The Case for God

The Case for God

by Karen Armstrong
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Hardcover

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Overview

The Case for God by Karen Armstrong

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.” 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” and a “compassionate lifestyle that enables us to break out of the prism of selfhood.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307269188
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/22/2009
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 6.64(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs—including A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation—and two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. She has addressed members of the U.S. Congress on three occasions; lectured to policy makers at the U.S. State Department; participated in the World Economic Forum in New York, Jordan, and Davos; addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and New York; is increasingly invited to speak in Muslim countries; and is now an ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations. In February 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and is currently working with TED on a major international project to launch and propagate a Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public and crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, to be signed in the fall of 2009 by a thousand religious and secular leaders. She lives in London.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Case for God 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 91 reviews.
Will917 More than 1 year ago
In this book, Armstrong lays out the history of philosophical and religious concepts of God, primarily in the Judeo-Christian tradition and churches. Her writing is exceptionally clear and straightforward. her essential theme is that God is fundamentally unknowable. All of the "idolatrous" notions of God over the centuries are very clearly human projections. They are in no way based on revelations of the true nature of the Divine, which human minds just cannot fully understand and describe. This is a great book for seekers. It is also very good for understanding the views of others. Her material on American fundamentalism is superb.
David_A_Bassett More than 1 year ago
"We are talking far too much about God these days, and what we say is often facile." That opening line hooked me on Karen Armstrong's new book, The Case for God. As a devout atheist, I was not immediately drawn to the title, but the latest book by this eminent scholar of religion seemed destined for my 'essential reading' list. Within a few minutes it became clear that this was not just one case for God, it was a history of the variety of cases made for god over many centuries and cultures. As presaged by the opening line, Armstrong's focus is on the God beyond "god", the mystic's g*d whose very name cannot even be known, the ultimate of the universe. The book's title could just as easily be, "The Quest For Certainty". The book opens with a chapter on the twilight before history, Paleolithic cave paintings and their potential meanings. What meaning or use might they have had for the original people who made these images? She explores some potential parallels with our contemporaries who live in Neolithic societies. What meanings do these images offer us for the nature of God, the nature of our understanding of God, or our understanding of our images of God? From this starting point Armstrong delves directly into the interplay of mythology, meaning, belief and being. She probes the parallels that can be found in mystical foundations of Hinduism, Daoism, Buddhism, Judaism, and other ancient religions of the Middle East, Mediterranean, India, and China. In chapter 2 Armstrong explores the beliefs about God among the ancient Israelites. So far this could be a retelling of her earlier History of God, but in chapter 3 entitled 'Reason' she expands the scope significantly by encompassing the early Greek Philosophers. Often their story is divorced from the religious subject matter and placed with the history of science. Armstrong's treatment brings them closer to the mystics. The call to a life of compassion becomes the common factor across many styles of belief and practice. In the following chapters Armstrong traces the ebb and flow of exegesis between literalism and allegory, between orthodoxy (right words) and orthopraxis (right action), between theology and philosophy. Armstrong explores the development of a variety of flavors of atheism. Often they are critical of the shallow, facile orthodox religious beliefs that deny the deep mystery of the Universe and may border on idolatry. Secularism is identified as a political movement which has sometimes identified religious practices to be economic disadvantages. Modern Atheism is called "a form of secular fundamentalism" which falsely propagates the absolute incompatibility of religion and science. Modern fundamentalism is drawn out as a reaction to these. In her Epilogue, Armstrong returns to the question of the purpose of religion. "Religion is a practical discipline, and its insights are not derived from abstract speculation but from spiritual exercises and a dedicated lifestyle." Armstrong places religious practice in closer relation to art, music, creativity, and a life of compassion. "Religion's task. was to help us 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."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's definitely not an "easy read" (keep a dictionary handy), but Armstrong provides a comprehensive review of how past cultures and philosophers have approached their belief in God and the mysterious. Armstrong does a good job of putting people's faith into the perspective of the times that they lived in, and examining how that has changed over the past several thousand years. She skims over Islam (briefly mentioned as it spread to Western Europe), which was a little disappointing to me, and other than a few mentions of Eastern religions, this is primarily about Greco-Roman philosophy, Christianity and Judaism. I enjoyed the book (I had to return my copy to the library and went out and bought my own), and if you've ever wanted to know more about how Christians and Jews have changed in their justification for faith and how they practice their faith, this is the book to read. As I mention in my header - it's hard to find books about religion that aren't overtly biased from either a preachy-religious perspective or an angry-atheistic perspective. Armstrong's tone through this book was respectful (and almost kind) towards all the people and faiths she analyzed, which I think is missing in a lot of discussions about religion. I will say, if you are a fundamentalist (of any faith), then this probably isn't the book for you since the writing is very frank about how our views of God and the Bible have changed over time and in relation to the external pressures facing people through history.
MarkRitz More than 1 year ago
Karen Armstrong has achieved noteworthy status with her latest, monumental work. She stands alongside Joseph Campbell as an expert mytho-theologian, and surely ranks as one of the greatest female commentators and thinkers on religion in Western history. Her grand review of the conceptualization of "God" in Jewish, Greek, and Christian culture shows that what we think we know about religion and God is highly temporal and superficial--and mostly mistaken. Surely the present-day, self proclaimed-atheistic and intolerant scourges of Mythos will now aim their gun sites on Armstrong, seeking to diminish her accomplishment and reputation so that they can continue in their un-self-examined delusional triumphalism of Logos alone, but any sapient and sincere practitioner of any spiritual path will see the sacred truth glimmering through her carefully-composed prose. It doesn't really matter if Armstrong has it all exactly right, or if the reader agrees with every aspect of her argument. I myself do not quite understand the apophatic in exactly the same way she presents it. However, her general explication of spirituality is accurate in that it moves the reader away from the lugubrious literal-minded conceptualizations of "God" which many of us have experienced in the mundane practice of our childhood religious faiths--poorly-practiced faiths which we consequently abandoned because they proved boring and meaningless in our unfettered Modern lives. Armstrong's thickly intellectual writing demands that the reader pay careful attention to her words, and it is helpful to draw on other works in order to do so. Her previous books, The Great Transformation, about the rising of the humanistic philosophies and religions along the grand belt of culture from China to India to Judea to Athens, and her autobiography, The Spiral Staircase, will serve the reader well in understanding the basis of Armstrong's ideas for this current work. Committed atheists will attack Armstrong for even using the term "God," but ultimately she remains diffident and uncommitted as to its definition. And this is as it should be. While most Westerners are trapped within a silly and annoying cliche that likely started with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel depiction of an old man with long white beard reaching out to the universal Adam, Armstrong repeatedly defends the assertions of earlier thinkers that "God" has no certain definition. It would not be surprising in Armstrong were also attacked from the religious right, because there will be many fundamentalists who do not want to hear that life is about uncertainty, and the greatest uncertainty of all is that amorphous thing termed "God." One gets a sense of this indefinite meaning in the term "Yahweh," but then such uncertainty is quickly passed over for the white-haired Big Daddy in the Sky. In some ways Armstrong tacitly hints that "God" is that which inspires awe. The average human being is not intellectually equipped to deal with the finely crafted and subtle argument which Armstrong presents in this book, so it is not suitable for everyone. However, it remains a volume that should be placed alongside the greatest religious thinkers of Western culture, for it steps over the petty and myopic arguments of our own conflicted and arrogant era to remind us that a spiritual life is much more profound and necessary than we might believe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book provides an explanation of fundamentals, provides important historical perspectives, and provides ways of thinking about God and religion that are important.
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