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The Case for God

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  7,355 ratings  ·  599 reviews
Moving from the Paleolithic age to the present, Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names, such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao. Focusing especially on Christianity but including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese spiritualities, Armstrong examines the dimi ...more
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2001)
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3.83  · 
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 ·  7,355 ratings  ·  599 reviews

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Poor Karen Armstrong has been ploughing a lonely furrow in recent years, trying to show that there is a valid Third Way between increasingly defensive religious groups and increasingly forthright ‘new atheists’. Neither side thinks much of her. For those of us a bit more detached from the arguments, she often seems like the only one talking any sense.

Her main problem can best be summarised by saying that she and I share almost identical views on religion, and yet I would call myself an atheist w
Sep 04, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
With all of the wars, crusades, inquisitions, witch trials, Jihadists, Creationists and the rest of it, God has got a lot to answer for. Armstrong's case for the defence is essentially that people are interpreting religion wrongly: to the founders of the religions faith was about mystery, symbolism, practice and good works. Early Christians, Armstrong argues, looked to the scriptures for inspiration not information, and would be shocked at what religion has become for many people today.

The case
Armstrong is a scholar of comparative religion. In numerous examples here, she shows how worship in virtually all world religions depends on a foundation of silence, or what she calls unknowing. This is the silence through which one gets intimations of the divine presence. I found the description remarkably like two kinds of Eastern meditation I have practiced over the years. There was no presumption on the part of early theists that they could grasp God. He was beyond human comprehension. Since ...more
Sep 23, 2009 rated it it was ok
Can I really be the only person who finds Karen Armstrong, the author of fifteen books on religion, writing in her latest that one cannot comment on the divine with words but only with silence, more than a little ironic?

To be fair, Armstrong does offer several interesting insights. Her effort to find universal "truths" that run across faiths is worthwhile and thought provoking. One might even imagine that there are many members of exclusivist faiths for whom this would be a revelation, though on
Sep 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'm not going to lie; this was a slog. A breath-taking overview of western religious culture going back to ancient French cave paintings and mentioning every major philosopher, theologian, and scientist since (as well as quite a few minor ones). This reads like a seminary dissertation. Initially I was bored to tears. But in the end, all that history culminates in a forceful argument in favor of the author's premise (as far as I can tell, though I suspect I'm not educated enough in theology or ph ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I would probably say that this is one of the best books I have ever read--certainly the most important. But also the most dense and difficult to read. It took me about 2 months (and I usually can get through books in a week or two max). I always read this book with a pencil and I think there are whole pages or sections in my book that are underlined. However, this book is not for everyone. If you cannot accept some gray in your religious belief or don't want to read something that will likely ch ...more
Si Barron
Nov 23, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book can be read in two ways, either as a confused counterblast to Dawkins or as a plea to others of faith to adapt their religious practice and adopt her rather peculiar (almost Atheistic) religious stance.

As other reviewers have noticed this seems at first glance to promise a detailed rebuttal of Dawkins, et al - the derivative cover and blurbs encourage this. Armstrong does eventually get onto this task in the last chapters but first we have to plough through millennia of Christian histo
Philip Cartwright
Don't be fooled by the title; this is not some trite attempt to prove that God exists or that religion is a great thing. Instead, it's a tremendous, sweeping yet detailed account of the changing conception of religion from the dawn of humanity to the present day. Along the way, Armstrong stresses several themes.

For millennia religion was not seen primarily as a series of propositions to which one was required to assent ("God exists", etc). Instead, it was a commitment to a particular way of livi
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was enticed to read The Case for God after hearing a snippet of the book on NPR that told how mystics of the past reached for God in silence, ritually acknowledging the inadequacy of words to describe deity. Afterwards, an interviewer questioned Armstrong on her views. She promptly corrected him. "It's not just a bee in my bonnet. I've been studying this for 20 years." I was hooked, curious to hear more from Armstrong.

My enjoyment of the work was no doubt enhanced because I listened to the au
Bionic Jean
I must confess that I did not finish this book. Unfortunately every time I tried to read it I felt as if I was undertaking a degree in Theology. It is extremely heavy-going.

Karen Armstrong has written numerous books on comparative religion, and is one of this country's leading writers on the subject. This is a detailed chronicle of faith through the ages, to demonstrate her assertion that atheism has never been lack of belief in the sacred, but always a rejection of a particular conception of Go
Phyllis Duncan)
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
If this were a text book for a comparative religion course, I'd likely give it four or five stars, but Armstrong states that she wrote this tome to counter recent books by atheists Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris. I'd suggest, then, she actually read their work instead of basing her research on sound bites from Fox News. So-called modern atheists don't seek to tear down religion or suppress others' beliefs. We simply don't want those beliefs forced on us at every turn, in public, in private, and, ...more
Chaunceton Bird
Apr 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This is an excellent history of humankind's struggle to define reality by creating and regularly reinventing deity. Karen Armstrong surveys humankind's superstition from 30,000 BCE to the present, and provides interesting context to the creation of the books and beliefs that many humans considered (or still consider) divine. The last chapter was a bit strange. The author clearly had an axe to grind with Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, but her attacks on their philosophy seemed out of place and in ...more
Jon Stout
Jan 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
The Case for God by Karen Armstrong sounds like a religious apologetic or polemic tract, but it is not that at all. It takes a much more detached and scholarly viewpoint, and could function as a history or survey of how people think about God. I approached it from the context of a faith vs. scientific method debate that I have carried on for years with some of my friends, but one could also approach the topic out of a concern with the dangers of religious fundamentalism, or out of an interest in ...more
Scott Hotes
Nov 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Armstrong makes a compelling argument against what has been called the "new atheism". Debunking the use of a literal interpretation of the Bible as something wholly modern and something that would be completely surprising and foreign to followers of the Christian faith up until at least the Enlightenment, she argues that instead religion is not an intellectual concept or dogma, but rather it is something you do. That without an active involvement, religion loses its essential value.

I find this t
Aasem Bakhshi
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, a very lucid and readable book. Armstrong's case is primarily built against the newage militant atheist as well as postmodern religious fundamentalist but in doing so she obscures further - perhaps inadvertently - the nature of ultimate reality we call God.

She successfully traces back the roots of post-renaissance apophatic theological shift in antiquity and medieval religion. However, her version of God presents another problematic of reducing God to a mere abstract symbol or a set of
Dec 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The title of another book out last year excited me--The Evolution of God--but when I heard the author speak I was disappointed. (There was a lot of talk about zero sum game.) Armstrong's book is what I had hoped for from the other. It covers the changing ways people have viewed God and religion, from 30,000 BCE, when humans crawled deep into caves to cover their walls with paintings of animals and maybe shamans, to the present, when both fundamentalists and atheists insist on a strict literal in ...more
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
I thought my review of this book would be about how persuasive I did or did not find Armstrong’s arguments about God. But there’s not much to agree or disagree with in this book. It’s almost entirely history – mostly history of Christianity and its development. Armstrong is obviously very well-read and learned in her subject matter, but I felt she was being downright deceitful by naming this book The Case for God. Most people would expect something else of a book with this title. Armstrong alrea ...more
Ericka Clouther
Well, that explains everything.

I've read other Karen Armstrong books, but this goes in a different direction. She reviews the history of God and the relationship between philosophy, science, and religion in different cultures and times. She uses all this history to make a very compelling case for God generally, but also for the merits of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. She also makes a compelling case against positivism, "the belief that science is the only reliable means to truth."
Bob Nichols
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
Citing the Greeks, Armstrong's argument begins by stating that there are two realms of knowing. One is through "mythos" and the other is through "logos". The former allows us to access ultimate meaning, something logos can't do as it involves pragmatic reason related to survival. She calls ultimate reality God, but she is clear that God is not a being at all. In rejecting God as a personalized deity, she aligns her thought with that of Tillich ("God above God") and others (e.g., Heidegger's Bein ...more
Tom LA
Mar 22, 2018 added it
One of my very few DNF. Armstrong starts very well, then drones forever about excruciatingly small details about ancient rites and religions. Not good. When I realized she fully embraced the idiotic “BCE” and “C.E.” acronyms, I stopped. They are typical Politically Correct material: they pretend to be “inclusive”, while in reality they are anti-Christian. What does “Common Era” mean, anyway? Just stupid. They will tell you that C.E. and BCE have been around for 2 centuries, and that it’s simply ...more
Muhammad Arqum
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
One might expect this to be somewhat of a critique on God which is followed by a scholarly explanation/reasoning which would essentially entail the primary discourse of this book. This is quite different than that. Karen starts off with way back to the earliest notions of God and then slowly unfolds the history of different religions of the world. Somewhere in the middle she delves into a rather dense polemic strictly pertaining to christianity, which I thought was a bit too technical and detail ...more
Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
The title may be somewhat misleading. The book doesn't really present an argumentative commentary supporting the existence of God. Instead, the author merely traces the history of religion and different sets of beliefs , but mainly focusing on the Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The book then takes you through philosophical views across Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche and others. Further, there is a whole section devoted to the causes behind the rise o ...more
Oct 13, 2009 rated it liked it
The Case for God provides a great survey of the history of religious thought since Christ and puts in context the polarized fundamentalism and atheism of today. As someone who has never taken a religion course or read much about theology I found The Case for God to be very enlightening and thought provoking. The book at times is a dense read, particularly in the first half, but gains momentum as it progresses to modern times. For those not interested in devoting the time to reading the entire bo ...more
Jul 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great look at the history of faith in a greater being and different viewpoints. I love that the author tho having a Catholic background and therefore Christian filter did a great job of presenting other religions without the negativity others have used. I also very much appreciated that she didn't shy away from words like myth when referring to the great flood and creation. But it was long and took a while to get through.
Jonathon Hagger
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book that provides an end to end historical view of the origins of the Christian religion and many of its opponents and apostles. The historical accounts are superb and provide a lot of insight into how religion has shaped modern society. The author leaves no stones unturned discussing Buddhism, Atheism, theories of science and relativity to name a few. The read is a little long but is interesting nonetheless.
Michael Cabus
Feb 21, 2019 rated it liked it
"There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of man where the divine used to be."
Jean Paul Sartre

"The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is good as dead."
Albert Einstein

Armstrong ends her fascinating, if often too encyclopedic, defense of belief in God with the Buddha, who tells his visitor to "remember me as one who is awa
Leo Walsh
Nov 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"The Case For God" is an incredible, thoughtful book. Armstrong takes a historical look at theology throughout the ages, and reveals how our cultural conceptions of "God" has changed throughout the ages, interacting with art, philosophy, economics and science. Each epoch produces it's own version of the divine. And the best theologians knew that the real goal of religion was to bring one face-to-face with the mystery -- "Why something instead of nothing?" -- the lies at the core of our conscious ...more
Mar 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Karen Armstrong reviews the history of religions and philosophy and their respective views of God in this daunting book. The sheer magnitude of the task is enough to overwhelm anyone. However, Armstrong has a point to make: she is making a case for an apophatic view of God. Apophatic theology can be found in all religions, but is most clearly articulated by Gregory of Nyssa and his brother Basil, a Middle Ages theologian named Dennis, Thomas Aquinas and the anonymous author of the Cloud of Unkno ...more
Cheryl Gatling
You see that stack of books on the cover? That's what you're in for. Karen Armstrong has read just about everything every written on the history of religion, from the beginning of time until now, and she is going to share it with you. The book is dense, and at times dry. Fortunately, when Armstrong has a point, she repeats it, so you can remember. Here are her points. Today's atheists reject a concept of God that is not correct. Many of today's believers support a concept of God that is not corr ...more
Jeni Enjaian
May 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book is a hot mess. I didn't think I would ever even use that phrase much less to describe a book but this one deserved it. I try to take notes while reading (in this case listening) and usually average around 6-7 points. I got to 14 with this one. (I have condensed some.)
In no particular order, here they are.
1. She tries way too hard to write a grandiose spiritual narrative (or's hard to tell).
2. She does make some striking observations that come so close yet are so far from
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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, cr
“The new atheists show a disturbing lack of understanding of or concern about the complexity and ambiguity of modern experience, and their polemic entirely fails to mention the concern for justice and compassion that, despite their undeniable failings, has been espoused by all three of the monotheisms.

Religious fundamentalists also develop an exagerrated view of their enemy as the epitome of evil. This tendency makes critique of the new atheists too easy. They never discuss the work of such theologians as Bultmann or Tillich, who offer a very different view of religion and are closer to mainstream tradition than any fundamentalist. Unlike Feurerbach, Marx and Freud, the new atheists are not theologically literate. As one of their critics has remarked, in any military strategy it is essential to confront the enemy at its strongest point; failure to do so means that their polemic remains shallow and lacks intellectual depth. It is also morally and intellectually conservative. Unlike Feurerback, Marx, Ingersoll or Mill, these new Atheists show little concern about the poverty, injustice and humiliation that has inspired many of the atrocities they deplore; they show no yearning for a better world. Nor, like Nietzsche , Sartre or Camus, do they compel their readers to face up to the pointlessness and futility that ensue when people lack the resources to create a sense of meaning. They do not appear to consider the effect of such nihilism on people who do not have privileged lives and absorbing work.”
“In the tenth century BC, the priests of India devised the Brahmodya competition, which would become a model of authentic theological discourse. The object was to find a verbal formula to define the Brahman, the ultimate and inexpressible reality beyond human understanding. The idea was to push language as far as it would go, until participants became aware of the ineffable. The challenger, drawing on his immense erudition, began the process by asking an enigmatic question and his opponents had to reply in a way that was apt but equally inscrutable. The winner was the contestant who reduced the others to silence. In that moment of silence, the Brahman was present - not in the ingenious verbal declarations but in the stunning realisation of the impotence of speech. Nearly all religious traditions have devised their own versions of this exercise. It was not a frustrating experience; the finale can, perhaps, be compared to the moment at the end of the symphony, when there is a full and pregnant beat of silence in the concert hall before the applause begins. The aim of good theology is to help the audience to live for a while in that silence.” 15 likes
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