Seeing the concept of God as an expression of the self.
Aslan (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, 2013, etc.) takes readers on a historic journey to trace the idea of God from prehistoric times to the rise of Islam. His contribution to this well-trodden path is to see God as a mirror of the believer. Not only does he advocate for theories that humans anthropomorphize God because of genetic or evolutionary predispositions to do so, but he goes so far as to embrace this as a form of belief—pantheism—that “God” is indeed present in all creation. Aslan provides an intriguing glimpse into the history of primitive human belief systems, as evidenced by such archaeological remains as cave paintings, burial sites, and primitive temples. He goes further to explore psychological and physiological reasons for the birth of belief. The author notes how the humanized idea of God (or, more properly, gods) was stretched to its limits in Greek and Roman cultures and finally gave way to monotheism after the Babylonian conquest of Israel. In the remainder of the book, Aslan discusses Christianity (another example of humanized divinity) and Islam, in which the struggle to truly understand the concept of God as something more than a divine being reaches its limits. The author seems anxious to shock readers with his argument that God is in everything. “I am,” he writes dramatically, “in my essential reality, God made manifest. We all are.” Aslan’s conclusion is not necessarily revolutionary, though to many believers, it may seem surprising. As a history, the book is a brief yet interesting, mostly engaging work, though it does not touch on the idea of God as manifested in Asian cultures. Though the two books have differing scopes and purposes, Karen Armstrong’s 1993 classic, A History of God, is a better choice.
Slightly shocking but not groundbreaking—a readable but minor addition to the body of knowledge about “God.”