Karen Armstrong was, at one time, a Roman Catholic nun. She left the nunnery behind in 1969 but not her search for God. This is a good book.
Her book deals primarily with God in the Judeo-Christian theologies; Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She gives a good criticism and analysis from atheism to mysticism. She goes through each of the religions and the evolution of their thought. I suppose that the word “evolution” would not be proper because there is no actual progression of thought culminating in a final conclusion. It is a comparative analysis, exploring all the tangential pathways engaged in by all three of the theologies. The point is made that all three theologies have shared all of the various pathways in seeking a God. Each group has had its radicals, its rationales, its fundamentalists and it mystics.
I would not classify Karen as an atheist or even an agnostic. I would place her into the category of the want-to-believer. Her problem, as a want-to-believer, in dealing with conventional religious thought with regards to the concept of God, is that, unfortunately, she is too smart. She defeats all of the conventional and conservative logic with regards to God, but yet is still left with the desire to have a God to believe in. I suppose that this would be considered the Kantian point of view.
Mankind needs to have some kind of a belief in some sort of God. Why? Because the pit and depression that comes with an empty eternity is not conducive to the hopeful human spirit. There is this notion that this “feeling” stems so far back into the psychology of man that it is not only necessary but instinctive.
I don’t know why oblivion would be or must be considered a “hopeless, depressing, pit” - certainly an eternity of hell is even more depressing. If you don’t exist, you wouldn’t even know that you were hopeless or in a pit. You couldn’t despair either. And just because an idea goes back into time with a seeming endlessness, that doesn’t mean that it is instinctive. It could just be traditional ignorance. Like; the world is flat; the earth is the center of the universe; fire is the addition of something called phlogiston; and, all woman look the same upside-down
On the practical side, at least at this point in man’s evolution, no atheistic notions have been capable of transforming established thought on the matter of God. God has been transformed over the centuries but only by means of reform. The old God must be replaced by a new God who is transformed to conform to the times. So you don’t want to tell people that God is dead or that He is impossible, you want to explain to them how God has been misinterpreted by the current established order; or how a belief about God that was once held in the past is more accurate than any going around at the present. In other words, if you want change, you must invent a new God or re-establish an old one. But the logic and arguments against the God notion have become so substantial and sophisticated that the above proposition becomes more and more difficult - whether the gods are old or new. Karen is clearly leaning toward a mystical God.
Karen establishes that the whole God-thing started with the notion that there must be a Creator or a First Cause to all things. This notion got muddled, and in all of the three theologies there came about a desire to prove the existence of this Creator, rationally. This caused a good deal of debating and argument - for centuries.
Karen agrees that all of the arguments proving the existence of God failed or were eventually defeated. What resulted was a new group of Godless atheists who contended that God couldn’t be proven or verified rationally and was therefore an impossibility; and another group who agreed with the atheists that God could not be proven a reality but that He was valid nevertheless. The fact that you could not prove the existence of God simply made God all the more “mysterious” - thus evolved a group called Mystics. Most believers are at heart Mystics - no amount of logic or reason can convince a believer that God does not exist.
God was initially the creator of all things. Unfortunately, someone had to ask: If God is the creator of all things, from what did He create all these things that are?
He created all the things that are, from all the formless stuff that was floating around Him, said some. Then, of course, somebody else said; There was stuff floating around God? - stuff that existed eternally, and simultaneously with God, for ever and ever? Then there must be two Gods - the eternal God that is just Stuff and the other God that is ... what? What is God made/composed of anyway?
This problem led some to conclude that God and the Stuff that was floating around the Universe were actually One. So, God was the Stuff of the Universe. If God was the Stuff of the Universe then it must be that God created the Universe from Himself If God created all the things that are, from Himself - then everything in the Universe must be divine. Then - we are all God.
There were many who accepted this notion that everything was a part of God, but there were others who didn’t like the idea. So, they said that God did not create the Universe from Himself. He didn’t create it from any stuff that was floating around, either. He actually created the Universe out of nothing. But how can something come from nothing? Ex-nihilo.
It was magic. It was a miracle.
Okay, if God created the Universe from nothing, what is God? Is He something or is He nothing?
God is nothing, too. Where does He live? He lives nowhere. Is He tall or is He short? He is both tall and short. Is He male or female? He is male, female, animal and mineral. He is all things and He is no thing. He is at the same time nothing and something. He is one and He is many. He is single and individual, yet, at the same time multiple and diverse. He lives beyond the boundaries of the universe. He transcends both space and time. He is faster than a speeding bullet and can leap tall building in a single bound. He’s … he’s ... whatever you would like Him to be.
If you have no trouble following this type of thinking, then, you are a mystic. Mysticism seems to be the last refuge for the struggling want-to-believer from the pits of despair and atheism.
Karen also points out that there has been an unfortunate return to Fundamentalism. In the West and in the United States it is fundamentalist Christians, in the mid-East it is fundamentalist Muslims; in Israel it is fundamentalist Jews.
A fundamentalist usually has some basic “truth” that he clings to. It might be a book or a notion. He believes wholly in this notion and feels that all others should believe it as well. Karen feels that Fundamentalism is a backward step in mankind’s progress toward an understandable or, at least, acceptable God.
Karen thinks that it is time that the world created a new God. She suggests a mystical God of some kind. Unfortunately, a mystical God is an UN-reasonable God. The trouble with UN-reasonable Gods is just that. A God that is not subject to reason can certainly evolve into something just as tyrannical as the “One True” God of the fundamentalists. Gods that come from “nothing” and find their being in “non-existence” are simply and purely double-talk. The problem here has to do with the philosophical definition of nothing.
Religious thinkers, along with many philosophers, keep attempting to make nothing into something. I have even read some who claim that nothing is simply the absence of something and that something is simply the absence of nothing.
Nothing is not the absence of something; nothing is the absence of all things. Something is not the absence of nothing; something is the absence of all things but one - that one thing that it is.
This “Nothingness” business is confusing. It is attempting to make nothing into a quantity like zero in mathematics. A thing or amount that can be added and subtracted. Nothing is a concept not a precept. It describes the imagined state or condition of non-being - that state of no innate potential to be actualized and no innate tendencies to actualize itself. Nothing is what isn’t and consequently what can never be in and of itself - what can not become. Ontologically, it has no being and no potential for being. To say that something can come from nothing is simply a contradiction in terms.
Something is also a concept but it is used to describe things that exist - things that are perceived - something is a universal description of things that are things that have being in themselves - being in-itself; being that transcends phenomenon and appearance and is, in and of itself. It is a thing; it is something. Ontologically speaking something describes things that are - a thing that is - has being in-itself- not in the imagination but in reality.
Parmenides had it correct - That which is, is and that which is not, is not and can never be.
So when the mystic says that God is Nothing, he is saying that God does not exist and He can not come into existence. With this I would agree, but when the mystic goes on to state that it is from this state of Nothingness that all things have come into existence, he is simply babbling non-sensical gibberish.
Karen, in my opinion, falls into this trap of thinking Nothing to actually be something with the potential for existence - by the very definition of the word nothing, this is not possible.
I certainly agree with Karen the world needs a new God, but I have no suggestions. I liked it a lot better when people kept there Gods to themselves. It was a much better world when believers were less demonstrative and less sure. Many of today’s believers and want-to-believers border on the repulsive and the obnoxious. I consider them all to be psychotic, possible schizophrenic, and without doubt - dangerous.
“A History of God” by Karen Armstrong is, to say the least, educated, informative and well-researched. I’ve been reading about the gods and Gods now for over fifty years. Karen’s survey gave me more information than I personally felt necessary. But, I like that. I feel I got my money’s worth.
On the down side, she can get a bit confusing. She skims on many traditional explanations, presuming that you, the reader, are already familiar with such notions or that they are not that important; but then goes on extensively in areas of lesser importance - or where “more” is hardly necessary.
Karen spends a good deal of time on mystical notions, for example. It is plain that she finds some sort of ‘hope” in that brand of foolishness. She also spends very little time on the idea that nothingness is impossible. She is more into the confusing school of Martin Heidegger who it seems tries to prove that nothing is really something.
If one can somehow contemplate the notion that God could have emerged from nothing into something; or that nothing preceded something, or that something and nothing are two interchangeable quantities; or that God who is Himself nothing, could have created the universe from a nothing that was separate and distinct from His own brand of Nothingness - then I suppose that Mysticism becomes some sort of possibility. Actually, if nothingness can truly be found to be something-ness then, of course, anything becomes a possibility.
I think this is getting us into Wittgenstein here. If nothing can be something then we are obviously lost in semantics and have stopped dealing with reason, logic, or science.
The mystic is, in my opinion, a person who begins his inquiry into God’s possible existence, with the assumption or positive notion that God is a reality. Now, all that he has to do is defeat any arguments to the contrary. This course has left him in a never-never land where nothing and something both have a reality; where the universe and all that is - really isn’t; where rational thinking is a trick; where scientific inquiry is a deception; where everything that is, is only part of the story; where the unreasonable becomes the reasonable; where there are places beyond all places and things beyond all things; where God can exist beyond existence - beyond time and space (St. Augustine).
It is one thing to say that proving the existence of God is impossible and therefore one must rely on faith to accept such a proposition, but to build on this “faith” in an Unconfirmed Suspicion, a set of rules, laws, commandments, principles - even books supposedly written or dictated by this Unconfirmed Suspicion should be a little much, to say the least, for any sane human being.
I enjoyed Karen’s book, nevertheless. Karen’s notion that the impossible could become more acceptable if it is blanketed in the mystically paradoxical is not an answer that I can accept, but it is more than possible that mankind, in general, could find it temporarily sustainable. I feel that this would only bring the human race out of the frying pan and into the fire. Fundamentalism is certainly a step backward, but mysticism is no step forward.
I personally feel that in her quest for God she has one final step to take, but is afraid to take it for the fear of that “pit of despair and hopelessness” that she mentioned in her book. Kierkegard had a similar problem. He chose to “leap into the absurd”.
Books by Richard Edward Noble. Click on covers below for more info and purchasing instructions.
Classic Tragic Novel
Don't Laugh - This Could Have Been Your Life
Funny stories and some strange characters.
Monkey Dishes and Cocktail Fawks
My Harrowing days in the restaurant business. Great Read.
It's a Long Story
Long Short Fiction - Great stories!
Bloggin' Be My Life
"Bloggin' be My Life" contains a selection of some of my more popular Hobo Philosopher blogs.If you enjoy reading this blog, you should love Bloggin' Be My Life.
It's All About Love
It's All About Love is ... all about love. This is the 2nd book of poetry from The Bard From Chelmsford off Arlington. Every poem in this book comes with a prose introduction. If you enjoy poetry this is a simple choice. Have fun!
A Little Something
Traditional poetry from The Bard From Chelmsford Off Arlington with some poignant prose introductions. If you enjoy any type of poetry, you will enjoy this volume. Thanks.
Talking To Myself
This is my third book of poetry.
Bits and Pieces
The Hobo Philosopher - My first book using the Hobo Philosopher brand. Featuring a variety of writing styles and ideas. Look for the Thoughtful Hobo on the cover.
A Baker's Dozen
The Hobo Philosopher: My Second book of Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction and Short Stories. All varieties of short stories - lots of laughs!
Cat Point - and Them Dang Oyster People
Cat Point is the sequel to "The Eastpointer." Both books contain humorous tales about life in a fishing community on the Florida Panhandle. Lots of laughs.
Won 1st Place award for humor in 2007 from Florida Press Association. More wit, wisdom and humor from the yet to be world famous author, R.E. Noble
A Summer with Charlie - Lawrence
Fiction - Salisbury Beach, Lawrence, Mass. Featured in Merrimack Valley Magazine July /Aug. issue 2010
Travel, Humor, Commentary on migrant farm work and illegal immigration still very pertinent today.
"Just Hangin' Out Ma"
Thank God for the Street Corners of Lawrence, Mass. Anecdotes and humorous escapades about growing up in an industrial mill town in the 40s,50s and 60s.
This is the sequel to "Just Hangin' Out, Ma"
That Old Gang of Mine
This is # 3 in my Lawrence Hometown series. The series is about growing up in the 40's, 50's and 60's in an industrial mill town. Sorta like a Huck Finn goes to vist Uncle Ralph, the bus driver, who lives in a big, rundown city. Lots of fun.
Come On-A My House
This is # 4 in my Lawrence Hometown series.The old homested at 32 Chelmsford ST is pictured on the cover..
Down By The Old Mill Stream
# 5 in the Lawrence My Hometown series.
Standing on the Corner is # 6 in the lawrence My Hometown series.
The old Howard Playstead on Lawrence St.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
# 7 in the Lawrence my Hometown series.
Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother
Classic tragic novel written from child's perspective. Deals with abuse, poverty, unemployment. Pulls no punches.
Noble Notes on Famous Folks
Humorous, satirical notes on everybody from Constantine to Bill Clinton. Inspiration: Willy Cuppy.
America on Strike
History - documented survey of labor strikes in America
Mein Kampf - An Analysis of Book One
Who are the American Nazis - the Liberals or the Conservatives?
MY NAME IS RICHARD EDWARD NOBLE. I AM A FREELANCE WRITER AND I HAVE PUBLISHED 12 BOOKS:"THE EASTPOINTER" - SELECTIONS FROM AWARD WINNING NEWSPAPER COLUMN - "A LITTLE SOMETHING" - POETRY WITH PROSE -"HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER" - A NOVEL ABOUT GROWING UP IN THE NEW ENGLAND MILL TOWN OF LAWRENCE, MASS, "HOBO-ING AMERICA" - A WORKINGMAN'S TOUR OF THE U.S.A. - "A SUMMER WITH CHARLIE" - THE STORY OF A YOUNG SAILOR'S LAST DAYS AT SALISBURY BEACH, "NOBLE NOTES ON FAMOUS FOLKS" - HUMOROUS ANECDOTES ON FAMOUS FOLKS IN HISTORY,
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