[Free Kindle] ♵ The Case for God: What Religion Really Means ♕ Gamegeek-denter.de

I was enticed to read The Case for God after hearing a snippet of the book on NPR that told how mystics of the past reached for God in silence, ritually acknowledging the inadequacy of words to describe deity Afterwards, an interviewer questioned Armstrong on her views She promptly corrected him It s not just a bee in my bonnet I ve been studying this for 20 years I was hooked, curious to hear from Armstrong My enjoyment of the work was no doubt enhanced because I listened to the audio book read by the British author Armstrong s proper, authoritative tone adds interest Her work, A Short History of Myth 2005 , read by an actor, contained many of the same ideas and information as the opening to The Case for God, but lacked the cadence and emphasis Armstrong gives her own words The Case for God is a history of mankind from a theological perspective from primitive times to the postmodern era It includes the thoughts of philosophers through out the ages from Socrates to Derrida Having read books on physics, which touch on the theological, it was refreshing to read a book of theology paralleling some of the thinking of quantum physicists and theologians.The case Armstrong makes is for an incomprehensible, mysterious, mythical, ineffable God She advocates for our acceptance of unknowing By embracing religion as a practice of compassion not as a means to an end a way to answer questions about the cosmos or to prepare for an afterlife people open themselves to transformative experiences which increase enjoyment of the here and now The Case for God shines light between the polarized arguments of atheists and theists and recalls the human history of open minded discourse on mythology, philosophy and religion Armstrong presents theology as an accessible, intriguing and useful study and portrays spiritual seeking as an expression of the desire for ecstatic experience inherent in human nature.Pairs well with Victoria Nelson s The Secret Life of Puppets, which makes the case that the absence of the mysterious and unknowable in modern culture and American literature fuels, in some, an appetite for science fiction Elaine Pagels The Gnostic Gospels, a study of the texts and early Christianity. I must confess that I did not finish this book Unfortunately every time I tried to read it I felt as if I was undertaking a degree in Theology It is extremely heavy going.Karen Armstrong has written numerous books on comparative religion, and is one of this country s leading writers on the subject This is a detailed chronicle of faith through the ages, to demonstrate her assertion that atheism has never been lack of belief in the sacred, but always a rejection of a particular conception of God In this way she seem closely allied to New Age ideology.She certainly posits interesting ideas One of the recurring themes in her book is that the meaning of such words as belief, faith and mystery has altered so much over the ages that much of the science v belief controversy is a misguided view of what these concepts actually refer to I would have liked to investigate this further, but got bogged down in her lengthy history of belief from 30,000 BCE to the present A less academic and accessible style, an overview rather than a plodding dissertation, plus some judicious editing would have ensured that this book reaches a wider audience.And I might have finished it. [Free Kindle] ☩ The Case for God: What Religion Really Means ⚇ 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 Can I really be the only person who finds Karen Armstrong, the author of fifteen books on religion, writing in her latest that one cannot comment on the divine with words but only with silence, than a little ironic To be fair, Armstrong does offer several interesting insights Her effort to find universal truths that run across faiths is worthwhile and thought provoking One might even imagine that there are many members of exclusivist faiths for whom this would be a revelation, though one can hardly imagine many of them reading Armstrong s work At the same time, Armstrong offers an intelligent and evocative response to the new wave of atheistic polemicists Dawkins, Hitchens, etal and offers a muscular retort to their rather juvenile view of the divine, as almost all of them seem to have decided that they learned all there was to know about religion as teens in Anglican Sunday School Armstrong deserves great praise for reminding people that theology is an intellectual pursuit, the attempt to seek to understand God, as opposed to what much of religion seems to be today, namely the effort by many to project their own narrow petty views onto the divine.That said, this work suffers from the same shortcoming of all Armstrong s voluminous work Were she a theologian, one might forgive her for ignoring all those arguments that ran against her claims of universality, though it would still be intellectually sloppy However, Armstrong claims to be a historian of religion, and as such she is guilty of appalling sins of omission When a fact contradicts her thesis, she does not even give it the due regard of inconvenience and seek to reconcile, but simply pretends it is not there As such, she is not a scholar, but a polemicist, even if a polemicist for a position for which I have sympathy.Examples are legion Armstrong claims that no one prior to the Enlightenment no one read the first chapter of Genesis literally Really In the Jewish tradition Ibn Ezra did So did several rabbis in the Talmud In the Christian tradition one can look to Luther and no lesser figure than Paul Does that mean that these were majority views Certainly not in the Jewish tradition, but to pretend that they don t exist is rank intellectual dishonesty and preying on the ignorance of her readers Likewise, Armstrong s tut tut comparisons between the Crusaders and Jihadists as religiously retrograde, ignores the fact that certainly in the former group at least religious warfare was not merely tolerated but extolled near universally through its religious polity of the day as a duty and a path to salvation By the same method of argument through erasure and faith in her readers ignorance, Armstrong famously whitewashed Muhammad s military career in the efforts to declare him a great peace maker In a recent interview, someone asked Armstrong a question about the anti Christ She replied declaring it a bogeyman that isn t even really in the Bible When the interviewer, plainly ignorant of the bible asked if that claim was true, Armstrong replies Not really It s a couple of chance remarks of Saint Paul and then there s the Book of Revelation But the whole idea of there being end time battles reflects a sort of Zoroastrian view of the world Oh, just Saint Paul and the Book of Revelations No biggie.Of course this isn t my religious tradition, so one might wonder why I would take offense, but readers should beware what any scholar has to say who depends mightily on her audiences ignorance in order to succeed in her arguments. I m not going to lie this was a slog A breath taking overview of western religious culture going back to ancient French cave paintings and mentioning every major philosopher, theologian, and scientist since as well as quite a few minor ones This reads like a seminary dissertation Initially I was bored to tears But in the end, all that history culminates in a forceful argument in favor of the author s premise as far as I can tell, though I suspect I m not educated enough in theology or philosophy to be qualified to judge The premise is this God, whatever that is, is an unknowable transcendence, and religion throughout the ages has been a practice or craft based on ritual and contemplation of myth designed to bring practitioners in touch with the transcendent, a project that was all mucked up in the Enlightenment when religious folks got the idea that their God, just like the universe, was reducible to a knowable notion a fact leading to their initial reliance on and eventual antipathy toward science and ending up with the current vogue of religion qua science, an aberrant perversion of both There is no inherent conflict between religion and science, she argues, as they are separate magisteria concerned with separate questions There is than one kind of truth science arrives at one while art, literature, and religion arrive at another Religious people should get back making a commitment to religious practice instead of contorting their brains to accept absurd beliefs.The ideas are robust It s too bad the tome probably is above the reading level of most and below the supposed dignity of the rest. I would probably say that this is one of the best books I have ever read certainly the most important But also the most dense and difficult to read It took me about 2 months and I usually can get through books in a week or two max I always read this book with a pencil and I think there are whole pages or sections in my book that are underlined However, this book is not for everyone If you cannot accept some gray in your religious belief or don t want to read something that will likely challenge your religious understanding, you might want to stay away Having said that, I was uplifted by the book The book is an answer to modern atheists and is a defense of God I have to say that I have read others like this, but this so far surpasses those in breath that I think to say that it is a defense of God minimizes what she is trying to do Karen Armstrong has done her homework The book is basically a thorough history of religion and philosophy and science She claims that modern religion has unnecessarily entangled itself in logic and has turned away from its roots based in unknowing That essentially, we have made an idol out of God and have tried to prove him through scientific means And it is this God that the atheists attack But this is not how religion started It used to be much flexible and comfortable with itself.There are certainly flaws in the book I think she over idealizes the past and there are certainly parts that I do not agree with, but I am so glad I read this book In the end, it inspires me to live my religion to take the golden rule seriously I highly recommend this book If there is a important book out there right now, I haven t come across it Just know though that it is not an easy book to get through and your religious belief will certainly be challenged. Don t be fooled by the title this is not some trite attempt to prove that God exists or that religion is a great thing Instead, it s a tremendous, sweeping yet detailed account of the changing conception of religion from the dawn of humanity to the present day Along the way, Armstrong stresses several themes.For millennia religion was not seen primarily as a series of propositions to which one was required to assent God exists , etc Instead, it was a commitment to a particular way of living At its heart lay a sense of ineffable divinity an ultimate transcendence that was beyond understanding, beyond words, beyond even such concepts as existence or omnipotence This ultimate transcendence was called God in the monotheistic religions Although beyond knowing, some degree of contact with divinity was possible through ritual, symbolism and a variety of meditative practices not just straightforward meditation as in Buddhism, but also theological reflection, philosophy or even the constant practice of humility and generosity Contact with the ineffable helped people rise above worldly suffering and adopt a compassionate way of life it enabled them to become human in a fuller, richer sense.By around 15000 CE, however, this ancient conception of religion was starting to be overtaken by a new way of seeing things An increased faith in the power of reason alone to solve all problems helped literalise religion Slowly belief changed from a commitment to a way of living to a series of unproven statements to which one assented Along the way the notion of God changed he became knowable, describable a being in the world Such a notion would ve been considered idolatrous by older religious figures such as Thomas Aquinas It made God a thing.This new notion of religion, divorced as it was from communal practices which had previously been its life blood, was vulnerable to attack As a mere series of statements it could seem unconvincing or even ridiculous This vulnerability was only increased by religion s attempt to co opt science as a means of making it respectable But as science became increasingly able to describe the natural world without any need for a god conceived as a super being that created and sustained the laws of nature the attempt justification through natural theology seemed horribly flawed.The older sense of an ineffable transcendence has never entirely gone away, however Armstrong argues that it is a mark of the human condition and as such can emerge in some unlikely places modern physics, for example She ends by wondering if the naturalistic turn in religion hasn t now run its course Perhaps it is time to reincorporate unknowing into our approach to the divine.This is the third of Armstrong s books that I ve read The History of God and The Battle for God being the other two I d say it was comfortably the best of the three and also, perhaps, the most important. This book can be read in two ways, either as a confused counterblast to Dawkins or as a plea to others of faith to adapt their religious practice and adopt her rather peculiar almost Atheistic religious stance.As other reviewers have noticed this seems at first glance to promise a detailed rebuttal of Dawkins, et al the derivative cover and blurbs encourage this Armstrong does eventually get onto this task in the last chapters but first we have to plough through millennia of Christian history, selectively chosen to illustrate her tendentious thesis that Religion is NOT what the New Atheists and incidentally pretty much everybody else think it is.No indeed Religions purpose according to Armstrong is a purely practical it is to turn us into compassionate beings We get there through meditation on scriptural myths She maintains that Religious tracts such as the Bible only contain metaphorical stories Jews, Christians and Muslims all knew that revealed truth was symbolic, that scripture could not be interpreted literally pp 310 Religion is to help us with life s problems and to discover and nurture new capacities of human nature such as compassion It is not and never has been a reliance on creed, doctrine or dogma these elements are not important and it is only through the idolatrous perversion of fundamentalists and New Atheists that anyone ever thought so in the first place.She seems to be advocating a re evaluation of religion along radical Don Cupit NOMA esque lines religion has nothing factual to say whatsoever One can t even say that God exists, for example on page 291 she takes Dawkins to task for suggesting that god is a supernatural intelligence that designed the universe, you must not think this way she says apparently no religious people do, and they never did If you are starting to think that Armstrong is departing from reality as well as mainstream religious thought you would be right she seems to be blissfully unaware of what the religious believer in the street and in the Vatican actually holds Most Christians not just Fundamentalists actually do believe some at least parts of the bible they do believe that God created the universe they do believe that miracles occur they do believe that Christ rose from the dead It s all very well for her to insist that this is a perversion of religion but she seems to be in a minority of one, I wonder what the Pope or The Archbishop of Canterbury would say to the idea that God didn t create the universe For most believers junking all the truth claims of religion would be the same as junking faith itself with nothing left worth holding on to.She is right though when it comes to her assertion that this re write of religious practise will defeat those nasty New Atheists After all if religion just consisted of compassionate people meditating on old myths with no pretension to truth in the privacy of their retreats Armstrong used to be nun there would indeed be nothing much to complain about Religion isn t this though It does make factual claims, it always has it does seek to impose it s will on others, it always has and it is the source of much of today s woes.She reminds me of a revisionist airbrushing unwanted elements out of history She has redesigned religion as something so rarefied and thin as to not offend anyone, she has defeated the New Atheists by the simple expedient of becoming an atheist herself No Christian with anything than a super subtle academic veneer of faith will ever adopt her anaemic God free revision of religion. With all of the wars, crusades, inquisitions, witch trials, Jihadists, Creationists and the rest of it, God has got a lot to answer for Armstrong s case for the defence is essentially that people are interpreting religion wrongly to the founders of the religions faith was about mystery, symbolism, practice and good works Early Christians, Armstrong argues, looked to the scriptures for inspiration not information, and would be shocked at what religion has become for many people today.The case opens with a rather long history of Western philosophy focussing on Christianity, but also taking in Socrates, Aristotle, Confucius, Augustine, al Ghazzali, Aquinas, Spinoza, Paine, Hume, Kant, Derrida and many , in which they are shown to have developed variations around the idea that practising meditation and compassion while accepting that you can t know everything can make you a better person, while temporarily shutting off the chatter of your own mental commentary can bring a special feeling of peace and reflectiveness Well, amen to that Especially in ancient times before all of the scientific insights we take for granted today, you might reasonably decide to take a poetic view of existence and resolve to live a life inspired by your culture s oldest stories As an atheist I didn t find much to disagree with, although I felt this this material was covered better in Armstrong s earlier History of God, without the sniping at atheism or overuse of the word apophatic.So religion is really meant to be a meditative, allegorical self improvement programme, but unfortunately today s fundamentalists and Armstrong claims atheists fail to realise this and treat it instead as a set of factual claims, leaving us with two warring sides who are both wrong Even the words belief and faith have shifted in meaning since the Bible was translated into English, from something to do with trust and belonging, to the modern sense of simply thinking a statement is true I remember how as schoolchildren we sniggered when finding the word virgin in crumbly old Latin textbooks, because to us as ten year olds it meant a person who has not had sex tee hee while to the innocent author of translation exercises such asthe virgins carry water from the wellit meant a young unmarried woman Well, it seems this confusion predates the 1970s and is how the story of Christ being born of a virgin became a miracle Armstrong sides with the faithful as they are at least trying, and if only we could get back to taking it all a bit symbolically again we d all be better off The idea of God is merely a symbol of indescribable transcendence and has been interpreted in many different ways over the centuries The modern God conceived as a powerful Creator, First Cause, Supernatural personality realistically understood and rationally demonstrable is a recent phenomenon. Except that it is never clear in The Case For God when this golden age of non literalism took place The Apostles Creed from the Book of Common Prayer is quite specific about God being creator of Heaven and Earth with Jesus sitting at His right hand having risen from the dead, so it had already gone wrong by its publication in 1662 However, the Nicene Creed of 325 CE contains most of the absurdities of the current version, so this supposedly modern error of mistaking metaphor for fact seems to have been a problem for religion from its earliest times, perhaps because we humans are only partly rational and have always been drawn to superstition, and of course to any myth that tells us we are better than some other group I can t help wondering how many of the elaborate spiritual exercises of the great medieval mystics ever filtered down to the ordinary people, lectured from the pulpit about heaven and hell Were the crusaders, witch hunters and inquisitors simply defending their communities against perceived threats while following their mystical, symbolic traditions The Case For God didn t convince me At best, it presents religion as something that may have some value for some people if followed in the right spirit, but which is constantly inevitably taken the wrong way with catastrophic consequences for millions.And then there are her odd comments about atheism, where the case collapses into ill considered muddle Armstrong s claim that atheists theology of all things is poor and that they do not understand what they criticise is one that you will see repeated on Christian websites and indeed book reviews, and I was disappointed to see an academic I used to respect sink to this level Atheism is a rejection of the idea of supernatural gods, so to argue that sophisticated believers see God as symbolic, while doubtless true, misses the point Atheists don t have a problem with symbolic gods, just the supernatural ones And to claim that atheism is fundamentalist is meaningless mudslinging Like all religious fundamentalists, the new atheists believe that they alone are in possession of truth like Christian fundamentalists, they read scripture in an entirely literal manner and never seem to have heard of the long tradition of allegoric or Talmudic interpretation. After so many chapters of careful philosophical reasoning, this kind of clumsy point missing comes as a shock and a disappointmentAlone in possession of truthIs she saying that a fairer minded atheist than Dawkins would agree that the theists might have a bit of truth to their viewpoint after all What sense would that make Does she have any idea of the debate, let alone the repression, persecution and wars, actually going on in the real world, outside her cosy academic ivory tower Has she ever actually seen a Christian website Did she just call us fundamentalists A 2002 survey found that two thirds of Church of England clergy have no doubt that Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead although naturally the headlines were all about the worrying third of doubters These are not religious fundamentalists in the sense of unrepresentative weirdos, these are the respectable, tea drinking moderate mainstream, one of whom I might mention announced at my elderly aunt s funeral that she was at that moment renewing her acquaintance with previously deceased friends and relatives Atheists criticisms concern what is being said by people living today who think there is an invisible homophobic sky wizard and witches, and a devil People who do not think there is an invisible homophobic sky wizard are not part of the problem under discussion Religion would be fine if people followed it in the way Armstrong describes as indeed many Buddhists do, Sam Harris among them.Her unarticulated point might be that many of thewhy doesn t God save babies from earthquakestype of questions have been asked and answered many times, and theologians groan when they see them and refer you wearily to the standard because we have freedom, because it s complicated, and anyway we must all have faith in something including scientific truth itself set of answers, which may depending on who you ask include because God is not a sky wizard but a symbol for indescribable transcendence metaphor for love guiding force only appreciable via meditation This is a favourite trick of theists, to become all philosophical and sophisticated when a debate calls for it, while back in the real world the Pope goes on announcing that Hell is a real place and vicars tell you your late aunt is currently attending a celestial tea party.The Case for God positions itself as an academic rebuttal to a series of well written, accessible atheist manifestos by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and others I am sure many people would be interested in such a book I certainly would but unfortunately despite good intentions Armstrong at least rejects supernatural theism and tries to put fundamentalism in perspective , TCFG is heavy going, makes a weak case, ultimately frustrates than it enlightens, and uses the word apophatic too often Read her earlier A History of God instead. Armstrong is a scholar of comparative religion In numerous examples here, she shows how worship in virtually all world religions depends on a foundation of silence, or what she calls unknowing This is the silence through which one gets intimations of the divine presence I found the description remarkably like two kinds of Eastern meditation I have practiced over the years There was no presumption on the part of early theists that they could grasp God He was beyond human comprehension Since knowledge was not possible the only alternative was what Armstrong calls kenosis, or self emptying techniques that led one toward the necessary quiet contemplation Armstrong is liberal with her examples here and they are all fascinating In fact, this part of the book is a kind of survey course in comparative religion, but without the other students There is a wonderful description, the first I have come across, of the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece Armstrong describes this ritual, emphasizing how inherent in it were two key concepts mythos and logos Mythos was a story that was not meant to be historical or factual but expressed the meaning of an event or narrative and encapsulated its timeless, eternal dimension Mythos was a teaching tool one that helped to impart to the initiate or religious a sense of the sacred The other term is Logos Logos means dialogue, speech reasoned, logical, and scientific thought In the past, religion was always a matter of practice Practice is defined as daily ritual Like the Mass, for instance, in Catholicism or the five daily prayers in Islam or the Passover seder in Judaism Religion was not, she stresses, about belief No one was expected to believe in God In fact, the idea of belief as we know it today did not then exist There was, too, among all monotheistic religions, a remarkable lack of rigidity when it came to interpreting the holy books Bible, Talmud, Koran The object being not to pick interpretations that were correct and inflexible, but to find new and innovative interpretations In fact, if the initiate was not finding some new twist in the scriptures, some novel interpretation, that person was considered remiss in his or her practice And practice was the only way to know the sacred Then the Enlightenment came along, and with it the scientific revolution The scientific method taught that facts were right or they were wrong Either you could repeat the experiment, or you could not Many early scientists were religious Newton, for one, but many others as well Gradually there was a shift from kenosis, from the gentle act of self emptying for purposes of contemplation of God in silence, to one which began to seek scientific proofs of God s existence For instance, it was at first thought that the incredible detail revealed in microscopic structures was a sign of the divine How else could these astonishingly minute structures have occurred but through God s hand This way of knowing God flourished God thus became an outsize if finite being, to the extent that he was knowable For a while science continued to provide these proofs of his existence Then something happened, two things really that threw this approach to knowing God on its ear the first were certain advances in geology Geology showed that the earth was not created in six days, as stated in Genesis It pointed to time spans that were almost beyond human conception Then came Evolution Darwin showed us that Man and his fellow creatures were not created all at one time and set down on the planet in their current form Evolution, in fact, showed us that there was no Intelligent Design, for its process selection was not in any way directed That is to say, it was a geologically slow and muddled process marked by eons of struggle, most of it futile, and mass extinction Persons of faith, however, were by this time hooked on their concept of belief, which they had gleaned from the sciences The silent contemplation of early monotheism unknowing, kenosis had been lost in the West Faith began to be sustained through a literal i.e rigid interpretation of scripture So here we are in the present day The Fundamentalists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible Something never required of early worshippers Somehow, it has come to be thought, that religion must be made to match science, truth for truth And of course religion can never do that Historically, it has never functioned in that way Yet we need it in our lives Why Why can t we do away with it as the New Atheists Dawkins, Hitchens, et al seem to believe we can Armstrong quotes Jean Paul Sartre saying that when we do away with religion there is left in the human psyche a God shaped hole Armstrong argues here, makes her case for god, for maintaining touch with the old, kenotic ways of belief She is very persuasive I treasure this book and look forward to rereading it.