Going beyond God – to read review in ‘Salon’ go HERE http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/05/30/armstrong/print.html#
See also http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/5949428/The-Case-for-God-What-Religion-Really-Means-by-Karen-Armstrong.html
Historian and former nun Karen Armstrong says the afterlife is a “red herring,” hating religion is a pathology and that many Westerners cling to infantile ideas of God.
By Steve Paulson
May. 30, 2006 | Karen Armstrong is a one-woman publishing industry, the author of nearly 20 books on religion. When her breakthrough book “A History of God” appeared in 1993, this British writer quickly became known as one of the world’s leading historians of spiritual matters. Her work displays a wide-ranging knowledge of religious traditions — from the monotheistic religions to Buddhism. What’s most remarkable is how she carved out this career for herself after rejecting a life in the church.
At 17, Armstrong became a Catholic nun. She left the convent after seven years of torment. “I had failed to make a gift of myself to God,” she wrote in her recent memoir, “The Spiral Staircase.” While she despaired over never managing to feel the presence of God, Armstrong also bristled at the restrictive life imposed by the convent, which she described in her first book, “Through the Narrow Gate.” When she left in 1969, she had never heard of the Beatles or the Vietnam War, and she’d lost her faith in God.
Armstrong went on to work in British television, where she became a well-known secular commentator on religion. Then something strange happened. After a TV project fell apart, she rediscovered religion while working on two books, “A History of God” and a biography of Mohammed. Her study of sacred texts finally gave her the appreciation of religion she had longed for — not religion as a system of belief, but as a gateway into a world of mystery and the ineffable. “Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet” also made her one of Europe’s most prominent defenders of Islam.
Armstrong now calls herself a “freelance monotheist.” It’s easy to understand her appeal in today’s world of spiritual seekers. As an ex-nun, she resonates with people who’ve fallen out with organized religion. Armstrong has little patience for literal readings of the Bible, but argues that sacred texts yield profound insights if we read them as myth and poetry. She’s especially drawn to the mystical tradition, which — in her view — has often been distorted by institutionalized religion. While her books have made her enormously popular, it isn’t surprising that she’s also managed to raise the ire of both Christian fundamentalists and atheists.
In her recent book, “The Great Transformation,” Armstrong writes about the religions that emerged during the “Axial Age,” a phrase coined by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers. This is the era when many great sages appeared, including the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Jeremiah and the mystics of the Upanishads. I interviewed Armstrong in the middle of her grueling American book tour. She dislikes flying in small airplanes, so her publisher hired a car service to drive her from Minnesota to Wisconsin, where I spoke with her before she met with a church group. When she got out of her car, I was greeted by a rather short and intense woman, somewhat frazzled by last-minute interview requests. But once settled, her passion for religion came pouring out. She was full of surprises. Armstrong dismissed the afterlife as insignificant, and drew some intriguing analogies: Just as there’s good and bad sex and art, there’s good and bad religion. Religion, she says, is hard work.