I picked up No god but God from the library, on the basis of Rafe’s recommendation. I’ve barely started it, but I find Aslan’s approach of flowing between “religious history” and “factual history” fascinating and enlightening. Rather the trying to find the Truth(tm) of Islamic history, he skillfully cuts between the various truths, both presenting “the Revelation” in matter of fact terms, while pages later cutting away to an analysis of the topos and tropes of messianic childhood myths. (but watch that you don’t forget this tension, as we’ve been trained to reject pluralist narratives, which can be confusing when reading an ahistorical history)
Like I said, I’ve barely begun, but I found a fascinating snippet of insight on page 13 talking about the techno-rhetorical (my word) innovations in monotheism.
More then a thousand years before Christ, Zarathustra preached the existence of a heaven and a hell, the idea of a bodily resurrection, the promise of a universal savor who would one day be miraculously born to a young maiden …. a non-proselytizing and notoriously difficult religion to convert to — considering its rigid hierarchical social structure
So Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all represent successive waves of innovation to produce a more viral ideology that could better leverage network effects. It’s an idea that has fascinated me since an off hand comment in a college history class that monotheisms were better able to displace traditional pagan cultures because monotheists were able to bring their God with them rather then being tied to a series of local, non-portable phenomena.
Perhaps it points to my spiritual bankruptcy, but I’d buy a Clayton Christensen style analysis of major religions in a heart beat.