A fascinating and important re-visioning of God and religion: “God: An Autobiography”
It was around 2010 that I first became aware of Jerry Martin’s book in progress titled God: An Autobiography as Told to a Philosopher. I was deep into blogging at the (now-defunct) Demon Muse site at the time, and I was developing A Course in Demonic Creativity from those materials. So thoughts about the experience of perceived communication from an external psychological or spiritual source were very much on my mind. And when I began reading excerpts and even entire chapters from the God book at its website, I was transfixed. The official description that accompanies the eventually published full version of the book will indicate why:
The voice announced, “I am God.” For Jerry Martin, that encounter began a personal, intellectual, and spiritual adventure. He had not believed in God. He was a philosopher, trained to be skeptical — to doubt everything. So his first question was: Is this really God talking? There were other urgent questions: What will my wife think? Why would God want to talk to me? Does God want me to do something? He began asking all the questions about life and death and ultimate things to which he — and all of us — have sought answers: Love and loss. Happiness and suffering. Good and evil. Death and the afterlife. The world’s religions. The ways God communicates with us. How to live in harmony with God. God: An Autobiography tells the story of these mind-opening conversations with God.
Jerry L. Martin was raised in a Christian home. By the time he left college, he was not a believer. But he was interested in the big questions and so he studied the great thinkers. He became a philosophy professor and served as head of the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to scholarly articles on epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and public policy, he wrote reports on education that received national attention and was invited to testify before Congress. He stepped down from that career to write this book.
So you can understand my interest. I got involved in some of the online communications with Jerry that appreciative readers were conducting through the book site, and it swiftly became evident that he and I shared a similar set of concerns, although my own experiences have imparted a decidedly darker cast to my thoughts and writings about the perception of divine and daemonic communication. Jerry and I also conversed through Facebook (to which I only recently returned, with a new account, after a multi-year hiatus), and I found him to be a very kind and generous-spirited correspondent. When the full, final edition of God: An Autobiography was published last year by Calladium, I was pleased to see it make slow but sure and steady headway as readers began to catch on to its import. Kirkus Reviews weighed in with a sparklingly positive (and nicely informative) response in which they called the book “a captivating religious dialogue for the modern age.” A writer for Reading Religion, the book review publication of the American Academy of Religion, praised God: An Autobiography as “the most path-breaking material for future philosophical and theological reflection I have come across in a long time.”
I concur with both assessments. Today I finally got around to writing my own brief review of the book. I posted it at Amazon a little while ago (making it only the second Amazon review that I have ever written; the first was for The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett). Now I’m sharing it with Teeming Brain readers, many of whom I suspect will find it, and the book itself, of interest.
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A Fascinating and Important
Re-visioning of God and Religion
God: An Autobiography is not just an important book but a compulsively readable one, and the author’s professional history — as a philosophy professor, as president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, as acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and as a prominent voice for higher education reform — lends it unusual credibility. His account of how he, a confirmed atheist, unexpectedly began receiving apparent communications from a divine source that announced itself as God is amazingly absorbing, and it completely avoids the possible collapse into New Agey silliness and insipidness that inevitably haunts initial perceptions of such a project these days. Both Martin and the God with whom he converses come off as humane and reflective, and the insights that are communicated about God, the world, human beings, and the world’s religions are profound.
Personally, I was as much taken with the interlude chapters offering summaries of various world religious and spiritual traditions as I was with the God-conversation content. Martin’s experience as a teacher is quite evident in these portions, which serve as concise and effective introductions to their respective topics. The section introducing Siddhartha Gautama, for instance, and giving an account of the origin of Buddhism and its Four Noble Truths, is a wonderful little resource, and I have in fact used it with my college students in an introductory course on the world’s religions.
The way Martin layers this information back into the God conversations is also quite effective, with the total package offering what strikes me, at least, as some authentically groundbreaking insights into the possibility of a new paradigm for interreligious dialogue and understanding. Nor does he (nor does the God with whom he talks) shy away from the hard questions about the difficulties that all of this may present for traditionally oriented adherents of some religions. Of course, the high quality of this aspect of the book may not be surprising in the end, as God: An Autobiography comes from the pen of the man who founded and coordinates the Theology without Walls project at the American Academy of Religion — something that, as Martin reveals late in the book, actually grew out of those unexpected divine conversations.
I give this book my highest recommendation. It is an important work that deserves to be read, and that rewards deep reading and rereading. For those who are drawn to study and reflect upon theology and comparative religion, and who are equally interested in the theoretical and practical applications of such studies, I predict that Martin’s book may well prove to be not just interesting but liberating, and even, for some readers, transformative.