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Book 18: The Case for God by Karen Armstrong, 2009

Book 18: The Case for God: What Religion Really Means.
Author: Karen Armstrong, 2009
Genre: Non-Fiction. History of Religion. Philosophy.
Other Details: Hardback. 396 pages.

Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun, has been writing books on comparative religion for over 20 years. The Case for God is a somewhat misleading title because Armstrong is not offering proof but making the point that language, which is limited to human comprehension, cannot fully convey anything about God.

The book was marketed as a response to recent popular books by militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. She does address these writers in her introduction and final chapter. Her approach is to place their arguments in the context of historical philosophical debates and also to point out that they chose the 'easy target' of Christian fundamentalism and conveniently ignore mainstream theology, which has long come to terms with scientific thought and evolutionary theory.

The bulk of the book covers the history of religion and religious practices from the palaeolithic age to the present day. Her main focus is upon the three monotheist religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam though there is also material on Buddhism and Hinduism. It is a huge subject and all she can realistically do is provide an overview though she includes copious referenced notes, sources and bibliography.

Armstrong handles her subject with great skill and eloquence, drawing on a wealth of knowledge. I expect that she has incorporated material from her earlier books such as A History of God, 1993,The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 2000 and The Bible: A Biography, 2007.

I found the book very readable despite the weighty subject matter. I do admit though that when she was writing about post-modern philosophy I found it hard going compared to earlier sections. Overall an excellent, thought-provoking book and one I hated to return to the library. Once it is in paperback later this year, I'll certainly add it to my shelves as I am sure it is a book I will return to.
Tags: history, non-fiction, philosophy, religion, religious studies
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