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178 of 184 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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An academic and difficult to read book
Having read and enjoyed a number of Karen Armstrong's books, from her autobiographies through to books about Buddha and religion in general, I was surprised at how difficult it was to read this particular book: in fact, I had to skip large parts!

As other reviewers have mentioned, the title is a complete misnomer, the content seems in fact a reworking of her "A...
Published on 1 Dec 2010 by alextorres


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178 of 184 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The answer is, there are no answers, 24 Aug 2009
By 
B. Wigmore (Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
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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. My reading of the book is that those disposed to religious practice (by circumstances, upbringing or genetics) should follow the one that best suits them, but on the understanding that the choice of practice itself is of little consequence, as long as it is entered into without any belief in its factual superiority. Meanwhile, those not so disposed to do so, should not be expected to. In the end, it is an erudite plea for a greater acceptance of the state of Unknowing. Whether such a plea will find many listeners in an age where factual knowledge and certainty are held in such high regard remains to be seen.
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62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cool, authoritative, eloquent, 7 Oct 2009
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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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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Missed Opportunity?, 3 Aug 2009
By 
Ukhuman1st "Mike" (Gloucester, England) - See all my reviews
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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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150 of 168 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended read., 15 July 2009
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Having bought and read six of Karen's books I found this to be one of her best. With over a thousand noted references and ten pages of glossary I am sure that I shall be returning to this book time and again for information. On a couple of occasions during the book Karen acknowledges God and religion are difficult issues to write about. Readers have even given her feedback that some of her work in the past has been difficult to read. Well despite the difficulty of the subjects and the huge amount of information there is to draw on, this book is not difficult. It does however deserve concentrated thought if you wish to get the best out of it, as she skilfully charts the development and interpretations of God and religion since 30,000 BCE. Having read hundreds of books on the subjects I have at times become very confused. This book has been like a breath of fresh air in gently helping me unravel some of those puzzling issues. I have no hesitation in recommending the book - enjoy it.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Karen Armstrong tells us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, 2 Oct 2009
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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'. And even among the teachers of the élite, there were frequently influential exponents of `unskilful' attitudes. In short, I cannot think that in religious practices of the pre-scientific period there was not a great deal of taking the myths literally, and therefore, then as now, quite a lot of what is more accurately described as superstition rather than as spirituality. And though some superstitions derive their strength from being ALSO symbolic of some fear or hope within us, the literal belief in them does at best invite compassionate understanding and at worst ridicule.

Undoubtedly one way in which ordinary people can have `transcendental' experiences is through rituals which not only free them from logos but also from the considerations of ordinary life, taking them `out of themselves' (or perhaps deeply `into themselves').

Karen Armstrong says that originally Judaism, Christianity and Islam did not impose any faith, belief or creed. They urged orthopraxy (certain ways of behaviour which those who strenuously followed them would find putting them in touch with spiritual experiences) and not orthodoxy (the requirement to assent to doctrinal teaching). Specifically, what early Christianity asked for was `pistis', the original Greek word meaning `commitment', and which was then translated by Jerome into Latin as `fides' which originally meant `loyalty', but later came to be translated as `faith'. He translated the verb `pisteuo' (`I commit myself') into `credo', which originally meant `I give my heart' (`cor do') and was in turn translated into `I believe', when in Middle English `bileven' meant `to hold dear' (cf. `beloved'). Unfortunately Christendom then took a wrong turning at the time of the Council of Nicaea, which did formulate a Creed in the modern sense, requiring Christians to assent to doctrinal teaching. Even then, however, many theologians stressed that you cannot SAY anything about God: you can only have a true religious EXPERIENCE by practising certain difficult mental processes. And even those medieval theologians (like Aquinas) who claimed that the `existence' of God could be demonstrated by Reason stressed that we cannot grasp His nature or His attributes.

The invention of printing (together with the new disciplines of science) to some extent destroyed power of mythos: the printed word was explicated in a way in which the transcendent Word had not been. Catholics and the Protestant sects increasingly relied on catechisms, pinning their followers down to `creeds' in the modern sense. (Armstrong completely ignored this phenomenon and the consequent persecution of `heretics' in the pre-modern period. I feel that in the first half of the book, she places rather selective emphasis on those approaches to religion which she shares, and makes them perhaps more representative of pre-modern times than they really are.)

In the second half of the book, (except for the last two chapters which are less "run of the mill") she traverses ground which many other books, including her own earlier "A History of God", have made very familiar: how early scientists used science to `prove' that there was a God, and how later scientists used science as a weapon against religion; and she considers the role of Biblical Criticism. She looks at the Evangelical reaction against this (paying more attention to the United States than most European books on religion do). Finally the later Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Tillich and others restored the notion that religious language and scientific language are two quite different things: we do not find God by talking about him, but by finding the transcendental and inexpressible, indeed the Unknowable, in our inner being, in what Pascal had described as "that God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which can never be filled by any created thing" (including a God created in Man's image).

Once again, this is a difficult thing to do; and though today there is still a lot around of what Karen Armstrong considers a false approach to the Divine, for a growing number of people a major alternative is to make no approach at all, with the question mark of her last chapter heading - The Death of God? - omitted.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An academic and difficult to read book, 1 Dec 2010
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Having read and enjoyed a number of Karen Armstrong's books, from her autobiographies through to books about Buddha and religion in general, I was surprised at how difficult it was to read this particular book: in fact, I had to skip large parts!

As other reviewers have mentioned, the title is a complete misnomer, the content seems in fact a reworking of her "A History of God" but the prose is much drier, perhaps written more academically.

Her strength in writing some of her books has been her ability to bridge the gap between the academic and general readership: on this occasion she hasn't managed that, whether intentionally or not.

The result is that, for general readership, this is a tough book to read and enjoy.
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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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Case for God, 27 Sep 2012
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Having read Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and enjoyed it, I knew I would have to read this book at some point to get the other side of the story. I was absolutely blown away. Please excuse the lack of scholarship in my review, but I can only urge you all to read Karen Armstrong's book, and then some more by her. I have now also read "The Bible The Biography" and am currently immersed in "A History of God", which is quite terrific. Reverting to "The Case for God" for a moment, I have to say that the subtitle is quite excellent - "What Religion Really Means". I see now that this is something you won't learn from Richard Dawkins or any of his fellow horsemen of the apocalypse. I speak as an apostate from Protestant Christianity into Dawkinsite atheism. Thanks to Karen A I now realise that neither as a Christian nor as an atheist have I ever understood what it is to be religious. Key among Karen's observations are:

(1) Christian, Jewish and Muslim theologians have know for the past 6 centuries that God doesn't exist.
(2) God is hard work. If you examine the root of the word believe (Latin credo), it has nothing to do with an intellectual assent to a set of doctrines, but a disciplined struggle to achieve wholeness and wisdom.
(3) Karen A is quite happy to learn from thoughtful atheists such as Julian Baggini, but R Dawkins and others have such a primitive grasp of theology that their contributions are of little merit. Dawkins and his critics are arguing about the same very limited version of religion and so are indistinguishable to a scholar like Karen.

Sorry, I am going on about Richard Dawkins all the time, when the whole point is to wean myself off popular atheism for a bit. Karen starts her book talking about "logos" and "mythos" as two distinct paths to truth. As post 18th Century Enlightenment human beings in the scientific age we are used to "logos" or, loosely speaking, reason. We take it for granted that the scientific method yields truth. The idea that "mythos", which encompasses story telling and an artistic/ritualised re-enactment of important moral experience, should also lead to truth is an initially very strange idea. As is the idea that such truth can only be grasped intuitively. Words and pictures can point the way, but they are not the thing itself. If we want to get something out of religious texts, then we need to approach them as did pre 18th Century Enlightenment Christians, that is we need to discover and create our own meanings. Religion changes and adapts and that's how it manages to keep going. The premise of religion is surely right, that human experience can be unbearable and needs healing.

I'd better stop before I reveal too many shortcomings as a new theologian. Suffice it to say that you should read this book, from whatever persuasion you come, if you want to find out new things about religious experience. You are in safe hands. Karen Armstrong is a wonderful scholar, at once knowledgeable and profound, but also witty and generous hearted. A few years ago at Amman airport I noticed that one English writer had four books in the bookshop. The author was Karen Armstrong. That was an earlier inking that her books might just be worth reading. I understand that, among her other achievements, she is the only theologian coming from a Christian perspective who is well liked and trusted in the scholarly Jewish and Muslim communities.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Karen Armstrong: The Case for God: What Religion Really Means, 30 Aug 2009
By 
M. V. Cutler (UK) - See all my reviews
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The Case for God by Karen Armstrong, the noted writer on many world religions, is an excellent account of the ways in which God has been seen by human beings since very early times. Armstrong begins with a reference to the 17,000 year old Lascaux caves in France, and speculates on the spiritual ideas which may have given rise to these wonderful and mysterious creations. She proceeds through an historical account of religious thinking and controversies over the centuries to the present day, concentrating on what she calls the 'apophatic' tradition, the idea that God is not easily spoken of or about.

A particularly strong thread in the book is her account of the type of book which The Bible is, its many authors and some of their intentions. This solves many problems for the reader who may find a totally literal interpretation of the Bible alienating and implausible, and yet wishes to maintain and understand its important truths. The book also lucidly explains the rise of scientific thinking from the Greeks onwards, and her account demonstrates how the two ways of looking at life and existence have reached a state of conflict and impasse which need not have been so polarised.

The book is well-written and engaging, and a full index provides comprehensive references.
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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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