Sunday Salon – The Case for God by Karen Armstrong

tssbadge1Just as we’ve been all over the place physically – up and down England with occasional forays into Scotland, so my mind and reading has wandered around and I now find that I’ve started several books at once. Some of them are listed on the sidebar over on the right. I’m going to leave them there as a reminder of what I’ve begun, but I’ve decided to concentrate on just reading two books at a time – one non-fiction (Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God;What Religion Really Means) and one fiction (probably Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear as I’ve read more of that than the others and it’s a library book that should be returned soon).

Karen Armstrong’s books always impress me – so much detail and words that I have to look up the meaning. I feel rather inadequate when it comes to writing about The Case for God. The book jacket tells me she ‘is one of the world’s leading commentators on religious affairs’ and in the introduction she writes

We are talking far too much about God these days and what we say is often facile. In our democratic society, we think the concept of God should be easy and that religion ought to be readily accessible to anybody. ‘That book was really hard!’ readers have told me reproachfully, shaking their heads in faint reproof. ‘Of course it was!’ I want to reply. ‘It was about God.’ (page 1)

So I knew from the beginning I should concentrate and make notes as I read. I’m now about a third of the way into the book and have several pages of notes of points that particularly interest me. I like this type of book which is balanced and objective, based on extensive  research and knowledge.

Fortunately Karen Armstrong has included a glossary of such words as ‘apophatic’, that I had no idea of  their  meaning (it means ‘speechless’; wordless; silent – referring to theology that defines God in negative terms “God is not …”) and words that I thought I did know such as ‘faith’.  Translated from the Greek ‘pistis; this meant ‘trust, loyalty, commitment’ and did not mean the acceptance of orthodox theology of belief. So when Jesus was berating his disciples for their lack of faith he was not asking them to believe in him but was asking for their commitment to his mission to feed the hungry etc (page 90).

She states that ‘our religious thinking is sometimes remarkably undeveloped, even primitive’ (page 1) and that religion was ‘not primarily something that people thought but something they did.’ (page 4)

This book does not attack anyone’s beliefs – Armstrong states that quarrelling about religion is counterproductive and aims to show how people in the pre-modern world thought about God, throwing light on some problematic issues such as creation, miracles, revelation, faith, belief and mystery. She then traces the rise of the ‘modern God’ (page 9).

I’m reading The Case for God quite slowly and not reading it at night, when I often fall asleep with a book in my hands which means that when I next continue reading I have no idea of what the previous pages were about and have to read them again. So it’s daytime reading with a pen and notebook at hand.

7 thoughts on “Sunday Salon – The Case for God by Karen Armstrong”

  1. I only tried one book by Karen Armstrong but I was disappointed because I thought she sugar-coated the atrocities committed in the names of various religions and also that she chose to interpret various holy books in [only] a positive light, even when meanings are ambiguous and have been used (or misused) in a variety of ways.

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  2. I will add this to my wishlist. I’m a bit book heavy at the moment—spent a $100 gift certificate yesterday AND brought home six books from the library—but I will try to read it during a potential future reading lull.

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  3. I’ve really enjoyed the books by Armstrong that I’ve read — A History of God especially, and also her memoirs. She’s such an interesting thinker and I think her ideas about religion are important ones for us to think about.

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  4. Reading a book by Linda Armstrong has been on my list for quite some time. Perhaps this is the one. I like that you are tackling it slowly and in the daytime hours and with a notebook. I look forward to reading your thoughts on this book. But – no hurry.

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  5. I have a friend who reads all Armstrong’s books and has always been much impressed. I suppose, as a non-believer, I should at least try one to see what she has to say, but it hasn’t been an area that interests me. Is there one you think I might find interesting.

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  6. I tried Armstrong’s A History of God a few years ago and gave up because it was too hard 🙂 Now I’m thinking I need to try again with pen and notebooks in hand.

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  7. How interesting, Margaret, I haven’t read any of Armstrong’s books but I should read more Christian non-fiction, and this will go on my list… The next one I’m going to read is The Jesus I Never Knew by Yancey.

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