and that is why it's so difficult to resist.

    With thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for a review copy.

  • Caidyn (BW Book Reviews; he/him/his)

    Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for an advanced copy! All opinions here are my own and are not influenced by them.

    Admittedly, I do love Reza Aslan, though. I’ve read two of his books and one of them completely changed my viewpoint on things. My religious studies professors sometimes talk about him to bring up various issues since he’s a well-known guy who studies religions and talks about them. Not only that, but I’ve often wondered how

    Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for an advanced copy! All opinions here are my own and are not influenced by them.

    Admittedly, I do love Reza Aslan, though. I’ve read two of his books and one of them completely changed my viewpoint on things. My religious studies professors sometimes talk about him to bring up various issues since he’s a well-known guy who studies religions and talks about them. Not only that, but I’ve often wondered how/why we decided to make such inventive religions and their function.

    The approach Aslan takes basically covers history from prehistory to, give or take, 1000 CE. He starts with what various possible prehistorical religions, or what we may know of them. Then, polytheism and onto failed attempts of monotheism. Judaism, then Christianity, and finally Islam. Not only that, but Aslan also brings in more than religion. Psychology gets brought up quite often, and actually, a few things that I’ve studied on my own for various papers. Anthropology also is brought in, as is sociology.

    I was convinced up until the conclusion that this would get 4.5-5 stars. However, the conclusion got too preachy for me. Aslan, in a way, said how people should believe in God or what to believe. While I was raised in what he described and it’s present in most religions, as he pointed out, I wasn’t a fan of how it was presented. Hopefully, before it gets published, it’s changed to a suggestion for how to approach religion since it’s a very personal thing.

  • Mehrsa

    This book is well written and fascinating. As an Iranian, I especially love that he includes the vital history of God and religion that began in Iran. The content however is very similar to Robert Wright’s Evolution is God and Karen Armstrong’s history of God. But I suppose the outcome is different. Reza ends up in Sufism and Wright in secular Buddhism and Armstrong in Christian mysticism. But as Azlan seems to say, it’s the same thing. The other books are much more thorough. Harari also takes u

    This book is well written and fascinating. As an Iranian, I️ especially love that he includes the vital history of God and religion that began in Iran. The content however is very similar to Robert Wright’s Evolution is God and Karen Armstrong’s history of God. But I suppose the outcome is different. Reza ends up in Sufism and Wright in secular Buddhism and Armstrong in Christian mysticism. But as Azlan seems to say, it’s the same thing. The other books are much more thorough. Harari also takes up this theme in his books. Also, Greenblat in Adam and Eve. So while this is not a super original story, it was still worthwhile

  • Kristy K

    This was a lot shorter than I expected, the actual content taking up only about 50% of the book. However, the rest of the book is the authors bibliography, notes, and research which I appreciated. When reading non-fiction it's nice to be able to see where the author is getting his source material and the amount of research he put in. And even though it is on the shorter side

    This was a lot shorter than I expected, the actual content taking up only about 50% of the book. However, the rest of the book is the authors bibliography, notes, and research which I appreciated. When reading non-fiction it's nice to be able to see where the author is getting his source material and the amount of research he put in. And even though it is on the shorter side, it does not lack content.

    One thing that needs to be stated clearly: this is not a religious novel. This is a book that takes a look at God through the context of history.

    I enjoyed how Aslan related history, society, and cultural to the context of god(s). It creates an informative, well-rounded, and at times fascinating read.

    I can see a lot of religious people being upset with this book as it can come across as discounting religion. I would be interested in seeing what leaders of various religions think of this book.

  • Krista

    What I found most interesting about Reza Aslan's

    was the author's own evolution of belief – when he was a child, he thought of God as a scary authoritarian figure who resembled his own father, he then embraced his family's Muslim faith, later converted to the more anthropomorphic Christian religion, switched back to studying traditional Islam, and eventually adopted its mystical Sufi branch (as detailed in the above quote). It would be impossible to miss that this book – which traces the evolution of humanity's understanding of the divine – completely mirrors Aslan's own journey (he even tells us this is so), and this neat dovetail made me uncomfortable: as though the steps he took from childish to mature faith are the natural and ineluctable steps taken by any person/society as they grow in wisdom and sophistication; as though they who don't embrace his own concept of God (which Aslan reveals in an abrupt conclusion to his book-length history lesson) are immature in their faith. On the other hand, in view of all we have done to each other and the planet because of presumed differences and power imbalances, it would be a different world if we all recognised everyone and everything as a manifestation of the same God that animates our own selves.

    (Note: I read an ARC of this book and quotes may not be in their final forms.)

    I often got the sense that Aslan's claims were unsupported (despite the allure of 80 pages of footnotes, I rarely tracked down his sources), and so I just had to take his word for much of this timeline: The emergence of ritualised burial around 100 000 years ago was proof in itself that early humans were aware of their own souls (why bother to bury the body if nothing survives death?): “It is a belief so primal and innate, so deep-rooted and widespread, that it must be considered nothing less than the hallmark of human experience”. Because these early humans had brains that worked in every way like our own, we can infer that they experienced the Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device (we ascribe human agency to inexplicable events) and Theory of Mind (because we can sense our own minds, we assume everyone/everything else has one, too), and it was because of these two cognitive tools that the early humans began to place humanity outside themselves and into the inanimate. Aslan, more than once, insists that practising a religion confers no evolutionary advantage – not even to cohere a community – and indeed, the formal practise of religion predates civilisation and even agriculture (apparently, the vast Göbekli Tepe temple [dated to the 10th millennium BCE] was built by hunter-gatherers; building this permanent complex may have prompted the Agricultural Revolution, which turns the accepted archaeological timeline of human progress on its head). When the Sumerians invented writing, that forced the gods to become “actualised” – the gods didn't require specific attributes until someone began writing about them, and these early writers couldn't help but give the gods human foibles; which led the ancient civilistions we know about (the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Egyptians) to have thought of the gods as big, squabbling families. Eventually, as city-states evolved into empires under the rule of their supreme kings, so, too, did religions begin to give their pantheons a supreme ruler (as in Marduk, Zeus, Amun-Re). The Zoroastrians simplified their pantheon into one Dualistic God, Ahura Mazda, who was made up of good and evil. And then Yahweh appeared to Moses and declared himself the one God – only problem being that before this, “Yahweh” was a lesser deity of the Canaanites, and the God worshipped by Abraham and his line of Israelites was known as “El”. So in composing the books of the Old Testament, its writers combined the two names into “El Yahweh”, meaning, “Lord God”, and recognised that this “one God” had two components (why haven't I heard that before?): it wasn't until Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians and the Israelites were sent into exile that Yahweh stepped forward and true monotheism was born. Just five hundred years later, Jesus called himself the Son of God, which eventually led to Christianity and the “one true God” being split into three equal parts. And six hundred years after that, Muhammad received the revelations that led to him declaring that Allah is Yahweh, is the Christian God: one, eternal, and separate from humanity.

    It's the word “inevitable” there that sticks for me: of

    a devotee of Sufism would see his chosen faith – the faith he embraced after years of search and scholarship – as the inevitable endpoint of this history of religion as he recounts it. I had the same kind of uneasy feeling about Yuval Noah Harari's scholarship, and was unsurprised to see Aslan quote his

    (and if I don't completely trust the reliability of the one source I've actually read, I have questions about the rest.) The bottom line is that I did enjoy this as a “speculative history”, and as I respect what the author has shared of his personal philosophy, it feels like no harm done. Not unhappy to have read it.

  • Rebecca Foster

    Although comparable in scope to Karen Armstrong’s

    , this is more of an anthropological and sociological approach to how religion arose.

    created God in

    image, Aslan argues. Using ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ as representatives of primitive humans, he explores what seems to have been intuitive: the idea that the soul survives after death; the notion of a three-tiered universe (heaven, Earth, and an underworld); and animism, or the conviction that all things have a spirit. Cave paintings

    Although comparable in scope to Karen Armstrong’s

    , this is more of an anthropological and sociological approach to how religion arose.

    created God in

    image, Aslan argues. Using ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ as representatives of primitive humans, he explores what seems to have been intuitive: the idea that the soul survives after death; the notion of a three-tiered universe (heaven, Earth, and an underworld); and animism, or the conviction that all things have a spirit. Cave paintings bore witness to belief in a world beyond this one.

    Aslan surveys various theories of the origin of religion – dreams, wonder at nature, wish fulfillment (Freud), or social cohesion (Durkheim) – and traces human development through agriculture, the domestication of animals, the production of epic sacred texts, and the gradual shift from many gods to a High God to the one god of monotheism. From here he tracks the rise of trinitarian thinking (including the various heresies surrounding it) and takes a sidetrack to discuss Islam, especially the Sufi tradition he’s familiar with.

    This is a surprisingly short book; rather than just setting out evidence and letting readers draw their own conclusions, it adopts a firm perspective: all this God-talk should lead us back to pantheism, a return to that primitive animism. “Do not fear God. You

    God” are the last words before the extremely lengthy bibliography and notes (nearly 50% of the Kindle book). I only skimmed this because I was getting bogged down in somewhat familiar detail, but I think people fairly new to the content would find this a useful introduction. It’s certainly interesting to get the perspective of a Sufi from Iran who now lives in L.A.

  • Marilynn Spiegel

    The author begins with an illogical premise and spirals downward from there. His original premise ignores the three basic Laws of Thought: the law of identity, the law of excluded middle and the law of non-contradiction. Aslan is an ethical relativist who has never examined his own thoughts. I believe in some circles he would be considered thoughtful, but for a philosophical, historical, believer in God I felt the book was a waste of my time.

    He describes conversion as an opinion change and has o

    The author begins with an illogical premise and spirals downward from there. His original premise ignores the three basic Laws of Thought: the law of identity, the law of excluded middle and the law of non-contradiction. Aslan is an ethical relativist who has never examined his own thoughts. I believe in some circles he would be considered thoughtful, but for a philosophical, historical, believer in God I felt the book was a waste of my time.

    He describes conversion as an opinion change and has obviously never understood or experienced regeneration.

    Aslan is unfortunately a product of ethical relativism which is permeating our colleges and universities. I truly wish he would examine his own thinking based on the laws of logic, because he does good research, and writes well.

    Aslan never gets to the philosophical root of creation, never addresses the mind/body unity. And never wraps his head around natural and moral law. His theories are based on unexamined assumptions.

    I don't know if I can keep my commitment to finish this book. It was gift, but I don't believe the person who gave it to me has read it.

    It's too much of a simplistic "all beliefs are equal and lead to the same place" fairy tale. I would not waste my time on this book I would pick up any book by Sherman Alexie, James McBride, Bryan Stevenson, Toni Morrison, or Mark Twain!!!

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