I found Karen Armstrong’s newest book The Case for God to be so top notch, so all-encompassing as an objective history of religious thought, that I’m considering writing a series of blogs about it. One entry alone could not do justice to Armstrong’s volume, which is an opus-like credit to the woman who is sought out as a speaker and advisor by all of the world’s major faith groups.
The Case for God does three specific things in which I take delight. First, Armstrong affirms the enduring value of mythology and mystery in humankind’s indigenous sense of the sacred. Second, she details the rise of literal, fundamentalist approaches of all the major religions and how these have generally done more harm than good across the ages. And third, she skillfully debunks the claims of a few modern-day atheists who are just as extremist and literal as some of the fundamentalists (but for different reasons, obviously).
What Armstrong leaves with us is a God beyond strict belief systems, a God not made in our own image depending on our cultural perspectives; but a God who embodies compassion, love, charity, mercy, creativity, intellect—the very same qualities we might find in key historical figures who provide signposts toward surrendering to more of our divine nature, figures such as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Socrates, Aristotle, and so forth.
Armstrong writes in her epilogue, “From almost the very beginning, men and women have repeatedly engaged in strenuous and committed religious activity. They evolved mythologies, rituals, and ethical disciplines that brought them intimations of holiness that seemed in some indescribable way to enhance and fulfill their humanity. They were not religious simply because their myths and doctrines were scientifically or historically sound, because they sought information about the origins of the cosmos, or merely because they wanted a better life in the hereafter. They were not bludgeoned into faith by power-hungry priests or kings; indeed, religion often helped people to oppose tyranny and oppression of this kind. The point of religion was to live intensely and richly here and now. Truly religious people are ambitious. They want lives overflowing with significance.”
In a world buckling under the weight of so many artificial paths toward temporary significance, we are more in need than ever of following the God-driven hunger within us and seeing where it takes us. Armstrong has made her “case,” and made it quite well—and anyone with the time to soak in this life-changing book will reap the blessing.