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The Battle for God (2000)

de Karen Armstrong

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2,685324,526 (3.91)60
"In The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong shows us how and why fundamentalist groups came into existence and what they yearn to accomplish." "We see the West in the sixteenth century beginning to create an entirely new kind of civilization, which brought in its wake change in every aspect of life - often painful and violent, even if liberating. Armstrong argues that one of the things that changed most was religion. People could no longer think about or experience the divine in the same why; they had to develop new forms of faith to fit their new circumstances." "Armstrong characterizes fundamentalism as one of these new ways of being religious that have emerged in every major faith tradition. She examines the ways in which these movements, while not monolithic, have each sprung from a dread of modernityoften in response to assault (sometimes unwitting, sometimes intentional) by the mainstream society." "Armstrong sees fundamentalist groups as complex, innovative, and modern - rather than as throwbacks to the past - but contends that they have failed in religious terms. Maintaining that fundamentalism often exists in symbiotic relationship with an aggressive modernity, each impelling the other on to greater excess, she suggests compassion as a way to defuse what is now an intensifying conflict."--Jacket.… (més)
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This book is classic Armstrong.

The Battle For God describes the aspects of the histories of the three great monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) which led to the rise of modern fundamentalism in all three. In the process, she explores some of the commonalities of these different fundamentalisms and their origins. This book is jam packed with information, so I will not try to cover any of the specific. Instead, I will focus on the high level themes.

In Armstrong's view, fundamentalisms arise as a result of the process of modernization and are themselves deeply modern movements. By the process of modernization she means, roughly, the transformation from mostly agrarian societies with a focus on the past and present to societies whose success is based and innovation and whose members are future oriented. This future orientation causes a focus on the rational and a discounting of the mythological. Armstrong claims that in pre-modern times, these two modes of reasoning were seen as complementary, not competitive. In modern times, mythological truth is seen as an oxymoron. Myth is seen as story and lie.

Armstrong defines mythological truth implicitly rather than ever coming out and saying what it is. She seems to see mythological truth as having two components: it cannot be proven rationally and its purpose is to give meaning rather than to be right. One of the commonalities of different fundamentalism is that they try to make mythological truths into rational truths which causes damage both to the religion itself and the world they try to apply their literalized truths to.

One of Armstrong's central theses is that fundamentalism is essentially a modern response to the changing world. Fundamentalists generally try to turn their mythological truths into logical truths. As such, the fundamentalist vision of a religion is no more authentic than the world they are rebelling against. However, the fundamentalist vision is structured so that the adherents to the vision think it is more authentic.

The modernization process began as scientists like Copernicus showed that our intuitions and perceptions do not map cleanly onto the truth of reality. In fact, sometimes or intuitions and perceptions can be downright misleading. Fundamentalist ideologies, whether religious or not, often are rebelling against this complexity of reality. They try to push a simplified version of reality onto their adherents and, sometimes, onto others.

But the rise of fundamentalism is not related solely to changes in our views of the world and its abstractions. Fundamentalism often arises because of specific historic events. It is undeniable that the modernization process has often been harsh. The raising up of people in the lower ranks of society has often led to a demand for more uniformity. The "other" has always been perceived as a threat, but when that fear of the other is combined with the increasing power of modern states, the results can be disastrous.

Because of this, much of The Battle for God reads like an extended lesson in the history of Europe, the Middle East, and the US from the 15th century through the present. As someone who is not a history buff (and, therefore, whose view of history is strongly influenced by the western bias of history lessons in the American education system), I learned a lot. I pretty much knew nothing about most of the history of the Middle East. Now I know a little! While her view was certainly biased (even if you ignore the bias that all authors bring to the table, she was only interested in those events which related to the topic of religious fundamentalism), it is still impossible for someone like me to come away with this without having some seriously altered views.

Probably the most fundamental change in view that I got from the history Armstrong presented had to do with my perception of the attitudes of Muslims to the west. While I knew at an abstract level that the west had not been good to the Middle East, I had not realized what a rational basis their hatred has. The west has screwed over that region again and again and again. Now, I don't think that the fact that the hatred has a rational basis means the hatred itself is rational, but if I had been treated like they were, I would also likely perceive the west as evil.

Armstrong, as usual, gives us a book jam packed with information. The main strength of this book is the sympathy with which Armstrong views fundamentalists. While she clearly thinks that they are going about "rescuing" religion in the wrong way, she also helps the reader to understand why these fundamentalists react the way they do. This is certainly a good read in you are interested in understanding where fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam came from. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
Very interesting history of the three major religions and how and why the fundamentalists in each have developed over time.

There are people that think I am anti-religion but I am not, I am anti-fundamentalist. The extremists in all the religions are dangerous crazy people. All the religions basically preach love and I know that the religion is good for many, I just don't need it for myself and it isn't logical to me. I AM against the crazies that do things in the name of religion. They scare the hell out of me. We definitely to not need them running ANY part of this world and this book shows many reasons why and what their goals are. ( )
  KyleneJones | Apr 25, 2022 |
I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!
http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/11776757 ( )
  Deborama | Jun 24, 2020 |
"We see the West in the sixteenth century beginning to create an entirely new kind of civilization, which brought in its wake change in every aspect of life - often painful and violent, even if liberating. Armstrong argues that one of the things that changed most was religion. People could no longer think about or experience the divine in the same why; they had to develop new forms of faith to fit their new circumstances."
  PAFM | Dec 4, 2019 |
Karen Armstrong is an author who keeps the reader reminded that objectivity is necessary. In the political interplay from 2000 to date, that objectivity has become highly needed. Understanding that all the religions have the same focus should keep the wars at a minimum.
  Elizabeth80 | Oct 19, 2019 |
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One of the most startling developments of the late twentieth century has been the emergence within every major religious tradition of a militant piety popularly known as "fundamentalism." (Introduction)
In 1492, three very important things happened in Spain.
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"In The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong shows us how and why fundamentalist groups came into existence and what they yearn to accomplish." "We see the West in the sixteenth century beginning to create an entirely new kind of civilization, which brought in its wake change in every aspect of life - often painful and violent, even if liberating. Armstrong argues that one of the things that changed most was religion. People could no longer think about or experience the divine in the same why; they had to develop new forms of faith to fit their new circumstances." "Armstrong characterizes fundamentalism as one of these new ways of being religious that have emerged in every major faith tradition. She examines the ways in which these movements, while not monolithic, have each sprung from a dread of modernityoften in response to assault (sometimes unwitting, sometimes intentional) by the mainstream society." "Armstrong sees fundamentalist groups as complex, innovative, and modern - rather than as throwbacks to the past - but contends that they have failed in religious terms. Maintaining that fundamentalism often exists in symbiotic relationship with an aggressive modernity, each impelling the other on to greater excess, she suggests compassion as a way to defuse what is now an intensifying conflict."--Jacket.

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