This is not a history of who God is, but a history of how human beings have thought about God and experienced God. Armstrong describes the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also draws links with Buddhism, philosophy and other 'belief-systems'. Armstrong's thesis is that any religion can only survive if it re-invents itself so that the God that it worships is useful for the worshippers. If it does not, and thinks of its creeds as eternally, universally and literally true, it will fade. Religion is a matter of human imagination. Our imagination transcends our reason and directs human beings to what they call 'god' (or any other name we have given it). Once we started to rationalize God and began thinking of him as objectively 'out there', instead of inside us, the road was paved for atheïsm. One of the interesting things of this book is that Armstrong thinks that 'atheïsm' is not something new. Atheïsm is nothing more than a shift in our thinking about god. Atheïsts can no longer live with the status quo and start to explore new ways of explaining the mystery of life.
In the last chapter Armstrong draws lessons for the future. We lost God as we knew him, but we will find a way to fill that vacancy. God should not be something 'out there', as if we could understand him. But we should also be aware of an all too emotionally outrageous faith (e.g. charismatic evangelicals) that considers god to be a person that gives us everything we want here and now.
In a 400-page book covering 4000 years of western religion, you just can't cover everything. Karen Armstrong does a fabulous job of presenting various schools of religious interpretation - God of the Philosophers, God of the Mystics, etc., showing not only how complex religion is, but also how dynamic, fluid and subjective it is.
In this narrative, we see how the Big 3 western religions start from what is effectively a very similar, if not common, foundation of Greek tradition, and evolve along distinct, yet similar, paths on different time scales. While different paths are taken, Armstrong concludes the 3 religions have evolved what amounts to remarkably similar conceptions of God. Much of this, I have to confess, was over my head. That said, the key themes come through rather nicely.
Many reviews lament the lack of information on their favorite topic - Gnosticism, Taoism, etc - or decry Armstrong as a no-nothing. Well, I can't see the finger-pointers' credentials in their profile, so will discount accordingly. The omission I will complain about is the politics. Armstrong takes Christianity from a fledgling faith to a power having the backing of the Roman Empire with only a couple flip sentences about Constantine adopting it, and that its ascension was unclear, but couldn't have been achieved without the Romans.
I suppose this book focussed on the 'whats,' 'wheres' and 'whens' of religious evolution rather than the 'hows' and 'whys'. Like I said, in 400 pages you can only cover so much......Continua
Every now and again I discover a book about a subject I'd never even thought about before. I mean, everybody knows that God is up there in the sky and lets us into heaven if we've been good, and listens to our prayers, again if we are good. Right?
Well, not so right. As Karen Armstrong points out, there's a lot more subtlety to God than that, and so it's actually pretty silly to think that everyone thinks about him in the same way. This book has broadened my perspective no end and made me think about a lot of things I never thought to question before. It's also filled in a lot of fascinating details: I grew up going to a Catholic Church listening to readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of St Paul to the Corinthians, but until now I never knew (or even thought about) who, for example, the Corinthians were, or what St Paul's motives might have been in all those letters.
Karen Armstrong writes well: I might pick up another by her after this one, though it's going quite slowly....Continua
she seems to have a soft spot for Islamm.
(comparing her harsh critism on Catholic & favorable opinions for Islam, one wonder if her being an ex-Catholic nun biasd her view.)