In this book Karen Armstrong takes a calm and measured look at religion from the Palaeolithic era to the God debate of the 21st century, continuing some of the themes in her previous work on The Great Transformation (2006) and The Bible, The Biography (2007).
Her key argument is that humankind has always used mythos (religion) and logos (the logical exploration of the world) as allies in dealing with the challenges of life. Since 1500 logos has progressively taken over, delivered modernity, and demanded that religion should be subject to the same "scientific" laws as the rest of human experience.
Obviously the atheist attack by Dawkins, Hitchens and others on "the god delusion" is the latest instalment of a long debate. Armstrong contends that they set up Christian fundamentalism as an easy target, and they dismiss it without addressing mainstream theology, which has long come to terms with scientific thought and evolutionary theory.
She reminds us that God has always been a contested idea, and atheism is as old as religion. Her own preference is for a mystical, non-institutional form of religion - the Sufis in Islam, yogic Hinduism and Denys The Areopagite in medieval Christianity. They represent the "apophatic" (silent. mystical) approach to the supreme being/God/the infinite. Their theology is not easy - religion is hard work.
There is no "killer app" which tells us what religion means, just as there is no answer to the "does God exist?" question. But Armstrong steers us with assurance through the ways that humankind have tried to find meaning and purpose in their lives. She is a truly scholarly, humane and intelligent guide through the religious arguments of three millennia.