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The Battle for God Paperback – January 30, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 189 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and people would certainly become less zealous as the world became more modern and morals more relaxed. But the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong (A History of God), who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions. Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims Armstrong, who points to the Oklahoma City bombing, violent anti-abortion crusades, and the assassination of President Yitzak Rabin as evidence of dangerous extremes.

Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism and Western materialism seem to urge each other on to greater excesses. To "prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side," she pleads. With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion of a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong's writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Former nun and A History of God iconoclast Armstrong delves deeply once again into the often violent histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this time exploring the rise of fundamentalist enclaves in all three religions. Armstrong begins her story in an unexpected, though brilliant, fashion, examining how the three faiths coped with the tumultuous changes wrought by Spain's late-15th-century reconquista. She then profiles fundamentalism, which she views as a mostly 20th-century response to the "painful transformation" of modernity. Armstrong traces the birth of fundamentalism among early 20th-century religious Zionists in Israel, biblically literalist American Protestants and Iranian Shiites wary of Westernization. Armstrong sensitively recognizes one of fundamentalism's great ironies: though they ostensibly seek to restore a displaced, mythical spiritual foundation, fundamentalists often re-establish that foundation using profoundly secular, pseudo-scientific means ("creation science" is a prime example). Armstrong is a masterful writer, whose rich knowledge of all three Western traditions informs the entire book, allowing fresh insights and comparisons. Her savvy thesis about modernization, however, could be improved by some attention to gender issues among fundamentalists. The book is also occasionally marred by a condescending tone; Armstrong attacks easy Protestant targets such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart (whose name she misspells) and claims that fundamentalists of all stripes have "distorted" and "perverted" their faiths. Despite its underlying polemic, this study of modernity's embattled casualties is a worthy and provocative read. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • 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: 5.6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #449,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
IÕve always been interested in comparative religion, but in the aftermath of September 11, it has felt urgent to understand what brings people to beliefs that are so obviously grotesque distortions of any religious tradition. I picked up Karen ArmstrongÕs book because after reading several articles about Islamic fundamentalism, it seemed to me she was the only writer I encountered who had a clue what she was talking about. While others spouted platitudes and engaged in useless debates about whether Islam was a religion of peace or war (virtually all religions are a mixture of the two), Armstrong offered clear and fascinating analyses of how Islamic fundamentalism developed and what its relationship was to the politics of the Middle East.
The book, a comparison of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic fundamentalism, has more than lived up to my high expectations. The world isnÕt less dangerous after reading it, but it makes a little more sense, and I feel better equipped to cut through the platitudes and nonsense.
Armstrong argues that in the modern world "we can not be religious in the same way as our ancestors," and yet without any religion at all, life feels as if it has no meaning. And so all of us, whether devout, agnostic, or atheist, search for meaning, for "new ways to be religious." Fundamentalism represents one of those searches, but it is a way that grows out of fear.
One of the things I found most interesting about this book is that Armstrong emphasizes that this "fear" isnÕt simply some bizarre paranoia. ItÕs often quite legitimate. American Protestant fundamentalism grew up among poor, rural, badly educated people who felt that powerful and sophisticated people were laughing at them and their beliefs. And, to be fair, they were right.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book hoping to gain some insight into "why" fundamentalists view the world as they do. Armstrong did her research which I expected (having read "A History of God", I sensed she would accomplish that) and she delivered interesting observations and a wealth of history. What was a pleasant surprise was that rather than trying to 'fight' fundamentalism, she made a real effort to try to 'understand' it (unlike Bruce Bawer in "Stealing Jesus" whose knowledge of fundamentalism history was unfortunately outdone by his bitterness and intent to strike back).
The contrasting of the fundamentalist perspective with the non-fundamentalist perspective was an eye opener. She points out the need for both meaning in life and reason. The trouble with applying a literal understanding of the Scriptures was discussed as well as the problem of relying upon 'reason' alone.
Even though Armstrong's observations were not as exhaustive as the history she describes, she gives you enough history to enable you to decipher and try out some theories of your own. Overall, I was much more impressed with this work than "A History of God".
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Format: Hardcover
This is a scholarly, detailed book about the development of religious thought from 1492 to 1999. More specifically it is about fundamentalism, which Karen Armstrong describes as movements of "embattled forms of spirituality" engaging in struggles to "re-sacralize an increasingly skeptical world". One can disagree with her contention that fundamentalist movements are "adamantly opposed to many of the most positive values of modern society", but many fundamentalists do seem to identify our age as one of "cosmic war between the forces of good and evil". I thought her contention that fundamentalists perceive that they are at risk of annihilation and that, consequently, they radiate fear does ring true. ----- Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun and author of at least 12 other books about religion, apparently is controversial (see other reviews!) but I found this book to be a well-researched history. It examines only four currents of fundamentalist thought: Jewish, American Protestant, Islamic Sunni (in Egypt), and Shiite Islamic (in Iran). (Do NOT look for any examination of fundamentalist currents in Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc - they are NOT represented.) Armstrong's knowledge of Islam is legendary (she is an honorary member of the Association of Muslim Social Sciences and has written extensively about Islam). She also impressed me with her knowledge of Judaism. (Perhaps this is not surprising since she teaches at the Leo Baeck School for the Study of Judaism!). ----- "The Battle for God" can be read as four parallel volumes, and I would recommend readers to go completely through each of the four threads separately, as well as reading the volume straight through. ("The Battle for God" is worth reading and re-reading!Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I wasn't going to review this book until I read the opening series of reviews by offended "believers" who pan a book they do not understand with ad hominem arguments and by crediting the author with absurdly distorted "liberal" (as in Clinton-esque liberal, even though Armstrong is British) notions.
"The Battle for God" is a study of fundamentalism in 3 major world religions, as it developed over centuries. One of the author's theories is that "fundamentalism" is a reaction to changes in the world which seem to threaten old belief systems with annihilation -- scientific & technological progress, secularization of political life, capitalism, among many others. It's interesting that "fundamentalists," whatever they call themselves, take offense at this loose categorization, and then proceed to rail against the very ideologies Armstrong touched upon in her definition.
Then again, Armstrong contends that fundamentalism is half-baked and dangerous theology, misreading the traditional basis it presumes to be reclaiming, while departing from the basic tenets of humility, humanity and compassion that all 3 religions were founded upon. The "believers" only add support to her claim by responding with obtuse, illiterate and/or ad hominem attacks on the author.
The modernity of Fundamentalism emerges as a paradox which confuses both fundamentalists and "liberals" alike. It's an impressive insight Armstrong provides when she demonstrates how, for example, discomfort with the theories & discoveries of science leads to the adoption of pseudo-scientific procedures for a new discipline, "creation science." Who needs faith when you have a science to prove your beliefs are correct?
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