I just finished read/listening to Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, and like waking with memories of a vivid dream, I want to get my thoughts down before they get pushed aside by the concerns of the day.
In Bad Faith, part 8: The Case for God – Not What You Think
I think that Armstrong did such a great job summarizing the book in her NPR/Fresh Air interview that the book feels a bit ponderous. What I mean is that this is a book that one really needs to pay attention to and no play as background music (ack, stupid multitasking lifestyle). Armstrong takes the reader from the very beginning evidences of “god thoughts” found in the pre-historic caves of Lascaux, to the new-atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, spending a goodly bit of time going through the Greek, Asian, and post-medieval schools of thought that may not be familiar to the reader.
So, as a former Loyola Marymount religious studies major with a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Biola University and several quarters of study at Fuller Seminary toward an MA in Theology and a piss-pour background in the Greek and Latin Classics (no ones fault but my own), I greatly appreciated Armstrong’s academic, non-polemic, recitation of pre-history and history of religion on this planet. Yeah, that’s the scope of this book. I’m very interested in her other books on Islam and Buddhism to see how deep she dives into these religions where I’m greatly lacking in my own understanding.
Thoughts that struck me as I listened to the book, mainly how every generation and every great thinker felt compelled to re-interpret God based on their own recent history, cultural and personal, and their own cultural problems. For example, how different would modern Christianity be if Augustine had not had such a problem with his pre-conversion sexual appetites, how would the relationship between God and man be cast differently if Augustine hadn’t promoted the idea of Original Sin and demonized sexuality in general, making it a sin except for the purpose of conception? What would have happened if Emperor Constantine had not chosen to use Christianity as a unify force in his divided empire, thus forcing provincial Christianity to agree on which books belonged in the scriptures, the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and what would be orthodox and what would be heretical? How differently would history have been had Christianity remained a Jewish sect instead of a world political power? And every time there was a political or natural disaster there seemed to be gigantic shifts in thought with conservatives abandoning the silent God and liberal’s looking for a literal simplistic God to find comfort from.
The greatest error in our search for the Divine seems to be that all of us, skeptic and believer, have made the mistake of assuming that our understanding of religion and the Divine has always been the way we presently see things. Biblical inerrancy, literal divine intervention, God as a Being, the idea of One Truth, religion as belief system instead of daily practice, the after-life, rationalism versus belief: these are all tenets of faith that many of us hold onto believing that changing any one of them invalidates the whole idea of Faith. And yet, many of these ideas have a date in history when they caught on, thus showing that there was a time when people did not, for example, hold to the idea that there was only one truth or that the scriptures had to be perfect in every word and teaching. It might be surprising to some that there have been faithful Christians who do not believe that Jesus was God incarnate. I know, shock. In fact, not at all like the superstitious primitives who saw gods in every stone and stick, it may surprise some that some ancients understood that one could not reduce God to Person because God doesn’t make sense as someone like themselves only bigger.
So, are you tired of the literalistic infantile religion that you find on the TV day and night? Are you unconvinced that it’s NOT all DNA and chemical reactions? Are you tired of the petty divisive warring between small minded sects with guns? Well, then maybe it’s time, in the words of Neo, to free ones mind from narrow assumptions of ones cultural and personal past and entertain thoughts that it’s a much bigger universe than one can even understand, but that one is a part of this much bigger existence.
Also, it should go without saying that it’s long past time for fat self-absorbed Christians to get over themselves and express their beliefs beginning by welcoming a Muslim into their home and giving a good portion of their wealth away to the poor and shut the hell up until they’ve done the first things that their Messiah told them to do. Additionally, It’s past time for the faithful from all beliefs to stop letting the Fundamentalists misrepresent what the Founders of their Faith intended. Rest assured, when you kill, hate or persecute in the name of God, you aren’t speaking or acting for any god beyond your own personal sickness. And that goes for those of you who hate someone who doesn’t agree with your politics or, horror of horrors, doesn’t agree with your sexuality (or lack thereof). To use a phrase popular with a few friends, if the founders could, they’d bitch-slap these presumptive crazies. Oh wait, that’d just lend credence toward their belief in rewarding violence for violence. Oh what the hell, slap away!
god help us! Getting back to Armstrong’s book; Meaning and data, mythos and logos, it’s not a mistake that every culture has examples of this phenomenon. Funny, thinking of previous readings, it’s a bit like the left and right hemispheres of the human brain, we don’t do particularly well when only one hemisphere is “in charge.” The same would seem to be true of human cultures that advocate only one way of understanding reality, religion or secularism. As with the human mind, the two parts must communicate and influence each other or the whole will suffer and fail. Interesting. This business of God and religion is not at all what i would have at first thought.
Karen Armstrong at TED: The Golden Rule
- image: Karen Armstrong. http://imgkid.com/karen-armstrong-books.shtml retrieved on 3/12/2015
- image: Padre.jpg microsoft clipart
- TED video: Karen Armstrong: Let’s revive the Golden Rule. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/karen_armstrong_let_s_revive_the_golden_rule.html retrieved on 3/11/2010