Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Case for God -- A Book Review by Sutton


THE CASE FOR GOD     


     By

Karen Armstrong.

Reviewed by
Geoffrey W. Sutton



Karen Armstrong is a leader in religious affairs. A former Roman Catholic nun, she is a best-selling British author with demonstrated expertise in the monotheistic faiths. In addition to her many speaking engagements, she is a United Nations Ambassador for the Alliance of Civilizations.


The Case for God is a misnomer. In the introduction, Armstrong explains her plan to review the history of religious thinking, which illustrates her theme that worldviews have changed in recent decades. Before the age of reason, people sought meaningful ways to view life events; hence, mythos provided guidance and functioned as a primitive psychology. As people learned ways to control their lives and the environment, a greater emphasis on logos (reason) developed. Eventually, these two perspectives appeared disparate. An important part of her thesis is the notion that belief has changed. Religion has been rationalized and this process has produced the recent rise of fundamentalism and atheism. 

The Case for God becomes a case for understanding the perspectives of religious others derived from a humble stance toward epistemology in contrast to the certitude presented by religious fundamentalists and secular scientists. 

“There is a long religious tradition that stressed the importance of recognizing the limits of our knowledge, of silence, reticence, and awe. That is what I hope to explore in this book (xviii).”

Armstrong divides her work into two major parts. The first six chapters trace the origins of religious responses as evident from prehistoric art at Grosse Chauvet (circa 30,000 BCE) through the variations of sacred teachings and more importantly the development of rituals and disciplines that afforded every man a cultural path to the sacred. She demonstrates an increased knowledge of Eastern Religions (e.g., Buddhism, Jainism), which precedes her analysis of more recent and familiar Western monotheisms (e.g., Judaism, Christianity, Islam). Following these early chapters that read more like a history of religion, a more thematic approach emerges as she addresses the reason and faith narratives of Greek and Jewish origin. I found the death of Socrates a particularly apt symbol of the myth and logos tension that has repeatedly led to destruction of those who question prevailing dogma.


Part two consists of six chapters focused on science and religion. Armstrong aptly traces the rise of secularism, rational faith, and atheism in Western cultures. She offers a selective review of ideas prototypical of the Renaissance, Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution. Toward the end of the section, Armstrong presents the recent tension between religious and atheist fundamentalists who argue their respective positions based on literal interpretations of scripture and a sense that statements from the sacred texts are truth propositions. She finds both sides guilty of selective reading and biased interpretations and calls for an appreciation of the limits of knowledge with reference to postmodernist thinkers. 

In the Epilogue, Armstrong suggests a rapprochement founded on the contributions of religion and science to human wellbeing. It is a celebration of values and plea for humility.


Readers will find The Case for God an informed perspective on the tension that exists between the militant fundamentalists and equally militant atheists. Although her worldview is not compatible with that of some Christians, Armstrong’s perspective on the concepts of faith, belief, and reason offers value to those attempting to integrate Christianity and psychological science. 

Learn more about Karen Armstrong in this 2009 npr story related to this book.


Reference

Sutton, G. W. (2011). [Review of the book The case for God by K. Armstrong]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity,30, 86-87.   Academia Link    Research Gate Link  

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