Thursday, January 11, 2007

What I've Read: A History of God

I just finished reading this today after work. I started it before we went on vacation, but I wasn't comfortable bringing a book on religion onto a plane in that climate, right after the terrorists were caught in London. For a while the book was buried in a basket of books; after I rediscovered it, I decided it was time to finish it.

This book traces the history of the three major monothesistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It's interesting to note how they underwent similar developments. For instance, both Christianity and Islam were originally much more feminist in thought than they are today. All three religions developed mystic movements, though Christianity was affected the least by this, especially once the Enlightenment encouraged people to think about God as something or someone subject to rational thought. Perhaps this is why Christians (or at least some of them) are more likely to take their holy book more literally than do Jews or Muslims. I never realized before how the fundamentalist movement came about, but this book provides some insight into that. It's also worth pointing out that according to this book, Muslims at the beginning of the 20th century were much more friendly toward the West but then became humilated by some of the military defeats they suffered.

The final chapters of this book discuss the rise of atheism and the future of God. While it's difficult to view God in the same way post-Holocaust as before WWII, it still seems that there's an innate religious drive in humans that's not going away. On the other hand, the history of religion as traced in this book does suggest that mixing rational and religious thought doesn't work well for either science or religion.

There's a lot to ponder in this book, both on a personal level and on the world-creating level for writers. By looking at how religion has changed over the centuries, writers can develop religions for their own worlds that give us a new perspective on the subject.

With my next book to read, I'll be switching things up a bit with some hard science fiction. We'll see if I want to discuss it afterwards. In the meantime, I should also update my blog template.

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