In the biblical Book of Genesis, God fashions humans in His own image. In his new book, God: A Human History, Reza Aslan argues it's the other way around: Over the millennia, people have embodied the divine with human attributes--a tendency that has crept even into religions in which God is formless.
Books are just one of the ways Alsan shares his ideas. He was a producer of the CNN program Believer (which was cancelled when Aslan criticized President Donald Trump over Twitter), the host of Rough Draft with Reza Aslan on the Ovation network and a consulting producer on the second and third seasons of the acclaimed HBO drama The Leftovers. Currently, Aslan is working on two movies, including one based on his bestselling book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and The Cabin is bringing him to Boise as part of its Readings and Conversations series Friday, Nov. 17.
What's so controversial about saying people made God in their own image?
As you can imagine, that has had some very obvious negative consequences because when we foist our own compulsions upon the divine, we divinize those compulsions. We make ourselves the mirror of who God is and what God wants, who God loves and who God hates. That, more than anything else, explains why we see such tremendous religious conflict around the world.
God: A Human History describes how religions evolve.
Religions are in a constant state of evolution; all religions constantly adapt to the environment in which they find themselves. As long as there is progress [in] society, there will always be those who feel in one way or another left behind by that progress, and will react against that progress by reverting to the fundamentals of their faith. With that comes the inevitable consequence of fundamentalism.
What did you do as a consulting producer on The Leftovers?
I came onboard in the second season. I [worked] with Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, the creators. My job on the show [was] to craft the story and to craft the messages. I helped them recognize Kevin Garvey as a shaman character and encouraged them to have Kevin die and come back, because that's what every shaman has to do ... In the third season I came up with a lot of the ideas about aboriginal song traditions.
How do you land a gig like that?
Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta put together a very interesting but ultimately not super successful first season of that show, and when it was time to rebrand it and do a second season, [Lindelof] sat me down and asked what the show was about. I gave him my thesis on the show, and when that conversation was over, I think he thought, "That's it. I want you to work on this show." It's one of the things I'm most proud of. It's a remarkable show. Those second and third seasons are some of the best seasons of television ever produced.
What are the two films you have in the works?
The [first] film is based on Zealot, my previous book. That is being produced by David Heyman, who's famous for having produced all the Harry Potter movies and Gravity. The script is co-written by myself and James Schamus, Oscar-nominated for Brokeback Mountain. The second is an original project of One Thousand and One Nights with Lionsgate.
What is your take on the president?
I called him "a piece of shit" on Twitter because of his outrageous and despicable response to the London terror attacks. I have said that I regret the choice of words that I used, mainly because I don't allow my children to swear. What I should have said is that the president of the United States is a pathological liar, a narcissistic sociopath, a racist, a misogynist [and] a confessed sexual predator who seems to not just lack human empathy, but is prone to negative empathy—who seems to actually delight in the suffering of others. I should have said he's a national embarrassment. For our own sake, for our national security, we should remove this man from the presidency with all haste.