Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

August Books 3) The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong

I was really impressed by this historical account of religious fundamentalism (well, of Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism) over the centuries up to 1999. I have not always been convinced by Armstrong's approach of parallelling changes in different cultures that happened at the same time, but this worked really well for me, disposing breezily with the importance of balancing logos and mythos, tracking the different religions' responses to the Enlightenment and modernisation, and then exploring the parallel rise of hardline fundamentalist reaction in all three traditions during the late twentieth century. For the most recent period, Armstrong also restricts her geographical focus down to the USA for Christianity, Israel for Judaism, and Egypt and Iran for Islam, which means of course that all kinds of interesting material from elsewhere is simply omitted. But those are all fascinating countries, and I found her analyses of the religious politics of Israel and Iran particularly illuminating.

Writing in 1999, Armstrong thought that fundamentalism was establishing a new equilibrium after a period when it had appeared insurgent and had then suffered a series of defeats in the 1980s and 1990s. I think she would now agree that we have seen a distinct rise in the strength of fundamentalism in all three traditions in the years since. In the last few pages she looks at how the rest of us should deal with fundamentalism. Repression does not work, she points out, and indeed makes these movements stronger; we must remember that they are based on fear and incomprehension. Rather we should challenge fundamentalists on their own ground, on their lack of compassion for their fellow human beings; this is where they miss a crucial core value to all three of the religious traditions. Definitely worth reading if you are interested in understanding the extremists.
Tags: bookblog 2012, religion, writer: karen armstrong

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