Book Review: The Case For God by Karen Armstrong

Author: Karen Armstrong
Title: The Case for God
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2009), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 0307702375


From the title this book appears to be an apologetic approach to theism.  Close but not quite.  Karen Armstrong in fact writes an history of religious belief and practice (and the parallel growth of atheism) from prehistoric cave paintings to postmodern philosophers.  While mostly focused on Western thought – and Christianity within that – Armstrong manages to incorporate a lot of world religion which makes a massive topic for a short book.  And yet it’s chock full of fascinating tidbits and connections I’ve never made.

Armstrong’s main points in this book are that literalism – both that which is insisted upon by religious conservatives and railed against by their anti-theist opponents – is a relatively modern phenomenon.    Historically practice trumped belief and our fore-bearers would not comprehend the all-or-nothing approach of today’s religious adherents.

I’m not going to admit that I understood it all, but I did enjoy Armstrong’s writing and ideas and would like to read more of her work.

Favorite Passages:

A good creation myth did not describe an event in the distant past but told people something essential about the present. It reminded them that things often had to get worse before they got better, that creativity demanded self-sacrifice and heroic struggle, and that everybody had to work hard to preserve the energies of the cosmos and establish society on a sound foundation. A creation story was primarily therapeutic. – p. 16

Fundamentalism — be it Jewish, Christian, or Muslim — nearly always begins as a defensive movement; it is usually a response to a campaign of coreligionists or fellow countrymen that is experienced as inimical and invasive. – p. 271

Thus the cosmologist Paul Davies speaks of his delight in science with its unanswered, and, perhaps, unanswerable questions …. Davies has confessed “It may seem bizarre, but in my opinion, science offers a surer path to God than religion.”  He is still asking the primordial question: Why is there something rather than nothing? – p. 310

The ideal society should be based on charity rather than truth.  In the past, [Gianni] Vattimo recalls, religious truth generally emerged from people interacting with others rather than by papal edict.  Vattimo recalls Christ’s saying, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I will be in the midst of them,” and the classic hymn, “Where there is love, there is also God.” – p. 314

Recommended books:
Rating: ***