Book review - A History of God

Questioning Church
Image of a shingle beach and wild sky
Karen Armstrong

Book review by Michael Miller

When first published 10 years ago this book received many very favourable reviews. Having only recently read it from the CRC library I find myself in full concurrence with these. The writing is beautifully clear and easy to follow, but it is not an easy casual read because of the amount of detail and its sheer intellectual cogency. It needs, and repays, full concentration – one can only admire the sheer wealth of knowledge and scholarship which Karen has put into the book.

Eleven extensive chapters take us from the origins of the idea of a “Sky God”, pantheism or a Mother Goddess – “creating gods is something that human beings have always done” – through, in particular, the changing concepts of monotheism, especially as expressed in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A chapter on Philosophical ideas of God is followed by those discussing mysticism, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, and finishing with others on “The Death of God?” and “Has God a Future?” Hence it’s a good meaty book with much to ponder, and which also clarifies the thinking and assumptions that lie behind much of the contemporary argument and disagreement about the nature of God.

Karen takes a well-balanced non-judgemental view but has a sound liberal stance and it is good to finish this review with her own words; “Jews, Christians and Muslims who punctiliously attend divine services, yet denigrate people who belong to different ethnic and ideological camps deny one of the basic truths of their religion. It is equally inappropriate for people who call themselves Jews, Christians and Muslims to condone an inequitable social system. The God of historical monotheism demands mercy not sacrifice, compassion rather than decorous liturgy.”

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