Thursday, January 11, 2018

A letter to Reza Aslan, author of God: A Human History

Dear Reza,

A couple of years ago, I listened to you read the audiobook of Zealot: The Life and Times of  Jesus of Nazareth. I found it fascinating, if somewhat disappointing at the lack of (understandable) lack of information about Jesus himself. I really enjoyed listening to the book and liked the emphasis and enthusiasm you narrate with. When I heard you had a new book, God: A Human History, I wanted to listen to it too.

I, like many, have a complicated relationship with religion. I was raised in the United Methodist church. My father is a United Methodist pastor. Many of closest friends are also pastor's kids, and many more of closest friends are friends I met through church. About six years ago, I realized I didn't consider myself a Christian anymore. It was a big deal to me because being a liberal United Methodist was such a large part of my identity for so much of my life. It wasn't a big deal because I hadn't been actively attending church for a few years. I always took issue with some aspects of my religion. I never believed in hell. I wasn't a big fan of most of the Old Testament. I liked the idea that each religion of the world saw a different facet of the same god. I didn't make grand declarations about no longer being a Christian; I just wasn't.

I've attended church several times since then, and it's always a weird experience. I still find great comfort in the familiarity of United Methodist liturgy. I still find meaning and enjoyment in singing my favorite hymns. I also feel deeply uncomfortable with some parts. I have a deep love for the church and the memories and friendships it gave me, but I didn't want to be part of it anymore. After the presidential election of 2016, I found myself craving something like church. I considered visiting churches, including United Methodist, Unitarian, and Church of Christ. I still didn't consider myself a Christian or want to be one, but I wanted the communal comfort of church or something like it. I never visited because I couldn't quite wrap by head around what or why.

Your new book, God, came at an interesting time for me. I had again lost the urge to go to church, but I remain interested in the variety of reasons other people have for their faith.  I found God fascinating. Parts of it reminded me of The Last Neanderthal, a book that made me ponder all the ways we are similar to our neanderthal ancestors. I was most fascinated to learn how different cultures throughout history have sought the personification of God. It makes so much sense, and it seems so obvious, but seeing the connection was illuminating to me. I loved your exploration of the things that are similar across religions and across history. Your book helped me understand that the cravings I had last year connected me to so many humans across history. As I've spent a couple of months thinking about and reflecting on your book, I realized it fundamentally changed how I view religion. For me, religion had been primarily about belief, and when I lost the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, I lost religion, even as I held on to some belief in an unspecific god. Reza, your book gave me another approach to religion: comfort. Comfort was always part of religion and faith for me, of course, but it wasn't the point of access. I don't know if I'll want to find a church again, but if I do, I will feel okay exploring without committing. 

Reza, thank you for writing God and thank you for reading the audiobook. Reading it felt like having a long, thoughtful conversation with you. This book has remained circling around my thoughts since I finished it in November, and I imagine I'll keep thinking of it for a long time.


Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 321 pages (5 hours 22 min)
Publication date: November 7, 2017
Source: library
Want to read for yourself? Buy God: A Human History from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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