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on August 19, 2015
Ms. Armstrong correctly points out that most of the angry noise about religion comes from fundamentalists and atheists. Clearly, the author falls into a more tolerant attitude about the various religious beliefs practiced around the world. She does not, however, give a free pass to Christian, Islam, or Jewish fundamentalism OR narrow-minded atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitches. I've read all four of the atheists' books by the aforementioned and, despite them being highly entertaining and thought-provoking, were of the attitude that we should throw the proverbial religious-belief baby out with the bathwater. Both sides seem hellbent on destroying the other.

The author takes pains to explain the evolving nature of religious practices since we converted to monotheism. Ms. Armstrong focuses primarily on Christianity but gives a very quick overview of the Muslim and Jewish history. It's important to pay close attention while reading 'The Case for God.' Skimming over the history of how religious belief was practiced and then reading the author's conclusions is a waste of time. She covers such areas as the intent of the Holy Trinity, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, the Second Great Awakening, myth vs literalism, many of the movers-n-shakers of religious debate, and religion's complex relationship with science.

For the record, I was raised Catholic but have been agnostic now for almost thirty years. Like the other half dozen other works I've read by Ms. Armstrong, she treats her subject matters with respect. She may not agree with their stances, but you won't find the author calling them rockheads or loony. Once in a great while, sarcasm makes a brief cameo, but Ms. Armstrong saves it for the fundamentalists and atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Both Dawkin-wannabes and fundamentalists have a great resistance to acknowledging the "opponents" may have some merit. I have always finished one of the author's works better informed and reminded that religion is a valuable component for many people in living life.
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on January 7, 2017
I have been a big fan of Karen Armstrong since I heard her speak some years ago at a conference. Her wit and humility are as powerful as her scholarship and big picture perspective on the history of religion. Her examination as to the history of God and what that simple three letter word might mean as metaphor rather than simply literal meaning is powerful. One of my favorite quotes (and has been oft-quoted online) is this passage from the book "We have domesticated God's transcendence. We often learn about God at about the same time as we are learning about Santa Claus; but our ideas about Santa Claus change, mature and become more nuanced, whereas our ideas of God can remain at a rather infantile level."
To me, that statement does not at all deny the story of God as written in the Koran, Hebrew and Christian Testaments. God as reality can be valid but only if we understand "God" to be mean many different ideas. Some see God as literal presence; others understand God as metaphor. They are all correct depending on our viewpoint.
Karen Armstrong in the gentlest possible ways invites us (actually holds our feet to the theological fire) to consider God in radically different ways that surely will force us out of our comfort zones. Marvelous book.
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on April 8, 2017
Karen Armstrong has written an insightful summary of the historical development of the God concept from earliest time to the present. The best review of the major contributions of her case study can be found in the book’s prologue and epilogue. Her overview of the ways in which human interpretations of the transcendental “other” have appeared in history is invaluable in sorting out the objects of religious devotion (or the denials thereof) which have challenged human understanding. To convey the scope and artistry of her analyses, I have selected ideas from her book which particularly appealed to me.
She presents her case in two parts; the first is The Unknown God (30,000 BCE to 1500 CE) during which ultimate reality was not a personalized God, but a profound mystery which could never be plumbed (mythos beyond logos). Reality that transcends language must be expressed symbolically, which was variously developed: in Hebrew monotheism, in Greek philosophy, in rabbinical Judaism, in early Christianity, in Eastern orthodoxy and in Islamic revelation. Central to many of these developments were the ideas that accessibility to God involved one or more of: “kenosis” (emptying oneself of selfishness), “pistis” (commitment to engagement), “ekstasis” (stepping out of habitual thought patterns), all of which required long, hard practice or ritual devotion. Attempts to prove God’s existence through logic were proposed, but those who claimed an experience of God seemed to accept the “apophatic assumption” which was that reason was incapable of encompassing what God was.
The second part of the book (1500 CE to the present) covers the period in which religion and science were seen progressively to contradict each other. As the scientific method developed, observational and experimental “truths” contradicted metaphorical “truths” in scripture, which were mistakenly taken literally and suppressed for being at odds with doctrine. The philosophical enlightenment of the 18th century attempted to use logic and reason to explain transcendent experience, and this gave rise to deism and atheism but also to literal fundamentalism as a reaction to any attempt to question the veracity of scripture. But secular ideologies, such as the logical positivist’s limitation of meaningful inquiry to objective sense data, are as deadly as religious bigotry, and both represent inherently destructive idolatries. Armstrong observes that “every single fundamentalist movement, scientific as well as religious, is rooted in profound fear and is fiercely reductionistic”. Just as the monkey trial and the use of suicide bombings illustrate the weaknesses of religious fundamentalism, the holocaust as well as Hiroshima and Nagasaki illustrate the danger of science, unfettered by compassion, as a tool of militarism.
If we can no longer look to an all-powerful, oriental-despot God who, if properly appeased by devotion and praise, may bless us with favors, what kind of god does this case study suggest? An answer postulated by recent German theologians seems to hark back to "that profound mystery which could never be plumbed" – a.k.a. the ground of all being. Gould has suggested that God belongs to a religious magisterium, concerned with values which is separated from a scientific magisterium which deals only with empirical sense data. Science itself is an act of faith whereas religion requires response rather than belief. In this reviewer’s opinion, Armstrong stops short of summarizing her case, perhaps because she has chosen not to include the insights that have come from analyses of those resuscitated from death or near death. There is growing evidence that consciousness, non-localized to the bodies of individuals in these and other circumstances, can expand to realms similar to, if not identical with, those experienced in mystical traditions, in order to sense that overwhelming oneness and love which is the hallmark of the perennial God experience.
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on December 18, 2013
I am not a religious person, though I was raised that way. Along the way I lost my faith and fell in with the "angry atheist" crowd. I've read just about every book out there decrying religion but I never thought to read any material from the other side of the fence. One day I realized how absurdly biased this stance was so I rented this book from the library. I tore through it quickly and then ordered it from Amazon.

Armstrong did not convince me to return to my faith, but she did convince me to view religions and their followers in a different light. Learning the history of religions from all over the world, how they have benefitted and furthered science in the past, and how the schism between religion and science came to be gave me a much more favorable view of faith in general. Religion may not work for me personally, but I no longer feel the bitterness and anger towards faith that people have come to associate with millennials who have chosen a life without religion.

If you enjoy history and philosophy, get this book. If you are interested in the history and development of religion in particular, get this book. If you are an atheist but are trying to ensure that you maintain a fair and egalitarian view of your fellow human beings (as all atheists CLAIM to do but often fail at) while being as informed as possible, get this book. If you are parents or loved ones of a person who is straying from their faith and you are trying to convince them not to, get this book. If you ARE that latter person, be aware that though you may not succeed in convincing your loved one to maintain their religiosity, you will at least encourage them not to be quite so annoying and rude about their absence of faith.
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on July 20, 2013
After finishing this book (and I have read Ms. Armstrong's other books too), I have the same reaction I generally have to Ms. Armstrong: What a tremendous breadth of knowledge she has acquired and what a gift for laying out history in a compelling and interesting way. Truly brilliant as editorial reviews from professional sources will confirm. I thought, I should go to Amazon to post my 5 stars. How could anyone not give this book 5 stars? Then it occurred to me: I bet there are a lot of religious conservatives who will not be thinking people prepared to open their minds to this historical tapestry but will feel threatened and attack. Sure enough, for a book that most certainly deserves 5 stars, they are here. It is sad. Granted, perhaps the title gave some the impression she was going to make a case for the God they were brought up to believe in, so to mention that they didn't get what they were looking for is valid. But the criticisms of Armstrong's intelligence and writing ability make my jaw drop. If you consider yourself an open minded thinker, and willing to make an effort to read what is primarily a history book about this topic, you will love this book as I did. Thank you Ms. Armstrong for your effort in writing this. It filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the historical landscape.
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on February 20, 2012
This is difficult review for me to write. As a person that shares many of the same beliefs held by Ms. Armstrong, I was quite pleased with her historical perceptions and analysis. I also appreciated her clarity and intellect with the written word.

The difficult part lies in the fact that the book was a little like consuming a satisfying meal but still wanting something else to eat. I have read a great many of the books written by the popular atheists and a similar amount by those offering counter arguments. I had hoped that this book would help to fill in some of the chinks in my knowledge. It did not. While an enjoyable read, it failed to live up to its title. If Ms Armstrong were making a case in court instead of a case for God, I am afraid her client would have wound up on death row.

Nevertheless, it is a pleasant ride through the construction aftermath of modern religion. As previously stated, I hold much of the same beliefs especially as I age. And I appreciate the life path of the author. She is a well-rounded source of knowledge that has lived life from many viewpoints and has withstood the struggles that this world can throw at you.

I hope you find this review/opinion helpful.

Michael L Gooch, Author of Wingtips with Spurs
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on February 5, 2015
I've read two or three books by Karen Armstrong, and they are always very interesting, with a lot of interesting historical information. I'm not sure I really understand her overall argument. It seems to run something like this: Lots of people in many parts of the world have believed in God. It is a big part of our culture and our psyche. Therefore we shouldn't just chuck God out the window. I hope that's a reasonable approximation to what she's saying (maybe not). I was curious what she has to say about the "new atheists." She barely mentions them. She says their arguments only apply to literalist or fundamentalist religion, not to the full range of religious beliefs. Interestging argument. I'm still an atheist. I wish I could meet the author.
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on June 2, 2013
Karen Armstrong is an excellent source for readings about religion. This book appears to be a challenge to the neo-atheists who have written books critical of religions for being rooted in unreality: Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris and others. Hitchens, now deceased, and Dennett think that one important objection to religions is their reliance on the supernatural. Dennett argues for religion as a natural phenomenon. Armstrong explains religions' use of myths as part of clarifying the human predicament and she argues that the supernatural grounding of myths helps people perceive the truth of certain events. She stresses that a myth need not be literally factual to express a truth that people can understand. Myths give us models of human behavior, both good and bad. The supernatural concept of a deity sometimes is criticized for being a product of an unbalanced imagination which can give rise to all manner of harmful ideas. But Armstrong advocates meditation, silence and discipline for internal work, and compassion toward others as her face toward the world.
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on April 26, 2017
I gave this to a friend of mine after reading it myself. Not an easy read, but provocative
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on October 18, 2015
Karen Armstrong takes the reader on an epic journey, much of it within the Judeo Christian tradition, as humankind seeks to embrace the divine, sacred, and that which is beyond our understanding. The book is a great starting point for anyone curious about the subject of religion, belief, faith, and God. I would also recommend picking up other publications on the subject, in as well as outside the Judeo Christian tradition, to provide confidence that one's understanding is well considered.
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