Biblical, and using that term generically, texts aside, author-scholar Reza Aslan charts both the history and concept of God in a fascinating follow-up to Zealot, where he previously de-constructed and then re-constructed a historical look at Jesus the Messiah. Here with his latest, Aslan does not solely present the Jewish/Christian/Muslim God, but theorizes how the idea of “god” is so prevalent with human history; a concept that either most people, devout or not, might have either taken for granted, or simply not have given an origin story much thought. After all, the God of the Big-Three never really required an origin as, in the case with those religions, In The Beginning… God…Right?
Within God: A Human History, Aslan presents a palatable historical journey that traces the idea of God starting from prehistoric times, where an all-encompassing spirit of nature was dominant, to the pantheon of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods, to how monotheism became dominant after the Babylonian conquest of Israel, through the birth of Christianity, and finally to the rise of Islam. The pacing skips ahead through history at an outstanding rate. Aslan devotes significant time to the prehistoric concept of God, pointing out the examples of the Trois-Frères caves of southwest France and the stone temple of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, but then rockets ahead to introduce the God of the Big-Three, yet spends startling little time in referencing why other cultures have been able to follow religious systems, such as Buddhism, without a deity at their center. Rather, he focuses much of his thesis at the idea of a humanized God.
Aslan approaches the topic as subjectively as possible and, as was bluntly noticed in Zealot, does so without the allusion of faith – for the most part. Aslan does present a beautiful illustration in showing that God is akin to a prism of light, where yellow and blue and violet can all be viewed as perspectives change, yet it is all light from the same source. As an open-minded Christian, this is a outlook I have long adhered to and appreciate the back-up in these conservative times. Aslan, however, goes several steps further with his personal enlightenment of pantheism – that “God” is present in all creation at all times and with everyone. This is his explanation on how one god could be capable of both good and evil, as the concept of “god” has been thoroughly humanized and personified. Aslan is committed in his argument, but such beliefs might be seen as heretical with his Christian and Muslim readership, while the less devout might placate such as hippy-dippy baloney.
God: A Human History is successful in showing the importance of God, which is the true underlying factor in tying humanity together.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read Aslan’s latest and consider this review my recommendation for others. Read it for the history, for the viewpoints, for the opinions, just keep your faith on hand as a bookmark.