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The Case for God: What religion really means [Hardcover]

Karen Armstrong
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 July 2009

* The enormous popularity of books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others shows that despite the religious revival that is under way in many parts of the world, there is widespread confusion about the nature of religious truth. For the first time in history, a significantly large number of people want nothing to do with God. In the past people went to great lengths to experience a sacred reality that they called God, Brahman, Nirvana or Dao; indeed religion could be said to be the distinguishing characteristic of homo sapiens. But now militant atheists preach a gospel of godlessness with the zeal of Christian missionaries in the age of faith and find an eager audience. What has happened?

* Karen Armstrong argues that historically atheism has rarely been a denial of the sacred itself but has nearly always rejected a particular conception of God. During the modern period, the Christians of the West developed a theology that was radically different from that of the pre-modern age. Tracing the history of faith from the Palaeolithic Age to the present, Armstrong shows that until recently there was no warfare between science and religion. But science has changed the conversation. The meaning of words such as belief, faith, and mystery has been entirely altered, so that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God - and, indeed, reason itself - in a way that our ancestors would have found astonishing.

* Why has the modern God become incredible? Has God a future in this age of aggressive scientific rationalism? Karen Armstrong suggests that if we draw creatively on the insights of the past, we can build a faith that speaks to the needs of our troubled and dangerously polarized world.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head; hardcover edition (2 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847920349
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847920348
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karen Armstrong is one of the world's leading commentators on religious affairs. She spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun in the 1960s, but then left her teaching order in 1969 to read English at St Anne's College, Oxford. In 1982, she became a full time writer and broadcaster. She is a best-selling author of over 15 books. An accomplished writer and passionate campaigner for religious liberty, Armstrong has addressed members of the United States Congress and the Senate and has participated in the World Economic Forum.

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"One of our best living writers on religion....prodigiously sourced, passionately written" (John Cornwell FT)

"Karen Armstrong invites us on a journey through religion that helps us to rescue what remains wise from so much that to many in Britain today no longer seems true....Armstrong is one of the the handful of wise and supremely intelligent commentators on religion" (Alain de Botton Observer)

"Comprehensive and measured" (Paul Vallely The Independent)

"This is a stunned appreciation of an 'otherness' beyond the reach of language, and for Armstrong, constitutes the heart of every religion" (Sholto Byrnes New Statesmen)

"It isn't an easy read - why should it be? - and at times her expertise in theology and its technical terms get in the way of layman's understanding. But at her best, she is wonderfully clear and insightful - and not out to convert anyone" (Peter Lewis Daily Mail)

Book Description

An essential book for our times: Karen Armstrong answers bestselling atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and argues that faith still has a fundamental role in the modern world.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
182 of 188 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The answer is, there are no answers 24 Aug 2009
A brilliantly refreshing, readable and clear run-through of the history of religion and mysticism, mostly Christianity, and looking more at the writings of scholars rather than the experience of the laity. Armstrong doesn't really make a case for God (as in the existence of God) but rather a case for the argument that we cannot know anything about God. She clearly explains why any attempt to understand God intellectually, or to define "him", is pointless and tends to lead to idolatry. Her argument is that seeking to define the nature of God is largely a product of the scientific age, but her evidence for a more uncertain approach to God being typical previously comes from the writings of certain Greek and early Christian mystics, which she paints as typical of their times, rather than unusual - something I'm not in a position to verify.

Importantly, she argues that religion is a matter of practice not "belief" (a word that now means an acceptance of something as fact, but which in the past had the connotation more of commitment, like love), and that where it is entered into, it is best done with the understanding that it is not based on any knowledge of God's nature.

This book could be seen as an argument for mysticism, but there is no attempt at conversion here. The book doesn't itself suggest why someone not already on a religious path should follow one. Religious practice might be rewarding, but no one could be expected to know that until they were well on it, after much hard work they could otherwise have avoided.
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cool, authoritative, eloquent 7 Oct 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Missed Opportunity? 3 Aug 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When I heard that Karen Armstrong was writing a book called `the Case for God' I thought it might well prove to be one of the most important books on religion published for many years. Unfortunately, having now read it, I doubt that it will prove as ground-breaking as I had hoped. The reason for this, paradoxically, comes back to a point Karen well recognises - that the concept of God is so abstruse that people throughout history have found it incomprehensible and too remote from their everyday lives to have any real meaning. Instead they have latched on to more simplistic ideas of God that might meet some immediate psychological needs but which are so shot full of contradictions as to be almost laughable to serious rational thinkers. Karen charts in lucid detail how this transformation in thinking has taken place and how theologians have struggled to put the genie back in the bottle, but it is doubtful that unsophisticated religious people will read her book, let alone understand it and assent to it. Her scholarship and erudition, impressive though they are, might in this case just be barriers to comprehension for many people. This would be a pity, as her overall message is actually quite simple - that the way for people to find meaning, hope and happiness in their lives is through their deeds and actions, to `live generously, large-heartedly and justly and to inhabit every single part of their humanity'. It would be a shame if this essentially humanist message got lost in the noise.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Karen Armstrong argues - with her usual elegance, eloquence and breadth of knowledge - her familiar case: that the true meaning of religion is mythos and not logos, and cannot be understood if analyzed in terms of logos. Mythos, she maintains, was the universally prevailing way in which people approached religion, before the rise of science in early modern history brought about the fatal change that made people look for logos in religious statements.

In the pre-scientific period - which goes all the way back to the Stone Age - she says that worshippers did not, and were not intended to, take their myths literally, but rather as symbolical expressions of human experience. We certainly regard them as such today, and it accounts for the spell they continue to exert down the ages. But it is extremely difficult, I think, to be sure that they were not ALSO taken literally during the times for which we have no written texts (as in the case of the Stone Age). When we come to the time when surviving texts do become relatively plentiful, there are indeed sages in several of the great religious or quasi-religious texts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam - who do say that it is impossible to pin down the transcendental nature of spiritual experience; but these are the writings precisely of sages, and I think one cannot assume that their teachings, difficult as they are, really affected the millions of worshippers to the extent that one can confidently say that they did not take the myths literally. She rightly points out that spiritual life requires a lot of training (again, rightly, training of practice rather than of theory), which would again suggest that perhaps only a minority could live, as the Buddha put it, `skilfully' or `helpfully'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good read and clear exposition of a difficult subject
Very good read and clear exposition of a difficult subject. Karen Armstrong handles the theme very well and the book is packed with information - excellent book.
Published 28 days ago by Marshall Meadows
4.0 out of 5 stars Faith
I would like to give this book the full 5 stars because it is so erudite and full of knowledge but it is not a book you could say "I love it". Read more
Published 1 month ago by J. L. Hill
4.0 out of 5 stars worth making the effort
This book does not make a case for God or a strong rebuttal of the arguments made Richard Dawkins et al. Read more
Published 5 months ago by markr
1.0 out of 5 stars What case?
By the question in my title I don't mean to imply that Armstrong has put forward a *bad* case for God. She has put forward *no* case for God. Whatsoever. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mr. A. P. Lloyd
5.0 out of 5 stars I Love, Love love this book
From a personal standpoint I found this gem of a book whilst attempting to clear up confusion on my perception of religion. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ali
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Karen Armstrong's Best
I have read a number of Karen Armstrong's books but this was by far the best. Having read through it once I am now re-reading it and the various "clippings" I have made of... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Tariki
5.0 out of 5 stars Armstrong's The Case for God
Fantastic. Thoroughly researched and well-written.
Excellent. I'd heartily encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about God but doesn't want to check his or her... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Amy McAllister
4.0 out of 5 stars The Case for God
Truly interesting and well researched. As I knew the writer from other books I was quite confident I would not be disappointed as far as thoroughness and historical... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Yvan De Maesschalck
3.0 out of 5 stars Depends of the reader
As with all religions this depends on the reader. The book is interesting, discussing the pros and cons of belief and arguments for and against. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Concise
3.0 out of 5 stars Small print
I have had to return this paperback because I personally found the print too small for comfortable reading. I have been reading it on Kindle and it is an excellent book. Read more
Published 18 months ago by pencilcase
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