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Paperback The Case for God : What Religion Really Means Book

ISBN: 0307389804

ISBN13: 9780307389800

The Case for God : What Religion Really Means

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Book Overview

A nuanced exploration of the part that religion plays in human life, drawing on the insights of the past in order to build a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age. Moving from the Paleolithic age to the present, Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names, such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao. Focusing especially on Christianity...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Atheists and Believers: Check your Guns at the Door, and Come on In!

There is a beauty, scope, and deeply edifying tone about this book that allows the armed-to-the-teeth atheist or Christian/Jewish/Islmamic/Buddhist/Hindu/Daoist believer to lay down their weapons at the door to a metaphorical Theological Café, come in, take a seat, order up a latte or tea, sit back, and ready one's self for that most pleasurable of experiences: a long, careful, cordial, and deeply satisfying day-into-night human discourse. Armstrong sets the table for her guests by reviewing over 32,000 years of the human search for spiritual meaning. Rarely have the caves of Lascaux and their enigmatic drawings been brought to life as vividly as in the first chapter of this book, and Armstrong draws on this evoked sense of awe and wonder to firmly ground three of the book's themes. First, Armstrong feels that religion at its core is not about dogma or beliefs, it is about becoming aware of an ineffable and unknowable God, a God whose nature is so far beyond the ken of human knowing that to seek to describe the attributes of God can do nothing but diminish the very concept of God. Secondly, Armstrong argues that becoming aware of God takes discipline and practice. Rituals are not in and of themselves "true" (e.g. the consecration of the host is not literally transubstantiation from bread to the actual body of Christ), but the practice of the ritual is an important portal to awareness of God. Thirdly, Armstrong finds cause to believe that from the earliest hints of human religious experience through the vast spiritual menu offered up today, true relationship with God is a life of orthopraxy (right living/action/doing) instead of orthodoxy (right dogma/beliefs/knowing). We don't, Armstrong says, need churches that tell us what to believe; rather we need churches that focus on the disciplines and rituals that bring us awareness of God. Following her entrancing introduction to Paleolithic spirituality, Armstrong takes us on a 300 plus page exploration of where we humans have gone since emerging from the flickering shadows of the Lascaux caves. Boring? Absolutely not. Armstrong's review of the major religions, the ebb and flow of theological/philosophical tides up to and including the relatively recent cross-current of modern atheism, is fascinating. All but the most erudite of scholars will find engaging new perspectives to both ponder and savor. Is Armstrong always right? I'll refer back to the day-into-night discussion in the café: The Case for God will inspire vigorous, enthusiastic and hopefully civil discourse. In her closing chapters, Armstrong takes on the Four Horsemen of modern atheism: Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. These chapters are more problematic, in that one of her main contentions is that these outspoken atheists proceed by setting up straw men (e.g. acting as though the religious excesses of fundamentalists represent all of religion) and then knocking them down. In the process, Armstrong sets up a fe

Overall, a good summary statement

I have read a read a number of Armstrong's book and while I can appreciate the complaints of more scholarly inclined readers (I'm a professor- but not of theology or philosophy- and tend to be very critical of popularized work in my own field), I feel that on the whole the book is valuable as a statement about the current state of religion. As both a Buddhist and an Episcopalian, I connect very much with her discussion about a apophatic knowing of God and the importance of ritual. The last two chapters are tremendous and I feel the Epilogue could stand very much as a statement on its own. I particularly enjoyed the discussion about how we , as children, learn about the existence of Santa Claus and God at about the same time, but, as we grow older, our knowledge and belief in Santa Claus "matures" while our belief in God often remains immature. I know that it sounds silly, but actually it is a rather profound thought. Basically the book captures very well the frustration and tiredness many of us feel about the current state of "debate about God" and proposes a far more productive way to think about this. She shows up the neo-atheists as a bunch of tiresome bores (Actually she is a little more kind than that.) Also I am happy to see that, in contrast to many religious fundamentalists, she has a number of good things to say about postmodernism and what it can offer to us in our thinking about God. I hope this book gets a wide reading.

A Stimulating Read, An Important Book

Enter the caverns of Lascaux and step back into the world of our early hunter ancestors of the Paleolithic era. We find record of a people who took life and the taking of the life they hunted very seriously and recorded on the stone walls of the caverns their rites performed to return the animals they killed for sustenance to a second life. Enter another cave where Plato paints a picture of humanity groping in darkness until some are able to step out into the light, seeing the world for the first time are faint able to make those still in the darkness of the caves comprehend their new vision. Humanity has a history, a long encounter with the sacred. It is expressed in different ways such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, and Dao among others. With all the diverse manners of approaching it humanity has a long, intimate relationship with the transcendent and it is important for anyone to understand the religious impulse in order to understand a vital element of what it means to be human. Karen Armstrong provides a thorough and compelling resource toward this kind of understanding in her book "The Case for God". It is useful to know before reading this book that it is not a tract attempting to prove the existence of God. It is rather a case for God, not the existence of God. Amid the arguments made by New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, Armstrong makes the case that the religious life can be valuable and healthy. While Logos describes the objective reality that is essential for living, Religion or Mythos, helps us "to live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realitites for which there [are] no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve: morality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life" (318). I recommend this book for two reasons. The first is that it gives a very thorough exposition of the history and development of religion and philosophy that is by all accounts very valuable to know. You will be more educated after reading this book and that is useful in itself. Both religious and nonreligious people can benefit from a background in the ideas, traditions, and world-views that have shaped and continued to shape the world. Armstrong also gives a summary of many of the major scientific developments of history. With my professional background in science I particularly enjoyed these passages and was impressed by her knowledge in these subjects. The second reason I recommend this book is because she brings an interesting argument to the discussion over God and it would benefit anyone to be exposed to it. It is not necessary to agree with her positions to enjoy the book. I have always enjoyed the scientific writing of Richard Dawkins and I think "The Selfish Gene" is one of the best popular science books ever written. Dawkins also makes some important points and criticisms of religion that people of faith must confront. On the same note, at

Karen Armstrong is a Great Teacher

I believe what Karen Armstrong is trying to do is refine the definition of God and to respect all the real life experiences of so many people, of so many ages, and of so many faiths. Contrary to what some other reviewers have said, I find her argument - her case for "God" - scrupulously argued. Let's be clear about this...Dr. Armstrong is very well read. Time and again, she finds evidences in the thinking of the Bible writers, the early Christian theologians, the Talmudic rabbis of the Middle Ages, the important philosophers of the Islamic Golden Age...or even in practices such as those of the Sufi or Christian mystics. And yes, even the scientists! In a nutshell, the book is an Intellectual History of how the idea of God has been understood and argued, from prehistory to the present, including the recent populism of the New Atheists (as opposed to the 19th century agnostics). One of the most interesting chapters talks about the early history of Christianity when the idea surfaced that God created the universe from "nothing" as opposed to the idea God shaped and formed what already existed as chaos. Once that new idea surfaced, there were two camps, those who believed that Jesus was divine but had been elevated to that status by an immensely powerful being and those who believed that God could never be characterized as being at all and therefore Jesus could be God from the beginning. Do not be distracted by "petty disputes" about her presentation. As an example, whether the "antiChrist" is described once or twice in the Bible is irrelevant. To Dr. Armstrong, we must not confuse the reality of God with the language about the existence of God. No one can accurately describe the marvelous ecosystem, power, interconnectedness, and beauty of the ocean in mere words...And yet, the ocean exists. As I interpret the author's position, I am to understand God as a point of destination that is constantly moving. We find God in our personal quest for ultimate truth, ultimate wisdom, ultimate beauty, and...ultimate compassion. Using these ideas, when Kepler or Newton - for example - were seeking to uncover the laws of the universe, they were seeking God. Indeed, I believe that's how these great scientists did understood their mission. Karen Armstrong is not so interested - as many wrongly think - in being right. She is interested in imagining God in such a way as to force us to become connected to something larger than ourselves. To be enlightened. To become enriched as human beings. Practicing compassionate acts brings one closer to God. Unleashing hate on others - on the other hand - is the very disrespect of God. She shares the thinking of Shakespeare, let's say, in "The Merchant of Venice" , Act IV, scene 1: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven...It is enthroned in the hearts of kings; It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice."

Remarkable, fascinating, mindshifting,

Karen Armstrong is able to do two things which are individually remarkable, and in combination perhaps unique. - provide a credible, erudite, historical overview of all the main religions in a way that shows how they fit together. ie. the key ideas they have borrowed from each other - do so in a way which is vivid, accessible and often inspiring. Some religious readers will be shocked to discover that "their" religion is based on ideas that are far more widespread than they may have realized. And they may be uncomfortable that the God Armstrong is arguing for is not one actively involved in day-to-day human concerns, checking off prayer requests or directing the weather, but deeper, mysterious, perhaps ineffable. Some non-religious readers will be shocked by how compelling a case Armstrong makes for a religious mindset based, not so much on "belief" or "faith" but on spirituality and compassion. But all, if they approach this book with an open mind, are likely to emerge with a richer understanding of life's most important questions.
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