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The Case for God

Karen Armstrong embraces religious complexities

By James Christie

The Case for God
By Karen Armstrong
(Knopf) $34.95



That author Karen Armstrong felt it necessary to add a glossary to her most recent offering should convey the message this is not an

easy book. She didn’t intend it to be. Right off the mark, Armstrong notes, “We think that the concept of God should be easy.” Readers, shaking their heads in faint reproof, have told me, “That book is really hard.” I want to reply, “Of course it is. It’s about God.”

So don’t expect an easy read, but do expect a good one. In fact, anticipate a critical one. With The Case for God, Armstrong may well have offered the English-speaking world the most useful book on theology and religion so far in this already troubled century: and religion will be the politics of the 21st century.

Readers familiar with Armstrong’s work will discern a pattern that has been emerging over time. The Case for God is the most recent plateau on which she has pitched her tent along a pilgrimage of ascent to discover both the human constructs and the nature of God.

That pilgrimage has led Armstrong from her early years as “a religious,” which she describes poignantly in The Spiral Staircase; through her years of deconstruction, which found useful expression in volumes like A History of God; to her “becoming religious” in a renewed way, captured in The Great Transformation and this newest volume.

As an invaluable quick reference guide, The Case for God provides brief yet comprehensive commentaries on — among other topics — anthropology, biblical criticism, spirituality and the implications of science.

The Case for God is a testimonial to Armstrong’s conviction that by embracing religious complexity and having the courage to unlearn much of what has been taught to us about our own faith story, we may find ourselves being, well, born again. To do so, she writes, theology must learn to emphasize silence and listening as tools to faithful living.

Armstrong accomplishes all of this through an elegant and eloquent extended discourse on the religious history of humanity, emphasizing at every stage that religion is inseparable from lived experience, actual and liturgical.

The result is to affirm American theologian Huston Smith’s conviction that “we are in good hands, and in gratitude ought to care for one another and bear each other’s burdens.”

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