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The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam Paperback – 2 Apr 2001
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About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and people would certainly become less zealous as the world became more modern and morals more relaxed. But the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong (A History of God), who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions. Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims Armstrong, who points to the Oklahoma City bombing, violent anti-abortion crusades, and the assassination of President Yitzak Rabin as evidence of dangerous extremes.
Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism and Western materialism seem to urge each other on to greater excesses. To "prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side," she pleads. With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion of a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong's writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘The quality of this remarkable book lies as much in its detail as in its sweeping vision’
‘Armstrong displays all her usual talents: she has an eye for colourful evidence, a wonderful gift for clarity of exposition and an unerring sense of pace and voice and narrative.’
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Literary Review
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Karen Armstrong shows that religious fundamentalism is a relatively recent phenomenon.Religious fundamentalists feel threatened by the modern advances which are favored by secularists. The secularists in turn feel threatened by the rigid views of the fundamentalists. It is more important than ever for these opposing groups to find some common meeting ground. After reading Armstrong's book, however, I do not feel optimistic about this possibility occurring anytime in the near future.
THE BATTLE FOR GOD is a well-researched study of a complex topic. One inescapable conclusion to draw from reading the book is that religious fundamentalism is deeply entrenched throughout the world and it is a major cause of much of the planet's present unrest.
One minor criticism of the book is a slight frustration, as a secular humanist, at what sometimes seems a religious apologetic. Thus she says(as quoted in the main review of this book above)things like "By the 18th century, however, ... people ... began to think that logos was the only means to truth and began to discount mythos as false and superstitious." The implication, stated more explicitly elsewhere, is that mythos is in some sense 'true' even though it is not 'literally true', which might be taken as indicating some sympathy for those who revert to it. She also talks about people perceiving spiritual 'realities' and uses phrases like 'the ground of Being' as though this meant something. I guess this shows that I am fully steeped in 'logos', but it would have helped if she had set out more clearly what exactly she meant by 'truth' and these obscure mystical terms.
One other thought that has struck me after reading this book is whether it is possible to have secular fundamentalism. In my view, one reason that scientific rationalism took off in Western Europe was the liberation of individualist thought from the shackles of organised religion following the invention of the printing press and the Reformation. This gave rise to a whole economic system based on individuals pursuing their own self-interest on the basis that an amoral market would allocate resources efficiently for the common good. Yet, as the recent credit crunch graphically illustrates, rational behaviour by individuals in an unregulated market can spell disaster for society as a whole... something that the exploited poor of the countries discussed in this book have long been well aware of. Could it be that disaffected secularists might one day search their evolutionary roots to work out what went wrong and join the religious fundamentalists in opposing a system that puts a price on everything and a value on nothing?
Written in 2000, this book obviously predates September 11th and the events which resulted from that appalling act of nihilism, but nonetheless provides a good understanding of the causes of the rise of fundamentalism, and the strong antipathy which has arisen in each of the monotheistic religions between fundamentalists and more traditional believers, as well as the complete lack of understanding or sympathy between many liberals, secularists and fundamentalists for whom the views of the 'other side' are often truly repellant.
Ms Armstrong has used Egypt and Iran as her two main locations for the analysis of Islamic fundamentalist belief, and her conclusions are very relevant in relation to the Arab Spring - indeed this book rather predicts the fall of Mubarak and the rise of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt.
Often fascinating, sometimes heavy going, this is an important book which should be read by all those who seek to understand the rise of fundamentalism and the consequences of that rise which continue to influence world events to this day.
An updated edition to include the events of the last decade would be very welcome...