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Een Geschiedenis van God

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In dit belangrijke en controversiële boek beschrijft Karen Armstrong niet een geschiedenis van God zoals hij 'is', maar zoals de mens in hem geloofd heeft. Zij onderzoekt het ontstaan en de ontwikkeling van de idee van de ene God in het jodendom, het christendom en de islam. Wat is God tegenwoordig? Heeft hij toekomst? En, zo niet, hebben we een vervanging nodig?

511 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1993

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About the author

Karen Armstrong

111 books3,025 followers
Karen Armstrong, a comparative religion specialist is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and Fields of Blood, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase.

Her work has been translated into 45 languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public, crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. It was launched globally in the fall of 2009. Also in 2008, she was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal. In 2013, she received the British Academy’s inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Trans cultural Understanding.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,650 reviews
Profile Image for Leslie.
90 reviews35 followers
January 30, 2008
Whew. I thought I'd never finish this book. But two months later, I somehow managed to get to the end. Now, what to say about it?

I started this book knowing a moderate amount about the history of Christianity, a small amount about Judaism, and much too little about Islam. I relied heavily on my previous knowledge of Christianity and Judaism to make sense of Armstrong's extremely dense, often repetitive, and (to use her favorite word) esoteric prose. I found it a real challenge to keep up with her train of thought; her chapters are very long (as well as her paragraphs) and she has no sections or headings whatsoever to help prime and guide the reader. I came away with a much fuller understanding about the evolution of the concept of God in Christianity and Judaism, and a somewhat better understanding of the origins of Islam. But not knowing much about Islam to begin with, I felt at a disadvantage as I tried to follow along and take in the massive amounts of information she shares. This is not the right book to introduce you to any of these religions. You will gain much more if you already have a moderate level of knowledge.

On a personal note, as I am someone for whom religion (organized or otherwise) has played very little role in my life for close to ten years, this book sparked a great deal of introspective processes for me. Some of her writing confirmed my frustrations with organized religions while other portions encouraged me to have a more open mind about the innumerable ways to conceive of and worship God. I have appreciated this book immensely in this regard.

A final note: Armstrong seems to have considerable beef with Christianity, and to an extent Judaism, and she considerably elevates Islam above the other two. Just a note to be prepared for that if you read this book. It didn't bother me too much given that I don't consider myself a member of any of the three faiths or prefer one over the other, but I can see how it might really annoy others. It's not an attempt to be objective or balanced, by any stretch.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,455 followers
November 1, 2011

(You may have already thought of a few, but this is my current thing.)

Religious thought is metaphorical and the constant danger is that the unlettered will take the metaphor literally. For instance, the Holy Trinity in Christianity - sorting out a satisfactory formula expressing the relationships between God the Father & Jesus the Son & the Holy Spirit presented hideous problems which took around 300 years to resolve and - it seems to me - the whole enterprise was utterly - utterly - futile because it stemmed from a misreading of a metaphor in the New Testament, i.e. Jesus as Son of God.

You don't need to figure out the relationships between metaphors, but if you think they're actually describing realities, then you do.

Fundamentalists appear to be unable to either grasp the idea of metaphorical language, or, allowing them that degree of intelligence, unable to accept that the Bible is poetry which uses metaphor all the time

- And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and it was not consumed.

And indeed, Christ is a metaphor - that is, the idea of his incarnation, and the idea of him being a sacrifice for our sins, and the idea of salvation itself - all metaphors.

Religion has its educated few and its unschooled many - the elite develop the metaphorical philosophical reading of the text and leave the credulous literal reading to the laity and they bowl along on separate levels, mostly. But then it comes unstuck.

You can see the incorrect understanding of metaphor right there in the New Testament. Various parables of Jesus have been transformed by error into miracles of Jesus - the stilling of the storm, the feeding of the 5000, turning water into wine, and the weird story of the withering of the fig tree - these make no sense until you read them as parables. We recall that Jesus explicitly rejects miraculous acts of this sort in the Temptation:

And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.

And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

So these mistakes were being encrypted into the canon at the point where the oral tradition was being written down. It was simple confusion, but it sowed the seeds for centuries of wrongheadedness.

Karen Armstrong makes the excellent point that by the time of the Reformation even the learned in the West had become literalistic, and that this exposed their faith to the undermining effects of science as science extended its authority. The Church painted itself into a stupid corner. If it had remained the mystical transcendental Church it wouldn't have had to make any of those numerous embarrassing climb-downs it had to do. But maybe it would have been abandoned by the majority if it had.


Karen Armstrong is a poor writer. Other goodreaders say stuff like :

My braincells are rebelling against me for continuing to read this, giving up. It's all the waffle and blather about Ultimate Reality, I just can't put myself through it.

I don't want to say that I have given up on this book. I enjoyed it so far, but I just moved on... It sits here out of my guilt, and becasue I haven't given it up completely. I may go back to it anyday now

haven't picked it up for several months, hope to get back to it someday
I predict that there will be a new religion created by the time I finish this book

Earnest readers drag themselves through this book. That can't be good. She has the knowledge but she is turgid, she has no light touch, no human anecdotes, no humour, okay what was I expecting, Bill Bryson? No, but Karen really got on my wick. She's boring. You have to keep plugging away, then another big thinker from 17th century Lithuania hoves into view and you think... hey, I haven't watched Paranormal Activity 2 yet! I did not read every word of this. i flipped forward, backwards, sideways, hemmed & hawed, put it down for months, walked around it glaring at it, hoped someone would steal it, they didn't, finally took it on holiday where there wasn't a wifi connection, and really, I think the whole thing needed some oomph. It was oomphless. It was an oomph-free zone.


Speaking as an atheist, I love this story. In fact, I revere this story.

One day in Auschwitz, a group of Jews put God on trial. They charged him with betrayal and cruelty. Like Job, they found no consolation in the usual answers to the problems of evil and suffering in the midst of this current obscenity. They could find no excuse for God, no extenuating circumstances, so they found him guilty and, presumably, worthy of death. The Rabbi pronounced the verdict. Then he looked up and said that the trial was over, it was time for the evening prayer.

July 28, 2007
I still can't decide if it's good or not. That's that problem with being kinda dumb.
Profile Image for هدى يحيى.
Author 8 books16k followers
April 19, 2018
سيرة الله لكارين أرمسترونغ

الكتاب يبحر في مفهوم الإله في الديانات الثلاثة الكبرى
اليهودية - المسيحية - الإسلام

لقراء الإنجليزية يمكنكم مشاهدة هذا الوثائقي الممتع
والذي يعتمد على أفكار الكتاب الرئيسية


Profile Image for maha.
108 reviews66 followers
July 26, 2016
الكتاب موسوعة كبيرة سيستغرق وقتا طويلا لاكماله.. قراءة اساسية لمن يدرس الثيولوجيا (علم العقائد)، الميثولوجي (علم الأساطير) ومقارنة الاديان

سأذكر نقطة منه علقت بذهني

فهمت منه مفهوم شخصنة الاله.. عندما جسد البشر الاله بحيث يكون بعيدا، ليس كمثل اي شيء نعرفه، اصبح الاله بعيدا، ولم يعد البشر يشعرون بالقرب منه

فهنا جسدته بعض الديانات بصفات نفهمها نحن البشر ونشعر بها، كي نشعر نحوه بالتآلف والقرب، وهنا اختلف المسيحيون عن بقية الأديان الابراهيمية، بحيث أنهم حولوه الى رجل، أو أب حنون محب، بينما ركز المسلمون واليهود على اعطاؤه صفات بشرية (كالغضب والفرح والحب والبغض والغيرة) ونسب له اليهود صفات بشرية تدل على الضعف كـ(التعب)..

الكتاب حول الى فلم وثائقي تحت نفس العنوان.. هنا الرابط له

في الفيديو أيضا ملخص اخر له

كانت عقيدة كارين بحد ذاتها تحيرني، كونها تركت الديانة الكاثوليكية بعد كونها راهبة.. هل هي ملحدة أو أغنوستية ترى أن الدين ظاهرة مفيدة وصحية للشعوب؟

أعتقد انه بعد السماع لمحاضراتها أنها "موحدة" تميل لفهم يهودي للاله، مع أخذها لخلاصة رسائل الديانات المونوثية الثلاث.. أدرك أنني أمارس التقنين عليها ولكن الفضول يحركنا نحن البشر لتصنيف من امامنا :)

Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,546 reviews1,819 followers
August 29, 2020
This is at once a very simple and a very complex book. Simple in its argument, complex in the array of detail marshalled to tell Armstrong's story.

Her view, it seemed to me, was firstly that monotheism was wide spread - well beyond the limits of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but that there was always a tension between two basic ideas within that belief across all these religions. On the one hand a faith in an objective reality of something like an old man with a beard out there somewhere who was generally keen on smiting people, on the other hand a subjective individual striving within oneself that can lead to a sense of the numinous (
"The mystical experience of God has certain characteristics that are common to all faiths" (p259) ). She approves of the latter, while disliking the former whose finest or worst examples depending on your point of view she finds in the Western European Catholic and Protestant traditions which finally, in her opinion, hoisted themselves on their petards by embracing a literal faith in the Bible shortly before the age of Lyle and Darwin and Mendel.

Armstrong's history of God then is the history of styles and manners of belief in God. The problem with the way she does it is that she unleashes, not hell, but such a mass of prophets, mystics, and philosophers upon the reader that we can move across the thought and ideas of three or four people in a single page - almost all of whom are men, Julian of Norwich, Bridget of Sweden, and Theresa of Avila just manage to squeeze in. I did wonder how representative and reasonable some of the judgements were at times - but then this is always the case in dense surveys like this.

What is particular, and maybe refreshing for some readers, is that Armstrong doesn't much like her own native Western European tradition of Christianity. Every other approach to faith comes across as simply better. Sufis, Buddhists, and Hassidic Jews among others leap out of the pages as less anxious, more compassionate, kinder, and generally less inclined to self abuse. This may or may not be fair, but in the context of a post colonial world is certainly interesting, although I suppose not original. If belief in a single God is widespread, so is faith that the grass is always greener in the next field. Still her passion and commitment towards certain kinds of manifestation of faith is clear as evidenced by phrases like "religions such as Buddhism, which have the advantage of being uncontaminated by an inadequate theism" (p251), one can't claim that she hides her point of view.

The sense of her struggle with her own religious background is palpable, but also the relief and comfort that she has found through learning about the three major monotheisms. The ideal reader for this book might well be someone who for all their Jewish, Christian, or Muslim faith feels estranged or simply somewhat distanced from the particular Synagogue, Church, or Mosque they are familiar with. This is a book that can provide that reader with a broader perspective.

She compares trends in Hinduism and Buddhism to the big three monotheisms, this is something she could have made more of. The way that Buddhist Nirvana is described seems to her to be analogous to the experience of God as experience by mystics from the monotheistic religions for instance. Her survey is a wealth of detail, often curious. I particularly liked her account of the disappointment of the pagan philosopher Plotinus that he didn't get to visit India to study with its sages, he had thought of joining the Roman army as a means of getting there. Somehow turning up in armour, sword in hand, doesn't strike me as the best way to introduce yourself and your philosophical longings to the wise people of a different land. Maybe a similar thought occurred to Plotinus. Another point that caught my attention was the question of if the God of Abraham and the God of Moses were one and the same, equally she didn't soft pedal the polytheistic sides of Hebrew practice prior to the Babylonian captivity.

Something that Armstrong I felt did well was the sense of how ideas from one tradition oozed over to others. The influence of the pagan philosophers on Christianity is, I imagine, fairly well known, but she points out as well the interrelationships of developments in Judaism and Islam, and Islam also had a strong engagement with Aristotle in particular. She even makes Origen's self-castration, as inspired by the Gospels, sound like a reasonable action for a good half a page .

On the downside the mass of characters can be overwhelming, and you are probably best off approaching a book like this with a reasonable background knowledge to start with. If you don't know your Avicenna from your Aquinas this book may well be a struggle.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.5k followers
October 1, 2020
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Karen Armstrong

A History of God is a book by Karen Armstrong. It details the history of the three major monotheistic traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, along with Buddhism and Hinduism. The evolution of the idea of God is traced from its ancient roots in the Middle East up to the present day. ...

عنوانها: «خداشناسی از ابراهیم تا‌کنون‌: دین یهود، مسیحیت و اسلام‌»؛ «تاریخ خداباوری: 4000سال جستجوی یهودیت‌، مسیحیت و اسلام‌»؛ نویسنده: کارن آرمسترانگ؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هفتم ماه سپتامبر سال 2005میلادی

عنوان: خداشناسی از ابراهیم تا‌کنون‌: دین یهود، مسیحیت و اسلام‌؛ نویسنده: کارن آرمسترانگ؛ مترجم: ؛ محسن سپهر؛ تهران، نشر مرکز، 1383؛ در ده و 507ص؛ چاپ دوم 1384، چاپ پنجم 1387؛ چاپ ششم 1390؛ چاپ هفتم 1392؛ چاپ هشتم 1395؛ در 512ص؛ شابک 9789643056872؛ موضوع: تاریخ خداباوری از نویسندگان بریتانیایی - سده 20م

عنوان: تاریخ خداباوری: 4000سال جستجوی یهودیت‌، مسیحیت و اسلام‌؛ نویسنده: کارن آرمسترانگ؛ مترجمها: بهاء الدین خرمشاهی، بهزاد سالکی؛ تهران، ناشر پژوهشگاه علوم انسانی و مطالعات فرهنگی؛ مهرماه 1385؛ در 692ص؛ شابک 9644262646؛

کتاب «تاریخ خداباوری (خداشناسی)» را، خانم «کارن آرمسترانگ»، نویسنده و پژوهشگر بریتانیایی بنگاشته است؛ ایشان در این کتاب تاریخ، سه دین پگانه پرستی: «یهودیت»، «مسیحیت»، و «اسلام» را برای خوانشگران، در کنار آیینهای «بودایی» و «هندو» بگشوده اند؛ در این کتاب خانم «کارن آرمسترانگ» به چیستی خداوند، در سه دین پگانه پرستی، که ریشه ی هر سه ی آنها، به حضرت ابراهیم می‌رسد، پرداخته اند؛ همچنین به چالش‌هایی اشاره می‌کنند، که در سه دین یگانه پرستی، و متون کتاب مقدس و عهد عتیق وجود دارد؛ خانم «کارن آرمسترانگ» باور دارند، علی‌رغم گفت و شنیدهای بیشمار، هنوز دیدگاه خشنود بخشی نموده نشده است، که بتواند بگوید، چرا بشر هماره با این چالش روبروست، که در کتاب مقدس نارساییهایی به چشم می‌نشیند؛ هم اکنون، بررسی «تاریخ ادیان» بیانگر این است، که انسانها از جهاتی روحانی نیز برخوردار هستند؛ و برهانهایی هم مبنی بر این گواهی که انسان هوشمند، انسان دینی است نیز وجود دارد، و افراد بشر به همینکه به ویژگی انسانی می‌رسند، به ستایش خداوند می‌پردازند؛ خانم «کارن آرمسترانگ» در این کتاب، کوشش می‌کنند نشان دهند، که تاریخ، نمی‌تواند واقعیت خدا را که توصیف ناپذیر است، بیان کند، بلکه تنها شیوه ی از اندیشه‌ ای است، که انسانها از زمان حضرت ابراهیم تا به امروز، توانسته‌ اند از راه آن، نقش خدا را به باور خویش بیفزایند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 09/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Camille.
38 reviews
January 4, 2009
If I could give a book six stars, I would give them to this book. I feel like I learned something new on nearly every page.

This book is truly a history book on a grand scale. It reminds me of the type of history Will Durrant wrote, where he would take a period of time and write extensively about all the facets of history within that time. Armstrong, on the other hand, takes just one facet of history and writes extensively about it over a long (4000 year) period of time. Reading it has allowed me to see patterns and connections in history that I never considered before. I know I will continue to think upon what she said and use it as I try to make sense of the world.

And, to make it even better, I learned recently that Karen Armstrong was a winner of the 2008 TED prize. I highly recommend her talk where she makes her wish. (I highly recommend all the TED prize winners' talks!)
Profile Image for John.
136 reviews7 followers
February 24, 2008
This is one of those books that make me feel woefully deficient in a certain subject. Having never taken a comparative religion class, and in fact bordering on an antiestablishment stance when it comes to organized religion, I can only conclude that this book was not the place to start.
The first couple of chapters which reviewed mankinds evolution from a polythesim to the monothesims of Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam were interesting, and for me blessedly linear and understandable. From there things rapidly deteriorated as Armstrong ran through the impact and thought process that philosophy, mysticism, reform and enlightenment had on the three monothestic faiths.
These chapters were filled with dense pondorous examples of each of these disciplines, crammed wtih foreign names and terms, forcing me to reread pages and chapters, still without making much headway.
I hate to indulge myself this way, but to illustrate my point I quote from page 270 a part of a paragraph which starts, "Luria gave a new meaning to the original image of the exile of the Shekinah. It will be recalled that in the Talmud, the Rabbis had seen the Shekinah voluntarily going into exile with the Jews after the destruction of the Temple. The Zohar had identified the Shekinah with the last sefirah and made it the female aspect of divinity. In Luria's myth, the Shekinah fell with the other sefiroth when the Vessels were shattered." Granted, it is taken out of context, but it borders on reading a foreign language.
And it goes on...Further compounding the problem are a lack of any headings on subgroupings in Armstrong's chapters, which are composed of paragraphs that run nearly a page long each.
It is this amount of dense detail that continually makes rereading a necessity, rather than a luxury. I was tempted on multiple occasions to put this book down, and finished with a sense that I had read line for line the entire 2008 federal IRS tax code. Overall, not the place to start.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews7,016 followers
November 21, 2015
The Tendencies of Religions

A facebook conversation:

Started with this post, with the following Ambedkar quote:

"The Hindus criticise the Mahomedans for having spread their religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity on the score of the Inquisition.

But really speaking, who is better and more worthy of our respect—the Mahomedans and Christians who attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what they regarded as necessary for their salvation, or the Hindu who would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it a part of their own make-up?

I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mahomedan has been cruel, the Hindu has been mean; and meanness is worse than cruelty."

Response (Professor X):What is worse?
A. Use force to make others join your faith
B. Use force to keep out of those who want to join your faith

Me: an additional dimension is there: you keep them out and then you discriminate and degrade based on religion.

Professor X: I wanted to strip the discussion of dalit angle, but, YES, this has got me thinking.

Me: ah. okay. wouldn't majority of early religions (tribal) been exclusivist? missionary religions were probably an innovation. which is the more natural tendency? need to study more :)

Professor X: No. This man has hit the nail on the head. Hinduism is the only one that opted to have exclusion as a theme and that, I suspect, because there was no occupation effort.

The same religion in south east asia saw the need to absorb locals in :)

Me: Ambedkar claims elsewhere that early Hinduism was an evangelizing religion and that once caste and varna systems were hardened, it had to stop being one.

if a religion obsessed with purity starts absorbing, it will also try to exclude at the same time. this will have to give rise to a varna and then even a caste system as more and more walls are erected for more and more minute exclusions. eventually the evangelizing had to stop and thus occupation. that is the chain of causation i glean from reading ambedkar, not the other ay round. what say?

now, if i assume that tribal religions are exclusivist and accept this line of reasoning, it would seem to imply that religions once they pass a critical mass, will become missionary in nature (religion and politics going together). however if they do not reinvent themselves to lose completely their exclusivist tendencies (as happened with islam etc), then they will eventually reach another critical mass when they harden and cant expand anymore. with that both religious evangelism and political expansion will end. [simplistic, i know. but seems to make some sense to me...]

Me: btw, Hinduism is not the only such religion. there are other religions too that are exclusivist. a good example to prop up my case would be Judaism, a more or less tribal religion which probably never reached the first critical mass point. Judaism discourages missionary activities and maintains an exclusivist doctrine, again based on purity of the chosen people.

we could say that Judaism once it came close to the first critical mass reinvented itself as Christianity - an evangelist religion but with no exclusivist tendencies - and hence it didnt have to hit the second point. could spread and spread :) islam too - another variation of the same theme.

Does this seem like a useful line of enquiry? Are there any books that explore the tendencies of religions? Would love to read a few.
Profile Image for India M. Clamp.
212 reviews
March 29, 2023
A different approach is taken here by a former Roman Catholic nun named Karen Armstrong. Confounded with the question of God. Naturally we assume Armstrong approaches this topic by utilizing a Catholic lens to color her bias and concept of God. Yet in this, we are wrong. Novel is key here. She courts the idea of God as if she were a scholar/journalist. Therefore, the book surveys the startling and sometimes contradictory forms and symbols God occupies in the mind. How does one discern God? Shall we review what his signature is “dat deus incrementum?”

“A History of God” is like a safe “Pandora’s Box” depicting how humans worship and put faith in a higher source. Karen is the guide. She gently shows us how to delineate the actions of God as he is breaking bread with Prophet Abraham and “how the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).” Most substantively Karen Armstrong illuminates---with a natural light---Gods’ evolution for the last 5,000 years/how we bring the divine closer.

“Thus it was said that the gods had shown men how to build their cities and temples, which were mere copies of their own homes in the divine realm.”
---Karen Armstrong

Consideration is noted that male clerics undergo some transfixing criticism and specifically mentions how they expropriated rituals attributed to wholeness and harmony and such were removed to the disgrace of women. Thus propelling women down to a lower step and marginalizing the love, divinity and healing coming from interactions with divinely inspired goddesses making it a "opus vitae" to assist humans in articulating their sense of weighty (yet unseen) forces surrounding them.

Mentions of intolerance that is focused on a particular religion and she regards Islam most sympathetically. In her scholarly approach she questions, how will the idea of God survive in the years to come? She looks to what survives or remains. Though she is a Catholic Nun, she did not regard her experience of God as being unique and conclusively found that religion is more than fear or the propagation of such. This is definitely a book for religious scholars and is not a casual read. Auspicious is an understatement. A History of God delivers (not lightly) the idea of God comparatively in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Absorb this one slowly.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jan.
46 reviews48 followers
March 27, 2015
Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun and studied at Oxford. Her book, The Spiral Staircase, is a good description of the struggles that led to her leaving the convent.

There have been several good books written on the historic Jesus Christ, but very few on the historic God. As other reviewers have noted, this is a somewhat scholarly book, which it would have to be if one wanted to thoughtfully trace back man’s evolving beliefs on God. And, yes, over a sweep of 4,000 years, evolving is clearly the correct word.

If you apply the same tools to the study of history of God that one would apply to the study of history of anything over 4,000 years, you will see it through the lens of different periods of time.

Perhaps, somewhat unfortunately for religion and for God, we are in a period marked by the predominance of rationality. Ever since Kant, philosophers have admitted the existence of a god cannot be logically supported (and of course, Kant still willingly chose to believe).

So where does Ms. Armstrong take us in world after Kant, Hume, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and the like?

She worries about the intolerance inherent in monotheism (if I believe in the one true god, your god must be wrong). She reminds us that although the Existentialists told us we are better off without god since the pat answers and the certainty that god gives stifles our wonder of the world and negates our freedom, the growing drug addiction and crime rates are not signs of a spiritually healthy society.

Apparently although Ms. Armstrong left organized religion, she never left her search for spirituality.

I found the best statement of her conclusion was actually in The Spiral Staircase: “Compassion has been advocated by all the great faiths because it has been found to be the safest and surest means of attaining enlightenment because it dethrones the ego from the center of our lives and puts others there, breaking down the carapace of selfishness that holds us back from the experience of the sacred.”

Interestingly, Huxley, who wrote the magnificent Perennial Philosophy on the similarities of mystical experiences across all religions said “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'try to be a little kinder.” '

A fascinating book that can be recommended to any thoughtful seeker about spiritual matters.
Profile Image for فهد الفهد.
Author 1 book4,765 followers
February 21, 2017
الله والإنسان

للأسف لم يحظ كتاب بهذه الأهمية بترجمة جيدة، أتمنى ألا تعاني بقية كتب كارين أرمسترونغ من ذات المشكلة، خاصة وكتبها مهمة وتتناول مواضيع متعمقة في الأديان أو التجربة الدينية، في كتابها هذا والذي تم تغيير عنوانه ليتلاءم مع الرقيب العربي – العنوان الأصلي (تاريخ الإله)-، تؤرخ أرمسترونغ للطريقة التي فهم بها الناس الإله، وهي تركز في ذلك على الديانات التوحيدية، متناولة صورة الإله في اليهودية والمسيحية والإسلام، من خلال الفرق والمذاهب الدينية التي ظهرت وتصارعت في الأديان الثلاثة.

كتاب مهم جداً، ومن الأفضل قراءته بلغته إن أمكن.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,161 reviews509 followers
August 23, 2015
I haven't finished reading the book. I still plan to though, but not in one sitting.

The official blurb:
'Over 700,000 copies of the original hardcover and paperback editions of this stunningly popular book have been sold. Karen Armstrong's superbly readable exploration of how the three dominant monotheistic religions of the world - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - have shaped and altered the conception of God is a tour de force. One of Britain's foremost commentators on religious affairs, Armstrong traces the history of how men and women have perceived and experienced God, from the time of Abraham to the present. From classical philosophy and medieval mysticism to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of skepticism, Armstrong performs the near miracle of distilling the intellectual history of monotheism into one compelling volume.'

My reading is going extremely slow, merely because it requires concentration to read the book and I suspect that it will take a few months to get through it. However, it is an informative journey, educational in many instances, and thought-provoking throughout. It is not only the historical timeline of the development of religion (of God), the evolutionary process of polytheism to monotheism for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also a philosophical experience. I can only hope that all information in the book is accurate and worth learning. It certainly can be essential reading for those studying theology (science beliefs), mythology and comparative religion.

The God we all know, the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, has a history. This book tells the story as it unfolded through the ages, changed according to needs, and ultimately split people into different groups honoring the same God.

Someone long ago said that people build different bridges to God, but in the end they worship their bridges instead of God. This book discusses this truth: the when, why and how of it all. The real story of mankind, widely accepted in the scientific world, is written down in the Enuma Elish, the Babilonian story of Creation which was discovered in the library of Ahurbanipal, estimated to have been written 1750 BCE. It is not the story as the Bible told it.

The first few chapters were really interesting. Fascinating, in fact. But from then on it becomes a philosophical discussion of concepts and names which makes me feel dumb and an-alphabetic! But with increased concentration, and a few rereads, several rereads of the same, very long paragraphs, I finally get it all.

There are several videos available on Youtube to enlighten the experience. My problem is that I constantly fall asleep.

However, I do think this book is worth reading for those who are interested in an objective approach to the bridges we built to God.
Profile Image for [Name Redacted].
789 reviews395 followers
October 23, 2009
Karen Armstrong has no background in history nor in the academic study of religion, and it shows. This book's approach to the three Abrahamic religions is overly simplistic, presenting only Armstrong's often-erroneous views of these three prominent religions with almost no grounding in historical fact. She picks and chooses which sources to cite in accordance with her own biases and agenda, and it is clear that however much distance she might put between her life as a nun and her life as an armchair historian, she will never be able to escape her Catholic origins. Books like this are part of the reason why so many non-academics have such a poor understanding of the history of religion in the world, and do little more than contribute to the cloud of misinformation which surrounds the field.
March 24, 2019
Nuances Of The Religious Tradition

This was a great book that seriously, seriously bolstered my understanding of the history of God, and has ultimately ignited an interest in me to read further books on the more specific areas of religious practice (there is a massive 'further reading' section at the back that I look forward to raiding). As such, I had a number of things I wanted to say in my review, yet, I think a quick bit of advise would suffice as an alternative.

Unless you're moving into the field of Theology (in which case I doubt you'll read this anyway) I would advise NOT to try and kill yourself over remembering every name, every sub-catogary and every belief system held about God thought this book. You'll kill your enjoyment, and ultimately the point of the book along with it. Instead, try and cultivate a curious, open attitude whilst allowing yourself to be guided through the pages of Karen Armstrong's hard earned endeavour. I found that I enjoyed this text immensely when simply learning about how human beings tried to understand the ineffable. The different people who went up against this question have come up with some interesting thought trails, and it's quite fun to see how societies throughout time have deviated into their own systems of understanding, only for some of them to come to the same conclusion after much difference in doctrine.

My only other advise would be to test yourself whilst reading this. See where you stand with your beliefs after reading about the God of Mystics, then come back and re-evaluate. Believe me, you won't think quite the same afterwards.

Ultimately, this is just another story of human kind trying to make sense of what it is we're doing here, and I believe if the reader imagines this whilst reading A History of God, they won't be disappointed with the result.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,532 followers
February 7, 2017
Karen Armstrong does an outstanding job of describing the rise of the world's three most important religions besides Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It is a daunting undertaking which she absolutely masters from end to end. I keep saying this in reviews, but with all the slander of islam in on Fox, CNN, TF1, etc and the long history on anti-Semitism particularly here in Europe, it is critical for truly understanding and interpreting our modern world to understand where The Big Three came from, how they are similar and how they are different.
Profile Image for Jay Delorenzis.
20 reviews5 followers
April 24, 2013
This is a phenomenal book. I've read this about 3 times. It has completely opened my mind about how religion works in the world. Karen Armstrong uses mind-numbing details to make her case as how the Bible became written and how we are to regard it. At the same time, we can have a personal relationship with that Being we call God. Religion is something purely human-made about a phenomena that is undeniable--God exists and He can exist purely for the benefit of the individual, however he or she defines God. This book is not for the light reader. It demands much attention and several rereads. I suggest reading the book quickly through first, to understand what the author is saying. Then concentrate on each chapter as a separate entity. Don't worry about understanding further chapters until earlier chapters are understood. I've underlined the original book until there was hardly a bare page in the earlier part of the book. I consider this one of my all-time favorite books. It is about time for another read.
Profile Image for Arief Rahman.
25 reviews36 followers
January 10, 2013
Karen Armstrong yang dulu adalah seorang biarawati dan kemudian meninggalkan ordo nya, kini lebih terkenal sebagai pemerhati dan komentator agama-agama dunia. Sudah banyak buku yang ia tulis yang mengangkat tema keagamaan dan juga biografi tokoh agama seperti Nabi Muhammad dan Sidharta Gautama. Kali ini dalam Sejarah Tuhan (gold edition diterbitkan Mizan tahun 2012) Armstrong membahas dengan lugas, secara gamblang namun mudah dipahami tentang tiga agama monotheis terbesar di dunia: Yahudi, Kristen dan Islam.

Dalam bab pendahuluan ada secuil kisah ketika Armstrong berada dalam sebuah ordo Katolik dan keluarnya dari ini yang melatarbelakangi ia menulis Sejarah Tuhan. Cerita ini menjadi awal yang menarik dan juga pembukaan dari pembahasan yang panjang dan padat akan buku ini. Bab-bab berikutnya adalah komentar Armstrong tentang sejarah "pencarian Tuhan" yang bermula dari agama-agama politheisme Mesopotamia dan bagaimana keyakinan mereka bersinergi dengan kisah pencarian Tuhan oleh Abraham dan sejarah awal Yudaisme. Pembahasan kemudian berlanjut dalam sejarah iman Kristiani dan bagaimana konsepsi Trinitas menjadi diterima dalam keyakinan Kristen. Agama terakhir yang dibahas adalah Islam dan hubungan agama yang dibawa Rasulullah ini terhadap 2 agama sebelumnya.

Tak hanya tentang sejarah Tuhan yang muncul dalam Yahudi, Kristen dan Islam saja namun Armstrong juga membahas tentang perkembangan spritualisme dalam ketiga agama tersebut terutama dalam hal filsafat dan mistikisme. Menariknya Armstrong menerangkan bahwa sufisme Islam mempengaruhi juga Kabbalah Yahudi. Terakhir Armstrong memberikan penjelasan tentang wajah ketuhanan yang baru dalam era Pencerahan, fundamentalis dan revolusi modern. Hal ini ditutup dengan komentarnya tentang bagaimana nasib Tuhan dan agama di masa sekarang.

Armstrong dalam bukunya memberikan pemahaman yang lebih luas akan sejarah agama samawi. Sangat seru untuk jadi bahan diskusi. Buku yang patut dibaca semua orang agar menyegarkan kita kembali tentang makna sejarah atas ketuhanan itu sendiri dan bagaimana lika liku perkembangan agama di dunia.
Profile Image for Naufal RM.
70 reviews27 followers
August 9, 2017
Dari awal baca buku ini, gue udah nggak yakin bisa nulis review-nya. Ini tipe buku yang bagus, tapi susah dibikin ulasannya. Namun, gue rasa gue harus mencobanya. Meski tidak sempurna...

Well, dari yang gue pahami setelah baca, buku ini menjelaskan sejarah PERSEPSI dan PENGALAMAN manusia tentang Tuhan. So, buku ini nggak menjelaskan apakah Tuhan itu ada atau tidak. Tapi, bagaimana sih manusia, di tiap zaman dan periode, memandang sosok yang diagungkan alias Tuhan itu sendiri. Buku tebal ini tidak menjelaskan sejarah realitas, tapi sejarah persepsi.

Gagasan tentang Tuhan ternyata punya sejarah tersendiri karena setiap kelompok manusia dalam tiap periode memiliki pandangan yang berbeda mengenai citra Tuhan. Untungnya, Bu Armstrong menyusun materi buku ini dengan sistematis karena timeline sejarahnya dibuat secara linear. Narasinya pun mudah dicerna. Alhasil, kita yang baca pun gampang memahaminya. Kayak baca buku sejarah aja.

Berawal dari periode agama kuno seperti Zoroaster dan Pagan di daerah dekat Sungai Tigris dan Eufrat. Terus, lanjut ke masa agama Yahudi dengan sejarah yang bikin gue tercengang karena sering banget diceritakan bahwa bangsa Yahudi diusir dan harus pindah dari satu wilayah ke wilayah lainnya. Kemudian, lanjut ke masa Kristen dengan penjelasan Trinitasnya. Lalu, ke masa Islam dengan konsep keesaannya.

Penjelasan sejarah tiga agama samawi itu cukup lengkap. Kita jadi tau jatuh-bangun dan awal-awal tiap kaum mempertahannkan keyakinannya. Selain itu, gue jadi paham ternyata tiga agama ini berasal dari satu akar yang sama. Tapi, kenapa sekarang jadi saling musuhan ya? hhh

Buku ini nggak hanya jelasin tentang sejarah tiga agama samawi. Dijelaskan juga priode setelah Islam, yaitu seputar para filosof di Yunani, ajaran mistik Kabala, era reformasi agama alias terbentuknya Protestan, abad pertengahan atau masa reinesans di Eropa, sampai akhirnya masa modern dengan pahan ateisme yang dianut banyak orang. Selain itu, disingung juga agama non-samawi, seperti Hindu, Buddha, Konghucu, dll. Jadi, penjelasannya sejarahnya pun lebih variatif.

Intinya gitu sih. Semoga racauan gue ini sedikit banyak membuat orang yang baca review ini (semoga aja ada) tertarik untuk membaca Sejarah Tuhan. Bukan apa-apa sih. Untuk mayoritas kita yang beragama karena "ikut" orangtua, buku ini bisa jadi bacaan bagus untuk mengenal sejarah Tuhan agama sendiri, serta agama lain. Jadi, biar punya pandangan lebih beragam lagi.
Profile Image for Palsay  .
259 reviews28 followers
August 8, 2008
Buku ini memang tebal, hardcover pinjaman neng Erry. Ternyata benar kata broda Graha, meski tebal (dan gada gambarnya ;)), namun tidak membosankan untuk dibaca.

Dalam buku ini, Ms. Armstrong menitik beratkan pada tiga agama samawi di dunia, dengan sedikit meyinggung Buddha, Hindu dan kepercayaan lainnya. Dengan merujuk pada para Tokoh filsafat dan religi dari masa kebudayaan Pagan hingga agama modern, Ms. Armstrong secara sabar menuntun pembaca untuk menemukan benang merah pada ketiga agama besar tersebut, yang pada akhirnya membawa kita pada keseragaman konsep pemikiran mengenai Tuhan. Salah satu yang saya tangkap adalah, meski setengah mati kita mencoba merasionalkan keberadaanNya, pada akhirnya harus mengakui bahwa Ia memang tak terjangkau akal dan dimensi ke-mahlukan kita.

Selain memusatkan perhatian pada akar pemikiran filosofis, mistis, religius dan modern, dibahas juga fenomena lahirnya atheis-me pada abad 20 an 21 yang kemungkinan salah satu sebabnya adalah tragedi holocaust, saat manusia mulai merasa ditingalkan Tuhan (?), tentunya tanpa mengesampingkan perkembangan teknologi dan ilmu pasti yang dirasa lebih rasional daripada mengharapkan semacam "penampakan wujud Tuhan" dalam mengatasi persoalan manusia, semacam yang sering dialami para Nabi dan orang suci yang diceritakan dalam kitab suci maupun cerita-cerita leluhur kita.

Yang saya kagumi dari penulis adalah idenya mempertanyakan Tuhan dan menghubungkannya pada konsep pemahaman yang ada di dunia sejak jaman paganisme hingga saat ini, riset yang cukup mendalam mengenainya, serta usahanya untuk tetap obyektif dalam memaparkan hal yang sensitif ini.

Nah kalau sudah begini, buku ini bisa di HM-in juga ga yaaaa??? *lirik Erry*

Profile Image for May Ling.
1,071 reviews287 followers
August 10, 2020
I hated this book’s writing style and format. It’s written in 1994 and goes through 4000 years of history. The problem is that the author is really just retelling this history. In today’s day and age of tough editors and sound bits, you wouldn’t be allowed to do that. You’d have to have … like a point.

In so much of the book, it’s a series of names and stuff they did. But there is just no why to latch on to in any sort of meaningful way. That makes it utterly hard to last through the nearly 400 pages of it without wanting to drift off. And this is a travesty, because at various point she does say stuff that’s pretty insightful. For example, I love the section where she talks about how the way that religion was in the Greek times, the idea of the logus and the way in which Theory has transformed as a word into the English language vs. what it was during Roman times. Very fascinating. The transformations that then came to pass when Atheisim took hold, very cool. But my goodness if she could have actually structured around WHY vs. What, she would have had a better book.

The book does go through the 4000 years of history. It presents mostly the mono-god faiths dividing the world into various periods. I would say that in each section there is slightly a bit more than you would have gotten in your AP Euro History and college level religion classes. Slightly. For example, I like the section on Thomas Aquainas and the translations to Latin from the Arabic world. I had not before heard the anecdotal about how he felt utterly outsmarted after hearing what Aristotle had written.

I enjoyed the sections where he goes through and talks about the transformations that came to pass in philosophy and how over time that transformed as the thinking of the periods changed. Really makes you think about how science and societal advancement have an effect on things.

The thing with this book is that it’s not the history of God. It’s the history of Judio-Christianity as relates to other stuff going on around it, some of which is religion. I mean, a true history of god would have to say a whole lot more about the other religions. But even what is said about Islam is from – IMO the point of view of a Christian. In that regard, I just don’t quite feel this book. I mean, I get that the subtitle has the first two and islam is last. Buddhism is completely ignored. But I think it loses something in it's "why" and analysis as a result. Just saying.

So for writing style and for this bias, I’m a 3. That said, quite frankly, the sheer raw amount of work this likely took to write, means that if you are researching this subject, you probably should read this one. Just get a really good cup of coffee before you get into it as you will need to slug through a pretty painful writing style.
Profile Image for Ali .
132 reviews19 followers
August 28, 2020
دو فصل آخر رو دیگه نخوندم. متاسفانه با این‌که تازه من متن انگلیسی رو می‌خوندم که به نظرم از دو تا ترجمه ی موجود در بازار روون‌تر و قابل فهم‌تر هست، باز توی دنبال کردن روند کلی فصل‌ها به مشکل‌ می‌خوردم. فصل‌ها اصلا بخش‌بندی نشدن و روایت کلی داستان اصلی فصل زیر تعداد زیادی از داستان‌های فرعی و حاشیه‌ای دفن میشه. این نحوه‌ی نگارش کتاب ادامه‌ی خوندنش رو برای من بی‌فایده کرد. کتاب یه بایاس مثبت هم نسبت به اسلام و شیعه داره به طور خاص به نظرم. چیزهای جدیدی یاد گرفتم به خصوص از خوندن فصل‌های ابتداییش ولی کتابی نیست که به کسی توصیه کنم خوندنش رو.
Profile Image for Inderjit Sanghera.
450 reviews91 followers
October 8, 2020
There is a sense of lightness to Armstrong’s exploration of the concept of god which contrasts with the heaviness of the topic. In many ways this is reflective of Armstrong’s humanistic stance towards religion; Armstrong constantly upends the arguments of the literalists who dogmatically impose their interpretation of scripture on others, instead she promotes the idea that religion is fundamentally an internalization of our spiritualization, which we experience in our own individual ways and on in which scripture guides, but does not define, our beliefs.

Armstrong mainly explores religion via the lens of the three great Abrahamic faiths-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-and so starts with the incipient flowering of religious thought in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where various paganistic beliefs ended up flowering in monotheist faiths which ended up dominating the world. Armstrong emphasises how all three religions had several things in commo: the beneficence of historical good fortune as they all took advantage of wider cultural upheavals to grow, a strong sense of social justice and compassion for people, especially the poor and a degree of flexibility and adaptation which enabled them to absorb the practices, values and beliefs of dominant religious practices of the time. The key thing they all had in common however is their desire to question and change the status quo, a trait which evaporated as they became the status quo. Armstrong also explores the tension between rationality and spirituality, between the expectation that people have faith and believe in a good which they cannot prove exists and to define their lives on what is a cosmic shot in the dark. Armstrong also demonstrates the somewhat paradoxical link between the rise in rationalism with the increase in intolerance and scriptures were increasingly seen as a set of literal rules and how the seeds of the enlightenment grew from this narrow minded literalism.

‘A History of God’ is a brilliant exploration of monotheism and god, of the essentiality of god in allowing us to resolve fundamental questions about our sense of humanity and mortality.

Profile Image for Dallas Doctor.
90 reviews
January 11, 2009
I cannot really recommend this book, only because the author struggles with the enormous weight of the subject and simply tries to cover too much and ends up short-changing most ideas ... there were parts that were illuminating and interesting, but most of the text was cumbersome ..

.. additionally, if the author had been half as critical of her own assumptions as she was of others, it would have been a very different, and much better book.
Profile Image for Eric_W.
1,920 reviews354 followers
April 11, 2009
I know I'm an atheist and all, but I still enjoy Armstrong. Wrote this review several years ago:

Rarely does one come across a book that is recognized as erudite, essential, and readable simultaneously. Karen Armstrong's The History of God has brilliantly analyzed the rise of fundamentalism as a reaction to the emphasis on logos of the Enlightenment as opposed to mythos that had been essential to one's view of the world. "The economic changes over the last four hundred years have been accompanied by immense social, political, and intellectual revolutions, with the development of an entirely different, scientific and rational, concept of the nature of truth; and once again, a radical religious change has become necessary." As science and technology began to become associated with such visible successes in overcoming disease and social ills, the tendency was to believe that logos (rational, scientific thinking related exactly to facts and external realities) was the only “means to truth and began to discount mythos [that which is timeless and constant, “looking back to the origins of life . . to the deepest levels of the human mind . . . unconcerned with practical matters” and rooted in the unconscious, that which helps us through the day, mythological stories not intended to be literal, but conveying truth:] as false and superstitious.” The temptation is to think of mythos as meaning myth. Inj this context that would be incorrect. Armstrong uses this word as it relates to mystery and mysticism, rooted ultimately in traditional biblical and Islamic history “which gives meaning to life, but cannot be explained in rational terms.”Logos, however, was unable to assuage pain and suffering leading to a vacuum the fundamentalists sought to revive. The danger unseen by modern fundamentalists is that they have tried to imbue mythos with an element of literalism essential to logos. The difference between these two concepts forms the basis for the battle between modernism and fundamentalism.

She traces the beginning of the fundamentalist movement back to the time of Columbus when a crisis occurred in Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella expelled both Muslims and Jews from Spain. The three religious groups had actually coexisted quite happily and profitably together for several centuries, but the prospect of modernity and threats from a new world view, science, threatened age-old traditions and myths. The fundamentalist movement was an attempt by traditionalists to retain a sectarian view of the world.

For many of these people the world can be divided into two camps: good and evil and those forces that are not allied with their own narrow view of the world are labeled as evil. That these believes are rooted in fear does not lessen their impact or importance to the faithful. Often an arrogance and condescension – I plead guilty here – make secularists insensitive to those who feel their religious beliefs have been undermined and challenged. The seemingly irreconcilable difference between rationalism and mysticism perhaps make militant fundamentalism inevitable. The danger for fundamentalist lies in their attempts to turn mythos into logos, e.g., have sacred texts be read literally and inerrantly as one would read a scientific text. That may lead to inevitable discrepancies between observation and belief that may hasten the defeat of religion.

Of great benefit, is Armstrong's clear explanation of the differences and conflicts that exist in Islam. Shiite and Sunni branches represent very different interpretations of a major faith.

The eventual outcome of the dichotomy of secular versus sectarian remains unknown. What is apparent is that fundamentalism cannot tolerate pluralism or democracy and compromise seems unlikely. The author identifies two major threads in the development of fundamentalism: (a) fear of the modern world and (b) that the response to fear is to try to create an alternative society by preaching "an ideology of exclusion, hatred, and even violence." She warns at the end of the book, "If fundamentalists must evolve a more compassionate assessment of their enemies in order to be true to their religious traditions, secularists must also be more faithful to the benevolence, tolerance, and respect for humanity which characterizes modern culture at its best, and address themselves more emphatically to the fears, anxieties, and needs which so many of their fundamentalist neighbors experience but which no society can safely ignore."
Profile Image for Drake.
85 reviews
November 23, 2009
While this is an excellent summary of the history of the idea of God in Abrahamic religion, and I highly recommend it, I cannot give it five stars for third reasons. First, the author is overly generous in her assumptions concerning the literal interpretation of myth. For example, she asserts that the creation myths of Sumeria, Canaan, and Egypt were not intended to explain the origins of the world. Second, in her attempts at syncretism she sometimes overlooks very real, significant and extremely relevant differences between religions. Finally, she cites original sources extensively, but fails to cite any of the critical sources from which she draws; when the Higher Criticism is introduced, it is not even referenced by that name, let alone any of its proponents. Still, it is a very good guide to the development of mystical (rather than theological) thought in the three Abrahamic religions, and I recommend it especially for those who, like me, disagree with its final conclusions.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,120 reviews1,199 followers
October 13, 2021
3.5 stars

A very impressive book that I found very difficult to read. Theology, as it turns out, is not for me! But this book was worth reading anyway, because it provides such a big-picture, eye-opening framework for understanding the many different ways people (mostly in the monotheistic world) have conceived of religion over the centuries. I had the vague sense that it was basically all “anthropomorphic disciplinarian in the sky” unless maybe you were a Sufi, which as it turns out is very far from the truth.

So, this book essentially traces the history of religious thought in Judaism, Christianity and Islam from the birth of these religions up through the early 1990s, when the book was written. It is decidedly not a history of religion, or a history of religious people, but rather a history of the philosophy of religion, which can make for tough going at times. The more you already know about theology, and about the background history, the better, as Armstrong is most focused on the ideas, with brief discussions of the environments from which they arose.

Surprisingly to me, as far back as the ancient world people rebelled at the idea of an anthropomorphic god and worried about people simply attributing their own ideas to God. Throughout the book we hear about conceptions of God as “ineffable” and “beyond human words and concepts”—which seems to be the conclusion, broadly speaking, of both the philosophers and the mystics, though the philosophers’ god is a distant, detached creator while the mystics’ is ever-present, with the requirement that people cultivate a sense of God’s presence for themselves. (Neither version, needless to say, holds passionate opinions on current political issues.) Reading this book might give the impression that very few people actually thought of God as a harsh old man in the sky, though I suspect it’s more that really serious thinkers didn’t believe that. It’s clear that Armstrong herself doesn’t find the idea very appealing or interesting, though she also seems to do a thorough job of making her way through the influential theologians. She seems to be agnostic (after an unsuccessful tenure as a nun) and is most drawn to mysticism. She also takes a very practical approach to the idea that each new era develops an idea of the divine that works for current conditions.

I am skeptical about the argument that nobody could possibly have been an atheist before the Enlightenment, though. Armstrong has no surviving records of anyone self-identifying as an atheist, which is different. (People accused each other of it, often meaning “that person does not share my ideas about religion” and not “that person has none,” but this still implies that they could conceive of the notion.) I’ve seen very detailed complaints from priests going back to the Middle Ages about people not believing in any gods, and even some of the conceptions of religion described here are barely, if at all, theistic. In Armstrong’s view, religion is less about answering practical questions like “how did the world come to be?” and “why does the sun rise?” (and many people found the literal interpretation of Genesis implausible long before science could prove otherwise), and more about issues of the meaning of life and how to feel at home in the world, which aren’t exactly challenged by geology. In fact, Western Christianity is typically portrayed as the outlier here for its literal rather than symbolic interpretations of scripture, its obsession with dogma and sectarian disputes, its beef with science, and its tendency to find religion a struggle. I don’t know how much of this is the author reacting against her own tradition (certainly that’s some of it), but it’s an interesting view.

Overall, I’m not sure I entirely understood this book: there are a ton of names and what seemed to me very slight variations on similar ideas. And I perhaps lacked the patience or the training to understand some parts, like the Kabbalah section. But there are also some fascinating ideas that were new to me, it is readable despite being erudite, and it provides a useful framework for understanding ideas about religion. Glad I read it, and glad to be finished.
Profile Image for Mitch.
684 reviews17 followers
November 18, 2012
First of all, this book's title is misleading. It is not a history of God. It is a historical retelling of many men's interpretations of the idea of the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Still, "The Idea of God: A History" would not have sold as many copies.

The Bible says God created man in His own image. Karen states as fact the exact opposite: Man created God in his own image, then re-created him a lot of times in response to changing historical and cultural conditions.

Karen takes us from God's creation in the desert up to modern times. She carefully lays out the major players in God's revisions- people like St. Thomas Aquinas, Plato, al-Ghazzali, Luther, Nietzche and so on...the list is intellectually impressive and at times overwhelming.

In each case she ennumerates the person's beliefs. Instead of finding these 'brilliantly lucid, splendidly readable' as a Sunday Times reader once did, I found myself re-reading sentences repeatedly trying to get sense out of what I just read, and re-read, and re-read...

I could only take a roughly 20-page dose of this book per DAY. Granted, the book is primarily nonfiction and therefore a more difficult read.

-Except that it's not always non-fiction. Karen somtimes slipped her own opinions into her rendition of history without identifying that she was doing so. This tended to make her opinions seem objective.

I want to point out that my next statement is extremely subjective: I felt that since Karen herself has no belief in an uncreated God, she is rather like an observer who studies a dead butterfly and reports on it. She says a lot but has missed something crucial about the whole topic- and she'll never pin it to her board because her specimen isn't alive.

Ironically, she says this herself: “It is no good trying to understand religious 'information' that we have not experienced for ourselves.”

I did manage to mine some interesting quotes from the book- quotes from famous religious followers down through the ages.

Final note: I have misclassified this book as about Christianity and nonfiction because I did not want to create a new category for this single volume.
Profile Image for David.
854 reviews29 followers
February 21, 2017
The most comprehensive, exhaustive, and fascinating study of the Abrahamic religions and how they have changed over a few thousand years. Of definite interest to both religious and non-religious folks. Absolutely fascinating, but be warned: it is very dense, well-documented and cited, and reads much like a textbook (though a very engaging one). Over 100 pages of endnotes, a glossary, extensive bibliography with annotations for further reading, and fortunately, copious amounts of space in the front and back of the book for microscopic notes on topics of interest. Brilliant, thought-provoking, prescient, and challenging.
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