Reza Aslan on religious partriarchy, prehistoric porn, and hope

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

​During this holiday season, my thoughts turn towards Mary. She gave birth to Christ, yet is the only part of the Holy Family who is not divine. Puzzling, yet oddly unquestioned. In Christianity, we recognize God the Father and God the Son. God is made human in Jesus, but in every aspect, is only conceptualized in a masculine form. That we have no expression of the female aspects of the divine in all monotheistic world religions absolutely haunts me.

As the Church became centralized and grew in authority, decisions had to be made and power structures maintained. Deciding which stories ultimately made it into the Biblical Canon had to be a complex and deeply human process.

I’m left to wonder, what are the stories on the biblical cutting room floor? What truths have been excluded from our worship as Constantine rose to power and Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire? How fundamentally did choices made 2,000 years ago shape our culture today—from our relationship with the earth to gender relations?

Intellectually, I understand that there were other possibilities that could have shaped my Christian religious inheritance. But when I connect into the tender core of my being, and feel the pain of repercussions of these decisions, that knowledge is cold comfort.

Weighing the options in choosing a path of spiritual formation for our children, Mike and I considered the impact. Could we immerse these pure, open minded babies in a set of mythologies and symbols that made it clear that only one half of humanity was reflected in the divine? Before their critical thinking faculties matured, they’d be indoctrinated in a belief system that prayed to a God that was only Father, never Mother.

We made the complicated decision to raise our children in the church. So, for now, I settle for obnoxiously changing God’s pronoun from “He” to “She” occasionally under my breath (at least I hope; apologies to my Sunday seatmates) but just loud enough for my children to hear. Not because I believe that God is female, but because the only option permeating my children’s subconscious can’t be that God is unquestionably a He.

But my seeking never stops: How far back do we need to go in human evolution to find a conceptualization of God that holds in it the fullness of creation?

When one of my all-time favorite public intellectuals and religious scholars REZA ASLAN came through town, it was a perfect chance to explore these consuming questions.

Aslan’s new book, whose title is as far-reaching and wide-ranging as its author, is GOD: A HUMAN HISTORY. I’d long admired Reza, for his deft handling of prejudice, and for his mission as host and creator or CNN’s “Believer” to help us realize that there is more that connects us than divides us. The beautiful example of equitable partnership and parenting that comes through in his marriage to visionary entrepreneur Jessica Jackley also hints at a lifestyle aligned with the values he espouses.

Professor, NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author, commentator, and producer, Reza exudes warmth and good humor, and doesn’t shy away from controversy on his path to deepen our understanding about ourselves and the divine. And when you are dealing with a subject with this depth of devotion and emotion, controversy is simply in the job description.

This most recent book, Aslan’s most personal to date, holds a breathtakingly expansive view of how humans have evolved to conceptualize of what “God” is, over time. He argues that when we conceive of God as a divine version of ourselves, like a “human with superpowers,” we project upon that God our good and bad traits, virtues and vices. Leading to irrevocable conflicts that have plagued every religious faith and belief system.

In this clip, we pick up where Reza describes a fundamental shift about our idea of God. It occurred when we developed from small clans of hunter-gatherers, to farmers, and then to forming our first civilizations. When the choice was made at the advent of the creation of our first civilizations to rank by hierarchy, institutionalized religion began, and we see the birth of patriarchy in religion.

But before that?


In our earliest times, Reza explains here, women, their creative force, and naturally generative forms, were sacred and revered. And, as Reza maintains, in his book’s concluding argument for pantheism, we have a lot to learn from the beliefs of our prehistoric ancestors. That all things are animated by a single essence, a unifying, connective fabric that knits together reality. All of it shares the same essence: God.

Yes, I was bolstered and reassured that Reza’s research validated my hunches. But like all great conversations, this one, more importantly, expanded my world. It’s no surprise that he’s an expansive, visionary thinker. What was unexpected was to see how profoundly kindness infuses his intellect. His work offers an invitation to deepen our understanding of spirituality, and with that, to realize the fullness of what it means to be human.

Reza Aslan, an American immigrant from Iran, who converted to evangelical Christianity in his teens, before finding his home in Sufism, the mystical strain of the Muslim faith, is perhaps one of the most unlikely and hopeful prophetic voices of our time.

Learn more about Reza Aslan at:

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