32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Case for God (Hardcover)
Karen Armstrong is a former nun (no longer Catholic or Christian) who lives in England and is a very well-known, graceful writer and speaker on religious topics. Her latest book is entitled The Case for God. I have just finished it. It is a tour de force of religious and especially Western cultural and philosophical history. She should be applauded for striving to give an informed overview of vast cultural development in an age of overspecialization where, too often, the overload of fragmented information leaves many without any possibility of creating a comprehensive vision of the past or of the future.
Having given my accolades, let me be clear that, not surprisingly, I do not share her theological tendencies, the most fundamental of which seems to be that all religious traditions are created equal. I also sense in her work the apparent presumption that it is never appropriate to interpret religious texts as being reliable guides to the accurate depiction of actual historical events. It is not clear to me if she views that working presumption against historically "referential" religious texts as being rebuttable in certain, theologically significant cases. (By "referential" I mean that the text actually refers to some real, objective event in history that observers can verify.) In the end, she paints a picture of worldwide religious fraternity based on the view that the historical details do not really matter as long as the mythic aspect of different religious texts are plumbed for their deeper, universal, and common meanings. Many Christians, especially in the developing world, will view this approach as inadequate to the uniqueness of the Christian Gospel.
Yet, I can recommend the book to readers who are prepared to read critically and are not predisposed toward an uncritical embrace of a particular author's view of history or of religion. In my opinion, she does a fine job of exposing the fact that many of the new militant atheist writers of today are theologically tone deaf in assuming, without justification, that Christianity is tied to a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. She turns the tables on these aggressive atheist writers by calling them "fundamentalists" themselves who refuse to recognize the possibility and reality of a nuanced and literarily responsible interpretation of the Bible's diverse genres.
Yet, my main critique remains and is as follows. She makes much of the distinction between symbolic, non-literal discourse (mythos) and practical, logical discourse referring to objectively observed realities (logos). By viewing religious texts as merely or primarily mythos, she deftly turns back any criticism that such texts may be fictional. But, as a Christian, that approach is a strategy that is not acceptable when applied to the proclamation of the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus and thus is not ultimately favorable to the Christian stance. The key Christian response to her approach was made long ago by C.S. Lewis, an expert in mythology as a genre in both pagan and Christian inspired works. For Lewis, the Gospel is a true myth, which combines the profound symbolic meaning that Armstrong rightly sees in mythos with the objective, historical reference to truly occurring events that Armstrong labels logos. For Christians, in Jesus, the profound yearnings of all humanity expressed in mythos became true in actual history or logos. In short, the tomb was indeed empty. Interestingly, given Armstrong's terminology, Christians in fact view Jesus as the Logos, as even she mentions in the book.
That Armstrong seems to assume that Christianity can somehow overlook the logos part points to her own misunderstanding of the Christian foundational writings known as the New Testament. It is undeniable that Paul, to pick one example from the New Testament writers, understood that the Gospel story must of necessity involve a real death and a real bodily resurrection or else all bets are off. Thus, the well-intentioned Armstrong attempt to divorce logos discourse from the New Testament falls flat. Of course, Christians would have no problem with applying a purely symbolic interpretation to the texts of other religious traditions in an attempt to find common truths in such texts. But the Bible, especially the New Testament, is a very different type of story. The genre of the Gospel proclaimed in the New Testament is, as Lewis noted, true myth (not merely symbolically "true") that combines both mythos and logos, two aspects that cannot be divorced in this particular case. Yet, I still enjoyed the book, but with the above, significant reservations.
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Initial post: Sep 13, 2010 6:05:30 PM PDT
Posted on Oct 6, 2014 5:00:56 PM PDT
David Marshall says:
A wonderful review. If all he can say in response is "huh?", I suggest James Cameron read Lewis, and other Christian thinkers in that tradition.
The typical ploy is to set up a dichotomy between pluralism (Armstrong) and exclusivism, and demand that we choose between them. But the Christian solution to the problem of world religions, as I see it, and as Lewis saw it, is more nuanced, complex, and helpful. As in the Greek world, so now, we need to integrate the two sides of the human soul. Read the Acts of the Apostles carefully, and you see this is exactly what Paul was doing.
The challenges of the New Atheism can be met, and are (my The Truth Behind the New Atheism I think does this, and so do several other fine works). But the deeper need is for integration, which Paul, Justin, Origen and the gang (following Jesus, "I come not to abolish but to fulfill") first offered the world, breaking down the barrier between Homer and Aristotle, Rig Veda and Upanishad, Lao Zi and Guan Yin, as well as between Jew and Gentile.
Posted on Oct 4, 2015 7:00:25 AM PDT
"the fact that many of the new militant atheist writers of today are theologically tone deaf in assuming, without justification, that Christianity is tied to a fundamentalist approach to the Bible"
Whap, whap. No straw left in that strawman.
Posted on Oct 4, 2015 7:01:42 AM PDT
Silly David Marshall claims:
"we need to integrate the two sides of the human soul"
Hilarious irrational nonsense.
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