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The Battle for God [NOOK Book]


BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

In the late twentieth century, fundamentalism has emerged as one of the most powerful forces at work in the world, contesting the dominance of modern secular values and threatening peace and harmony around the globe. Yet it remains incomprehensible to a large number of ...
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The Battle for God

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BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

In the late twentieth century, fundamentalism has emerged as one of the most powerful forces at work in the world, contesting the dominance of modern secular values and threatening peace and harmony around the globe. Yet it remains incomprehensible to a large number of people. In The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong brilliantly and sympathetically shows us how and why fundamentalist groups came into existence and what they yearn to accomplish.

We see the West in the sixteenth century beginning to create an entirely new kind of civilization, which brought in its wake change in every aspect of life -- often painful and violent, even if liberating. Armstrong argues that one of the things that changed most was religion. People could no longer think about or experience the divine in the same way; they had to develop new forms of faith to fit their new circumstances.

Armstrong characterizes fundamentalism as one of these new ways of being religious that have emerged in every major faith tradition. Focusing on Protestant fundamentalism in the United States, Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, and Muslim fundamentalism in Egypt and Iran, she examines the ways in which these movements, while not monolithic, have each sprung from a dread of modernity -- often in response to assault (sometimes unwitting, sometimes intentional) by the mainstream society.

Armstrong sees fundamentalist groups as complex, innovative, and modern -- rather than as throwbacks to the past -- but contends that they have failed in religious terms. Maintaining that fundamentalism often exists in symbiotic relationship with an aggressive modernity, each impelling the other on to greater excess, she suggests compassion as a way to defuse what is now an intensifying conflict.
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Editorial Reviews

Harold Kushner
An impressive achievement. Armstrong has mastered a mountain of material, added somebrilliant insights of her own, and made it accessible.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Former nun and A History of God iconoclast Armstrong delves deeply once again into the often violent histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this time exploring the rise of fundamentalist enclaves in all three religions. Armstrong begins her story in an unexpected, though brilliant, fashion, examining how the three faiths coped with the tumultuous changes wrought by Spain's late-15th-century reconquista. She then profiles fundamentalism, which she views as a mostly 20th-century response to the "painful transformation" of modernity. Armstrong traces the birth of fundamentalism among early 20th-century religious Zionists in Israel, biblically literalist American Protestants and Iranian Shiites wary of Westernization. Armstrong sensitively recognizes one of fundamentalism's great ironies: though they ostensibly seek to restore a displaced, mythical spiritual foundation, fundamentalists often re-establish that foundation using profoundly secular, pseudo-scientific means ("creation science" is a prime example). Armstrong is a masterful writer, whose rich knowledge of all three Western traditions informs the entire book, allowing fresh insights and comparisons. Her savvy thesis about modernization, however, could be improved by some attention to gender issues among fundamentalists. The book is also occasionally marred by a condescending tone; Armstrong attacks easy Protestant targets such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart (whose name she misspells) and claims that fundamentalists of all stripes have "distorted" and "perverted" their faiths. Despite its underlying polemic, this study of modernity's embattled casualties is a worthy and provocative read. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Armstrong, author of A History of God and other books on the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions, writes very perceptively about the intense fear of modernity that has stimulated various fundamentalisms: Protestant, in the United States; Jewish, in Israel; Sunni Muslim, in Egypt; and Shii Muslim, in Iran. Each is ultimately modern in its attempts at converting mythic thinking into logical thinking and in its use of widespread literacy and the democratic ideas about individual importance that modernity fostered, but each is also at war with its liberal co-religionists and with secularists who "have entirely different conceptions of the sacred." Armstrong concludes that both sides--fundamentalists and secularists (including governments)--need compassion in order to be true to their own religious or humanistic values. The historical range and depth of this work, which transcends other treatments of the subject, make this highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/99.]--Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Coll., Farmville, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
As a portrait of militant fundamentalism—Jewish, Islamic, and Christian—it is a stunning acheivement.
The Christian Science Monitor
Chris Hedges
Whether or not you see fundamentalism as a threat, as Karen Armstrong does in The Battle for God, hers is one of the most penetrating, readable and prescient accounts to date of the rise of the fundamentalist movements in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Rather than make sweeping pronouncements, she wisely focuses on the fundamentalist strains in the United States, Israel, Iran and Egypt. She displays, as she should, sympathy for the plight of those who turned to fundamentalism after being shunted aside by forces and states that have little patience with the quest by the poor and the dispossessed to find meaning and purpose.
The New York Times Book Review
Internet Bookwatch
Fundamentalism has emerged as one of he strongest forces in the world, and this examination tells how fundamentalist groups evolved and what they hope to achieve. The Battle for God is in-depth and essential reading for any who would understand fundamentalist religion and behavior, and provides an excellent history and survey.
From the Publisher
"One of the most penetrating, readable, and prescient accounts to date of the rise of the fundamentalist movements in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."
--The New York Times Book Review

"EXCELLENT . . . HIGHLY INTELLIGENT AND HIGHLY READABLE . . . This is a book that will prove indispensable . . . for anyone who seeks insight into how these powerful movements affect global politics and society today and into the future."
--The Baltimore Sun

"ARMSTRONG SUCCEEDS BRILLIANTLY . . . With her astonishing depth of knowledge and readily accessible writing style, [she] makes an ideal guide in traversing a subject that is by its very nature complex, sensitive and frequently ambiguous."
--The San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle

--The Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307798602
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/10/2011
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 157,160
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Karen Armstrong is one of the foremost commentators on religious affairs in both Britain and the United States. She spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun, took a degree at Oxford University, teaches at Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism, and received the 1999 Muslim Public Affairs Council Media Award. Her previous books include the best-selling A History of God: The  4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths; and In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt


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." Its manifestations are
sometimes shocking. Fundamentalists have gunned down worshippers in a
mosque, have killed doctors and nurses who work in abortion clinics,
have shot their presidents, and have even toppled a powerful government.
It is only a small minority of fundamentalists who commit such acts of
terror, but even the most peaceful and law-abiding are perplexing,
because they seem so adamantly opposed to many of the most positive
values of modern society. Fundamentalists have no time for democracy,
pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, free speech, or the
separation of church and state. Christian fundamentalists reject the
discoveries of biology and physics about the origins of life and insist
that the Book of Genesis is scientifically sound

in every detail. At a time when many are throwing off the shackles of
the past, Jewish fundamentalists observe their revealed Law more
stringently than ever before, and Muslim women, repudiating the freedoms
of Western women, shroud themselves in veils and chadors. Muslim and
Jewish fundamentalists both interpret the Arab-Israeli conflict, which
began as defiantly secularist, in an exclusively religious way.
Fundamentalism, moreover, is not confined to the great monotheisms.
There are Buddhist, Hindu, and even Confucian fundamentalisms, which
also cast aside many of the painfully acquired insights of liberal
culture, which fight and kill in the name of religion and strive to
bring the sacred into the realm of politics and national struggle.

This religious resurgence has taken many observers by surprise. In the
middle years of the twentieth century, it was generally taken for
granted that secularism was an irreversible trend and that faith would
never again play a major part in world events. It was assumed that as
human beings became more rational, they either would have no further
need for religion or would be content to confine it to the immediately
personal and private areas of their lives. But in the late 1970s,
fundamentalists began to rebel against this secularist hegemony and
started to wrest religion out of its marginal position and back to
center stage. In this, at least, they have enjoyed remarkable success.
Religion has once again become a force that no government can safely
ignore. Fundamentalism has suffered defeats, but it is by no means
quiescent. It is now an essential part of the modern scene and will
certainly play an important role in the domestic and international
affairs of the future. It is crucial, therefore, that we try to
understand what this type of religiosity means, how and for what reasons
it has developed, what it can tell us about our culture, and how best we
should deal with it.

But before we proceed, we must look briefly at the term "fundamentalism"
itself, which has been much criticized. American Protestants were the
first to use it. In the early decades of the twentieth century, some of
them started to call themselves "fundamentalists" to distinguish
themselves from the more "liberal" Protestants, who were, in their
opinion, entirely distorting the Christian faith. The fundamentalists
wanted to go back to basics and reemphasize the "fundamentals" of the
Christian tradition, which they identified with a literal interpretation
of Scripture and the acceptance of certain core doctrines. The term
"fundamentalism" has since been applied to reforming movements in other
world faiths in a way that is far from satisfactory. It seems to suggest
that fundamentalism is monolithic in all its manifestations. This is not
the case. Each "fundamentalism" is a law unto itself and has its own
dynamic. The term also gives the impression that fundamentalists are
inherently conservative and wedded to the past, whereas their ideas are
essentially modern and highly innovative. The American Protestants may
have intended to go back to the "fundamentals," but they did so in a
peculiarly modern way. It has also been argued that this Christian term
cannot be accurately applied to movements that have entirely different
priorities. Muslim and Jewish fundamentalisms, for example, are not much
concerned with doctrine, which is an essentially Christian
preoccupation. A literal translation of "fundamentalism" into Arabic
gives us usuliyyah, a word that refers to the study of the sources of
the various rules and principles of Islamic law. Most of the activists
who are dubbed "fundamentalists" in the West are not engaged in this
Islamic science, but have quite different concerns. The use of the term
"fundamentalism" is, therefore, misleading.

Others, however, argue simply that, like it or not, the word
"fundamentalism" is here to stay. And I have come to agree: the term is
not perfect, but it is a useful label for movements that, despite their
differences, bear a strong family resemblance. At the outset of their
monumental six-volume Fundamentalist Project, Martin E. Marty and R.
Scott Appleby argue that the "fundamentalisms" all follow a certain
pattern. They are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as
a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with
enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion
itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional
political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces
of good and evil. They fear annihilation, and try to fortify their
beleaguered identity by means of a selective retrieval of certain
doctrines and practices of the past. To avoid contamination, they often
withdraw from mainstream society to create a counterculture; yet
fundamentalists are not impractical dreamers. They have absorbed the
pragmatic rationalism of modernity, and, under the guidance of their
charismatic leaders, they refine these "fundamentals" so as to create an
ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action. Eventually
they fight back and attempt to resacralize an increasingly skeptical

To explore the implications of this global response to modern culture, I
want to concentrate on just a few of the fundamentalist movements that
have surfaced in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three
monotheistic faiths. Instead of studying them in isolation from one
another, I intend to trace their development chronologically, side by
side, so that we can see how deeply similar they are. By looking at
selected fundamentalisms, I hope to examine the phenomenon in greater
depth than would be possible in a more general, comprehensive survey.
The movements I have chosen are American Protestant fundamentalism,
Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, and Muslim fundamentalism in Egypt,
which is a Sunni country, and Iran, which is Shii. I do not claim that
my discoveries necessarily apply to other forms of fundamentalism, but
hope to show how these particular movements, which have been among the
most prominent and influential, have all been motivated by common fears,
anxieties, and desires that seem to be a not unusual response to some of
the peculiar difficulties of life in the modern secular world.

There have always been people, in every age and in each tradition, who
have fought the modernity of their day. But the fundamentalism that we
shall be considering is an essentially twentieth-century movement. It is
a reaction against the scientific and secular culture that first
appeared in the West, but which has since taken root in other parts of
the world. The West has developed an entirely unprecedented and wholly
different type of civilization, so the religious response to it has been
unique. The fundamentalist movements that have evolved in our own day
have a symbiotic relationship with modernity. They may reject the
scientific rationalism of the West, but they cannot escape it. Western
civilization has changed the world. Nothing -- including religion -- can
ever be the same again. All over the globe, people have been struggling
with these new conditions and have been forced to reassess their
religious traditions, which were designed for an entirely different type
of society.

There was a similar transitional period in the ancient world, lasting
roughly from 700 to 200 BCE, which historians have called the Axial Age
because it was pivotal to the spiritual development of humanity. This
age was itself the product and fruition of thousands of years of
economic, and therefore social and cultural, evolution, beginning in
Sumer in what is now Iraq, and in ancient Egypt. People in the fourth
and third millennia BCE, instead of simply growing enough crops to
satisfy their immediate needs, became capable of producing an
agricultural surplus with which they could trade and thereby acquire
additional income. This enabled them to build the first civilizations,
develop the arts, and create increasingly powerful polities: cities,
city-states, and, eventually, empires. In agrarian society, power no
longer lay exclusively with the local king or priest; its locus shifted
at least partly to the marketplace, the source of each culture's wealth.
In these altered circumstances, people ultimately began to find that the
old paganism, which had served their ancestors well, no longer spoke
fully to their condition.

In the cities and empires of the Axial Age, citizens were acquiring a
wider perspective and broader horizons, which made the old local cults
seem limited and parochial. Instead of seeing the divine as embodied in
a number of different deities, people increasingly began to worship a
single, universal transcendence and source of sacredness. They had more
leisure and were thus able to develop a richer interior life;
accordingly, they came to desire a spirituality which did not depend
entirely upon external forms. The most sensitive were troubled by the
social injustice that seemed built into this agrarian society, depending
as it did on the labor of peasants who never had the chance to benefit
from the high culture. Consequently, prophets and reformers arose who
insisted that the virtue of compassion was crucial to the spiritual
life: an ability to see sacredness in every single human being, and a
willingness to take practical care of the more vulnerable members of
society, became the test of authentic piety. In this way, during the
Axial Age, the great confessional faiths that have continued to guide
human beings sprang up in the civilized world: Buddhism and Hinduism in
India, Confucianism and Taoism in the Far East; monotheism in the Middle
East; and rationalism in Europe. Despite their major differences, these
Axial Age religions had much in common: they all built on the old
traditions to evolve the idea of a single, universal transcendence; they
cultivated an internalized spirituality, and stressed the importance of
practical compassion.

Today, as noted, we are undergoing a similar period of transition. Its
roots lie in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of the modern era,
when the people of Western Europe began to evolve a different type of
society, one based not on an agricultural surplus but on a technology
that enabled them to reproduce their resources indefinitely. 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. All over the world, people are finding that in their
dramatically transformed circumstances, the old forms of faith no longer
work for them: they cannot provide the enlightenment and consolation
that human beings seem to need. As a result, men and women are trying to
find new ways of being religious; like the reformers and prophets of the
Axial Age, they are attempting to build upon the insights of the past in
a way that will take human beings forward into the new world they have
created for themselves. One of these modern experiments -- however
paradoxical it may superficially seem to say so -- is fundamentalism.

We tend to assume that the people of the past were (more or less) like
us, but in fact their spiritual lives were rather different. In
particular, they evolved two ways of thinking, speaking, and acquiring
knowledge, which scholars have called mythos and logos. Both were
essential; they were regarded as complementary ways of arriving at
truth, and each had its special area of competence. Myth was regarded as
primary; it was concerned with what was thought to be timeless and
constant in our existence. Myth looked back to the origins of life, to
the foundations of culture, and to the deepest levels of the human mind.
Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning. Unless
we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall
very easily into despair. The mythos of a society provided people with a
context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their
attention to the eternal and the universal. It was also rooted in what
we would call the unconscious mind. The various mythological stories,
which were not intended to be taken literally, were an ancient form of
psychology. When people told stories about heroes who descended into the
underworld, struggled through labyrinths, or fought with monsters, they
were bringing to light the obscure regions of the subconscious realm,
which is not accessible to purely rational investigation, but which has
a profound effect upon our experience and behavior. Because of the
dearth of myth in our modern society, we have had to evolve the science
of psychoanalysis to help us to deal with our inner world.

Myth could not be demonstrated by rational proof; its insights were more
intuitive, similar to those of art, music, poetry, or sculpture. Myth
only became a reality when it was embodied in cult, rituals, and
ceremonies which worked aesthetically upon worshippers, evoking within
them a sense of sacred significance and enabling them to apprehend the
deeper currents of existence. Myth and cult were so inseparable that it
is a matter of scholarly debate which came first: the mythical narrative
or the rituals attached to it. Myth was also associated with mysticism,
the descent into the psyche by means of structured disciplines of focus
and concentration which have been evolved in all cultures as a means of
acquiring intuitive insight. Without a cult or mystical practice, the
myths of religion would make no sense. They would remain abstract and
seem incredible, in rather the same way as a musical score remains
opaque to most of us and needs to be interpreted instrumentally before
we can appreciate its beauty.

In the premodern world, people had a different view of history. They
were less interested than we are in what actually happened, but more
concerned with the meaning of an event. Historical incidents were not
seen as unique occurrences, set in a far-off time, but were thought to
be external manifestations of constant, timeless realities. Hence
history would tend to repeat itself, because there was nothing new under
the sun. Historical narratives tried to bring out this eternal
dimension. Thus, we do not know what really occurred when the ancient
Israelites escaped from Egypt and passed through the Sea of Reeds. The
story has been deliberately written as a myth, and linked with other
stories about rites of passage, immersion in the deep, and gods
splitting a sea in two to create a new reality. Jews experience this
myth every year in the rituals of the Passover Seder, which brings this
strange story into their own lives and helps them to make it their own.
One could say that unless an historical event is mythologized in this
way, and liberated from the past in an inspiring cult, it cannot be
religious. To ask whether the Exodus from Egypt took place exactly as
recounted in the Bible or to demand historical and scientific evidence
to prove that it is factually true is to mistake the nature and purpose
of this story. It is to confuse mythos with logos.

Logos was equally important. Logos was the rational, pragmatic, and
scientific thought that enabled men and women to function well in the
world. We may have lost the sense of mythos in the West today, but we
are very familiar with logos, which is the basis of our society. Unlike
myth, logos must relate exactly to facts and correspond to external
realities if it is to be effective. It must work efficiently in the
mundane world. We use this logical, discursive reasoning when we have to
make things happen, get something done, or persuade other people to
adopt a particular course of action. Logos is practical. Unlike myth,
which looks back to the beginnings and to the foundations, logos forges
ahead and tries to find something new: to elaborate on old insights,
achieve a greater control over our environment, discover something
fresh, and invent something novel.

In the premodern world, both mythos and logos were regarded as
indispensable. Each would be impoverished without the other. Yet the two
were essentially distinct, and it was held to be dangerous to confuse
mythical and rational discourse. They had separate jobs to do. Myth was
not reasonable; its narratives were not supposed to be demonstrated
empirically. It provided the context of meaning that made our practical
activities worthwhile. You were not supposed to make mythos the basis of
a pragmatic policy. If you did so, the results could be disastrous,
because what worked well in the inner world of the psyche was not
readily applicable to the affairs of the external world. When, for
example, Pope Urban II summoned the First Crusade in 1095, his plan
belonged to the realm of logos. He wanted the knights of Europe to stop
fighting one another and tearing the fabric of Western Christendom
apart, and to expend their energies instead in a war in the Middle East
and so extend the power of his church. But when this military expedition
became entangled with folk mythology, biblical lore, and apocalyptic
fantasies, the result was catastrophic, practically, militarily, and
morally. Throughout the long crusading project, it remained true that
whenever logos was ascendant, the Crusaders prospered. They performed
well on the battlefield, created viable colonies in the Middle East, and
learned to relate more positively with the local population. When,
however, Crusaders started making a mythical or mystical vision the
basis of their policies, they were usually defeated and committed
terrible atrocities.

Logos had its limitations too. It could not assuage human pain or
sorrow. Rational arguments could make no sense of tragedy. Logos could
not answer questions about the ultimate value of human life. A scientist
could make things work more efficiently and discover wonderful new facts
about the physical universe, but he could not explain the meaning of
life.9 That was the preserve of myth and cult.

By the eighteenth century, however, the people of Europe and America had
achieved such astonishing success in science and technology that they
began to think that logos was the only means to truth and began to
discount mythos as false and superstitious. It is also true that the new
world they were creating contradicted the dynamic of the old mythical
spirituality. Our religious experience in the modern world has changed,
and because an increasing number of people regard scientific rationalism
alone as true, they have often tried to turn the mythos of their faith
into logos. Fundamentalists have also made this attempt. This confusion
has led to more problems.

We need to understand how our world has changed. The first part of this
book will, therefore, go back to the late fifteenth and early sixteenth
centuries, when the people of Western Europe had begun to develop their
new science. We will also examine the mythical piety of the premodern
agrarian civilization, so that we can see how the old forms of faith
worked. It is becoming very difficult to be conventionally religious in
the brave new world. Modernization has always been a painful process.
People feel alienated and lost when fundamental changes in their society
make the world strange and unrecognizable. We will trace the impact of
modernity upon the Christians of Europe and America, upon the Jewish
people, and upon the Muslims of Egypt and Iran. We shall then be in a
position to see what the fundamentalists were trying to do when they
started to create this new form of faith toward the end of the
nineteenth century.

Fundamentalists feel that they are battling against forces that threaten
their most sacred values. During a war it is very difficult for
combatants to appreciate one another's position. We shall find that
modernization has led to a polarization of society, but sometimes, to
prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try to understand the
pain and perceptions of the other side. Those of us -- myself included
-- who relish the freedoms and achievements of modernity find it hard to
comprehend the distress these cause religious fundamentalists. Yet
modernization is often experienced not as a liberation but as an
aggressive assault. Few have suffered more in the modern world than the
Jewish people, so it is fitting to begin with their bruising encounter
with the modernizing society of Western Christendom in the late
fifteenth century, which led some Jews to anticipate many of the
stratagems, postures, and principles that would later become common in
the new world.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix
Part 1 The Old World and the New
1. Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700) 3
2. Muslims: The Conservative Spirit (1492-1799) 32
3. Christians: Brave New World (1492-1870) 61
4. Jews and Muslims Modernize (1700-1870) 98
Part 2 Fundamentalism
5. Battle Lines (1870-1900) 135
6. Fundamentals (1900-25) 167
7. Counterculture (1925-60) 199
8. Mobilization (1960-74) 233
9. The Offensive (1974-79) 278
10. Defeat? (1979-99) 317
Afterword 365
Glossary 373
Notes 381
Bibliography 409
Acknowledgments 425
Index 427
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Reading Group Guide

1. Have you or someone close to you ever adhered to a religious group that Karen Armstrong would define as fundamentalist? Does her view of funda-mentalism "ring true" for you?

2. Karen Armstrong uses the terms mythos and logos to describe "two ways of thinking, speaking, and acquiring knowledge." Mythos is concerned with "the eternal and the universal, " she writes, and logos is concerned with "ratio-nal, pragmatic, and scientific thought." How do these terms apply to your own experience of religious and secular life?

3. Armstrong points out that the first Grand Inquisitor, whose mission was to stamp out Judaism in Spain, was himself a Jew who converted to Catholi-cism. Do you believe that a convert is more likely to be zealous in his or her new faith than someone who was born into the same faith?

4. Were you surprised to learn that Islam treated Christians and Jews as a "protected minority" (dhimmi)? Did Armstrong's description of the history of Islam change the way you view the Islamic world as it is depicted in news media and popular entertainment today?

5. According to Armstrong, the events in Spain of 1492--the expulsion of Jews and Muslims--marked the beginning of "a new order" in world his-tory. She also finds history-changing significance in the rise of Napoleon, the industrial revolution, and World War I. Do you agree that these events changed the world as we know it?

6. In writing about modernization in the Western world, Armstrong points out that some scientists and scholars came to embrace the principle that "the only information upon which we could safely rely camefrom our five senses, " and "anything else was pure fantasy." In their view, she writes, "[p]hilosophy, metaphysics, theology, art, imagination, mysticism, and mythology were all dismissed as irrelevant and superstitious because they could not be verified empirically." Does your own experience of life prompt you to agree or disagree with this point of view?

7. Armstrong insists that modernism, despite all of the material benefits that it bestowed upon humanity, was not a complete replacement for religion and spirituality. "Human beings find it almost impossible to live without a sense that, despite the distressing evidence to the contrary, life has ultimate meaning and value, " she writes. What is your own view of the "ultimate meaning and value" of life in the modern world? Do you find meaning and value in life through religious observance?

8. "In their way, fundamentalists were ardent modernists, " writes Armstrong. Do you agree that fundamentalism, as Armstrong defines and explains it, is a feature of the modern world and could not have existed in an earlier era?

9. "The death camp and the mushroom cloud, " writes Armstrong, "are icons that we must contemplate and take to heart so that we do not become chauvinistic about the modern scientific culture that so many of us in the developed world enjoy." Do you believe that the benefits of the modern world outweigh such horrors as the Holocaust and the threat of nuclear destruction?

10. Armstrong argues that there is "a void at the heart of modern culture, " which French existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described as "a God-shaped hole." Do you experience such a void in your own life? If so, how have you tried to fill the "God-shaped hole"?

11. Armstrong holds out the hope that fundamentalists and modern secular societies can come to understand and live in peace with each other. "If fun-damentalists must evolve a more compassionate assessment of their ene-mies in order to be true to their religious traditions, " she writes, "secularists must also be more faithful to the benevolence, tolerance, and respect for humanity which characterizes modern culture at its best." Do you see any specific ways in which "secularists" can express these qualities in a way that fundamentalists can understand them?

12. How do the conflicts between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East differ from the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland? Do the ideas that Armstrong explores in The Battle for God apply to both of these "hot spots" of the modern world?

13. Has The Battle for God changed the way you understand the role of religion in defining and encouraging morality in public and private life? Has reli-gion played a positive or a negative role in shaping the world we live in today?

14. Does The Battle for God change how you feel about fundamentalism in reli-gion? In what way? Are you more or less sympathetic toward fundamen-talists than you were when you first picked up the book?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2007

    Just an outstanding book.

    I learned so much from this book. The history is wonderful and at times overwhelming in volume. But for me, the best part was the clearing and defining of the term 'myth'. I had always defined myth in my own mind as a 'not truth'. What she taught me is that it isn't always important that the story be fact. The importance can be in the moral value even when the facts of the story are not true. That the intuitive sence that the myth brings has value and should be balanced with logic. I will recommend this book to anyone who really would like to understand where fundamentalism came from and is going. And it shows how it has impacted our world today.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2002

    A history of religion gone awry

    Anyone who knows the tenants of the three religions studied in this book knows that the fundamentalist sects within are an abomination. No Christian who follows the Bible could ever condone the hyper-conservative politics carried out in it's name. No Muslim who follows the Koran could ever condone the acts carried out in its name. Fundamentalism at its root appeals to the lowest common denominator. The problem todays is that fundamentalist ideals can also appeal to the mainstream in those moments often referred to as "when the chips are down." The question this book tries to answer is "how did we get here?" It goes back several centuries and tracks how the end of mysticism, the beginning of enlightenment and the acceptance of secular science gave birth to religious fanaticism. What this book doesn't go enough into is how negative emotion is fed, and feeds fundamentalism in a sick circle of perpetual hate. God says it's ok to hate person x, so I hate person x. My hatred of person x makes me love God more because I have to protect God's people from person x. Because I love God more, I hate person x more. Because I hate person x more, I love God more. And on and on and on ad nausem. None of the three religions in this book would tolerate this nonsense, however, as this book shows, modernistic sects within these religions have twisted their faiths, and flattered themselves that this perpetual hatred is at the core of their faith in God. Unfortunately, this book doesn't go so far as to offer solution. However, with the keen historical understanding that it gives, perhaps a solution is there, and I just didn't see it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2005

    Learn History and Religion

    All faiths- Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, etc.- have developed a sense of ¿military piety¿, according to Karen Armstrong in her well researched and profound historical/theological book, The Battle for God. This sense of polemic is not a desire to reside in and/or a turn back in history. It is a ¿current¿ response to the ever changing and modernized world which is putting the fundamentals of religion under question. It is a response to a ¿secular¿ view of the world in which a scientific response to each question can and must be found and at the same time any religious interpretation of the same account would be deemed vain and futile. The basic tenet of the book revolves around a very fundamental concept and that is the difference between ¿logos¿ and ¿mythos¿. Myth is what cannot be constructed by mere reason and rational proof. It is regarded as primary, timeless, omnipresent, and related to mind. It is not to be concerned with practical matters of the human life but with its meaning. On the other hand, logos are the epitome of reason, rational thoughts, pragmatic, and scientific approaches that would enable humans to function in this world. Literal interpretations of myths by one side and limiting everything to logos and pernicious attacks on religion by the other, has inflamed the present battle between secular and religious groups and. With the mind boggling progress in science, one would think religion would play a minor role in explaining or leading the current events. However, over the past 500 years, and exclusively the last 100 years, religion has become to be one of the most important factors in instigating people and elucidating ¿natural¿, ¿historical¿, and ¿day to day¿ events. Moreover, in doing so, religious revivalists are propagating the richness and absoluteness of the religious fundamentals not in old and archaic terms but through using the ¿same¿ scientific¿ approach and terminology that seculars use. Karen Armstrong covers a course of 500 years in establishing her argument. She focuses on three main monotheistic religions ¿Islam, Judaism, and Christianity- without getting into the rights or wrongs of any one, depicts the approaches and interpretations of believers of each faith to its principles. This shows how various interpretations have resulted in atrocities against another group and how philosophical schools of thought have hastened this process. She covers a wide range of philosophers in the West, such as Kant, Freud, Sartre, Hobbes, Nitche, Darwin, and many others whose theories deeply revolutionized the traditional approaches to religion and its rites. From the current decades she mentions Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. In the East, people such as Seyed Jamaal, Abdu, Qut, and Ayatollah Khomeini from the Islamic tradition, and Rabbi Kook and Luria from Judaism ¿and many others from all three traditions- are mentioned. Armstrong explains how these people introduced new blood into the religious interpretations and created a wave of fundamentalism against the seculars who had dominated the society¿s intellectual circles, schools, churches, and universities. She finds an element of each of these revivalists in religious Zionists in Israel, Egyptian Sunnis and- specifically- Iranian Shiites resisting Westernization, and finally American Protestant Evangelists who had a deep/literal interpretation of Bible. The Battle for God consists of 10 chapters in addition to two valuable introductions and an afterword. The printed copy of 2001 includes ¿A New Preface¿ in which Armstrong quickly reviews the catastrophe of 9/11 from both Christian and Islamic fundamentalist perspectives. In this scholarly and heavily researched book, Armstrong rightly conveys the message that Fundamentalism is not an Islamic phenomenon. It is a response to the ever changing world or ¿just one of these modern religious experiments¿ that all religions have manifested. Fun

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2009


    Regardless of what you believe, we all think in the same way. Karen Armstrong illustrates this point beautifully in her monumental work that follows the three major monotheistic faiths from their origin to the present. This book provides major insights into the thought processes behind the religious communities of America, Egypt, Iran, and Israel, and further illustrates how these communities influence the government of their country. A must read for anyone seeking to understand the present world conflict!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2006

    Apologetic blubbery

    Probaly the better one of her books, but that is not saying much. Apologist Karen Armstrong tries to provoke sympathy for Islam while denouncing Judaism and Christianity as the reasons why the western world looks down upon Islam. If Ms. Armstrong would take the time to read The Koran page for page, word for word she would realize quickly that there is no such thing as fundamentalism in Islam. Overall I strongly recommend renting the book or borrowing it from a friend. But then again what kind of friend would let another friend read garbage like this?

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2002

    Compassionate honesty

    As one who most probably fits into Armstrongs definition of a fundamentalist I nonetheless found her book compelling.It is always helpful to see oneself through eyes of another. I particularily found the information on Islam very helpful. Although I do think she was a little harsh and possibly mistaken in her assessment of Luther and the other reformers. Nonetheless a must read for anyone interested in religion.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2000

    One Battle in A Larger War

    This book is good only if you begin with the presupposition that there is no God or that God is unknowable. While many will scoff that this is a foregone conclusion I will confidently assert that for every protest against the existence of God you may offer entire volumes of scientific research and archeological evidence can be brought to bear to unsettle or refute the protest. If one wanted to be truly intellectually honest the question would not be: What wrong with fundementalism and how do we stop it? but rather: Is there a God and if so how do we determine His nature and revelation? Why accommodate earthly influences that could jeopardize the soul? There is nothing unscientific or irrational about these latter questions, but they are questions many refuse to even ask with any form of sincerity and this author seems to have done just that. As proof I refer to the author's statement that fundementalism does not embrace pluralism. Why should it? If the issue at hand is knowing the true will of the Creator and living your life to His will, why should you tolerate lifestyles that serve as an obviously corrupting influence? Last time I looked atheism is as equally unforgiving of everyone that declines its rigid dogmas. Atheism presses its every effort to deprive people of faith from their rights within the arena of public discourse. If believers seek scientific answers they are branded as corruptors of science. If they seek to vote their conscience they are branded threats to democracy (a hypocrisy in its own right). The fact of the matter is that modern people refuse to even allow for the notion that absolutes may exist. Yet they defeat themselves by making that very same refusal an absolute in its own right. This text suffers from the same fatal logical flaw, making it a dead work from its very conception. The New Testament records that Jesus said, 'No man comes to the Father except by me.' meaning the non-pluralistic nature of christianity (fundementalism notwithstanding) isn't a fabrication of mindless zealots, and the author does a disservice to her readers by her wholesale disallowance of open-mindedness (an inherently two-way street). After all, Abraham Lincoln was a devout christian who framed the American Civil War as necessity to end the 'evil' of slavery which he saw as a moral absolute derived from his religious beliefs. If this author be true Lincoln should go down in history as one of the most delusionally murderous individuals of all time.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2000

    Well-written overview of the forces driving modern religious revivalisms

    Armstrong does a wonderful job of selecting material for creating a program to understand the forces fueling some of the less favorable aspects of religion today. She assumes that her readers may or may not know a good deal about the subject, which makes her writings both engaging and appealing to general audiences. My main objections to her work arise in two categories. One, there is a general failure to recognize the multiplicit dimension of these movements. They are neither totally united nor of totally similar dispositions. While skillfully showing the unique and similar nature of revivalism in the three monotheistic religions, her folly is found in over generalizing the other faiths. This is especially true of Christianity¿the religion who she treats with the most harshness. Two, she attempts to polarize modern religion between two camps of backward, militantly insane revivalists one hand and on the other the progressive liberals who are the bastions of human decency. This is a distortion and a great weakness of her book, truly bringing to service her agenda. Nice read though, but it should encourage further reading if prior reading has not been done upon the subject before reading this work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2000

    A Fascinating, Informative, Heavy Read

    My eyes were opened more than once. The concepts are often easily applied to situations out of context of the story being told. This book is a must read for a gay activist. Unless you have a degree in religions, you will need a quiet corner and lots of concentration. The history of the religions other than your own require a commitment of time and energy. Great stuff!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2000

    An excellebt overview of fundamentalism

    Karen Armstrong continues her wonderul series of books examining the three great faiths of Abraham -- Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This time she examines the rise of fundamentalism, or more correctly, militant piety, which grew out of each reliigion's reaction to modernity. And fundamentalism isn't just a 20th-century phenonomenon, nor is it limited to American Christianity.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2014

    You can't put it down!

    If you EVER wanted to know what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common and more importantly, why the practisioners do the things they do and say the things they say, then you simply MUST read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2012

    Astralgod to abyssalgod


    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2000

    Clearing the thinking.

    This is the second book by K. Armstrong that I read, the first being The History of God, and I am as enthusiastic and mentally stimulated as by the initial introduction to this erudite and intelligent author, who also can speak from her personal religious experiance, which, for me, validates her work so much more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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