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The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
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The Battle for God (2000)

by Karen Armstrong

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Made a couple of minor changes: Rarely does one come across a book that is recognized as erudite, essential, and readable simultaneously. The author of [b:The History of God|1923820|Holy Bible King James Version|Anonymous|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1195454548s/1923820.jpg|6405906] has brilliantly analyzed the rise of fundamentalism as a reaction to the emphasis on logos of the Enlightenment as opposed to mythos that had been essential to one's view of the world. "The economic changes over the last four hundred years have been accompanied by immense social, political, and intellectual revolutions, with the development of an entirely different, scientific and rational, concept of the nature of truth; and once again, a radical religious change has become necessary." As science and technology began to become associated with such visible successes in overcoming disease and social ills, the tendency was to believe that logos (rational, scientific thinking related exactly to facts and external realities) was the only “means to truth and began to discount mythos [that which is timeless and constant, “looking back to the origins of life . . to the deepest levels of the human mind . . . unconcerned with practical matters” and rooted in the unconscious, that which helps us through the day, mythological stories not intended to be literal, but conveying truth:] as false and superstitious.” The temptation is to think of mythos as meaning myth. In this context that would be incorrect. Armstrong uses this word as it relates to mystery and mysticism, rooted ultimately in traditional biblical and Islamic history “which gives meaning to life, but cannot be explained in rational terms.”Logos, however, was unable to assuage pain and suffering leading to a vacuum the fundamentalists sought to revive. The danger unseen by modern fundamentalists is that they have tried to imbue mythos with an element of literalism essential to logos. The difference between these two concepts forms the basis for the battle between modernism and fundamentalism.

Armstrong traces the beginning of the fundamentalist movement back to the time of Columbus when a crisis occurred in Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella expelled both Muslims and Jews from Spain. The three religious groups had actually coexisted quite happily and profitably together for several centuries, but the prospect of modernity and threats from a new world view, science, threatened age-old traditions and myths. The fundamentalist movement was an attempt by traditionalists to retain a sectarian view of the world.

For many of these people the world can be divided into two
e faithful. Often an arrogance and condescension – I plead guilty here – make secularists insensitive to those who feel their religious beliefs have been undermined and challenged. The seemingly irreconcilable difference between rationalism and mysticism perhaps make militant fundamentalism inevitable. The danger for fundamentalist lies in their attempts to turn mythos into logos, e.g., have sacred texts be read literally and inerrantly as one would read a scientific text. That may lead to inevitable discrepancies between observation and belief that may hasten the defeat of religion.

Of great benefit, is Armstrong's clear explanation of the differences and conflicts that exist in Islam. Shiite and Sunni branches represent very different interpretations of a major faith.

The eventual outcome of the dichotomy of secular versus sectarian remains unknown. What is apparent is that fundamentalism cannot tolerate pluralism or democracy and compromise seems unlikely. The author identifies two major threads in the development of fundamentalism: (a) fear of the modern world and (b) that the response to fear is to try to create an alternative society by preaching "an ideology of exclusion, hatred, and even violence." She warns at the end of the book, "If fundamentalists must evolve a more compassionate assessment of their enemies in order to be true to their religious traditions, secularists must also be more faithful to the benevolence, tolerance, and respect for humanity which characterizes modern culture at its best, and address themselves more emphatically to the fears, anxieties, and needs which so many of their fundamentalist neighbors experience but which no society can safely ignore." ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
On the whole, I would say that this is a very good book. She does a very good job of tracing the course of history when seen from a religious aspect, through the ages. I especially liked the way that she emphasized the play between the mythos and the logos. I must confess that, when I read the book, I was going through some strange times, so I did not concentrate that much on the book. In that sense, I possibly did not do the book as must justice as I should have.
While she does do a very good job of tracing the development of the recent trends in fundamentalism in the three religions - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism - I felt that there was too much information in the book. This was probably required in the telling of the tale. Yet, the information does tend to get heavy at times, especially if you are not in the best concentrating mood.
It is a book that needs to be read slowly, and with care.
Karen's strengths evidently lie in these three religions. I have never come across any writing from her on the religions of the East. This is a pity, because I have seen the rise of fundamentalism in Hinduism. While Hindus often talk of this as a reaction to militant action by the Muslims over the centuries, and by British oppression; this alone cannot describe the rise of fundamentalism among the Hindus.
For the next edition of her book, she should cast her eyes eastwards. ( )
  RajivC | Oct 20, 2012 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1979182.html

I was really impressed by this historical account of religious fundamentalism (well, of Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism) over the centuries up to 1999. I have not always been convinced by Armstrong's approach of parallelling changes in different cultures that happened at the same time, but this worked really well for me, disposing breezily with the importance of balancing logos and mythos, tracking the different religions' responses to the Enlightenment and modernisation, and then exploring the parallel rise of hardline fundamentalist reaction in all three traditions during the late twentieth century. For the most recent period, Armstrong also restricts her geographical focus down to the USA for Christianity, Israel for Judaism, and Egypt and Iran for Islam, which means of course that all kinds of interesting material from elsewhere is simply omitted. But those are all fascinating countries, and I found her analyses of the religious politics of Israel and Iran particularly illuminating.

Writing in 1999, Armstrong thought that fundamentalism was establishing a new equilibrium after a period when it had appeared insurgent and had then suffered a series of defeats in the 1980s and 1990s. I think she would now agree that we have seen a distinct rise in the strength of fundamentalism in all three traditions in the years since. In the last few pages she looks at how the rest of us should deal with fundamentalism. Repression does not work, she points out, and indeed makes these movements stronger; we must remember that they are based on fear and incomprehension. Rather we should challenge fundamentalists on their own ground, on their lack of compassion for their fellow human beings; this is where they miss a crucial core value to all three of the religious traditions. Definitely worth reading if you are interested in understanding the extremists. ( )
  nwhyte | Aug 25, 2012 |
Another enlightening book from Karen Armstrong on religion. This one focuses on the emergence in recent years of powerful -- and politically powerful -- fundamentalist trends in the three great monotheistic religions. She presents these not as a reversion to the past, but as an attempt to deal with a frightening modern world. The world is frightening in a philosophical sense, since the interlinked Enlightenment trends of rationalism, devotion to science, and secularism have created what Sartre called "a God-shaped hole" in modern society, without fulfulling the Enlightenment expectation of better people. It is also frightening in political terms: the horrors of the 20th century, the impact of colonialism, and the current power of what is called free market capitalism have left millions of people feeling marginalized, threatened, and without any clear identity. In this context, the emergence of simplistic fundamentalism with clear beliefs and clear directives is not surprising.

It has also had a profound political impact, unleashing terrorism for allegedly Islamic ends, pushing the U.S. consensus sharply to the right, and enflaming the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. In all three instances, Armstrong points out, there are massive conflicts within religious groupings as well as between them, so much so that as Armstrong says "Secularists and religious both feel profoundly threatened by one another". and are unable to understand the other side's world view as anything other than derangement. Armstrong raises the question of what is to be done to defuse these conflicts, but does not come up with many helpful answers. Perhaps there are not any. ( )
  annbury | Dec 19, 2010 |
Puts fundementalism in its historical context thereby illuminating its origins, goals and reasons for its strength ( )
  wamser | Nov 14, 2010 |
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One of the most startling developments of the late twentieth century has been the emergence within every major religious tradition of a militant piety popularly known as "fundamentalism." (Introduction)
In 1492, three very important things happened in Spain.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345391691, Paperback)

About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and people would certainly become less zealous as the world became more modern and morals more relaxed. But the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong (A History of God), who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions. Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims Armstrong, who points to the Oklahoma City bombing, violent anti-abortion crusades, and the assassination of President Yitzak Rabin as evidence of dangerous extremes.

Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism and Western materialism seem to urge each other on to greater excesses. To "prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side," she pleads. With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion of a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong's writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision. --Gail Hudson

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:09 -0400)

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Reveals how the fundamentalist movements in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were born out of a dread of modernity.

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