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The Case for God

by Karen Armstrong

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,6174210,508 (3.91)55
History. Religion & Spirituality. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML:Moving from the Paleolithic age to the present, Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names, such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao. Focusing especially on Christianity but including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese spiritualities, Armstrong examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time, when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith. Why has God become unbelievable? Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?

Answering these questions with the same depth of knowledge and profound insight that have marked all her acclaimed books, Armstrong makes clear how the changing face of the world has necessarily changed the importance of religion at both the societal and the individual level. And she makes a powerful, convincing argument for drawing on the insights of the past in order to build a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age. Yet she cautions us that religion was never supposed to provide answers that lie within the competence of human reason; that, she says, is the role of logos. The task of religion is ‚??to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there are no easy explanations.‚?Ě She emphasizes, too, that religion will not work automatically. It is, she says, a practical discipline: its insights are derived not from abstract speculation but from ‚??dedicated intellectual endeavor‚?Ě and a ‚??compassionate lifestyle that enables us to break out of the prism o
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» See also 55 mentions

English (40)  Dutch (2)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
Excellent discussion of how the concept of god came about ( )
  RolandB | Nov 4, 2023 |
I cannot overstate the impact this book has had on me. Armstrong describes a feeling I have had for years: a feeling that there is something wrong with the way we approach religion today, a feeling that this thing that is wrong is contributing to the disconnectedness and alienation that are so prevalent in late 20th and early 21st century culture.

She somehow manages to survey centuries of theological, philosophical, and scientific development in just a few hundred pages. And that makes it sound horribly dull, which it's not. You know that 'Ah-ha!' moment when you find the answer to a question that's been tormenting you, when everything finally clicks into place? This book is a whole series clicks, one after another.

The first half of the book took a bit of work to get through, but the second half really picked it up. And the last page: CLICK! ( )
  bookwrapt | Mar 31, 2023 |
I was expecting arguments on whether there was a God or not, and Karen Armstrong gave them to me. But what she gave me was the history of arguments for or against God, which was much more interesting than what I expected. I found the relationship between Protestant Christianity and science to be particularly interesting, and left the book feeling that my expectation that someone would prove to me, logically, that there was a God was itself an artifact of Enlightenment-era Protestantism's relationship to science. I also ended up feeling that yes, there should be reason in religion, but expecting scientific proof of God is expecting chocolate in your peanut butter. The Enlightenment may have felt that science and religion are two great tastes that taste great together, but not every jar of peanut butter is a Reese's cup. ( )
  villyard | Dec 6, 2022 |
Armstrong was a valuable resource during my Bible blog project. I still consider her [b:The Bible: A Biography|520771|The Bible A Biography|Karen Armstrong|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1328774634s/520771.jpg|1980253] to be the most readable introduction to the many contexts in which the Bible was written. Thus, when I saw her newish book, The Case For God, on the "hey look at me!" display at the library, I decided to pick it up.

First things first, the title of this book must have been chosen just to catch attention. The book is not really a case for God at all. If anything, it is a case for compassionate understanding of Christian traditions that were largely forgotten for the past several hundred years. But more than anything, this book is a history in Armstrong's normal style.

Many of Armstrong's books are quite similar in both organization and content. Having read a couple of other books by Armstrong, much of the content of this book seemed familiar. In my opinion, if you want to read just one of Armstrong's general religious histories, choose this one. It isn't too long (only about 330 pages), and as the latest book, it states with more power and precision many of the ideas presented in the earlier books.

However, Armstrong's books are not all the same. What changes from book to book is the emphasis. In this book, Armstrong chose to emphasize the thread of deeply intellectual, contemplative, apophatic tradition throughout Judaism and Christianity. She emphasizes that both these religious traditions have always had a thread which emphasized the transcendent and unknowable nature of God. This tradition has always understood anything that can be said about such a God is symbolic.

This traditional was never universal, but until the rise of the modern era, it was prominent, sometimes dominant. However, with the rise of scientific thinking, many Christians decided that they wanted to read the Bible, especially its statements about God, as facts rather than as symbols meant to conjure up insights about transcendence. They wanted to show not that science was compatible with God -- this was taken for granted in the earliest days of modernism -- they wanted to show that science necessitated God.

This, ultimately, would be destructive for religion since a literal interpretation of the Bible shows God to be monstrous or just plain nonsensical. Fundamentalists and atheists alike, Armstrong contends, are products of this modern ethos since they both view God as a being with specific properties to be affirmed (for the fundamentalist) or denied (for the atheist).

Armstrong sums up her view of the purpose of religion, a purpose which she thinks is starting to gain new life, in the epilogue of the book:
We have become used to thinking that religion should provide us with information. Is there a God? How did the world come into being? But this is a modern preoccupation. Religion was never supposed to provide answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. That was the role of logos. Religion's task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us to live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve: mortality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life. Over the centuries people in all cultures discovered that by pushing their reasoning powers to the limit, stretching language to the end of its tether, and living as selflessly and compassionately as possible, they experienced a transcendence that enabled them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage.


If such a view of religion were revived in modern times, it might be a religion that even atheists could get behind. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
In this work, Armstrong tries to directly address some of the "New Atheists" by claiming that the God they are attacking is basically a straw man. She argues that, historically, religious texts were not seen as something meant to be taken literally, that they were starting points from which we could contemplate the ineffable. She believes that religions only started insisting on the literal interpretation of their texts when science and rationalism began to be the way most humans engaged with the world. Some people reacted by trying to prove that their religions and religious texts were compatible with science. This, Armstrong believes, is the God that the New Atheists attack, while leaving alone the god/source/path that most religious people have engaged with over the centuries.

She makes a compelling argument, and this book could find readers on both sides of the God debate. If you agree with the New Atheists, you might be infuriated, but it would still be worth your while. If, on the other hand, the New Atheists infuriate you, even though you don't believe in religious texts literally, then this is definitely worth a read. ( )
  rumbledethumps | Mar 23, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
"The Case for God" should be read slowly, and savored, for its moderating and moving exegesis on the human imperative to "find a transcendent meaning amid life's tragedies."
 
added by Shortride | editNewsweek, Lisa Miller (Sep 21, 2009)
 
One comes away from reading Armstrong feeling bruised. The words arise with such force and profusion that the point she is trying to make seems to get lost amongst them. Indeed, it is hard to believe, after the pain of reading one of her books, that she has sold so many of them, for who would willingly submit themselves to such torment? As I said earlier, to some extent Karen Armstrong has but one book, and she has written it many times. This is not unusual. But what is unusual is that she should think the same thing worth saying again and again, when she did not succeed, the first time, to say it convincingly. Armstrong must actually argue for her position. She cannot simply assume that telling the history of it will prove her point. Indeed, what Armstrong needs to do is to develop a theology, not by telling the history of theology, but by doing it. If what she has to say is genuinely worthwhile, this is the next step she will take. If she does not do it, we can be assured that the theology she espouses is as thin as this book is thick. Theology is hard work, as she says, and she has yet to do it.
 
This is an eloquent and interesting book, although you do not quite get what it says on the tin. Karen Armstrong takes the reader through a history of religious practice in many different cultures, arguing that in the good old days and purest forms they all come to much the same thing. They use devices of ritual, mystery, drama, dance and meditation in order to enable us better to cope with the vale of tears in which we find ourselves. Religion is therefore properly a matter of a practice, and may be compared with art or music. These are similarly difficult to create, and even to appreciate. But nobody who has managed either would doubt that something valuable has happened in the process. We come out of the art gallery or concert hall enriched and braced, elevated and tranquil, and may even fancy ourselves better people, though the change may or may not be noticed by those around us.

This is religion as it should be, and, according to Armstrong, as it once was in all the world's best traditions. However, there is a serpent in this paradise, as in others. Or rather, several serpents, but the worst is the folly of intellectualising the practice. This makes it into a matter of belief, argument, and ultimately dogma. It debases religion into a matter of belief in a certain number of propositions, so that if you can recite those sincerely you are an adept, and if you can't you fail. This is Armstrong's principal target. With the scientific triumphs of the 17th century, religion stopped being a practice and started to become a theory - in particular the theory of the divine architect. This is a perversion of anything valuable in religious practice, Armstrong writes, and it is only this perverted view that arouses the scorn of modern "militant" atheists. So Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris have chosen a straw man as a target. Real religion is serenely immune to their discovery that it is silly to talk of a divine architect.

So what should the religious adept actually say by way of expressing his or her faith? Nothing. This is the "apophatic" tradition, in which nothing about God can be put into words. Armstrong firmly recommends silence, having written at least 15 books on the topic. Words such as "God" have to be seen as symbols, not names, but any word falls short of describing what it symbolises, and will always be inadequate, contradictory, metaphorical or allegorical. The mystery at the heart of religious practice is ineffable, unapproachable by reason and by language. Silence is its truest expression. The right kind of silence, of course, not that of the pothead or inebriate. The religious state is exactly that of Alice after hearing the nonsense poem "Jabberwocky": "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas - only I don't exactly know what they are." If Alice puts on a dog collar, she will be at one with the tradition.

Armstrong is not presenting a case for God in the sense most people in our idolatrous world would think of it. The ordinary man or woman in the pew or on the prayer mat probably thinks of God as a kind of large version of themselves with mysterious powers and a rather nasty temper. That is the vice of theory again, and as long as they think like that, ordinary folk are not truly religious, whatever they profess. By contrast, Armstrong promises that her kinds of practice will make us better, wiser, more forgiving, loving, courageous, selfless, hopeful and just. Who can be against that?

The odd thing is that the book presupposes that such desirable improvements are the same thing as an increase in understanding - only a kind of understanding that has no describable content. It is beyond words, yet is nevertheless to be described in terms of awareness and truth. But why should we accept that? Imagine that I come out of the art gallery or other trance with a beatific smile on my face. I have enjoyed myself, and feel better. Perhaps I give a coin to the beggar I ignored on the way in. Even if I do so, there is no reason to describe the improvement in terms of my having understood anything. If I feel more generous, well and good, but the proof of that pudding is not my beatific smile but how I behave. As Wittgenstein, whose views on religion Armstrong thoroughly endorses, also said, an inner process stands in need of outward criteria. You can feel good without being good, and be good without stretching your understanding beyond words. Her experience of "Jabberwocky" may have improved Alice.

Silence is just that. It is a kind of lowest common denominator of the human mind. The machine is idling. Which direction it then goes after a period of idling is a highly unpredictable matter. As David Hume put it, in human nature there is "some particle of the dove, mixed in with the wolf and the serpent". So we can expect that some directions will be better and others worse. And that is what, alas, we always find, with or without the song and dance.
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karen Armstrongprimary authorall editionscalculated
Clark, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hughes, ShawnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paassen, Willem vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werf, Maarten van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, GabrieleCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wittevewen, AlbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Joan Brown Campbell
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We are talking far too much about God these days, and what we say is often facile.
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One of the first people to make it crystal clear that holiness was inseparable from altruism was the Chinese sage Confucius (551-479 BCE).
Jews and Christians both insisted that...the Bible...gives us no single, orthodox message and demands constant reinterpretation.
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History. Religion & Spirituality. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML:Moving from the Paleolithic age to the present, Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names, such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao. Focusing especially on Christianity but including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese spiritualities, Armstrong examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time, when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith. Why has God become unbelievable? Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?

Answering these questions with the same depth of knowledge and profound insight that have marked all her acclaimed books, Armstrong makes clear how the changing face of the world has necessarily changed the importance of religion at both the societal and the individual level. And she makes a powerful, convincing argument for drawing on the insights of the past in order to build a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age. Yet she cautions us that religion was never supposed to provide answers that lie within the competence of human reason; that, she says, is the role of logos. The task of religion is ‚??to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there are no easy explanations.‚?Ě She emphasizes, too, that religion will not work automatically. It is, she says, a practical discipline: its insights are derived not from abstract speculation but from ‚??dedicated intellectual endeavor‚?Ě and a ‚??compassionate lifestyle that enables us to break out of the prism o

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