A critique of Karen Armstrong’s book The Battle for God
A History of Fundamentalism
I find it personally distasteful that in many instances the serious debates involving religion, ethics and world views are dominated by persons who’s faith in the greatness of G-d has been shaken in such a way that they feel compelled to attempt to drag the rest of the faithful along on their personal journey in search of what they hope will be the ultimate answer to their personal questions. I felt this way after reading Karen Armstrong’s book The Battle for G-d A History of Fundamentalism. Karen Armstrong has, since leaving the Catholic convent in the late 1960’s, been on what seems in my estimation to be a quest for some sense of an inner personal experience with G-d that has constantly evaded her grasp or perhaps understanding. She has spent a lifetime searching through historic records of the world’s major religions and come to rest, in this book, The Battle for G-d, on what most sociologist or historians would consider the deeper corner pockets of each of the three major religions whom descended from the Biblical figure Abraham. However, in describing the depth or intensity of the individuals involved in those narrow corners of the three religions in question she fails to consider that the pockets which she has designated as “fundamentalist” are at the very least not as equally deep or even perhaps mislabeled. It is my belief that Armstrong has allowed her own struggle with the spiritual and secular aspect of modern life to influence her evaluation of the three major religions of the Western World, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and their role in the strife currently present in our Western culture. In her book The Battle for G-D, Armstrong takes the reader through a complex review of World History. This review however is not a sequential time line, but a bumpy or choppy presentation of mixed eras, events, and dates which would confuse most readers. This journey through time starts in Spain in the year1492 and compares events and groups of people in such dissimilar places and times that this reader began to question the accuracy or perhaps better stated the validity of her argument. Armstrong’s purpose with this always shifting account of history is to convince the reader that the Christians of the American Midwest, The Jewish Zionist from the European ghettos, and the Moslems in the Mid East share Fundamentalist movements within each of the religions who have preponderance towards aggression when clashing with what she defines as the modern secularist society. Perhaps Armstrong would have seen the great gap in her argument had she spent an equal amount of time and energy contrasting the movements instead of just comparing non-equal aspects of the three religions. To understand the problems I had with Armstrong’s argument it is important to analyze the historical context, not of the three religions which Armstrong attempts to document through more than five centuries, but instead the time which encompasses Armstrong’s start on her own struggle with the spiritual aspects of living in the materialistic world. Hopefully an evaluation of her experience will help account for what I surmised to be her inaccurate or misinformed definition of the term “Fundamentalism”. There are many accounts of Armstrong’s years spent in the convent, including her own writings. But it is far more important to look not at the years she spent secluded in the convent as it is to look at the time and description of the particular period of time when she left the closed protected life, offered or forced depending upon your perspective, of the convent. In the year 1969, the year Armstrong started her “civilian life” I was just finishing my freshman year at St. Mary’s Academy, an all girl Catholic High School in Southern Maryland. Although Karen Armstrong was at that time about ten years older than myself I believe that I can...
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