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The Case for God Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 22, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 206 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for Karen Armstrong's The Case for God

"The time is ripe for a book like The Case for God, which wraps a rebuke to the more militant sort of atheism in an engaging survey of Western religious thought."
—Ross Douthat, The New York Times Book Review
"Armstrong's argument is prescient, for it reflects the most important shifts occurring in the religious landscape."
—Lisa Miller, Newsweek
"A thoughtful explanation, well-sourced and impressively rooted in the writings of theologians, philosophers, scholars and religious figures through the ages. . . . If Armstrong is out to bring respect to both reason and faith in the search of that transcendent meaning, she has done well."
—Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"The Case for God is Armstrong's most concise and practical-minded book yet: a historical survey of hwo rather than what we believe, where we lost the "knack" of religion and what we need to do to get it back."
—Michael Brunton, Ode
"In over a dozen books [Armstrong] has delivered something people badly want: a way to acknowledge that faith can be taken seriously as a response to deep human yearnings without needing to subscribe to the formality of organized belief."
The Economist
"The Case for God should be read slowly, and savored."
—Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Armstrong's thesis is provocative, and her book illuminates a side of Christianity that has recently been overshadowed."
—Margaret Quamme, Columbus Dispatch
"Armstrong is ambitious. The Case for God is an entire semester at college packed into a single book—a voluminous, dizzying intellectual history. . . . Reading The Case for God, I felt smarter. . . . A stimulating, hopeful work.  After I finished it, I felt inspired, I stopped, and I looked up at the stars again.  And I wondered what could be."
—Susan Jane Gilman, NPR's "All Things Considered"
"Karen Armstrong's book is simply superb. Wide-ranging, detailed, well researched meticulously argued and beautifully written, it is a definitive analysis of the role of religious belief and transcendence in our history and our life."
—Dr Robert Buckman, author of Can We Be Good without God?
"Karen Armstrong, in writing The Case for God, provides the reader with one of the very best theological works of our time. It brings a new understanding to the complex relationship between human existence and the transcendent nature of God. This is a book that is so well researched and so deep with insight and soaring scholarship that only Karen Armstrong could have written it. The Case for God should be required reading for anyone who claims to be a believer, an agnostic or an atheist."
—The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, D.D., Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C. 
"No one is better qualified or more needed than Karen Armstrong to enter the hot public debate between believers and non-believers over the existence of God.  Her latest book, eagerly awaited and received, rings out with the qualities she brings to all of her work—The Case for God is lucid, learned, provocative, and illuminating.  Indeed, Armstrong once again does what she always does best by shining a clear light on the deepest mysteries of the religious imagination."
—Jonathan Kirsch, author of The Harlot by the Side of the Road
"Challenging, intelligent, and illuminating—especially for anyone reflecting on current discussions of atheism, often characterized as conflict between religion and science."
—Elaine Pagels, co-author of Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity
"With characteristic command of subject and crispness, the prolific and redoubtable independent British scholar and former nun takes yet another run at the world's religious history. . . . She's conceptual, humanistic and exceedingly well-read. . . . [An] articulate and accessible sweep through intellectual history. The "unknowing" of the mystics has its virtues and its place, but being well-read and knowledgeable makes one powerful and persuasive book.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Celebrated religion scholar Armstrong creates more than a history of religion; she effectively demonstrates how the West (broadly speaking) has grappled with the existence of deity and captured the concept in words, art and ideas. . . . A brilliant examination. . . . [An] accessible, intriguing study of how we see God."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"The new book by premier contemporary historian of religion is a history of God. . . . Presenting difficult ideas with utter lucidity, this registers at once as a classic of religious and world history."
—Ray Olson, Booklist (starred review)
"Armstrong offers a tour de force. . . . Highly recommended for readers willing to grapple with difficult but clearly articulated concepts and challenges to the 'received' ways of perceiving religion.  A classic."
—Carolyn M. Craft, Library Journal
"One of our best living writers on religion. . . . Prodigiously sourced, passionately written."
—John Cornwell, Financial Times
"Karen Armstrong is one of [a] handful of wise and supremely intelligent commentators on religion. . . . As in so much of the rest of her hugely impressive body of work, Karen Armstrong invites us on a journey through religion that helps us to rescue what remains wise from so much that to so many . . . no longer seems true."
—Alain de Botton, The Observer
Critical Acclaim for Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation
"Armstrong at her best—translating and distilling complex history into lucid prose that will delight scholars and armchair historians alike."
—Lauren F. Winner, The Washington Post Book World
"Her conviction, passion and intelligence radiate throughout the book, making us feel the urgency of the ideas it seeks to convey."
—Charles Matthews, Baltimore Sun
"A tour de force. . . . She has dedicated herself to understanding the most prominent world faiths and explaining them to a secular/postsecular society."
—Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor
"Perhaps her most ambitious work. . . . Without overlooking the differences between religions, Armstrong emphasizes their common call for compassion."
—Lisa Montanarelli, San Francisco Chronicle
"A lucid, highly readable account of complex developments occurring over many centuries. . . . A splendid book."
—William Grimes, The New York Times
"An utterly enthralling reading experience. . . . It ranks with A History of God as one of her finest achievements.
"In her typical magisterial fashion, she chronicles these tales in dazzling prose with remarkable depth and judicious breadth."
Publishers Weekly
"Armstrong's erudition is truly impressive. . . . Few people are better qualified to explain that what so often divides us ought to unite us instead."
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Broad, eloquent storytelling."
The Wall Street Journal
"Her conviction, passion and intelligence radiate throughout the book, making us feel the urgency of the ideas it seeks to convey."
—New York Sun
"This could very possibly be one of the greatest intellectual histories ever written."
Library Journal (starred review)
"On prominent display in this book are Armstrong's usual virtues—wide knowledge, meticulous research, a superb appreciation for the beauty and power of religious and philosophical ideasls, and general readability."
Shambhala Sun
"This magisterial work, continuing Karen Armstrong's mission to explore the place and purposes of religions in the modern world, follows in the stream of her books on Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddaism."
Spirituality & Health
Critical Acclaim for Karen Armstrong's The Spiral Staircase
"Enjoyable and deeply interesting. . . . Very rewarding." –San Francisco Chronicle
"A story about becoming human, being recognized, finally recognizing oneself. . . . It fills the reader with hope." –The Washington Post Book World
"Riveting. . . . It's a pleasure to read simply because it's honest and hopeful. . . . Armstrong is such an evocative writer." –Newsday
"I loved this powerful and moving account, and read it nonstop." –Elaine Pagels, author of Beyond Belief
"In . . . Armstrong's memoir there lurks wisdom about the making and remaking of a life . . . from which all of us could learn." –The New York Times Book Review
"A powerful memoir. . . . Buoyed by keen intelligence and unflinching self-awareness and honesty. . . . Armstrong is an engaging, energetic writer." –The Christian Science Monitor
"A minor masterpiece." –Elle
"Exceptionally impressive. . . . Karen Armstrong's account of her spiralling journey provokes thought and inspires respect." –Daily Telegraph
"The story of the making of a writer. . . . It manages to dramatize the writer's process of intellectual development and to find in it genuine interest, and, indeed, suspense. . . . As an account of the intellectual journey of an intelligent and unique individual, the book is often gripping." –Sa...

About the Author

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs—including A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation—and two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. She has addressed members of the U.S. Congress on three occasions; lectured to policy makers at the U.S. State Department; participated in the World Economic Forum in New York, Jordan, and Davos; addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and New York; is increasingly invited to speak in Muslim countries; and is now an ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations. In February 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and is currently working with TED on a major international project to launch and propagate a Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public and crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, to be signed in the fall of 2009 by a thousand religious and secular leaders. She lives in London.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307269183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269188
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (206 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Audio CD
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...
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Format: Hardcover
Can I really be the only person who finds Karen Armstrong, the author of fifteen books on religion, writing in her latest that one cannot comment on the divine with words but only with silence, more than a little ironic?

To be fair, Armstrong does offer several interesting insights. Her effort to find universal "truths" that run across faiths is worthwhile and thought provoking. One might even imagine that there are many members of exclusivist faiths for whom this would be a revelation, though one can hardly imagine many of them reading Armstrong's work. At the same time, Armstrong offers an intelligent and evocative response to the new wave of atheistic polemicists - Dawkins, Hitchens, etal - and offers a muscular retort to their rather juvenile view of the divine, as almost all of them seem to have decided that they learned all there was to know about religion as teens in Anglican Sunday School. Armstrong deserves great praise for reminding people that theology is an intellectual pursuit, the attempt to seek to understand God, as opposed to what much of religion seems to be today, namely the effort by many to project their own narrow petty views onto the divine.

That said, this work suffers from the same shortcoming of all Armstrong's voluminous work. Were she a theologian, one might forgive her for ignoring all those arguments that ran against her claims of universality, though it would still be intellectually sloppy. However, Armstrong claims to be a historian of religion, and as such she is guilty of appalling sins of omission. When a fact contradicts her thesis, she does not even give it the due regard of inconvenience and seek to reconcile, but simply pretends it is not there.
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