- Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (January 30, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0345391691
- ISBN-13: 978-0345391698
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 181 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Battle for God Paperback – January 30, 2001
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"One of the most penetrating, readable, and prescient accounts to date of the rise of the fundamentalist movements in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."
--The New York Times Book Review
"EXCELLENT . . . HIGHLY INTELLIGENT AND HIGHLY READABLE . . . This is a book that will prove indispensable . . . for anyone who seeks insight into how these powerful movements affect global politics and society today and into the future."
--The Baltimore Sun
"ARMSTRONG SUCCEEDS BRILLIANTLY . . . With her astonishing depth of knowledge and readily accessible writing style, [she] makes an ideal guide in traversing a subject that is by its very nature complex, sensitive and frequently ambiguous."
--The San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle
"A USEFUL AND REWARDING BOOK."
--The Boston Globe
From the Inside Flap
In our supposedly secular age governed by reason and technology, fundamentalism has emerged as an overwhelming force in every major world religion. Why? This is the fascinating, disturbing question that bestselling author Karen Armstrong addresses in her brilliant new book The Battle for God. Writing with the broad perspective and deep understanding of human spirituality that won huge audiences for A History of God, Armstrong illuminates the spread of militant piety as a phenomenon peculiar to our moment in history.
Contrary to popular belief, fundamentalism is not a throwback to some ancient form of religion but rather a response to the spiritual crisis of the modern world. As Armstrong argues, the collapse of a piety rooted in myth and cult during the Renaissance forced people of faith to grasp for new ways of being religious--and fundamentalism was born. Armstrong focuses here on three fundamentalist movements: Protestant fundamentalism in America, Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, and Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt and Iran--exploring how each has developed its own unique way of combating the assaults of modernity.
Blending history, sociology, and spirituality, The Battle for God is a compelling and compassionate study of a radical form of religious expression that is critically shaping the course of world history.
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It has also had a profound political impact, unleashing terrorism for allegedly Islamic ends, pushing the U.S. consensus sharply to the right, and enflaming the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. In all three instances, Armstrong points out, there are massive conflicts within religious groupings as well as between them, so much so that as Armstrong says "Secularists and religious both feel profoundly threatened by one another". and are unable to understand the other side's world view as anything other than derangement. Armstrong raises the question of what is to be done to defuse these conflicts, but does not come up with many helpful answers. Perhaps there are not any
Students of civilizations will find thrilling Armstrong's notion we are in a 2nd Axial Age. All over the globe people are struggling with new conditions, says Armstrong, forced to reassess their religious traditions designed for entirely different types of societies. That is, for agricultural, not urban societies. She argues the first Axial Age (700BCE - 200BCE) was similarly transitional. At least in the manner of accumulating stress over thousands of years of social, cultural and economic change, all beginning with Sumer and its invention of the city (the wheel, writing, etc.). Compare thousands of years of accumulating change to the upheavals now witnessed where whole civilizations rise, globalize, and fall in 72 years (USSR). Technology, with almost no idea of what problems it will breed, and these fiercely dislocating financial machinations are too rapid for humans well suited for hunter gatherer groups of 25 individuals (as Richard Leakey claims), not a planet crammed with 7 billion of us. Armstrong notes that change at a slower pace, or none at all for generations, was once addressed by religion born from and suited for that era without the challenge of scientific criticism and such a fierce pace of technological pressure. While some have tried to withdraw from the secular world (not unlike that classic example of the Essenes), she says, there's no getting away from it.
Armstrong chronicles a list of offenses, response and counter response over the last 400 years for all three Levantine religions. Unlike countermeasures in weaponry, reaction of the social organism takes much longer - generally on the order of at least a half century or more. Such spans seem to be required before populations are able to realize their condition, articulate and maneuver in any meaningful way. The 1926 Skopes trial and America's fundamentalist response begun in the 1970's is presented as one example. A fundamentalism Armstrong observes has nothing to do with earlier forms of religious faith, but is rather a new form in which modern science-like interpretations of religion (otherwise known as Creationism) are used to counter modern science-like criticisms of religion. Armstrong seems to have heard of neither Marcel Gauchet ("Disenchantment Of The World") or Joseph Campbell, who both shed added light on this subject with more on political and mythological aspects respectively.
Armstrong not infrequently conflates any form of human hostility since the 16th century with rational modernity. Ethnic cleansing, aggressive force, and abuse of power are hardly new to our world, though one might argue we are provided another avenue over which humans can practice these favored pastimes. Similarly a scent of our Postmodernist fashion occasionally rises from her pages in the usual manner of vilifying the West while lauding other groups for precisely the same acts. "Establishment" of three Islamic Empires (Ottoman, Safavid, Moghul) were to Armstrong "exciting and innovative", not "violent and imperialistic". A generally fine book, occasionally tedious with repeated use of Arabic or Hebrew terminology, and finally a reasoned explanation for the secular among us who view fundamentalist forms of pious behavior as so odd. An excellent text for scientist Michael Dawkins and comedian Bill Maher offering them an opportunity to lose some of that smugness.
Karen Armstrong, who did a short stint as a nun, has received awards from both Christian and Muslim groups. She also taught at a rabbinical college. I think that alone speaks to her credability with all groups.
In this book she covers the extremist movements and violence that has occured in all of the world's major religions. Understanding that this is not the exclusive province of Islamic terrorists, helps give some perspective and understanding that these movements appear from time to time almost universally within religious movements. If you have any interest in trying to get your head around understanding some of the things that make no sense within your own values, this is essential reading.
I became a fan of Karen Armstrong when I read her History of God. Her writing style reads more like a good novel than a dry college text. So get it! It's good for you and a good read.