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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.

Read more at New York Times

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

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen