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186 of 192 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The answer is, there are no answers
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...
Published on 24 Aug. 2009 by B. Wigmore

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A good case against literal religion, but no case for God.
UPDATED, 01 Oct, after finishing the book:

Karen Armstrong's writing is structured and readable throughout. She's illustrated how counter-productive it is to try and treat religion and God as essentially knowable, fixed, literal concepts. She explains how (to her at least) God is what happens when we experience the boundary of what language can express, in the...
Published on 5 Sept. 2012 by andrewp


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for believers and unbelievers alike., 13 Mar. 2013
By 
Stafford Steve (Heart of England) - See all my reviews
If you feel alienated by both Christian fundamentalists and militant but theologically illiterate atheists this is the book for you, a theological treatise for those of us who would normally flee theology this is thoughtful, temperate, informed and intelligent.
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49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A valuable and fascinating book, 6 Aug. 2009
By 
Alan Pavelin (Chislehurst, UK) - See all my reviews
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A better title for this excellent book would have been "A History of God", but Karen Armstrong has already used it for an earlier work. "The Case for God" as a title gives the impression that it is a riposte to the "New Atheists" of our age, but it is only tangentially such a book. Essentially it is a history of ideas about God in (mainly) the monotheistic faiths, setting out to demonstrate that religion has always been something one practises, rather than a set of beliefs to which one subscribes. It is only since the so-called Enlightenment that a more literalistic image of God has become dominant, leading to the twin errors of fundamentalism and atheism (in its modern sense). Armstrong demonstrates that only in relatively modern times has God been seen by many as a kind of superhuman "being", like us only much more powerful, and this error has become meat and drink to the New Atheists (who are merely the other side of the fundamentalist coin).

The book is easy to read and clearly well-researched, and I found much to learn from it. For example, the famous remark in 1860 by Thomas Huxley that he would rather be descended from an ape than from Bishop Wilberforce never actually occurred; according to Armstrong, the earliest reference to it dates from 20 years later. The only error I spotted (and I wasn't looking out for them) is on page 118; the Russian icon-painter was Andrei, not Alexander, Rublev.

As a Catholic, a faith which Armstrong famously renounced, I found very little to disagree with in the book. It would have been interesting to have more about St. John of the Cross, who to my mind exemplifies how we should talk about God, and it was certainly interesting to read a summary of the views of Karl Rahner (widely regarded as the greatest 20th century Catholic theologian) which would probably seem very way-out to most ordinary Catholics.

Unlike both fundamentalists and New Atheists, Armstrong has no particular axe to grind, and as a result she has written a valuable and fascinating book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book, 10 Oct. 2009
By 
Rev. Mark Turner (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a book that should be widely read. Although it continues the argument from Armstrong's previous books like 'a History of God' and 'The Great Tranformation' you can read it even if you are unfamilier with her work. The basic argument is that we have lost our sense of the importance of the mythological and use of symbolism within society and this effects our understanding of religion. As a Priest in the Church of England I think all my collegues should read it, and in my own congregation I have a number of people who are about to read it, and have been influenced by her work in the past. Armstrong is a prolific writer, and if you have not read her books before get this one and no doubt you will then want to read some of her other work. I particulaly liked the part where we are reminded of Paul Tillich's important work, which seems to have been lost in recent times. I could write more, but the best thing I can say is go and read it with an open mind.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book, wrong title, 17 July 2010
By 
Mr. C. J. Forse (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Case for God: What religion really means (Paperback)
My only criticism of Karen Armstrong's 'The Case for God' is its title which I suspect was chosen by the publishers to make it appear a rejoinder to books of the Dawkins/Hitchens genre. It is much, much more than this. It is a history of man's search for the transcendent. For her 'religion' is not of the didactic, dogmatic type that I experienced as a youngster (and subsequently rejected), and against which Dawkins and Hitchens rail. Whether God exists is the wrong question. It is only in the modern age (c1500- 1980) with the triumph of science that this has become a relevant question. The religion she explores is of the mystical type. She makes no attempt to defend scripture as accurate history; she does not proselytize. Scripture and ritual are symbolic - their meaning emerges from exegesis (exploration), silence and 'unknowing - all of which involves 'hard work' You may be forgiven for not recognizing what you thought religion and god were. She does not so much rebut the militant atheists, as shift the ground.
Though allusions are made to the orient, this is really a history of western (mainly Christian) ideas of God. It is wonderful dialectic: myth v logos, faith v reason, science v religion, a great unfolding that takes us via Socrates, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant and Nietzsche to the post-modernists which is, in some ways, a completion of the circle. The historical contexts are powerfully drawn. Ms Armstrong is clearly more than a scholarly theologian, she is a historian of substance.
I have enjoyed four of Ms Armstrong's books (from the History of God, through the Axial Age, to the Bible and on to the Crusades), but this is special. I will continue to refer back to it for inspiration. It is a beautiful history of "Man's Search for God" (a much better title).
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5.0 out of 5 stars I Love, Love love this book, 21 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Case for God: What religion really means (Paperback)
From a personal standpoint I found this gem of a book whilst attempting to clear up confusion on my perception of religion.My confusion had arisen from some bible scholars proclaiming that other ways of viewing god except from a biblical standpoint were wrong in fact would be construed as false homage. I then read a little of the bible and the sample I did read was from an objective standpoint, in that I did not know what to expect.
The first thing to strike me was how complex the writing is, more surprisingly was the underlying tone of egotism and fear. I am forty odd years of age and quite worldly wise and the bible caused a type of fear within me. Immediately I felt that this was book written by an egotistical and angry man. I came away thinking it must be a tough life being a fundamentalist Christian.
I was comfortable and happy with having a knowing that god exists, for me he exists as a supreme energy in nature, music ...everything that contains and causes love. My perception of God is one of awe and how amazing he is.Ms Armstrong's book right from the introduction appears to subscribe to the finite of god and puts the case forward that because of his finite we cannot comprehend it so we create religions to try to make sense of of what he might represent to people.
I am glad to say Ms Armstrong's book has removed the fear I was feeling and confirmed that how I perceived God is something not be fearful about, and that some religions have caused some to become very dogmatic in their portrayal of god and in doing so have created an environment of fear.
Ms Armstrong is eloquent in her writing of such a complex topic and her experience of life makes her perfectly qualified to do so.
If you are confused about religions and where you see yourself within them, I highly recommend this book.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mature and intelligent view of religion, 7 Aug. 2009
This is not a rebuttal of Dawkins's jejune work, though it does provide an effective refutation of his position. It is more a history of religion, together with an impression of what Armstrong thinks spirituality should be and shouldn't be. It is at times a little dry, but as a mature and balanced defence of religion at its best, this deserves to be read by theist and atheist alike.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Case for the Defence - or is it the Prosecution?, 19 Feb. 2010
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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In 1984 Karen Armstrong announced she had finished with God. She has spent the last twenty five years redefining the God with whom had finished. Inspired by the works of Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Armstrong has sought to project religion as variable expressions of historical cultures all of which were based on the Golden Rule to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. Armstrong has no religion only a commitment to explaining what she thinks religion should be in a world in which dogmatic expressions of fundamentalist doctrines threaten peaceful coexistence between nations. In many respects she is reminiscent of Del Boy Trotter, spinning generalities containing an element of truth, but repeatedly proclaiming her opinion as objective fact. In doing so she believes she understands historical religions in terms which the religious themselves understood rather than modern concepts which changed our perceptions of what they thought. The result is a woolliness worthy of a merino sheep and with as much insight.

The Case For God is characteristic of Armstrong's approach. She argues that ancient explanations of reality were understood by those who created them to be mythological. Myths were translated into facts by later commentators. She then applies this to all foundational religions, particularly monotheism. She argues that rituals express the practice that is the essence of any religious belief and that the failure of ritualism to appreciate the inability of humans to fully express the essential nature of God has led to the retention of the notion of personality in the divine. For Armstrong personally this failure led to the rejection of the images she received as a child and rejection of God's existence.

In the first part of the book Armstrong tries to show how people thought about God and throw some light on those issues which our contemporaries find problematic, "scripture, inspiration, creation, miracles, revelation, faith, belief and mystery" while demonstrating how organised religion goes wrong by substituting dogma for practice. Hence the second century Church fathers introduced the concept of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) which she suggests was "entirely unknown in antiquity" and represented a departure from original Christian teaching. She argues that the Nicene Council's definition of the Trinity was seen in the West as a rational belief, whereas in the Eastern church it was seen as a myth, a truth not accessible to reason but "a meditative device". Hence the importance of monasticism in facilitating the silent contemplation required to experience the meaning of God.

In the second part of the book Armstrong discusses the modern concept of God from 1500 onwards. This is a historical survey of religion and its relationship to science, enlightenment and the challenges of materialism and skepticism. In broad terms this is well put together and covers the main intellectual developments in a clear and concise manner. She argues that, "quarrelling about religion is counter productive and not conducive to enlightenment". The first part states the obvious but the second part is problematic and depends on the definition of enlightenment. This is where Armstrong is at her weakest. Does enlightenment mean knowledge or understanding? The tenor of her argument is that she is enlightened so it means accepting her opinion as being correct. Thus while she argues against the intemperate bigotry of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris for their identification of religion as a unified denial of reason, she suggests that conceptual unity across religious traditions is the only fruitful way to conduct dialogue.

Armstrong seeks to show scientific modernity has challenged the traditional belief that a transcendent God could only be known by "dedicated practice" of religion. Her aims are laudable but her explanation is a combination of New Thought theology and the Christian existentialism of Paul Tillich. The modern world is not witnessing the death of God but a restatement of theology for the times. Whether that theology is a rewriting of traditional forms of belief or the application of traditional forms to a changing society, is at the heart of the conflict between fundamentalist and mainstream theology and the relationship of both to the secular world. In my view Armstrong pays insufficient attention to the mechanism of religion as a method of social control.

In rating the book I had to decide whether I thought it a useful addition to the subject. On that basis it would be churlish to rate it negatively. Certainly the second part of the book is a quick reference on a number of relevant topics. Ultimately, Armstrong doesn't really make a case for God, she simply looks at the cases into which God has been placed by the limitations of human reason. My perspective on religion has been influenced by the dissenting tradition and Armstrong's leaning towards mysticism makes me wonder whether she really understands what religion actually means. The philosopher Bryan Magee claimed that people believe what they want to believe. I would take it a stage further and suggest that people believe what they choose to believe. Certainly this is what Karen Armstrong has done. Four stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and well paced - Karen at her erudite best, 29 May 2011
By 
Rev. J. G. Hetherington (Kendal, Cumbria) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Case for God: What religion really means (Paperback)
The Case for God is slightly misleading. What we have from Karen is her unique blend of scholarship and tightly woven information. What we get throughout is a magisterial primer on almost all the approaches human beings have developed to discern the mystery of existence. From the Lascaux caves to the early origins of religion formation, the role of Greek insight and for the bulk of the book a weaving of the monotheisms and eastern approaches to faith and practice rather than doctrine.
It is for the most part a story of intolerance - especially within Christianity.
I would strongly commend it to anyone with a desire to understand the present world religious scene. She is weakest I think on the new spiritualities and the coming together of interfaith approaches.
I have also been listening to her brilliantly read CD version. It has helped many a long journey to pass thoughtfully! We have also been reading it in a Book Group.

Excellent!
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4.0 out of 5 stars worth making the effort, 5 May 2014
By 
markr - See all my reviews
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This book does not make a case for God or a strong rebuttal of the arguments made Richard Dawkins et al. Instead, it traces chronologicaly the history of religous belief, particularly Christian belief, showing how it has changed over time.

No answer is offered here, except that there is no answer, and that compassion towards believers and unbelievers alike is the best outcome for all.

This is not a particularly easy book to read, covering as it does philosophy, science and theology, and in a way which can be a little inaccessible to the general reader. I found myself concentrating heard to understand large parts of what I was reading, but willing to do so because for me there was much to learn.

Well worth reading, but a little hard going at times
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, mind stretching and yet liberating, 14 Jan. 2010
By 
Karen Armstrong has written in a clear way that is helpful to all who wish to study theology. She demonstrates the progression of 'belief' in God from prehistory to the present position of dogged fundamentalism and atheistic extremes. She shines alight onto the subject and suggests a different viewpoint. She describes the mystery of 'not knowing' as the ultimate way of accepting the way things are. That flies in the face of the modern need to be certain but she proposes that is the way of pre modern thought. Sometimes to go forward you have to find out whats gone on before. A challenging but refreshing read if you are open to thinking
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The Case for God: What religion really means
The Case for God: What religion really means by Karen Armstrong (Paperback - 1 July 2010)
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