God: A Human History

God: A Human History

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The bestselling author of Zealot and host of Believer explores humanity’s quest to make sense of the divine in this concise and fascinating history of our understanding of God.  In Zealot, Reza Aslan replaced the staid, well-worn portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth with a startling new image of the man in all his contradictions. In his new book, Asla...

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Title:God: A Human History
Author:Reza Aslan
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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 impression on me.

    is no different. It is an empowering study that relies on impeccable scholarship and yet reads with the lyricism and emotion of great literature. All the while, Aslan maintains a page-turning narrative that shows how we have made sense of God throughout history by assigning human attributes to our divine beliefs.

    Aslan starts with the first humans of “Adam and Eve.” He explains how they performed burial rit

    Each of Reza Aslan’s previous books made a lasting impression on me.

    is no different. It is an empowering study that relies on impeccable scholarship and yet reads with the lyricism and emotion of great literature. All the while, Aslan maintains a page-turning narrative that shows how we have made sense of God throughout history by assigning human attributes to our divine beliefs.

    Aslan starts with the first humans of “Adam and Eve.” He explains how they performed burial rituals that sought to embrace an afterworld where the deceased took on spiritual forms. He shows how this idea of a transcendent soul in the afterlife has been part of every 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. Each idol became a type of adobe where a spirit dwelt, 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.

    The idea of monotheism didn’t emerge 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. Even though ancient civilizations believed in a “High God” that governed among their many gods, they had a hard time accepting the concept of an 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 merging 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 how to understand 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 seeks to satisfy a oneness with Him, a starting and returning to God’s divinity, which is the sum of all things. To achieve this divine 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.

    is provocative, fascinating, and earnest. Aslan steers us towards a more appreciative view of God’s origins and how we can develop a deeper relationship with God. He enables us to construct a picture of God that almost seems to take on the same direct access to the divinity in which Sufism strives to achieve. This is a book that reflects scholarship at its finest, but it’s also a brilliant piece of literature to understand 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 (SEMI-HIATUS; BW 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

  • Darwin8u

    - Reza Aslan, God: A Human History

    A basic overview of the development of Monotheism written for popular consumption. Nothing really new, except for Aslan's obvious narrative skill (there are a certain band/level of nonfiction writer that always seems like the nonfiction version of a TED Talk, Aslan fits into this band).

    - Reza Aslan, God: A Human History

    A basic overview of the development of Monotheism written for popular consumption. Nothing really new, except for Aslan's obvious narrative skill (there are a certain band/level of nonfiction writer that always seems like the nonfiction version of a TED Talk, Aslan fits into this band). His basic thesis is that the need to humanize god (make him like us) is neurological, etc. At the root of this book, Aslan travels from early ideas about the development of religion down to Islam and Sufism to explain how pantheism progressed to monotheism through several iterations.

    Personally, I prefer Bob Wright's 'Evolution of God' (Loved) and Karen Armstrong's 'History of God' (perused, but haven't finished). Here is where Aslan's book is different. He isn't telling a history of God as much as he is telling the story of Man told through the developement of our God(s)*. Aslan's book deserves to be near these books, while not perhaps, to be treated as an equal among God books.

    * One of the great takeaways from this book was the term politicomorphism: "the divinization of earthly politics."

  • Rebecca

    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.

  • Clif Hostetler

    This book provides a human history with particular focus on the human tendency to imagine divine agency as a part of life. As far back as evidence of human life exists, there is evidence of a spiritual aspect in their art, charms, monuments and burials. This includes relatives of modern humans including the

    . The book even claims that some artifacts associated with

    bones may be evidence of spiritual beliefs.

    First the book has a section that explores why human beings bel

    This book provides a human history with particular focus on the human tendency to imagine divine agency as a part of life. As far back as evidence of human life exists, there is evidence of a spiritual aspect in their art, charms, monuments and burials. This includes relatives of modern humans including the

    . The book even claims that some artifacts associated with

    bones may be evidence of spiritual beliefs.

    First the book has a section that explores why human beings believe in something beyond the observable world. After discussion of various proposed reasons the book concludes that it is an accidental by-product a pre-existing evolutionary adaptation:

    It goes on to explain a recognized biological process that is the basis for our belief in God

    Along with an innate tendency to believe in God also comes the concept of a soul.

    Then the book explores how these beliefs played a role in the transition from hunter-gatherer groups to farming settlements. The book even suggests that religion may have been a driver of this change.

    The first structure built as a place of worship (of some kind) is a site called Göbekli Tepe in modern Turkey, which dates from the end of the last Ice Age, some 12,000 to 14,000 years ago.

    The book continues to follow the joint rise of civilization and religion going from the

    to the

    , and from the

    to the

    . The

    in Mesopotamia loom large, as does

    and

    in Persia, and naturally we visit the Greeks and the Romans.

    The book points out that the first attempts at monotheism did not endure because of the innate need of humans to

    their gods, and the traditional polytheistic views were more compatible with this human preference. The first known attempt to imposed monotheism on a nation was

    in ancient Egypt (circa 1350 BC). Egypt reverted to their traditional gods upon his death. The initial teachings of the prophet Zoroaster (a.k.a.

    ) were monotheistic, however the version of Zoroastrianism adopted a century later by

    was not monotheistic. In the discussion of the

    , the author suggests that the exposure of the Jews to Persian scribes during their Babylonian exile strengthened their concept of monotheism.

    After a review of the Hebrews the book's narrative moves on to the Christians and Moslems. Then within Islam we learn about

    which in the author's mind naturally leads on to

    . The author at that point admits that this book is pretty much a description of his own faith journey.

  • Kat Kennedy

    Aslan’s scriptural knowledge of a handful of religions is really interesting. The lesson on the early Jewish religions was fascinating. But this is a very area specific book in which Eastern religions barely get name checked. Very interesting if you want to know about Christianity, Judaism, Islam and their origins. But on a more global scale it is almost useless.

    The beginning of this book assumes a lot about the thoughts and experiences of Paleolithic people, and those foundational ideas tinge

    Aslan’s scriptural knowledge of a handful of religions is really interesting. The lesson on the early Jewish religions was fascinating. But this is a very area specific book in which Eastern religions barely get name checked. Very interesting if you want to know about Christianity, Judaism, Islam and their origins. But on a more global scale it is almost useless.

    The beginning of this book assumes a lot about the thoughts and experiences of Paleolithic people, and those foundational ideas tinge much of the rest of the book like rot.

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