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Book Reviews

The Invention of God – My review

It gets one star for one chapter that is plausible; at least it seems so after wading through the rest! I started this book with high hope. I had interacted with the author on FB and I thought I was in for an in-depth study of how geologic phenomena influenced and shaped nascent human comprehension and religion.

What I got instead was a proponence (if you will) of the author’s view that volcanoes and associated phenomena completely shaped and drove the origins of religion, that there was almost nothing else that played a role. Rain? Thunder? Water? The sun? Nope. There was no river but the river of fire, no lightning but volcanic lightning, no meteors, only lava bombs, no atmosphere except volcanic outpouring of smoke- well, you get the idea.

With this thought firmly fixed in his mind, Lauritzen goes on a romp through every major religious text and creational myth, re-interpreting them and seeing volcanoes everywhere. Every story, every hymn, every god/deity gets distorted through his volcanic lens and appears cast of magma, made of fire, and fire alone.

A few pages in and I was annotating the book every few sentences; a few chapters in and I stopped. It was a funny kind of monomania and the rebuttals were so obvious, the errors so glaring that it was scarcely worth the effort. Lauritzen, in his effort to retro-fit everything into his pet theory serves up paradoxes, faulty analogies, improbable suppositions and frank fantasies. It becomes difficult to take him seriously, which is sad because there is something in his theory that holds water (which is true, and also a mean pun). Some aspects of volcanoes do find echo in our mythology. Fire, loud bangs, battles in the air – there is imagery here that is clearly inspired by erupting mountains. But to posit that ‘everything’ arose from mankind observing the odd volcano is disingenuous at best. Zeus’ thunderbolts were more common in rainstorms, not the rare outflow of lava the ancient Greeks might have noticed. Rivers are more likely to refer to rivers of water where civilization first started. And for heaven’s sake how did ancient, pre-agriculture humans know about subterranean geophysics? Magma chambers? Seriously? Not to mention some ideas about oxygen metabolism that are aeons ahead of their time if they truly did exist when the author thinks they did!

It is Lauritzen’s endless enthusiasm that is his downfall, sadly. Fire and brimstone did play a role in shaping our collective memory, but the Great Flood was probably a flood, not a volcanic tsunami after all.

I wish I had better to say about the book. Read it just to get an idea about the interesting hypothesis that geology helped make our religions what they are, but learn also to interpret with care. Occam’s razor is handy when reading this book. I look forward to finding another work on this idea and gaining more insight into our very human origins.

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About hbhatnagar

I need to fill this up with much better content than I had populated it with earlier. Why I write a blog maybe? I started blogging in 2009 or thereabouts. I was a newly turned atheist and wanted to converse with others of the same persuasion. We're not exactly a big population group in India! It didn't go very well and I sort of lost interest, posting a few things now and then. I got a lot more regular over the last few months and have been posting almost daily since February '15. There were many reasons why I gradually became more regular in posting, but one way or the other, here I am! So this blog has taken shape, being at different points in time my showcase, my comedy club, my art gallery, my book club, my therapist, my close friend, my innermost self....but always my little corner of the world. You are all welcome to visit and I hope you stay awhile! A few points about me because I don't want to lead anyone on(and trust me this does become an issue more often than I'd care to admit). I'm Indian, the brown-skinned variety; if race, ethnicity or skin colour is an issue, you don't have to get to know me any more than what you see on my blog. I'm 40, so if age is an issue, please be informed accordingly. I was a doctor, an ophthalmic surgeon for 10 years before I quit practice.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “The Invention of God – My review

  1. Well looks like in your lingo, a few days means within a day 😛 I didn’t believe from the reviews that volcanoes were really the author’s explanation for the invention of God. Guess I won’t be giving this a read after all!
    Btw, what is your opinion on the work that Devdutt Pattanaik does?

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Uday | 18/01/2016, 11:42 PM
    • Hey, I’m efficient! 😛
      I know Lauritzen online, so I was expecting a better book.
      Pattanaik knows a lot about Hindu mythology. and he presents it in a fun way. I’ve read two of his books, on the Mahabharat and Shiv. I found them entertaining and informative, but I disagree with him where he tries to disprove the fact that Shiv was a fertility god and takes depictions of his penis into metaphysical realms. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar! 😀
      Still, he’s worth reading.
      BTW, if it’s origins of some common strands among various gods across religions that you are interested in, you could read “Suns of God” by Acharya S

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by hbhatnagar | 19/01/2016, 6:13 AM
      • Anyone who doesn’t see the shiv ling as a giant phallus is deluded in my opinion 😛 I saw Devdutt speak recently at the lit fest and found myself at odds with almost everything. This guy is not really interested in the “truth”, rather he says that what’s more important is how we perceive and experience it. While that is alright, completely putting the discussion of truth aside seems very foolish.
        My bigger problem is that how many people in our country think that the Indian myths really happened. The Romans and Greeks have moved away from their mythological Gods but we are nowhere near eschewing our own I suppose!

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by Uday | 19/01/2016, 10:25 PM
      • He doesn’t deny it’s a penis, he simply denies what it more likely meant, a symbol of fertility, not knowledge. Even the biggest nerds I know don’t get erections from learning!
        As far as mythology is concerned, his way of looking at them is a valid one too, we can try to seek to understand the allegories behind the stories….
        As for the Romans and the Greeks, there’s enough to claim that Jesus never existed, so maybe they simple moved to a different mythical god! 😀

        Like

        Posted by hbhatnagar | 19/01/2016, 10:29 PM
      • Erections from learning, now that would be interesting 😛 And you’re right about Jesus of course!
        Btw, have you heard of something called The Athiest Experience? It’s a live call-in podcast but also available on Youtube, and it gives me a lot of insight into how people understand and give excuses for religion. And of course sometimes the discussions are pretty funny too! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by Uday | 19/01/2016, 10:36 PM
      • I haven’t, though I have watched Zeitgeist and the god who wasn’t there and other such vids. I’ll check it out one of these days. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by hbhatnagar | 20/01/2016, 5:53 AM

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