Reviewing Reza Aslan’s God: A Human History, Emma Green describes its intended reader as the “spiritual seeker . . . who hopes to answer deep questions on the divine with study data and tidbits about evolution.” But even for this audience, Aslan, a much praised, self-appointed religion expert, doesn’t present much that is new:
The idea of the book is fairly simple: human spirituality can be explained in one cohesive, linear story about our universal desire to see ourselves in God. Aslan is skeptical of religion, which he sees as “little more than a ‘language’ made up of symbols and metaphors.” He’s more interested in “the ineffable experience of faith,” which for him is “too expansive to be defined by any one religious tradition.” . . .
This mix of humanism and pantheism guides Aslan’s narrative choices. He structures the book as a linear progression of faith, moving from animism, or the attribution of a soul to all objects, to monotheism, or the belief in one God. . . . He goes on to summarize the first 600 years of Christianity in seventeen pages, bringing religious history to its culmination in Islam, “a kind of doubling down on the very concept of monotheism.”
It’s a convenient story for an author arguing that a single, universal theory can adequately summarize thousands of years of contested history, text, and myth. Aslan shows little interest in religious traditions that don’t fit this pattern, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, which are mentioned only in passing. His history of God barely travels east of the Arabian Sea. . . . Instead, Aslan bushwhacks his way through intellectual history in pursuit of his point. Emile Durkheim, one of the most important early sociologists of religion, is taken down in two paragraphs. . . .
God: A Human History is [in fact] aggressive atheism tempered and remodeled for the millennial age: doggedly universalistic, obligation-free, and relentlessly focused on self-revelation. While Aslan claims to walk alongside the seeker, his orientation is actually the opposite, forgoing humility and spiritual hunger in favor of simplicity and self-righteousness.