comments_image Comments

Is Blind Faith in God and the Bible a Modern Invention?

A new book points out that the ancient Christians -- and even early Americans -- did not share the blind faith of today's fundamentalists.

Continued from previous page


If you're waiting for her to stop explaining where the fundamentalists went wrong and start her case against "Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens," you're going to be disappointed again -- because Armstrong seems them as both as flip sides of the same coin.

Like all religious fundamentalists, the new athesists believe that they alone are in possession of the truth; like Christian fundamentalists they read scripture in an entirely literal manner and seem to never have heard of the long tradition of allegoric or Talmudic interpretation... Harris seems to imagine that biblical inspiration means that the Bible was actually "written by God." Hitchens assumes that faith is entirely dependent on a literal reading of the Bible, and that, for example, the discrepancies in the gospel infancy narratives prove the falseness of Christianity: "Either the gospels are in some sense literal truth, or the whole thing is a fraud and perhaps a moral one at that." Like Protestant fundamentalists, Dawkins has a simplistic view of the moral teaching of the Bible, taking it for granted that its chief purpose is to issue clear rules of conduct and provide us with "role models," which, not surprisingly, he finds lamentably inadequate. He also presumes that since the Bible claims to be inspired by God it must also provide scientific information. Dawkins' only point of disagreement with the Protestant fundamentalists is that he finds the Bible unreliable about science while they do not.

Armstrong is not worried about the claim that God can't be found in science. Which is, in fact, a very old claim.

In fact, the new atheists are not radical enough. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians have insisted for centuries that God does not exist and that there is "nothing" out there...

Her concern is that the Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins camp concern themselves only with tackling a theology that is itself "decidedly unorthodox" and limited -- they want to knock down a sickly child and then proclaim they've won the heavyweight title.

By taking on fundamentalism at both ends of the scale, Armstrong has assured that her book will draw the ire of both camps. In the process she's written a book that's fascinating, packed with information about the history of religion and philosophy, and illuminating when it shows the paths we followed to end up where we find ourselves today (from a political point of view, it's very instructive to look at the origins of modern Christian fundamentalism and in particular to look at how mainstream Protestantism fanned the flames of a dying fundamentalist movement by heaping on ridicule). If nothing else,  The Case for God is a terrific reference -- and a splendid bit of long form argument. If you've read any of Karen Armstrong's books in the past -- including her biography of the Buddha, or her personal account of losing faith as a young novitiate -- you'll find some of the same points repeated here, but in new historical contexts. If you haven't read her works before... well, she warns you right in the introduction that this isn't exactly light reading. If you don't want to face detailed descriptions of theological conflicts and the development of religious frameworks, turn back now.

Whether anyone will find that argument convincing, in a world that's increasingly divided into extremes, is difficult to say.  But at least it should inspire some good conversations. 

See more stories tagged with: