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There is so much ignorance in the world about other people’s religions and why religious fundamentalists of all faiths believe and act in the way that they do. It is this ignorance which has cost so many lives and will continue to tear the world apart.
Karen Armstrong’s book, The Battle for God, shines a clear light into this gathering darkness. It is a work of such exceptional clarity and scholarship that it should be made mandatory reading for religious education in Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths alike. In fact, during her long and exceptional career as a writer, she has received awards from leaders of all three religions for the books she has written on comparative religion and theology. I will shortly explain the structure and themes of her book, but in the meantime it is worth digressing to talk a little about the woman herself.
Now 75 years old, Karen was born into an English Catholic family, became a nun and gained a First Class Honours Degree with Distinction in English Literature whilst still in Holy Orders which by all accounts were an unhappy time for her. She then went on to research and produce, as a broadcaster and writer, several books, programmes and theses on a range of religious topics including a biography of the prophet Mohammed, a study of Islam, a history of God and a biography of Buddha. She has also taught in Jewish, Muslim and Christian institutions and has received numerous honorary doctorates and awards.
It goes without saying that her work has generated a fair amount of criticism, particularly from those who believe, for example, that her perspectives on Islam and Judaism are too benign or politically correct. However, I have found The Battle for God a well-balanced appraisal of evolving fundamentalism in all three religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) where the author does not hold back from identifying shortcomings on all sides. I suspect that her detractors have criticized her from a position of ignorance and bigotry rather than scholarship. Or, as a Muslim mathematician friend of mine once put it: “ People’s religious zeal is inversely proportional to their knowledge of religion”.
Digression over. The Battle for God is structured chronologically in chapters divided into historical periods from the early Middle Ages to the present day. Each chapter chronicles the parallel development of each of the three major religions across the world during these periods. It is quite remarkable how similar were the drivers of religious fundamentalism across all three faiths. The Battle for God demonstrates that at the heart of fundamentalism’s development has been the battle between “mythos” and “logos” as well as the way each religion has had to cope with the development of science-based secularism and global industrialization. Reading this book has given me a clear and unemotional understanding, for example, of how the Daesh, white supremacy and Zionism (to name but three ideologies in the book) have all come into being. There is remarkable similarity between the principles which ground all three.
The Battle for God is not an easy read. At nearly 700 pages, it made me retrace my steps several times to ensure that I understood the thread of argument. And yet it was a necessary and compelling read, leaving me well-armed to counter the ignorance of the Twitterati of our age who engage their thumbs before their brains, only to then repent at leisure.
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