The Battle for God

by Karen Armstrong

Paperback, 2001



Call number




Ballantine Books (2001), Edition: 1, 480 pages


"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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member RajivC
On the whole, I would say that this is a very good book. She does a very good job of tracing the course of history when seen from a religious aspect, through the ages. I especially liked the way that she emphasized the play between the mythos and the logos. I must confess that, when I read the
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book, I was going through some strange times, so I did not concentrate that much on the book. In that sense, I possibly did not do the book as must justice as I should have.
While she does do a very good job of tracing the development of the recent trends in fundamentalism in the three religions - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism - I felt that there was too much information in the book. This was probably required in the telling of the tale. Yet, the information does tend to get heavy at times, especially if you are not in the best concentrating mood.
It is a book that needs to be read slowly, and with care.
Karen's strengths evidently lie in these three religions. I have never come across any writing from her on the religions of the East. This is a pity, because I have seen the rise of fundamentalism in Hinduism. While Hindus often talk of this as a reaction to militant action by the Muslims over the centuries, and by British oppression; this alone cannot describe the rise of fundamentalism among the Hindus.
For the next edition of her book, she should cast her eyes eastwards.
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LibraryThing member kencf0618
Joseph Campbell remarks somewhere that implementing a mythos as a politics is ruinous; Armstrong lays out why. If you can frame the terms of the "debate"... As that great philosopher Winston Churchill once observed, "To believe that only that which can be proven is true is silly."
LibraryThing member tole_lege
Even if you do not read the rest of it (and do read the rest of it - Armstrong knows her stuff and can *write*), read the introduction. It contains the best demarkation between mythos and logos, and their affect on society, that I have ever seen.
LibraryThing member heinous-eli
An eye-opener in terms of realizing that fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, not a return to some religiously-idealized past. Those whose claims rest on the assumption of linear history (either as a progression or regression) need to read this book.
LibraryThing member lchatwin
Very insightful. Karen Armstrong's opinion's come from a much more liberal perspective than mine but she brings clarity where there is much criticism and xenophobia.

A worthwhile book for anyone who wants to seriously engage with other faiths and see beyond the stereotypes.
LibraryThing member ShiraC
This is really at least 3 books interpolated. It's a bit dense and prosy, but my real complaint is that she just divides the entire historical period into somewhat arbitrary segments and then lays out the developments in one religious group after another. The intention I think is to show the
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parallel developments, but the juxtaposition isn't all that helpful, and the several ongoing narratives just get chopped up, seemingly at random.
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LibraryThing member aamirq
Its a great book to read, but she doesn't necessarily bother to get all facts right.
LibraryThing member HanoarHatzioni
This book will prove how powerful movments, as the religions, affect global politics and society today and into the future.
LibraryThing member millsge
Armstrong understands the battle, its importance, and how the conflict should resolve itself. However, she and many others in academia must be much more honest with themselves and the world and admit that there s absolutely no evidence for an "historic" Jesus. They must make it clear that the
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battles involving "Jesus" are and always have been battles of ideals rather than battles over what an historic person once said or meant.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
Karen Armstrong explores fundamentalism in the three monotheistic churches - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Some of the material covers the same ground as her later book (which I read earlier) The Case for God and follows the same approach of taking an historical approach to the theology and
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practice of these churches. Armstrong asserts that although fundamentalism is often knocked as "medieval" it is in fact a modern practice and things such as literal understandings of scripture in Christianity or the requirement of women to wear a veil in Islam are relatively recent innovations. Fundamentalism also uses modern tactics even as it attempts to confront modernism. Armstrong focuses on the history, development, and rise to political power of fundamentalists among Christians in the United States, Muslims in Iran and Egypt, and Jews in Europe and Israel. It's a fascinating if chilling portrait of how we got to where we are. I've enjoyed and been informed by both Armstrong books I've listened to as well as interviews and articles so I expect I will be reading more of her work.
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LibraryThing member wamser
Puts fundementalism in its historical context thereby illuminating its origins, goals and reasons for its strength
LibraryThing member annbury
Another enlightening book from Karen Armstrong on religion. This one focuses on the emergence in recent years of powerful -- and politically powerful -- fundamentalist trends in the three great monotheistic religions. She presents these not as a reversion to the past, but as an attempt to deal with
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a frightening modern world. The world is frightening in a philosophical sense, since the interlinked Enlightenment trends of rationalism, devotion to science, and secularism have created what Sartre called "a God-shaped hole" in modern society, without fulfulling the Enlightenment expectation of better people. It is also frightening in political terms: the horrors of the 20th century, the impact of colonialism, and the current power of what is called free market capitalism have left millions of people feeling marginalized, threatened, and without any clear identity. In this context, the emergence of simplistic fundamentalism with clear beliefs and clear directives is not surprising.

It has also had a profound political impact, unleashing terrorism for allegedly Islamic ends, pushing the U.S. consensus sharply to the right, and enflaming the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. In all three instances, Armstrong points out, there are massive conflicts within religious groupings as well as between them, so much so that as Armstrong says "Secularists and religious both feel profoundly threatened by one another". and are unable to understand the other side's world view as anything other than derangement. Armstrong raises the question of what is to be done to defuse these conflicts, but does not come up with many helpful answers. Perhaps there are not any.
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LibraryThing member phbrasile
It's a book rich of detailed information. It has to be read twice or taken notes.
LibraryThing member pbjwelch
Karen Armstrong is rightly recognized as one of the leading scholars of western religions. In this monumental best seller she traces the people and causes of the rise of fundamentalism in Judaism, Islam and Christianity from the years 1492 (when the last European bastion of Islam, Granada, fell to
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King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) through the end of the 20th century.

Armstrong's thesis is that "Contrary to popular belief, fundamentalism is not a throwback to some ancient form of religion but rather a response to the spiritual crisis of the modern world...the collapse of a piety rooted in myth and cult during the Enlightenment forced people of faith to grasp for new ways of being religious--and fundamentalism was born."

Using the two terms mythos, that which is concerned with "the eternal and the universal" as contrasted with logos, that which is concerned with what is "rational, pragmatic and scientific" she illustrates how the two have acted and reacted to one another to create the spiritual crises of the last five hundred years. While I initially did not understand this framework's usefulness, it grew in relevance and became the foundation of ultimately understanding how fundamental groups so often become polarised: "Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists ... turned their mythoi into pragmatic logoi designed to achieve a practical result. Protestant fundamentalists ... perverted myth in a different way. They ... turned the Christian myths into scientific facts, and had created a hybrid that was neither good science nor good religion." (p. 355)

Readers with a background in European and Euroasian history will find this tome especially rewarding as it fills in the "why" gap of much of the post-Crusades history of the region. On that note, this book is perhaps best read hand-in-hand with a history of the Ottoman Empire or the European Enlightenment which will provide the larger historical and geographical picture of the societies that gave rise to the personalities that inspired the movements in the three religions. Many names will be familiar to readers--Muhammad Ali, Moses Maimonides, John Locke, Khomeini, John of the Cross, but rarely does find one work that tells their stories as part of a single narrative as well as Armstrong does.

Another strong point of this book is it explains in very simple language why certain historical events have happened as a result of religious whiplash. Two examples: the American temperance movement sprang, for example, from the fears of the early Protestant settlers of America when large numbers of Catholic immigrants began to appear. American support for Israel stems in part from its fundamentalist population, which sees the return of "Israel to the Israelites" as proof of the literal accuracy of the Bible.

As a reader who remembers the [in]famous Time magazine cover that announced "God is Dead", I found for the first time explanations of behaviours that I have long (personally) found incomprehensible. Coverage of such events as the Iran Crisis explained as rational behaviour from Khomeini's point of view is fascinating (pp. 317 ff.), and some readers may discover that they were rooting for 'the wrong guy'.

I suspect this work's usefulness for most will be as a reference work in the area of history of religions. It's a work that one can turn to frequently if interested in the broader history of the region and the growth and spread of these three great monotheistic religions.

One would hope that it would also bring mankind closer together in understanding. As Armstrong shows us, "suppression and coercion are clearly not the answer" (p. 368). "If fundamentalists must evolve a more compassionate assessment of their enemies in order to be true to their religious traditions, secularists must also be more faithful to the benevolence, tolerance, and respect for humanity which characterises modern culture at its best, and address themselves more empathetically to the fears, anxieties, and needs which so many of their fundamentalist neighbours experience but which no society can safely ignore" (p. 371)
Dare we be optimistic and hope this message will be heard in time?
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LibraryThing member Elizabeth80
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.

Physical description

480 p.; 8.3 inches


0345391691 / 9780345391698
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