Armstrong on God

karen-armstrongSo what is the origin of the whole God idea anyway? Is God very old, or a relatively new invention? From where emerged that omnipotent being , that so many subscribe to, which apparently lives outside of the rules of Nature? Where did the severe rifts between science and God first come about? Were some of our greatest scientists, such as Newton, responsible for creating the modern God? What is the role of God now, and where does it/he/she sit in the landscape of our current society? (Image credit: Gerry Penny/AFP/Getty Images.)

Questions such as the above are fascinating to ponder and by now you must have gathered that I don’t subscribe to the Atheist-fundamentalist view that the matter is treated well by simply declaring that people who believe in God are stupid or otherwise broken in some way. And yelling it in their face. It’s much more interesting than that.

Karen Armstrong writes very well about the issues I mentioned above, and recently was on NPR’s Fresh Air talking about her new book, “The Case for God”. She examines a great deal of history of the idea of God, and (among other things) reminds us that the common, often over-simplistic, personal God created in our own image (the one that probably creates the most religion problems in the world), is one that we (religious or not) would do well to nudge a bit towards evolving somewhat. Or rather, perhaps returning to some of its earlier, more transcendent forms. She says a lot more, so I’ll let you listen to the program or read the book.

I found her, as usual, very well spoken, respectful of both “sides”, and reasonable (which is not to say I agree with everything she says). Reasonableness is what I hope we can strive for in this sort of discussion, rather than resulting to fundamentalism on both sides, which seems to be the case a lot these days. I completely agree with her characterisation of Richard Dawkins’ often unhelpful line on things, for example, and she echoes things I’ve said here and elsewhere in the past: Basically, whether the Atheist-fundamentalists like it or not, we have to share the planet with perfectly reasonable and educated people who hold other views. We need to find ways of conversing with each other rather than demonizing each other and adopting embattled positions that serve no useful purpose. As I said in the comments of a recent post the other day:

The reason is, in my opinion, that we all share the same planet and must find ways to live together. I think that is good motivation for trying to find a way to have a civilized conversation… The alternative is neither pleasant nor productive, I find.

Have a listen to the interview here. I think I’ll add her book to my library, alongside some of the excellent writing of Jonathan Kirsch about the history of religion that I’ve mentioned here before. (Have you read “The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God” from last year, or “God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism”, for example? All worth reading alongside Karen Armstrong’s work.)



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4 Responses to Armstrong on God

  1. Mary Cole says:

    ‘Basically, whether the Atheist-fundamentalists like it or not, we have to share the planet with perfectly reasonable and educated people who hold other views.’

    Well said Clifford!

  2. Ruthie says:

    I’m also a huge fan of Armstrong–she’s truly brilliant and a writer with a gift for combining clarity and depth. Tricky combination to come by and wonderful to read.

  3. Yvette says:

    Cool if I get a moment I might have to check it out!

    I always explained my feelings against the fundamental atheist crowd by just saying that it is a gift of my genes that I can feel compassion for my fellow human beings. Anyone who doesn’t understand that probably wouldn’t be worth having a conversation with anyway.

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