I am writing this Blog on Wednesday 1st July 2020, I have been putting down my thoughts in this format since the start of lock-down, I mentioned in my last blog the respect I hold for all those able to do this week in week out, always enabled ways of reaching out in words & deeds. As mentioned previously I have decided to reduce to two blogs a month in July and I will see how I feel by August. Our world has changed a lot in many ways, but in some sense it’s exactly the same. I have been involved with a Covid-19 study via UCL it askes very many diverse questions – the analysis of this data drives some of the information that our Government uses, what has struck me are the references to mental health, how do I feel day to day, what support am I getting. So while we are coming out of lockdown – I am still deeply concerned for my wife’s health – but at some stage we will both have to face up to our new world.
I spotted this saying the other day, I should have noted the source but forgot but hear goes anyway “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you”
In the current climate we all can recognize what is wrong about this picture ( the dreaded social distancing) We as Christians have found new ways of worshiping over the last 100 days, we are all still Christians, Covid- 19 hasn’t changed that, but it has for the time being changed our relationship with our Church, when we meet again in our Church Sanctuary the rules will have changed – the picture above will change those children will be the correct distance apart, we will have to have a Risk Assessment to confirm how worship can take place, we will have to follow the guidance of both the Government and the URC – and we will have to be guided as individuals as to how we approach “ Church” I have always said when leading worship, that our real work Is away from our building, but now having spent so long not being able to worship in that old familiar way I have to say I am missing our Church community, but in the meantime we have all found new ways to worship.
Sorry about these initial ramblings, I think I should now get down to the matter in hand.
The lectionary readings for today are as follows: Isaiah 55: 10-13, Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-13, Romans 8: 1-11, Mathew 13: 1-9, 18-23. I will be using the reading from Mathew for a reference point in this blog.
Part 2 will be posted on Thursday
This article was found in the July 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the sixth imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
You will remember that last month I mentioned how a large congregation of exile from England had been formed in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, many bitter quarrels rent the peace of the Amsterdam Church. We must not be hard in our judgement of them. Rather should we bear in mind what years of hardship really meant. Many were living in direst poverty, and they were in a foreign country. It is easy to see how almost trifling things would strain temperaments to breaking point. In 1609 a group of these exiles left behind the squabbles of the Amsterdam Church and settled in Leyden. This is important because it is to the exiles of Leyden that we owe that glorious chapter of Independent History - the sailing of the Mayflower.
The power of James I had even followed the exiles to Holland, and they found life very hard and bleak. They decided, therefore, to sail for the New World and found their own colony. The story of the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 has often been told, and it would take too long to tell it here. In any case it deserves a series of letters itself. Suffice it is to say that from that small beginning has come the great Republic of United States of America, and also American Congregationalism, which today is helping English Congregationalism so powerfully. One thing perhaps I should mention. In your own church you will find a brass tablet to the memory of these heroic men and women. It was placed in the church in 1920, then the ter-centenary of the Pilgrim Fathers was being celebrated all over this country and America. On that plate you will find the name of a local man who was one of their number.
Over the next twenty years or so Independency grew in numbers and in strength. In 1631 it is known there were eleven congregations, and there were probably many more. They were still meeting in secret although perhaps persecution was not so rigorously applied. At this time men's aspirations were beginning to turn towards civil liberties and religious liberties were pushed to the background. Charles I was on the throne, and his insistence on the Divine right of Kings and the truly amazing folly of he Archbishop Laud made civil liberty the foremost political question of the hour. Quite naturally Independents, who had suffered for generations because of their religious views, now took a prominent part in the struggle for civil rights. Independency came rapidly to the front and became the spearhead of the opposition to the King, and began to have a political flavour. I quote from Dr. Peel: -
"When Parliament asked for Scottish aid and were told it would be granted if Presbyterianism were established, it was inevitable that men, sick of the quarrel between Episcopacy and Presbyterianism, should say 'A plague on both your houses - we will be independent of you both.'
Then Independency had been brought into the limelight in the Westminster Assembly of 1643. That Assembly was appointed by Parliament to consider the liturgy, discipline, and government of the Church. It consisted almost wholly of Presbyterianism, but a group of Independents, especially five - Phillip Nye, Thomas Goodwin, William Bridge, Jeremiah Burrows and Sidrach Simpson - counted for far more than their number. They agreed with the majority in matters of doctrine, but they were almost alone in believing that every company of Christian men and women assembled for mutual fellowship and worship is a church and stands in immediate responsibility to Jesus Christ, is responsible to Him alone, and is under the most solemn obligation to allow no authority - Pope, Bishop, Council Assembly or Synod - to come between Christ and Himself. These arguments were pressed with so much fervour and force that, though they could not convince the assembly, they drew the attention of men of all classes to the Independent contentions."
The Civil War ended with Cromwell, an independent, in power as Protector. At one time it looked as if Presbyterianism would take chief place, but Cromwell altered that. Cromwell's Ironsides were composed largely of Independents, and I give here Dr. Dale's description of them: -
"It was largely composed of men who had a grave belief that they had been called of God to rescue the nation from the tyranny of the King and to secure for the 'saints' liberty to worship according to the commandment of men. At the root of their religious life was an intense faith in the illumination granted by the Divine Spirit to every Christian man to Christ by the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Christian Church. They saw, or thought they saw, that the usurpation by the clergy and the civil magistrates of the powers and responsibilities which Christ had entrusted to all Godly men, had been the cause of immeasurable evils. By the authority of the Bishops, sustained by the Crown, superstitions ceremonies had been forced on the nation. Godly ministers who refused to submit were silenced and subjected to cruel persecution, while men of scandalous lives, who knew nothing of the power and glory of Christ, were suffered to retain their pulpits and their tithes. It was not clear to them that Presbytery with the hierarchy of the Courts, was very much better than Episcopacy. The Spirit of God given to all that are 'in Christ' was not to be fettered by 'Confessions', 'Covenants' and 'Directories' of worship. Freedom must be left to the devout and adventurous soul to follow the guidance of the Spirit whenever the Spirit might lead."
Next month I will try and tell you a little of how Independency acted during its brief span of power.
May God bless you.
This article was found in the June 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the fifth imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
Although the small groups of Separatists I told you about last month were not Congregational in name, they were so in principle. They claimed they were "gathered churches" and had the right to manage their own internal affairs and to be free from outward control.
In the year 1583, Grindel, Archbishop of Canterbury, was succeeded by John Whitgift. The new Archbishop lost no time in persecuting the Separatists and redoubled the efforts of the Church and legislature to stamp them out. One after another their Ministers and Deacons were run to earth and flung into prison. One of their foremost leaders, Robert Brown, a late student of Cambridge University, was actually put in prison thirty-two times, his release on each occasion being due to his high social connections. Eventually to save his life he fled to Middelburg in Holland. Here is an extract concerning sixty of these "poor Christians impressed by the Bishops in sundry London prisons": -
"... contrary to all law and equity, between imprisoned, separated from our trades, wives, children and families; yea, shut up close prisoners from all comfort; many of us the space of two years and an half, upon the Bishop's sole commandment, in great penury and noisomeness of the prisons; many ending their lives, never called to trial; some haled forth to the sessions; some cast in irons and dungeons; some in hunger and famine; all of them governors and magistrates from all benefit and help of the laws: daily defamed and falsely accused by published pamphlets, private suggestions, open preaching, slanders and accusations of heresy, sedition, schism and what not. And above all (which most utterly toucheth our salvation) they keep us from all spiritual comfort, and edifying by doctrine, prayer or mutual conference."
Two of the heroes of this time were named Greenwood and Barrow. They had been in prison for 7 years when at long last they were tried and condemned to death. Twice they were on the point of being executed - once the rope was actually around their necks - but they were reprieved and sent back to prison. This prison was on the selfsame spot in Farringdon Street where Memorial Hall now stands. In 1593 the sorry farce was ended and they were hanged - their heroic deaths made a great and favourable impression amongst London's population.
Another martyr was John Penry, and young man of 34 with a wife and four children. The charge against him was that he "was a seditious disturber as appeared by his schismatical separation from the society of the Church of England and joining the hypocritical and schismatical conventicles of Barrow and Greenwood. By his justifying of Barrow and Greenwood, who suffering worthily for their writings and preachings, are, nevertheless by him reputed as holy martyrs."
He was found guilty and hanged on 29th March, 1593.
This same year saw more repressive legislation against the Separatists (or as they were by this time called "the Brownists") who it was estimated numbered 20,000 (probably and exaggeration). The legislation said that anyone denying the Queen's power in ecclesiastical matters was to suffer the loss of all his goods and be expelled from the country - the penalty for returning being death.
During the next ten years, Congregationalism developed more rapidly on the Continent than in England mainly because many hundreds of exiles had fled with this country. In Amsterdam, for example, there was a congregation of 300 souls.
I think I must quote you the following paragraph from Dr. Peel's "History of English Congregationalism":-
"Through all these years of persecution there was one force working powerfully. The exiles from Geneva in Mary's reign had translated the Bible into English, and their version, i.e. the Genevan, was being read in England wherever men could read. Edition followed edition, and this puritan translation was more widely read than any other prior to the Authorised Version in 1611. These two versions together produced the result described in J. R. Green's famous dictum that between the middle of Elizabeth's reign and the Long Parliament 'England became the people of one book and that book was the Bible.' Behind all the turmoil of these years there was growing throughout the country a profound faith which rested on the personal experience of men and women who were reading the Bible for themselves."
The death of Elizabeth and the accession of James I raised men's hopes of better times, only to disappoint them once more. The Amsterdam Church sent a petition to James asking him to allow them to return and worship in their own way. James ignored the request and carried on the repressive work of Elizabeth, strongly aided by Richard Bancroft who had become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604.
Next month I will tell you of a notable event in the history of the Continental exiles.
May God bless you.
This article was found in the May 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the fourth imaginary letter sent by an imaginary
uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
It has taken three somewhat lengthy letters to reach that period of Elizabeth's reign where a small group of Protestants can be identified as the original Congregationalists. They were not, of course, so called. They were first called Separatists, then Brownists (after one of their leaders a man named Robert Brown), and later Independents. But these men and women are definitely our immediate Congregational forebears.
It is impossible to tell you in detail the full story of the years of persecution which followed. Against the Separatists were ranged the full powers of State and Church. The Queen was determined to stamp out what she described as heresy and sedition. The Separatists went in peril of their lives. They were forced to meet in secret, in private houses, open fields, gravel pits, and occasionally in ships. Many of their Ministers and Deacons were arrested; and imprisonment in those days often meant a slow, lingering death. Indeed many died in prison. Notwithstanding the persecution they were never stamped out. On the contrary, by their courage and faith they won many new adherents. They continued to maintain a firm and unwavering objection first to the Popish practices of the Church and secondly to the relationship of the Church to the State, particularly as regards the Queen's powers in spiritual matters. Read this bold and convincing statement by a Separatist when charged with treason to her majesty:-
"Neverthelesse, this is out of doute, that the Quenes highnes hath not authoritie to compell anie man to believe any thing contrary to God's word, neither may the subject give her grace obedience, in case he do his soule is lost for ever without repentaunce. Our bodeys, goodes and lives be at her commaundment, and she shall have them as of true subjects. But the soule of man for religion is bound to none but unto God and his holy word."
In this 20th century we have learned to be more tolerant of one another's spiritual beliefs, but in Tudor days toleration was looked upon as weakness. Uniformity was the aim of Church and State, and repressive measures were taken to enforce it. Here is a paragraph from Mackinnal's "The Story of the English Separatists." It shows the difference between the Puritans and Separatists of Tudor days, and I hope the part I have underlined will make you feel proud of our connection with these brave people:-
"The difference between Separatists and Catholics - Roman or Anglican - was theological and fundamental. The difference between Separatists and Puritans was political, one of method. The Puritans were for a national Reformation in order to achieve the salvation of individuals; the Separatists sought the individuals and believed that only through their fidelity and spiritual growth could the nation be reformed. In their endeavour they re-discovered and formulated the simple apostolic conception of the Church; from which, since the second century after Christ, Christendom had been departing farther and farther. Our recognition of the nobleness of the two Puritan ideas - the solidarity of the nation and the sanctity of ordination - should not blind us to the superior elevation and courage of the Separatists' faith. They may not have been practised statesmen, but they understood the nature and function of spiritual power. And the true political wisdom proved to be with them. The Reformation movement would have been effectually suppressed if the Puritan dream of a national church had been realised. Every religious revival since the close of the 16th century has ultimately tended to an enlarged freedom of action and an increased sense of responsibility, in the particular congregation. The principle is now almost universally recognised that, for the national well-being as well as for religious prosperity, there must be self-regulating Christian communities, interpreting for themselves the will of God, existing within the state but not using civil power."
Although driven underground, these small independent churches were never crushed completely. The history of persecutions the world over and through all the centuries proves that the free spirit of man can never be utterly destroyed. Next month I will try to tell you about some of the martyrs of this period.
May God bless you.
I recently listened to the New Scientist’s on-line Event, ‘CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC’, led by climatologist Professor Mark Maslin of University College London
Climate change is the most critical issue facing the world in the 21st century. Everyone agrees we must keep global warming to under 2˚C or under 1.5˚C if possible. But how can we do this while dealing with the other great challenges of our age: pandemics, poverty, security, population growth and environmental degradation?
Prof. Maslin showed how we can rebuild the global economy after covid-19, saving our planet from climate change while improving everyone's lives. He discussed the various actions that would need to be taken by governments, by companies and by individuals.
At individual level, some of his thoughts were as follows:-
* Talk to others about the problem.
* Change to renewable energy at home.
* Reduce, reuse and recycle more.
* Change to an electric car.
* Stop flying (or offset the carbon emissions).
* Divest investments from fossil fuel companies
* Protest and vote as appropriate.
We have all heard these various points before…...but could we consider how they might apply to us personally?
This article was found in the April 1952 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by B. C. Wood and originally titled London Pride.
Not many months ago I was given the privilege of introducing some transatlantic visitors to London, the city that Emerson once called the Capital of the Human Race. I set about my task with joy and with pride because London is not only an incomparable capital but it has the capacity of arousing and sustaining complete devotion in the hearts of its sons.
Soon, however, my joy gave place to sense of inadequacy for London does not give itself to guide-book treatment. While any visitor should be impressed by the dignity of the Mall and the excitement of Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square the true throb of London's pulse can only be felt in its accidental and sudden beauty, in the discovering of its labyrinth of streets, in the fascination of its river and in the beauty of its parks.
When I stood for the first time on Westminster Bridge and gazed expectantly around me I felt ashamed of my dullness, for I could see nothing majestic in the panorama before me. Yet, on another occasion, probably it was autumn, Wordsworth's seemed an inspired description of a noble scene. In the same way Somerset House, the house of the Protector, is sometimes the shabbiest building and sometimes one of the handsomest to be seen.
Many visitors, including, I think, mine, who are accustomed to the stone triumphs of millionaire financiers are surprised by London's modesty. When the big and bold in architecture is sought we must turn to Bush or Shell-Mex House or to the monstrosity which is the London University building, and it is only by chance and Goering's bombers that St. Paul's Cathedral has yet been set free to shout its sturdy Protestantism at a larger audience. Besides Versailles St. James' Palace is the last word in self-effacement while in comparison with the White House No. 10 Downing Street must be almost sinister in its anonymity.
But the anonymity is a characteristic of both the Londoner and his city. I have met Londoners who are inordinately proud because they have no idea who their neighbours are and no wish to find out. Here is a have for those - from the deserter to the revolutionary - who wish to live in oblivion. "The only spot on earth left to be discovered," said one of Pinero's characters, "is the end of Cromwell Road."
Again, there are many cities within London; from Spitalfields to Golders Green there is toleration to all races, while Hampstead and West Ham might be in different continents. Some say too that the climate in Battersea is far milder than that in Chelsea, but about this I cannot tell.
London's parks are all of them significant and most of them beautiful, but Hyde Park is perhaps nearest of all to the Londoner's heart. In its own diversity it is a reflection of the whole city; and it has been observed, I think with some perception, that Orators' Corner and the Pets' Cemetery represent the extremities of the British mind. And so it is with the patrician acres of Kensington Gardens and the more plebeian Lido on the Serpentine - the Lido which was inspired by one of the greatest Londoners of all.
I think so too, that George Lansbury would dearly loved to have seen the exciting new vista of London opened up with the buildings on South Bank. For here we have not only a fresh view of London's present glories but a promise that we may be privileged to witness the writing of another historic chapter in the story of our city.
“Jesus ‘sent out’ the disciples. This week’s Gospel reading is about what happens when they arrive!
What do you expect to happen when you arrive at someone’s front door? Will you have to take off your shoes, or wipe them on a mat? Perhaps you have a gift to give the host – how will it be received? How do those various actions make you feel? How do you feel if they don’t happen? Now, with the boot on the other foot, what if you are giving the welcome? If you are the person opening the door – what do you do or say? Do you take their coat, or offer a drink? Does it depend on who is at the door? Who might it be hard to welcome in?”
In the current climate we are not able to fulfil the instructions given here, we are all having to find other ways of discipleship – and until that time when we can worship together it is absolutely vital that we stay strong in our faith, that we are kind and generous of spirit. We don’t need a building to do Gods work, but I do look forward to the day when we can worship together.
“Jesus stresses the importance of ‘going out’, of interacting with others. He refers to ‘whoever welcomes you’ – and that leaves room for those who don’t! In what sense do we ‘go in the name of Jesus’? Is Jesus reflected in us, in our words and actions, or do we need specifically to say who we are? A country’s new ambassador, meeting the Queen for the first time, will always offer her their ‘credentials’ – assuring her that she can trust them to speak on behalf of those who sent them. What credentials can we offer to show that we are sent by Jesus?”
I think all of us have the credentials we just have to be patient we will worship together again but in the meantime let’s continue to be our Lords disciples. Jesus says “whoever welcomes you” at this time that’s not in a place of worship but we mast welcome all into our hearts, interacting with others with all the tools at our disposal.
Singing off for now, I will complete a single Blog in July.
Spirit of fire, warm us with your
Spirit of fire, warm us with your everlasting love.
Spirit of wind, blow away hurtful words that
Spirit of earthquake, carry away our fears.
Spirit of breeze, restore our peace with your
Spirit of the living God, speak to us in words
we can understand.
Go in the name of Jesus,
Go in the name of Jesus,
to follow the way of Jesus,
to love with the love of Jesus,
and to be sustained by the peace of Jesus.
Source: © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission.
This article was found in the April 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Letters from an Uncle to his Niece and Nephew
Dear Jack and Betty,
It is pleasing to know that you really enjoy my monthly "essay". That certainly encourages me to continue. I did not realise when I started what a labour it was going to be. However, it is a labour of love - so here goes for another instalment.
You will recollect that in my previous letter we reached the Reformation. We now come to that period of history known to us in England as the Tudor Period.
As you know it was Henry VIII who finally broke the power of Rome in this country, although his action in doing so was far more political than spiritual, but even if he had not done so most historians agree that an English Reformation would have occurred. English men and women were reading the Bible for themselves. They were discovering the simple faith of the early Apostolic Churches and were comparing them with the pomp and ceremonies of Rome. Martin Luther was proclaiming to the German peoples that the Bible was supreme over the Cardinal and Pope and that men did not need a priest to give them pardon and absolution for their sins.
During the reign of Edward VI many Protestant exiles from the Continent found refuge in this country, but on his death and with the accession of Mary to the throne bitter persecution broke out and leading Protestants in England had to find refuge in Continental cities. Here they came under the influence of Calvin and lived in such cities as Geneva, Frankfort, Strasbourg and Basel. It was in Frankfort that a significant dispute broke out. Many of the exiles wanted to follow the more austere worship of Calvin in Geneva. The dispute was really one between the relative powers of the Minister and Congregation. It lasted a long time and it contained the germs of Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, and Independency amongst the Protestants themselves. It is only of interest because it foreshadowed the struggle that was shortly transferred to English Churches in the reign of Elizabeth.
On the death of Mary in 1558 and the succession to the throne of Elizabeth, a Protestant, most of the exiles on the Continent returned to England and loud was their demand for the elimination in English Churches of all forms of Popery and the establishment of the English Church on the lines of Frankfort and Geneva. And now began a long and bitter struggle over the future form which worship was to take in this country. Although recognition of the Pope had ceased the Church retained many of its Roman practices and to the bitter disappointment of the exiles Elizabeth refused to alter them. The Act of Uniformity in 1559 restored the Prayer Book. The Act of Supremacy made the Queen the supreme head of the Church. The exiles used to the simple and austere worship of the Reformed Continental Churches were not satisfied with the English variety with so many rites and ceremonies associated with the Roman Church. Here was really born Puritanism - the demand for purity of worship.
The Queen, however, was determined to have uniformity and in 1566 the Puritan clergy in London were given the option of conforming forthwith or getting out. Most of them gave in but a minority refused and were suspended from their livings. The result of all this was to split the Puritan movement into three groups. This split was very important to us as Congregationalists. The three groups were:
(1) Those who conformed but still hoped to influence the State Church away from its Roman practices, i.e. to purify it internally. They were probably the forerunners of the present day low churchmen as distinct from the High Church and Anglo-Catholics.
(2) This group also remained in the State Church, but tried to go even further than the first group. Not only did they wish to purify it but to change its form of government from Episcopacy to Presbyterianism.
(3) This group was called the Separatists. Bitterly disappointed at the failure of the State Church to purge all the "offensive habits and ceremonies" they declined to use even the Book of Common Prayer. They refused to obey the law and conform with the State Church and they refused to acknowledge the Queen's or the State's authority in spiritual matters. They took the perilous and yet heroic path of setting up their own Churches to worship in their own way.
These Separatists were our Congregational forefathers and of them I will tell you more next month.
The Gospel reading I am looking at today is taken from Mathew 10: 40-42, other lectionary readings that you may want to look at are as follows: Jeremiah 28: 5-9, Psalm 89: 1-4, 15-18. Romans 6: 12-23.
Gospel Matthew 10. 40 -42
“This short excerpt, which closes the block of Jesus’ teaching on mission in Matthew’s Gospel, mirrors the beginning of last week’s Gospel reading (10.24-39). That passage began (10.24-25) by discussing how those who reject Jesus will act the same way towards his followers. This week’s verses discuss how those who respond positively to the disciples will be understood to have welcomed Jesus. Moreover, in a line that demonstrates a high view of Christ, those who welcome Jesus are understood to be welcoming the one who sent him; that is, God the Father. Jesus is God’s mediator.
If the welcome is made on the basis that the one received is a prophet or a righteous person, then the host might expect a reward; it is not clear if that is the reward due to a prophet/righteous person themselves, or that which a prophet might give to those who receive them (as seen in some Old Testament stories – e.g. 1 Kings 17.8-24; 2 Kings 4.8-37). Either way, it is a promise of reward and this is probably intended in the sense of a consequence at the end of the age.
The passage highlights again the importance, in that culture, of offering hospitality. The reference to giving water, which was the basic requirement of hospitality then as now (and for which no reward would be expected), is echoed in Matthew 25.35-40, speaking of the time ‘when the Son of Man comes in his glory’. Jesus welcomes and rewards those who, in giving a drink to one of his ‘brothers’, are viewed as having ministered to Jesus himself.”
The links between the readings
The Gospel and Old Testament readings are both concerned with the ways in which the people of God who bring the message of God are received by others. As such, they demonstrate that the reception is not always positive, but, at the end of the age, there will be profound consequences for the recipients. The Romans’ passage discusses the response of the believer to their new status in Christ; should they continue to live as they used to, effectively remaining slaves to sin? Or should they act in the way appropriate to their new status and consider themselves slaves of righteousness? Each of these options will also have consequences at the end-time.
Source: © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission.
Where did religion come from? This is the question Reza Aslan, a scholar of religions, attempts to answer in his latest publication, God: A Human History. To date, Aslan has tackled subjects such as the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and the origins, evolution and future of Islam. In this book, the author journeys back to the earliest evidence of human existence and, using a mix of resources, theories and investigations, tries to determine how our ancestors conceived the idea of gods and souls. Maintaining the idea that the majority of humans think of God as a divine version of ourselves, Aslan also looks at the way our perception of life after death has altered due to the changes in our governments and cultures.
Reza Aslan claims that he, a Muslim-devout-Christian-convert-turned-Sufi, is neither trying to prove or disprove the existence of God or gods. Instead, he is providing readers with a thorough history of religion with a strong suggestion that we, as believers, have fashioned God in our image, and not the other way around.
Insisting that belief systems are inherited from each previous generation, Aslan takes a look at ancient cave drawings where he, and many other theorists, surmise that a form of religion was already well underway. Lack of written word results in a lot of speculation and hypothesis as to what these, usually animal-like, drawings represent, however, many have come to the conclusion that early humans had some form of animistic belief system.
Although not a dig at religion, after all, the author is religious himself, the following chapters bring in to question the authenticity of past and present beliefs. With reference to various psychologists, Aslan poses the theory that ancient humans may have misinterpreted dreams as evidence of a spirit realm. With no one qualified to clarify the things they did not understand, anything without a clear explanation may have been attributed to a god or gods.
As the author describes how religious ideas may have developed from these primitive beliefs to the fully detailed faiths of today, he labels the human race as anthropocentric creatures that have based their religions on human traits and emotions. By reporting in this way, it comes across that the past ideas of the soul, spiritual realms, gods and so forth could not possibly be true, yet, as the final chapters suggest, Aslan is still adamant about the existence of God.
Aslan’s narrative speeds up, finally reaching the recognizable religions of today. Beginning with the Israelites, enslaved by the Egyptians, the author explains, using biblical references, how the first successful monotheistic religion came about. However, researchers have studied the early Bible texts and are inconclusive as to whether the God worshipped by the Jews was the only divine being or whether there were others of a similar standing.
Next, Aslan explores Christianity, posing more questions than he solves, for example, is God one or is God three (i.e. the Holy Trinity)? He defines and compares the definitions of monotheism and pantheism, eventually bringing in Islam and the development of Sufism, which he is not afraid of admitting he agrees with.
God: A Human History is disappointingly short, ending with the feeble conclusion that humans are born with the ability to be convinced of the existence of a divine being and the soul, but it is our own choice to decide whether or not to believe in them. The remaining third of the book is an abundance of notes on the texts, bibliographical references, and Reza Aslan’s personal opinions about the ideas and theories mentioned in his history of religion.
Although an extensive history on the origins of religion, God: A Human History leaves readers none the wiser as to whether their belief is founded in truth or whether it is something that has evolved over time due to lack of understanding about the world. Granted, it was not the aim of the book to prove or disprove the existence of God, however, it may unintentionally sow seeds of doubt or, potentially, anger devout believers. However, there is no attempt at persuading readers to believe one thing or another, thus making it suitable for people of all religion and none.