The Case Against Karen Armstrong: Misquoting Religious Sources

Case for GodIn my last two posts, I summarized both Karen Armstrong’s views of religion and God and her negative view of Christian doctrines.

Karen Armstrong is a fantastic writer that holds one’s interest while spinning out tales that seamlessly mix religion, history, science, and philosophy. She is, beyond doubt, far more educated than me on these subjects. Yet when Armstrong hit upon a subject that I knew even a little bit about, I would immediately recognize that she was often misunderstanding, misrepresenting, or misquoting her sources. This fact caused me to lose confidence that she was accurately representing her other sources.

In this post I will concentrate on the frequent misinterpretations of her religious sources. Continue reading

Karen Armstrong’s view of Jesus Christ

We know very little about the historical Jesus, since all our information comes from the texts of the New Testament, which were not primarily concerned with factual accuracy. (Karen Armstrong on p. 81 of The Case for God.)

Case for GodIn my last post, I summarized Karen Armstrong’s view of God and religion. One item that was of particular interest to me was her view of Jesus Christ. No other religion in her book gets the debunking she gives Christianity. (This also serves as a sort of counter point to the Believing Scholars point of view as discussed here.)

In her view, Jesus, for reasons lost in history, was crucified by the Romans only to have his disciples have “visions” that convinced them he had been raised from the dead. (p. 82) The first Christians were, of course, thoroughly Jewish which she believes had no intentions of founding a new religion, though she admits they took the “highly unusual” step of converting gentiles. (p. 82) This eventually lead to Paul (and probably others) belief that the mixed Jewish and Gentile congregations were the first fruits of a “new Israel.” Using Midrashic techniques, these early Christians reinterpreted the Old Testament to contain prophecies — never originally intended — of a future redeemer who would be crucified and rise from the dead. She uses 1 Cor 1:23 to prove that these reinterpretations were often considered scandalous. Continue reading

Karen Armstrong’s Case for Religious Practice: Summary

As I mentioned in my last post, Karen Armstrong’s book The Case for God is not really a case for God per se, but instead a case for human spirituality and religious practice. It was written in part as a response to the ‘new atheists’ (i.e. militant atheists) attacks on religion.

Logos and Mythos

Armstrong argues that there are two sources of knowledge in the world. One is logos, which is rationality, and the other is mythos. Logos helped us with daily survival, but could not assist us with human grief or finding ultimate meaning. For ‘ultimate meaning’ humans turned to mythos or “myth” though back then the word was not used (as it is today) as a synonym for untruth. (p. xi, 325) Religion and Mythos are the human way of living “joyously” with realities for which are insoluble, such as mortality, grief, and pain. [1] Continue reading

Karen Armstrong’s Case for Religious Practice: Introduction

I recently listened to Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God not really knowing what to expect and without any preconceived ideas about it other than the vague memory that it was in part written as a response to the militant atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens. I also remembered that a friend of mine, John Dehlin, had highly recommended it on one of his blogs or podcasts.

Though the book makes no case for God whatsoever, in it I was delighted to find a semi-systematic explanation of liberal theology. Better yet, it is most likely a non-literal theist view of liberal theology though, as we’ll see, this is not entirely clear due to her obfuscation of her point of view. Continue reading

Are Atheists as Rational As they Think They Are?

In my last post I gave a horrifying end of the world scenario and noted that it was the same as what atheists believe is going to happen to all life during the heat death of the universe. This had been prompted by this quote from Christopher Hitchens:

…to the old theistic question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ we can… counterpose the findings of Professor Lawrence Krauss and others, about the forseeable heat death of the universe…. So, the question can and must be rephrased: ‘Why will our brief ‘something’ so soon be replaced with nothing?’ It’s only once we shake our own innate belief in linear progression and consider the many recessions we have undergone and will undergo that we can grasp the gross stupidity of those who repose their faith in divine providence and godly design. (Christopher Hitchens as quoted by Skeptic Michael Shemer in Scientific American, Nov 2010)

Skeptic Michael Shemer (who quoted Hitchens) then goes on to say, with nary a hint of irony.

The dialectical usefulness of clear logic, coupled to elegant prose (layered on top of the usual dollop of data), cannot be overstated and should be considered by scientists as another instrument of persuasion in the battle for ideas. (Michael Shemer in Scientific American, Nov 2010)

Why would anyone in their right mind fight for this idea given it’s logical conclusions? (In my last post.)

They are literally arguing that Theists are being irrational because they believe in “linear progression” (apparently eternal progress) rather than the (in their view) more rational belief that life is pointless and will end in very bad ways and that nothing we do matters in the long run.

How could they make such an argument?

But we know why, don’t we? Because the human brain isn’t capable of thinking in terms of millions or billions of years! This future is no more real to them than it is to a Theist.

But wait! Doesn’t that mean Shemer’s call for greater rationality was based on a failure of rationality?