May 23 2010

Some Reflections on Karen Armstrong’s “The Case For God” by Bob Geddes

Published by under Meetings

From cave painters to modern day philosophers, theologians, scientists, and people generally, K.A. surveys all the writers and schools of thought on God and ultimate reality.

While K.A`s focus is necessarily a narrow one, on particular views about God, she looks at each one’s impact, reaction and development on current and later peoples and societies, on the emergence of orthodoxies of all kinds and every changing response and reaction to them.
There is much to suggest this book is about mankind’s need for certainity, that the universe and all life is not a meaningless chance occurance, about an obsession with God.

The views of many writers on how this came about and why this is so is examined by K.A. I include questions for discussion on these views.
I also will include indications of what K.A. considers of lasting significence,worth and value from all of the writings.
K.A. begins by looking at the presence and character of religious practise in all cultures and races from early times.
K.A. suggests human beings should be called Homo Religious, that the “desire to cultivate a sense of transcendent may be the defining human characteristic.”
K.A.surveys then the Biblical (both OT & NT) contribution viewed in the light of current liberal Biblical scholarship. In my view this is one of the best overviews and examination of critical interpretations of the Biblical material I have read.
K.A. covers the contribution of the Greek Philosophers, the doctrinal controversies of the early church and the contributions of Augustine and Denys and the establishing of doing, over and above thinking, in religious observance as found in the major religions.
The place and character of faith and reason that has remain a dominating part of mankind’s looking at and understanding of all realities emerged after the Dark Ages in both the Christian and Muslim worlds, seen in the writings particularly of Anselm, Al- Ghazzali, and Thomas Aquinas.
The outcome has been all manner of philosophical and theological statements, propositions, arguments, including God the first cause, proofs for God`s existence, paricularly the Design argument, and currently a variety of this as found in American Creationist assertions.

The second half of this book cover what K.A. titles the Modern God (era)
The ongoing ( one eyed ) determination to incorporate the emerging and expanding knowledge of the physical world into the theologies of the day continued unabated, resulting in the so called Natural Theology that dominated the writings of philosophers, theologians and scientists until recent times. All new ideas resulting from observations, hypothesis and experiements of the physical world had to affirm God. All this reflected a growing fear of atheisism. Shelley`s tract “The necessity of Atheism” argued God was not a necessary consequence of the material world, but he still believed in an unseen “Spirit”/Power”.
Atheistic writers are surveyed, German scholars, followers of Schleiermacher, and Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud and UK & US writers and poets.
For Freud why do we have to have a God is not a matter of something beyond us but is something found within us. “Our desire for God comes from the child’s helpless need of a protector and a passion for justice and fairness. Religion is a wish fulfilment of instinctual unconscious desires and fantasy.”
His psychoanalysistic grounds for his views may have little support but is there not a truth in this inner side to ourselves that has something to do with looking beyond ourselves.?????
But many felt without the door of reason the human spirit was excluded from traditional ways of arriving at a sense of life’s meaning. See T. Hardy “The Darkling Thrush”.
WW2 `s and the Holocaust changed forever thinking about God . Rubenstein wrote of the Primal Nothingness which we come from and go to in death. An impotent God can`t give meaning to human existence?????
Also views speaking of the option of trusting in an incomprehensible God and affirming a meaning in the midst of meaninglessness.
Also affirmation of the importance of rituals that help when suffering the worst horrors.
And the view that the God of previous eras was a projection of those particular times, views, presuppositions and understandings.
Heidegger – no personal God but Being as the supreme reality, wholly other or Nothing. Also writes of getting a feel for God, an apprehension built up by an immersion in life that we might recover a sense of “being”
Bultmann – A sense of the divine via constant attention to the demands of the moment.

Tillich – God not a being or supreme being but Being itself that is beyond essence and existence. (Ground of Being) The experience of Being is part of all our experiences, part of our everyday emotions of courage, hope, despair. Like Bultmann God is the ultimate concern. We experience the divine in our absolute commitment to truth, love, beauty, justice and compassion.
Rahner – Writes of the importance of mystery that is part of our humanity.
Religious doctrine is not for defining or explaining but solely symbolic.
Lonergan – We need insight to our thinking which should be about seeking wisdom.
Kuhn _ There will always be paradigm shifts. There is no pure science.
Marcel_ We need to be caught up in mystery. Life is not a problem to be solved.
Sartre – Says there seems to be a God shaped hole in human consciousness where the sacred has always been. We can`t bear the utter meaninglessness of the cosmos so we have invented God.
Camus – There is no diefied humanity. Any making sense of human existence is a delusion, We can do without God by focusing on caring for the world but this will be no liberation of the human spirit. (Sisyphus)
Are we defeated before we begin???????
But he affirms life is worthwhile. He embraces the state of UnKnowing.
Live with our ignorance in a universe that is silent in the face of our questioning. Life is a journey we take into the dark night of the soul or into the cloud of unknowing.
Keats on imagination- He saw it as a sacred faculty that brought new truth into the world????

Derrida – on Postmodernism- we affect the world with our views (ideologies) There is no absolutes or certainities. Writes of relativism in all respects. Thorough deconstruction of Biblical certainities. But also speaks of the undeconstructibiles namely Justice, Gift, Friendship, Forgiveness.

New Atheist- Dawkins & others. Examined and viewed as a further type of fundamentalism. Their attack on religious fundamentalism, like attacks in previous eras, only results in more extreme views being held.
Caputo – on weak thought and a transcendence of the waring polarities of athesism and theism.- we need to abandon the modern lust for certainity. We are past the death of the Death of God. Postmodernity should be a more enlightened Enlightment that is no longer taken in by the dream of Pure Objectivity. It should open the doors to other ways of thinking about faith and reason that is more reasonable than past views.
All religions are valid to their adherents. There are no rights and wrongs???

There is still a place for exploring ideas of God?????
We find a way of “being” in say music that transcends ego and fuses objectivity and subjectivity??????
A conclusion – the place of God in human experience is no different now than it has always been??????
What do we make of the view that “Like art, the truths of religion require the disciplined cultivation of a different mode of consciousness??????
What is a different mode of consciousness????
Transcendence- used throughout the book. Dictionary says it means “beyond and above the range of normal physical human experience”
If it is not about objective experience and not about subjective experience what else might it refer to????
Something not expressible in language????
Something that happens in the midst of living and in so called religious rites and excerises???????

A great Book. A reasonably easy read.  A great coverage of the many contributors to the idea of God and a linking of all their relatedness that I found greatly helpful.
Will be very pleased to have it on my shelf for ongoing reference.

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6 Responses to “Some Reflections on Karen Armstrong’s “The Case For God” by Bob Geddes”

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