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The Case for God    by Karen Armstrong order for
Case for God
by Karen Armstrong
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2010 (2009)
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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

The Case for God gives a wonderful, intellectual argument to rebut those atheists and agnostics who claim that an intelligent person cannot also be religious. Karen Armstrong has written about mankind's search for meaning in life, beginning in prehistoric times and continuing down through the centuries to the present day.

The first chapter, Homo Religiosis, is one of the most interesting. It details what is known about religious practices in the distant past, starting with the wall paintings of animals in the underground caverns of Lascaux, France. One must crawl through long, narrow passages to get to these paintings - they must have been done with great difficulty by artists who had only the light from torches to work with and in some cases worked on walls well above the floor. These are believed to be religious paintings, done to inspire the meditation required to become aware of God. God was always elusive and only experienced after much thought and prayer. The Hebrews had the right idea in refusing to name God, who remains unnamable and incomprehensible to the extent that even the concept of belief becomes unknowable.

Armstrong believes that when people began trying to prove the existence of God scientifically, the whole concept of God changed. How can you prove that God exists when you have no idea of what exactly you mean by God or what God might be? It is surely impossible for people living in a concrete world to imagine a world that might contain God. We all die, though, and this becomes the great mystery. What happens to us after death, if anything? We wonder and meditate and some of us find God in the process.

For those who scoff at the Bible or the Koran or other holy works, Armstrong has another piece of advice. These were never meant to be taken as literal fact. They were always intended to be myths that helped seekers in their prayers and contemplation to get past the worldly and literal to the spiritual. She says that many people today 'feel that they know exactly what they mean by God. The catechism definition learned at the age of eight - 'God is the Supreme Spirit, who alone exists of himself and is infinite in all perfections' was not only dry, abstract, and rather boring; it was also incorrect. Not only did it imply that God was a fact that it was possible to define, but it represented only the first stage' of a method of thinking about God.

Armstrong 'was not taught to take the next step and see that God is not a spirit; that 'he' has no gender; and that we have no idea what we mean when we say that a being 'exists' who is 'infinite in all perfections.' The process that should have led to a stunned appreciation of an 'otherness' beyond the competence of language ended prematurely.' Being taught to believe in God in this way at the same age as we are taught to believe in Santa Claus, leads us to reject both at some point. When one attains intellectual maturity it becomes difficult to believe that a man lived inside a whale for three days and then was spit out, or that it was possible to save all the animals in the world on a wooden ark while a flood covered everything everywhere. The New Testament becomes even more problematical when one learns how it came to be.

The Case for God is not an easy book to read. It is, however, an important book for someone to ponder who has lost her faith and cannot rationalize the so-called truths of the Bible. Read slowly and carefully, it becomes an argument for a different kind of religion and one that is easier for me to digest.

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