Reza Aslan’s History of God Is Aggressive Atheism for the 21st Century

Dec. 21 2017

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.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Times

More about: Atheism, Idiocy, Religion & Holidays, Reza Aslan, Spirituality

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East