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God: A Human History

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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 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, Aslan takes on a subject even more immense: God, writ large.   In layered prose and with thoughtful, accessible scholarship, Aslan narrates the history of religion as a remarkably cohesive attempt to understand the divine by giving it human traits and emotions. According to Aslan, this innate desire to humanize God is hardwired in our brains, making it a central feature of nearly every religious tradition. As Aslan writes, “Whether we are aware of it or not, and regardless of whether we’re believers or not, what the vast majority of us think about when we think about God is a divine version of ourselves.”   But this projection is not without consequences. We bestow upon God not just all that is good in human nature—our compassion, our thirst for justice—but all that is bad in it: our greed, our bigotry, our penchant for violence. All these qualities inform our religions, cultures, and governments.   More than just a history of our understanding of God, this book is an attempt to get to the root of this humanizing impulse in order to develop a more universal spirituality. Whether you believe in one God, many gods, or no god at all, God: A Human History will challenge the way you think about the divine and its role in our everyday lives. Praise for God   “Breathtaking in its scope and controversial in its claims, God: A Human History shows how humans from time immemorial have made God in their own image, and argues that they should now stop. Writing with all the verve and brilliance we have come to expect from his pen, Reza Aslan has once more produced a book that will prompt reflection and shatter assumptions.”—Bart D. Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became God   “Reza Aslan offers so much to relish in his excellent ‘human history’ of God. In tracing the commonalities that unite religions, Aslan makes truly challenging arguments that believers in many traditions will want to mull over, and to explore further. This rewarding book is very ambitious in its scope, and it is thoroughly grounded in an impressive body of reading and research.”—Philip Jenkins, author of Crucible of Faith


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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 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, Aslan takes on a subject even more immense: God, writ large.   In layered prose and with thoughtful, accessible scholarship, Aslan narrates the history of religion as a remarkably cohesive attempt to understand the divine by giving it human traits and emotions. According to Aslan, this innate desire to humanize God is hardwired in our brains, making it a central feature of nearly every religious tradition. As Aslan writes, “Whether we are aware of it or not, and regardless of whether we’re believers or not, what the vast majority of us think about when we think about God is a divine version of ourselves.”   But this projection is not without consequences. We bestow upon God not just all that is good in human nature—our compassion, our thirst for justice—but all that is bad in it: our greed, our bigotry, our penchant for violence. All these qualities inform our religions, cultures, and governments.   More than just a history of our understanding of God, this book is an attempt to get to the root of this humanizing impulse in order to develop a more universal spirituality. Whether you believe in one God, many gods, or no god at all, God: A Human History will challenge the way you think about the divine and its role in our everyday lives. Praise for God   “Breathtaking in its scope and controversial in its claims, God: A Human History shows how humans from time immemorial have made God in their own image, and argues that they should now stop. Writing with all the verve and brilliance we have come to expect from his pen, Reza Aslan has once more produced a book that will prompt reflection and shatter assumptions.”—Bart D. Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became God   “Reza Aslan offers so much to relish in his excellent ‘human history’ of God. In tracing the commonalities that unite religions, Aslan makes truly challenging arguments that believers in many traditions will want to mull over, and to explore further. This rewarding book is very ambitious in its scope, and it is thoroughly grounded in an impressive body of reading and research.”—Philip Jenkins, author of Crucible of Faith

30 review for God: A Human History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Always Pouting

    This was a really interesting book about how religion emerged or formed through human history. It presented a few theories for the emergence of religion and the universal presence of religion in human societies. The thing though is that a lot of these ideas the author says aren't sound but then he doesn't make convincing case for why not. I think the cognitive biases are more than enough to explain the emergence of religion, regardless of if you are or are not religious, but he kind of brushes o This was a really interesting book about how religion emerged or formed through human history. It presented a few theories for the emergence of religion and the universal presence of religion in human societies. The thing though is that a lot of these ideas the author says aren't sound but then he doesn't make convincing case for why not. I think the cognitive biases are more than enough to explain the emergence of religion, regardless of if you are or are not religious, but he kind of brushes off them being the sole explanation without justifying why in a convincing manner. Also not sure if this is on the author but I also don't get how the things highlighted as paradoxes are actually contradictory? Like I've heard of the "contradictions" and issues with theology before outside of this book and it has never made sense to me honestly. Why cant god exist as one supernatural being and Jesus still be divine or like if Allah is unique and unknowable and omnipotent why can't he still give rise to the world. I'm not even religious but like I don't get what about those things are like causing an issue in people's minds. It seems like something you can easily accept as being true. Also that ending just didn't feel well written or like it wrapped up the book in a satisfactory way. I do think the book was interesting and I learnt a lot, I just wish the author had done more to justify his assertions through out it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    In July, I read a book called Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods: Early Humans and the Origins of Religion 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 Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods: Early Humans and the Origins of Religion 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 Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth 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. ..a God who is pure existence, without name, essence or personality. 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, begat our belief in God and that is why it's so difficult to resist. With thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for a review copy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "The difficulty Akhenaten and Zarathustra faced is that people generally have a hard time relating to a god who, having no human features or attributes, also has no human needs." - 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). "The difficulty Akhenaten and Zarathustra faced is that people generally have a hard time relating to a god who, having no human features or attributes, also has no human needs." - 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."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Malia

    This book was a bit of a disappointment. I had expected something more enlightening, or at least new information, which was not what I got. It did not offer much in terms of new ideas or knowledge, and some of Aslan's points struck me as faulty. His final sentence, “Do not fear God. You are God” felt like the written word version of click bait, and I found it to be a dissatisfying ending to a thankfully short book. The fact that his conclusion is that god or gods are a human construct made me th This book was a bit of a disappointment. I had expected something more enlightening, or at least new information, which was not what I got. It did not offer much in terms of new ideas or knowledge, and some of Aslan's points struck me as faulty. His final sentence, “Do not fear God. You are God” felt like the written word version of click bait, and I found it to be a dissatisfying ending to a thankfully short book. The fact that his conclusion is that god or gods are a human construct made me think of the chicken/egg question. Is it humans who created god or is it god who created humans, to believe in him/her? Or is god (or his/her image) a human construct, but the idea of a greater being, an all-encompassing spirit, somehow beyond even that? I guess it’s easy to speculate like this as a person who isn’t religious and I hope I don't cause offense doing so. I sometimes envy believers the comfort they derive from their faith. Aslan is religious himself, and I felt his conclusion was not so much an offer of a succinct answer, but rather a justification of sorts for his own belief. I do wonder how someone who has educated himself so deeply on this subject is truly able to hold on to profound faith? I would be very curious what readers who are religious thought of this book. All in all, not one I would recommend. I realize Aslan cannot provide answers to which there are none that can be given, no evidence to provide, but I still would have wished for something a little more insightful or thought-provoking than what he offered. Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    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 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

  6. 4 out of 5

    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 Neanderthals. The book even claims that some artifacts associated with Homo erectus 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 Neanderthals. The book even claims that some artifacts associated with Homo erectus 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:… religious belief is an unlikely candidate for a biological adaptation. But if that is true, if there is no adaptive advantage to the religious impulse and therefore no direct evolutionary reason for it to exist, then why did religion arise? What spurred our ancient ancestor's animism, their primal belief in themselves as embodied souls? …. Religion…is not an evolutionary adaptation. Religion is the accidental by-product of some other pre-existing evolutionary adaptation. (p36)It goes on to explain a recognized biological process that is the basis for our belief in God… Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device, or HADD. This is a biological process that arose deep in our evolutionary past, all the way back in the days when hominids were still stooped and hairy. In its simplest terms, HADD leads us to detect human agency, and hence a human cause, behind any unexplained event… It is the basis for our belief in God: the true evolutionary origin of the religious impulse. (p38)Along with an innate tendency to believe in God also comes the concept of a soul.Where did the idea of the soul come from? The truthful answer is that we don't know. What seems clear, however, is that belief in the soul may be humanity's first belief. Indeed, if the cognitive theory of religion is correct, belief in the soul is what led to belief in God. The origin of the religious impulse, in other words, is not rooted in our quest for meaning or our fear of the unknown. It is not an accidental consequence of the complex workings of our brains. It is the result of something far more primal and difficult to explain: our ingrained, intuitive, and wholly experiential belief that we are, whatever else we are, embodied souls. (p47)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. (view spoiler)[ Have you ever noticed in the story of Cain an Abel that God loved Abel (sheperd), but Cain (farmer) was the winner? (hide spoiler)] 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 Sumerians to the ancient Egyptians, and from the Akkadian empire to the Achaemenid. The Sumerians in Mesopotamia loom large, as does Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism 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 anthropomorphize 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 Akhenaten 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. Zarathustra) were monotheistic, however the version of Zoroastrianism adopted a century later by Cyrus the Great was not monotheistic. In the discussion of the Babylonian empire, 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 Sufism which in the author's mind naturally leads on to pantheism. The author at that point admits that this book is pretty much a description of his own faith journey.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Although comparable in scope to Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, this is more of an anthropological and sociological approach to how religion arose. We created God in our 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 A History of God, this is more of an anthropological and sociological approach to how religion arose. We created God in our 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 are 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Artur Olczyk

    All of you, who are aware of many debates that Reza Aslan was involved in (e.g. with Sam Harris), know that he can be a controversial man. Without further ado, I want to say that I fully embrace his scholarly background and the effort that he put to write God: A Human History. In the author's own words, this book is more than just a history of how we have humanized God. It is also an appeal to stop foisting our human compulsions upon the divine, because this is the key to a more mature, more pea All of you, who are aware of many debates that Reza Aslan was involved in (e.g. with Sam Harris), know that he can be a controversial man. Without further ado, I want to say that I fully embrace his scholarly background and the effort that he put to write God: A Human History. In the author's own words, this book is more than just a history of how we have humanized God. It is also an appeal to stop foisting our human compulsions upon the divine, because this is the key to a more mature, more peaceful form of spirituality. It could have been a really interesting book, had Aslan chosen to use a scholarly approach, which he has got credentials for, instead of focusing on fostering his ideas by bending facts to his will. What follows, then, is not a dogmatic bashing at religion and faith; it is a fact-checked analysis of flawed and biased statements in the book. It also hints at what the book is about. One of the first examples of absurd misrepresentations that Aslan commits is that in a book that puts forth a theist outlook, he uses quotations from Ludwig Feuerbach, a German philosopher and an advocate for atheism and materialism. He gives an out-of-context excerpt: "What man is in need of...that is God," to support his argument. True, the German philosopher said that we had made gods in our image, not the other way around, but it was his critique of religion and faith (vide: The Essence of Religion and The Essence of Christianity). Aslan also abuses two terms: a soul and Adam and Eve. The latter is used throughout a big portion of the book, while the former is present in the whole. Granted, he uses them as symbols, too, and mentions that you may as well use other words as their replacements (the mind, the psyche, for instance), but he nevertheless triggers a certain heuristic process, which, in the end, makes us associate the alleged symbols with the faith in them (vide: Heuristics and Biases and Thinking and Deciding). This deliberate mingling seems like an attempt to reconcile two different, irreconcilable outlooks. Next, he goes on to say that our primitive ancestors used analogical reasoning to posit complex theories about the nature of reality. They can form coherent beliefs based on those theories.The fact is the opposite; they did not pose complex theories, romantic as it may sound, because our ancestor's hierarchy of needs was focused, first and foremost, on self-preservation in a world full of dangers (vide: The Adapted Mind and Human Evolutionary Psychology). Therefore, any concept of the supernatural did not come from careful deliberation, and definitely not from an inherent drive to religion, but from a lack of an alternative and from our innate characteristics to ascribe agency to inanimate objects (vide: Why We Believe in God(s)). Arguably one of the most significant consequences of our compulsion to humanize the divine is [...] the birth of agriculture. That will push us out of the Paleolithic era, that will compel us to stop wandering and to settle down, that will give us the impetus to alter the earth to our advantage by inventing agriculture. Aslan clearly states that the invention of religion is behind the agricultural revolution. Recent paleoanthropological findings and evolutionary research suggest something different and more mundane: we settled down so we would not have to face everyday hardships (vide: Sick Societies). We were no longer that exposed to predators and could focus on seeding edible plants and a general development. And yet, the author points out disadvantages of a settled life, such as a time-consuming obligation to take care of the crops. In his own words, we could simply go out into the wild and hunt for animals that were still everywhere in abundance. That is correct, there was also an abundance of life-threatening predators and poisonous plants. Besides, if an agricultural life was such a failure, why did we choose not to change it? The biggest oversimplifications and mistakes Aslan commits are in reference to his description of Greek philosophy. He enumerated in one sentence Thales of Miletus, Heraclitus of Ephesus, Xenophanes, Plato, and Pythagoras. First and foremost, Thales, Heraclitus, Xenophanes and Pythagoras were pre-Socrateian philosophers and tackled philosophical questions in a different manner to Plato's, who lived several centuries later. He named the four as precursors of monotheism. In reality, their philosophy was much more sophisticated. The ancient Greeks did not see any contradiction between the existence of one or many gods, saying that what is divine can manifest itself in multiple ways. Xenophanes, for instance, uses the terms god and gods interchangeably. A god in his philosophy, unlike in Plato's, do not transcend the world. Philosophy of Heraclitus is at best dualist. He believes in Logos that Aslan continuously mentions, but for him it is just a mean for the arche (which in his philosophy is fire) to create the Universe (vide: A History of Ancient Philosophy). Besides, it would be hard to propagate monotheism for Thales or Heraclitus since both philosophers were deified in their lifetimes (vide: The Golden Bough). Another simplistic approach is Aslan's presentation of an Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaten. The author directly talks about a monotheistic revolution that glorified a god, Aten, as a sole deity in the whole country. He also made the pharaoh the first monotheist in all of recorded history.The problem with this pharaoh in particular is that we do not have enough evidence to construe such straightforward statements. First of all, Akhenaten, contrary to what Aslan says, did not forbid worshipping other gods. There is an overwhelming abundance of amulets from that period with other deities on them, which show that they were openly worn by citizens. The use of a military force that the author talks about is also unclear. It might have as well been that Akhenaten's orders to pacify temples of another god, Amun, were purely political, since the priests of Amun were considered as almost equal to a pharaoh himself, therefore endangering his position. As an Egyptologist, Donald Redford, summarizes the case: There is little or no evidence to support the notion that Akhenaten was a progenitor of the full-blown monotheism that we find in the Bible. The monotheism of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament had its own separate development - one that began more than half a millennium after the pharaoh's death. The list of Aslan's oversimplifications and mistakes is longer and is not limited to the above-described examples (mixing up Christian orthodoxy with heretic views of Marcion, Arius, Tertullian; differentiating between Zoroastrianism and Zarathustrianism as though they are not the same; saying that Islam does not make distinction between its followers and Christians and Jews). Nevertheless, for the sake of the review, I will proceed to the last point of it. Aslan lays epistemological foundations of his outlook early in the book but I have chosen to close the review with it, just as he comes back to these arguments at the end of the book. He talks about the need to dehumanize the whole concept of God in order to achieve a more peaceful and primal form of spirituality. This dehumanizing process, to Aslan, is not only a matter of philosophy, but also a matter of semantics. He proposes that we do not use human characteristics in describing god(s). There lies a paradox that he seems to have overlooked. What other description should we use then? We are humans and our vernacular is also human; we can't describe anything by using other, non-human semantic categories simply because they do not exist. We gave meaning to words, even words like "God" etc. Aslan proposes a way out, a Sufist pantheism. Even then, although we do not identify God with humans anymore but with everything around us, the Universe, we still use human propensities (however supra-human they may be) to describe both the reality and the divine. To me, his line of arguments leaves us with two alternatives. We either become atheists and do not bother ourselves with thinking about the case in ontologically-positive categories or we become believers in something so pure and devoid of any meaning whatsoever that it becomes incomprehensible (how can one comprehend something withoug meaning?) and redundant: gone are prayers for any fortitude. Such a deity does not interfere with human affairs.

  10. 4 out of 5

    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 Reza Aslan 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. T 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 Reza Aslan 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 Yuval Noah Harari books Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow - 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 Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. He appears to be top shelf non-fiction writer.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ana ⚔

    I enjoyed this so so so so so much more than I thought I would. This was just SO interesting! Before reading this, I was really excited and that excitement wasn't extinguished even now after finishing this book. This really captivated me and I learned a lot of new things and some of them honestly blew my mind, the impulse for religion and the way we neurologically create religion and all the history about religion was just so fascinating and gripping and engaging and I can't wait to read more bo I enjoyed this so so so so so much more than I thought I would. This was just SO interesting! Before reading this, I was really excited and that excitement wasn't extinguished even now after finishing this book. This really captivated me and I learned a lot of new things and some of them honestly blew my mind, the impulse for religion and the way we neurologically create religion and all the history about religion was just so fascinating and gripping and engaging and I can't wait to read more books about religion and these topics because I'm really really interested and I feel like, overall, this was a good place to start.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    The author is Reza Aslan, and he is no relation to the lion, as far as I know :-D This is one of a few books Reza Aslan has written about religion, and I recommend it. Let’s be clear: this is not an evangelical book. He is not trying to push one religion over another; what he is doing is tracing the history of worship and asking pertinent questions – and answering most of them. He addresses such issues as, Why did humans begin to worship? What did they worship at what stages in history? How did t The author is Reza Aslan, and he is no relation to the lion, as far as I know :-D This is one of a few books Reza Aslan has written about religion, and I recommend it. Let’s be clear: this is not an evangelical book. He is not trying to push one religion over another; what he is doing is tracing the history of worship and asking pertinent questions – and answering most of them. He addresses such issues as, Why did humans begin to worship? What did they worship at what stages in history? How did the concept of religion begin, and how did it develop? What are the differences between different types of religions? … and more. He examines ancient peoples and the beginnings of religious thought, the soul, and the myriad types of worship: animism, zoastrianism, pantheism, monotheism and several more. He looks in more depth at the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, although he does not go into such depth concerning the Eastern religions, e.g. Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. Aslan teases apart the Bible, and explains the contradictions that have always puzzled Christians, and the spectacular rise of Islam as ‘the new kid on the block’. He ends on a high note, with the conclusion that if there is only one indivisible and ubiquitous God, then God is not only everywhere but also everything; there is nothing that is not God, including all matter in the universe. This means that every star, planet, meteor, tree, rock, drop of water, blade of grass, animal, insect and person IS God; therefore, to find God we should not pray to some mythical being in the sky but look inwards to find the kindness, the tolerance, the understanding and all the other traits that make us what we are. If we concentrate on developing the nice parts, we will find God within us all. This also means, of course, that we should not waste time and energy arguing about whether Allah, God, Yahweh or Buddha is the real God, because it is irrelevant. I am not a believer but I found this book fascinating, and it made me want to look deeper at religious themes, and his conclusion resonates deeply with me. I was brought up a Christian but the only parts of faith that mattered to me were Jesus' teachings for people to be humble, kind and generous to one another. I now know that pretty much all other religions have these teachings at their heart, so really we are all the same in the end. No-one should be offended by this book, it is a historical, almost scientific examination, and also examines how politics and power have affected belief or, at least, official religious writings. To me it proves that no religious person should ever harm another just because they don’t believe in the same things.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    I am, in my essential reality, God made manifest. We all are. So then, worship God not through fear and trembling but through awe and wonder at the workings of the universe – for the universe is God. Pray to God not to ask for things but to become one with God. Recognize that the knowledge of good and evil that the God of Genesis so feared humans might attain begins with the knowledge that good and evil are not metaphysical things but moral choices. Root your moral choices neither in fear of I am, in my essential reality, God made manifest. We all are. So then, worship God not through fear and trembling but through awe and wonder at the workings of the universe – for the universe is God. Pray to God not to ask for things but to become one with God. Recognize that the knowledge of good and evil that the God of Genesis so feared humans might attain begins with the knowledge that good and evil are not metaphysical things but moral choices. Root your moral choices neither in fear of eternal punishment nor in hope of eternal reward. Instead, recognize the divinity of the world and every being in it and respond to everyone and everything as though they were God – because they are. What I found most interesting about Reza Aslan's God 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. Imagine all the people, living life in peace... (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. And so, at last, we arrive at the inevitable endpoint of the monotheism experiment – the climax of the fairly recent belief in a single, singular, nonhuman, and indivisible creator God as defined by postexilic Judaism, as renounced by Zoroastrian Dualism and Christian Trinitarianism, and as revived in the Sufi interpretation of tawhid; God is not the creator of everything that exists. God is everything that exists. It's the word “inevitable” there that sticks for me: of course 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 Sapiens (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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kent Winward

    Not bad for looking at theories on how humanity creates its gods. I was interested to note that as Aslan comes out as a pantheist at the end and his extreme pantheism isn't all that different from atheism -- one is everything, every moment, every object, every particle is God vs. nothing, never, no object, no particle is God is practically the same as a logical end point -- everything is all still one color. Not bad for looking at theories on how humanity creates its gods. I was interested to note that as Aslan comes out as a pantheist at the end and his extreme pantheism isn't all that different from atheism -- one is everything, every moment, every object, every particle is God vs. nothing, never, no object, no particle is God is practically the same as a logical end point -- everything is all still one color.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex Vandra

    Nice ending: "So then, make your choice. Believe in God or not. Define God how you will. Either way, take a lesson from our mythological ancestors Adam and Eve and eat the forbidden fruit." Nice ending: "So then, make your choice. Believe in God or not. Define God how you will. Either way, take a lesson from our mythological ancestors Adam and Eve and eat the forbidden fruit."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roger DeBlanck

    Each of Reza Aslan’s previous books made a lasting impression on me. God: A Human History 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. God: A Human History 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 tawhid, 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. God: A Human History 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Grumpus

    The grumpus23 (23-word commentary) Answers. Biography of religion. We imagine God in our image, not us in his. If horses had hands, God would look like horses.

  18. 4 out of 5

    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!!!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    Read this once and then immediately read it again. Aslan is such a thoughtful, gifted scholar, and I appreciate that he makes scholarly writing so accessible. That said, this book isn’t quite what I expected. It is primarily a history of how monotheism and the humanization of God came to be. What Aslan does focus on is compelling, but I was disappointed in the uneven treatment of world religions. I would have liked more discussion of Hinduism (briefly discussed within the main body of the text a Read this once and then immediately read it again. Aslan is such a thoughtful, gifted scholar, and I appreciate that he makes scholarly writing so accessible. That said, this book isn’t quite what I expected. It is primarily a history of how monotheism and the humanization of God came to be. What Aslan does focus on is compelling, but I was disappointed in the uneven treatment of world religions. I would have liked more discussion of Hinduism (briefly discussed within the main body of the text and then again in the conclusion), Taoism (only mentioned in the conclusion), and Buddhism (only mentioned in the conclusion) just to name a few. But I think that the conclusion is the key to this whole book: It is about Aslan’s own spiritual journey, which he himself states is what this text mirrors. And I think his journey is very moving and poetic, if at the expense of a more complete narrative.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Azlan's underlying premise is that the brain is hardwired to "humanize" God; create views of God as a divine version of ourselves. The first part of the book attempts to place this idea in a historical context, beginning with our primitive ancestors. A great strength in his analysis is his in-depth knowledge of the history and theology of the ancient Near East. In the second part of the book, he examines the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Azlan writes well. He is bot Azlan's underlying premise is that the brain is hardwired to "humanize" God; create views of God as a divine version of ourselves. The first part of the book attempts to place this idea in a historical context, beginning with our primitive ancestors. A great strength in his analysis is his in-depth knowledge of the history and theology of the ancient Near East. In the second part of the book, he examines the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Azlan writes well. He is both scholarly and accessible. I found his ideas interesting and provocative. However, major eastern religious traditions like Hinduism are alluded to only briefly, mostly in reference to the Indo-European religions. Buddhism is barely discussed at all. For me, the book would have been stronger, if these major traditions were analyzed in greater depth. Despite this gap, the book was a worthwhile read. I highly recommend it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    britt_brooke

    Reza Aslan blew me away when I read Zealot a few years ago, so I had high expectations for this quick read. He takes a scholarly look at why religion exists by taking us through a brief history of humanity, posing questions, theories, and thoughtful observations. As a non religious person myself, I find different faiths, beliefs, and gods fascinating. Humans are interesting creatures. Very thought-provoking read!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    For 90+% of this book, I was fascinated. It's an engaging history of the development of humankind's relationship to the divine, from prehistoric (i.e, neanderthal) times up to, roughly, the development and spread of the most recent major western religion, Islam. It ties in psychology and politics and sociology and trade, and makes logical connections between the development of all of them, in tandem. Where the book falls short for me comes in a trinity, if you will. First, its near sole focus on For 90+% of this book, I was fascinated. It's an engaging history of the development of humankind's relationship to the divine, from prehistoric (i.e, neanderthal) times up to, roughly, the development and spread of the most recent major western religion, Islam. It ties in psychology and politics and sociology and trade, and makes logical connections between the development of all of them, in tandem. Where the book falls short for me comes in a trinity, if you will. First, its near sole focus on western religions, basically the developments of Judaism-Christianity-Islam, as a continuum of sorts. Yes, Hindu gods make an appearance at one point, but are more or less dismissed. Buddhism rates a momentary mention as something perfectly acceptable to believe in. But nothing outside the European/Middle Eastern religious development makes any real contribution to Aslan's theme and approach. Second, although understandably, given his focus on the trio of major religions, he basically ends the history of the development of our relationship with deities with Islam. In the prior chapters, as he details the histories of each of the new religions that arose, he pointedly includes the often violent clashes that accompanied these, and their opposition and oppression of the past religions that they are developed from. By stopping with the early development of Islam in his historical stretch, he more or less notes that Islam includes elements from all these previous religions, happily incorporating them into a new concept. And then he stops, leaving one, if they didn't know any better, with the idea that Islam is somehow the pinnacle of all things past, and with no conflict with any of those because it is all encompassing - not even any rivalries of the various sects of Islam find their way into the book - something that took very little time after the development of the religion to be dispelled. And third, in his conclusions, he basically announces that all views of the divine, including the non-belief in any sort of deity, be it atheism or a hard-science bent, are all equal, because all are unprovable and lack in any hard evidence, basically taking the tact that "scientific theories" are just theories, and not facts, a complete nonsensical statement, regardless of whether you do or don't also believe in some form of a god. As a history, during the earlier chapters, it's a fascinating read. As he winds up the book and comes to his conclusions, he devolves from historian into sort of, "my way is the way, and there's nothing you can say that will prove me wrong".

  23. 5 out of 5

    Owlseyes

    81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump 67% of color evangelicals voted for Hillary Reza sees race in the numbers. Do you? "I am not the first person to point this out: There’s been a cultish quality to President Trump’s most ardent supporters. Throughout the campaign, and in personal appearances since then, Trump has harnessed the kind of emotional intensity from his base that is more typical of a religious revival meeting than a political rally, complete with ritualized communal chants (‘Lock h 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump 67% of color evangelicals voted for Hillary Reza sees race in the numbers. Do you? "I am not the first person to point this out: There’s been a cultish quality to President Trump’s most ardent supporters. Throughout the campaign, and in personal appearances since then, Trump has harnessed the kind of emotional intensity from his base that is more typical of a religious revival meeting than a political rally, complete with ritualized communal chants (‘Lock her up!’).” Reza Aslan "God came to me in a dream last night and showed me the future. He took me to heaven and I saw Donald Trump seated at the right hand of our Lord" Pat Roberston in: http://soulspottv.com/blog/robertson-...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Melike

    This book fell short for me especially in the last third of the book. In the first part of the book Aslan writes about the evolution of God and how humans created God in their own image since the beginning of our history. There was a lot to think about in that part of the book for me and I learned quite a bit, but once I got into the chapters on the big 3 monotheistic religions, it wasn't as interesting for me. It felt like he rushed through it....The book is simply too short and the subject too This book fell short for me especially in the last third of the book. In the first part of the book Aslan writes about the evolution of God and how humans created God in their own image since the beginning of our history. There was a lot to think about in that part of the book for me and I learned quite a bit, but once I got into the chapters on the big 3 monotheistic religions, it wasn't as interesting for me. It felt like he rushed through it....The book is simply too short and the subject too big. I was looking for more in depth analysis, but could not find it. I felt let down by the end of the book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    James Hartley

    An odd book. Fascinating in places, unbalanced, a weird mixture of history and opinion. It is basically the author´s attempt to work out what God "is". The chapters on the Old Testament, Christianity and Islam and the Sufis were the most interesting. It was a shame that the book ended so abruptly - Taoism, Buddhism and Philosophy and Science were crammed into the penultimate chapter - and the personal opinions of the first (few) and last chapters didn´t quite fit in with the rest of the book. It An odd book. Fascinating in places, unbalanced, a weird mixture of history and opinion. It is basically the author´s attempt to work out what God "is". The chapters on the Old Testament, Christianity and Islam and the Sufis were the most interesting. It was a shame that the book ended so abruptly - Taoism, Buddhism and Philosophy and Science were crammed into the penultimate chapter - and the personal opinions of the first (few) and last chapters didn´t quite fit in with the rest of the book. It finished with a jolt, despite Aslan´s big pay-off line. All in all, reads a wee bit rushed, like a deadline was reached too early.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sara Dahaabović

    I was going back and forth between giving this book 3 or 4 stars, what I know for sure is that I won't give it 5 stars even though I enjoyed it a lot. Why? because of REZA ASLAN! Yes, Aslan is honestly a genius and I love his way of thinking I think he is one of the few people in our time who thinks of religion from a spiritual and an academic point of view at the same time! But what I noticed about Aslan is that he always states his arguments in a "matter of factly" way, and he always bases his I was going back and forth between giving this book 3 or 4 stars, what I know for sure is that I won't give it 5 stars even though I enjoyed it a lot. Why? because of REZA ASLAN! Yes, Aslan is honestly a genius and I love his way of thinking I think he is one of the few people in our time who thinks of religion from a spiritual and an academic point of view at the same time! But what I noticed about Aslan is that he always states his arguments in a "matter of factly" way, and he always bases his facts on assumptions (yeah they could be true, and yeah I enjoy those assumptions and I agree with most of them, but he never addresses the possibility of those assumptions being wrong), you can see this if you follow him over the years as his own spiritual journey keeps changing dramatically over time. For example, he was born in a culturally Muslim family where his father was an atheist, then they moved to the United States and he fell in love with Jesus and became a devoted Evangelical Christian, then he wrote his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth(which I haven't read yet) but I know it caused a lot of controversy about Christianity, and then 4 years later he published this book God: A Human History where he basically takes us into this beautiful historical journey of "God" starting with historical events that occurred before the Homo Sapiens and ending with Sufism. His beliefs are usually very strong but they keep changing (this is bad because he would be this is the TRUTH and two years later NO FORGET ABOUT WHAT I SAID, NOW THIS IS THE TRUTH). I honestly love this man because he never gives up and he keeps searching for the truth about God, which is something that can never be proven or disproven "scientifically speaking", I believe that you either simply have faith or not. This book was suggested by one of my friends who told me Reza Aslan is a Muslim and that this book might increase your faith in Islam. Aslan ended his book with: "Fear no God, You are God", which he came to the conclusion after he became a Sufi. I know some Muslims would take his words literally and take a stand against him, but I learned with Sufis you have to strip what they say into layers and I think what he means here is that we all have souls that God gave us and so we have Godly parts in us. I have always been interested in Sufism ever since I came upon the world of Rumi and Shams (you simply cannot but love their poems), but I never thought they would have such ideologies that make me want to read more about them. Anyway, I've been ranting a lot, my take-home message is that if you want to read this to increase your faith in Islam or to disprove other religions this is not the book for you, just the fact that Aslan is Muslim/Sufi means nothing, he said in one of his interviews that he had to pick one religion to practice his faith because he cannot practice using multiple ones and he just chose Sufism, you can see the whole interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fyb8A...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Waddah Arafat

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I will review this book from three viewpoints, as a believer in general, as a follower of an Abrahamic religion and as a Muslim: (I had a very difficult time going back and forth between giving this book 4 stars for the quality of research and the effort putting this historical timeline together, or 3 stars when accounting for what I believe to be fallacies whether due to bad logic at many times or due to contradicting my belief system in other times). 1. As a believer in general: While this book p I will review this book from three viewpoints, as a believer in general, as a follower of an Abrahamic religion and as a Muslim: (I had a very difficult time going back and forth between giving this book 4 stars for the quality of research and the effort putting this historical timeline together, or 3 stars when accounting for what I believe to be fallacies whether due to bad logic at many times or due to contradicting my belief system in other times). 1. As a believer in general: While this book puts an extensive effort of creating a narrative for how the organised religions evolved and trying to link this with the evolution of the human societies, it fails at giving even a small consideration for the validity of the point of view stating there might be a divine-human communication, revelations, prophetship/profethood. The author considers any message delivered by a prophet to be adopted from a previous religion/prophet/culture. While this might certainly be the case, it cannot be considered to be an axiom and an entire succession of conclusions should not solely rely on it. The same way the author conclude the possibility of the existence of God, he should've accepted the possibility of divine-human communications and so on. 2. As a follower of an Abrahamic religion: There was a considerable number of fallacies in covering Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While one should be open to the possibility of the evolution of those religions, the author totally missed the stories and narratives the those religions claim to be true. Hebrew as Arabic are very similar, both languages use the pleural form as an indication of formality and respect. This also exists in Spanish language (tú is informal singular you, Usted is formal singular you and ustedes pleural you) German (du is singular informal you, Sie is pleural you and formal singular you). As such, the name El/il (presumably the name of God) and similarly ilah in Arabic (إله), becomes Elohim as a form of respect and formality and Allahom in Arabic (اللهم). As for Yahweh, or more accurately YHWH, is similar to the Arabic pronoun اياه meaning "him" in a "grammatical object" form (it's hard to understand this for English speakers as such case doesn't exist, the closest explanation is Ablative or Dativ grammatical cases). Thus, those two names are not for two different Gods but instead the same God but using different grammars. The presence of the good il or El in ancient civilizations before Judaism, can simply be due to the fact that humans knew God from the beginning of time through Adam and Noah's revelations. The same applies to the flood "myth", as having different versions of the story could be due to dramatization by humans but makes the original event more legit. According to Abrahamic religions, the prophets were sent periodically to correct the path of religion as people were led astray and worshiped idols or human-made gods every often. 3. As a Muslim: Again, Muhammad could simply have received revelations from God rather than "adopting" the Jewish religion. Since both religions are from the same God, similarities are imperative. The Sufi sect in Islam, is an important, but minor, sect and there is mainstream Sufism (like in current day Turkey) and magical or "extreme" Sufisim, which is what the author adopts in the last chapter. Pantheism is very different and non-islamic compared to the teachings of Quran. One of they most important verses of Quran is Al-ikhlas سورة الإخلاص which says قل هو الله أحد، الله الصمد، لم يلد ولم يولد ولم يكن له كفوا أحد which translate into: Say, "He is Allah, [who is] One. Allah, the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born. Nor is there to Him any equivalent." And thus, equating creation to God is blasphemy in Islam. The fact that God created a universe separate from "himself" is simply possible in a divine measure, no human measure can explain it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David

    Well, I’ll compare it directly with Karen Armstrong’s A History Of God, which was in almost all ways a superior book. Aslan’s notations leave a lot to be desired. He has a large bibliography, but each time I was like, ‘wow, that seems interesting,’ or ‘wow, that’s a bold claim,’ the endnotes lead to a bibliography with no specific notation (for someone who gives so many interviews maximizing his scholarly credentials I expect something better than MLA formatting... preferably Chicago style. Than Well, I’ll compare it directly with Karen Armstrong’s A History Of God, which was in almost all ways a superior book. Aslan’s notations leave a lot to be desired. He has a large bibliography, but each time I was like, ‘wow, that seems interesting,’ or ‘wow, that’s a bold claim,’ the endnotes lead to a bibliography with no specific notation (for someone who gives so many interviews maximizing his scholarly credentials I expect something better than MLA formatting... preferably Chicago style. Thanks, Karen Armstrong), or, even worse, a note that just contains some rambling digression and then some bibliographic note with a tangential text that in some cases was dating back to the 1960s or even some cases the 1930s? If you can’t find a more recent citation than that, it makes me wonder if your subscription to academic journals has either expired or the evidence you are citing perhaps isn’t very strong after all. Also, citing all of your own previous works of might be okay if you are an academic giant in the field, but if you are doing it still relatively early in your publishing career it doesn’t reflect terribly well on your own scholarship... maybe it is just me. The part of the book that was more intriguing than Karen Armstrong’s book was about prehistoric religion, or religion that predated writing, such as that of Gobekli Tepe, as well as speculation as to what might have triggered the Neolithic revolution. However, given this is largely speculation, as there is no written record... I can understand why Karen Armstrong may not have wanted to speculate. I can’t recommend this book over Karen Armstrong’s book. Her book is superior in scope, analysis, scholarship, documentation, and more.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Annikky

    Aslan reminds me a lot of Harari - both are intelligent, extremely accessible and bold and love to paint with a very broad brush. They also cover some similar ground, although Aslan is more narrowly focused on religious themes. For some reason, I also find him less irritating than Harari - even though both could be accused of the same sins of shallowness, oversimplification and jumping into conclusions. When it comes to the spiritual beliefs of the early humans, Aslan is actually worse than Hara Aslan reminds me a lot of Harari - both are intelligent, extremely accessible and bold and love to paint with a very broad brush. They also cover some similar ground, although Aslan is more narrowly focused on religious themes. For some reason, I also find him less irritating than Harari - even though both could be accused of the same sins of shallowness, oversimplification and jumping into conclusions. When it comes to the spiritual beliefs of the early humans, Aslan is actually worse than Harari, who at least made it clear that we don't really know what people thought tens of thousands of years ago. Sapiens/Homo Deus/God benefit from reading together because while they are similar in attitude, there is a difference in outlook: Harari is an atheist, Aslan a person of faith. I thought Aslan's No God but God (about the history of Islam) was excellent and I really enjoyed God as well, especially the middle (the relationship between religion and the beginning of agriculture, the parallel development of society and the concept of God, the analysis of Bible). Some might not like how the book mirrors Aslan's own religious journey, but I didn't mind that - I'm always interested in how smart religious people think about faith, as I don't have any myself.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristy K

    "What is God? That question has been st the center of the human quest to make sense of the divine from the very beginning." 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 "What is God? That question has been st the center of the human quest to make sense of the divine from the very beginning." 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.

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