An article donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys.
"The case for 'The Case for God':"
I just finished reading Karen Armstrong’s book "The Case for God." 1 I highly recommend this book. It discusses the ways that Theologians', Philosophers' and Scientists' understanding of "God" has changed over the centuries.
She mentions the writings and thoughts of many people I never heard of, some I have heard of but have never read their work, and many I have heard of and have read some of their work.
This is a book about Christian Theology and ideas about God but she does mention in several places how many of these ideas align with the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
I really like the way she brings the ideas of all these people together in a chronological format to show how these ideas have changed, progressed, and in some cases regressed, over the centuries.
In the introduction she says:
"Religion is a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of mind and heart. This will be one of the major themes of this book."
Many of the great thinkers she mentions recognized that what you do is more important than what you profess to believe in. Religion was about orthopraxy (right behavior) NOT about orthodoxy (right belief). Many religious leaders have realized this from the earliest of times.
Many religious leaders have also realized that the rituals are a means to an end. Many expressed that "end" in different terms. She points out in the first chapter that:
"Being, rather than a being, was revered as the ultimate sacred power."
"The ultimate reality was not a Supreme Being -- an idea that was quite alien to the religious sensibility of antiquity; it was an all encompassing, wholly transcendent reality that lay beyond neat doctrinal formulations." Being in this sense is a bit more than simply existing, it is about the quality of that existence.
Many thought that turning this "sacred power" into a Supreme Being with humanlike qualities and abilities was idolatry.
There was also throughout history a strong recognition that how we behaved towards others was VERY important, and that one way that we connected with this "sacred power" was through our human relationships. She says:
"As Confucius pointed out, they have found that when they practiced it [the ethic of reciprocity, what Christians call the Golden Rule] ‘all day and every day,’ it elevated human life to the realm of holiness and gave practitioners intimations of transcendence."
I also liked how she points out that many Theologians, Philosophers and Scientists realized we don’t have to choose between the sterility of science or religion. They are in conflict only when one or the other insists on answering questions outside their area of expertise. Or when one or the other insists it has the definitive, final, answer to some question.
One can be in awe and wonder about the natural world and find moments of ecstasy (from the ancient Greek "ekstasis," that takes one outside of ones self (Ego centeredness) to find a connection of oneness with the Universe. As she says,
"Modern physicists, as we have seen, are not wary of unknowing; their experience of living with apparently insoluble problems evokes awe and wonder."
Awe and wonder connects us with what others call that "sacred power". For most modern scientists and many Atheists like me, that "sacred power" refers to the inanimate principles and processes at work in the Universe -- what early Greeks called the Logos.
Near the end she says:
"Religion was never supposed to provide answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. That was the role of logos. Religion’s task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us to live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve: mortality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life."
One might wonder why an Atheist is endorsing this book. I realize that there is a great deal of ignorance about religions from Atheists and religious folk and I think this book might help both groups gain a better understanding of this complex topic that has shaped and continues to shape human civilizations -- for better and worse.
- Karen Armstrong, "The Case for God," Anchor; Reprint edition (2010). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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Original posting: 2019-MAY-13
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys.