Editor's Choice

Modern, aggressively righteous fundamentalists of all three faiths represent"A retreat from God."


Karen Armstrong: A History of God
A History of God

"Christian fundamentalists seem to have little regard for the loving compassion of Christ. They are swift to condemn the people they see as the"enemies of God."Most would consider Jews and Muslims destined for hellfire, and Urquart has argued that all oriental religions are inspired by the devil."

Karen Armstrong, A History of God
Ballantine Books, 1993, p. 390

Amazon.com
Armstrong, a British journalist and former nun, guides us along one of the most elusive and fascinating quests of all time—the search for God. Like all beloved historians, Armstrong entertains us with deft storytelling, astounding research, and makes us feel a greater appreciation for the present because we better understand our past. Be warned: A History of God is not a tidy linear history. Rather, we learn that the definition of God is constantly being repeated, altered, discarded, and resurrected through the ages, responding to its followers' practical concerns rather than to mystical mandates. Armstrong also shows us how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have overlapped and influenced one another, gently challenging the secularist history of each of these religions. —Gail Hudson

Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly

This searching, profound comparative history of the three major monotheistic faiths fearlessly illuminates the sociopolitical ground in which religious ideas take root, blossom and mutate. Armstrong, a British broadcaster, commentator on religious affairs and former Roman Catholic nun, argues that Judaism, Christianity and Islam each developed the idea of a personal God, which has helped believers to mature as full human beings. Yet Armstrong also acknowledges that the idea of a personal God can be dangerous, encouraging us to judge, condemn and marginalize others. Recognizing this, each of the three monotheisms, in their different ways, developed a mystical tradition grounded in a realization that our human idea of God is merely a symbol of an ineffable reality. To Armstrong, modern, aggressively righteous fundamentalists of all three faiths represent"A retreat from God."She views as inevitable a move away from the idea of a personal God who behaves like a larger version of ourselves, and welcomes the grouping of believers toward a notion of God that"Works for us in the empirical age."




"The central weakness of these religions today, as we pointed out, lies in their growing irrelevancy for modern life. Once upon a time they exercised absolute dominance, at least for their adherents. They offered explanations which were received as authoritative. They elaborated these explanations into socio-political institutions where possible. Bit by bit, decade by decade, their hold on men's minds and lives is diminishing. We find, on careful scrutiny, that it is fundamentally their explanations which are found wanting. They purpose a way to think and speak about man's world which man cannot accept. He cannot accept it because in some cases it is out of tune with what man knows as certainly as he knows anything; and in other cases and concepts used in the explanations are unintelligible to modern man. If unintelligible, they are inapplicable. They are irrelevant.

This lack of intelligibility and its consequent irrelevance affect not merely peripheral elements of the religions but the very stuff and matter out of which the religions are made. The garments are not merely worn and outmoded. The bodies themselves are effete and aged, beyond apparent hope of recall to youth and vigor... It must be noted that very often this lack of intelligibility arises, not precisely because the concepts are old, but because they reflect a mentality which has been rejected by modern man, and because they no longer correspond to the realities with which modern man must cope...

The dominance of each religion, besides being set by common problems outlined above, suffers from particular strains and pains of its own. Judaism and Christianity resemble each other on many points of pain and setback; but Judaism suffers from internal polarization, and Christianity suffers from a prolonged insistence on being what it need not be. Islam is apart. Still trussed and strait-jacketed in outworn ways and inept approaches to the 20th century world, Islam's agony is what Christianity might be between 10th and 12th centuries A.D.: total inability even to grapple with its circumambient world. For while Judaism and Christianity are at grips with their world but losing steadily, Islam has never even started, and is in danger of cultural and civilizational mummification...

To state that a concept or an idea is unintelligible, is not to state that the reality which men have tried to express in that concept has no validity. Our concept of God may be unintelligible. God may, nevertheless, exist."

Malachi Martin, The Encounter
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970, 275-76

Note: The New York Times Book Review (1969) said of The Encounter, his first book after his arrival in the United States, that"Malachi Martin has provided enough incendiary concepts to set off a number of blazing controversies."The book, which predicted the crisis into which the world's three great religions had fallen, was ranked by Library Journal as one of its"Thirty Best Books"of 1969, achieved commercial success in hardcover, and was twice published in successful trade paperback editions.




Malachi Martin, The Encounter
"Abraham, according to Christians, was a pre-Christian Christian. According to Mohammad he was consciously and explicitly a Muslim. The Jews naturally claim him as their own. According to Jews, salvation is primarily in the Exodus from Egypt and the observation of the Mosiac Law. Christians maintain that it was the beginning of salvation and that this held until Jesus came. Then all was changed. Exodus, Law, Promised Land, all these lost validity. Only the sacrifice of Jesus gives salvation now; the Exodus, the Law, and the Promised Land were mere symbols and foretaste of what Jesus brought to men. The Muslims maintain that this was true until Mohammad came. By that time, Christians had corrupted the Gospel, and Jesus' sacrifice was useless. Now only Mohammad's religion and teaching can give men salvation; both Moses and Jesus were really pre-Muslim Muslims who failed to accomplish the God's purpose on account of man's perversity and weakness.

According to Judaism, God chose the Jews and never changed his mind; they have the true and unique revelation about man's destiny and about God's nature; they know what Hell is, what Paradise is, what goodness is. According to the Christians, God choose them, revealed to them all he had originally revealed to the Jews (discontinuing ethnic habits such as circumcision, for example), and gave them much more besides. According to Muslims, these claims are farcical, and blasphemous; Jews and Christians have a portion of the truth, but God has now chosen the Muslims to whom he has revealed all he ever revealed to Jews and Christians, in addition to much else besides."

Malachi Martin, The Encounter
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970, 188-89




Malachi Martin, The Encounter
"Christianity within its own borders has specialized in self- crucifixion, at first to quite a minor degree during the first 1500 years of its life, when heretics and dissidents and accused witches and sorcerers were put to death, as Jesus was. Then, with the breakup of its unity in the 16th century, Christians devised for each other one Hell more horrendous and tortuous than another, indulging in a 300-year round of mutual recrimination, accusation, denigration, and relegation by bell, book, and candle, to the filthiest categories of human life. No branch of Christianity can be excused from this, because all Christians have indulged in it.

No body of Christians ever answered the insults of other Christians with Christ's answer: 'Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do?' They all developed special vocabularies replete with violent words such as 'heresy,' 'heretic,' 'extirpation,' 'condemnation,' 'excommunication,' 'outcasts,' 'unclean believers,' 'vice-mongers.' Each one devised its special defenses against the other: social ostracism, civil war, discrimination, calumny, legal non-existence. Rome was the Red Lady of the South. Luther was the Pig of Germany. Protestants were the sons of vipers. Jews were the 'race of the devil.' Muslims were 'benighted and error-ridden barbarians.' No body of Christians ever tried to conquer the world with humility and patience and love, and no body of believers ever tried to fan the flames of faith, in the heart of man by being authentically believers.

The Jews, in retaliation for their pain and their sustained exile, contributed to the sea of hate, distrust and, in some cases, deformation of truth. They invented multiform expressions of contempt, condemnation, loathing, and utter rejection of Christians. They even modified some of their traditional beliefs because the Christians had borrowed them in their original form and, in their repugnance from all things Christian, they wanted no resemblance to subsist between their faith and that of the Christians. They returned hate with hate. They, also, cannot be excused and considered totally guiltless. They preached truth and justice, yet they violated both in order to maintain their religion and their Jewishness. Christians preached love but practised officially sanctioned hate, intermingling their loveliest psalms of compassion for their dying Savior with the expressions of extreme disgust for the Jews...

Muslims preached mercy and compassion, but they practised none or very little, assigning both Christians and Jews to the lowest rung in Allah's consideration, and historically meting out to both a treatment which rivals any cruelties of man in known history. Down through the ages, this procession of the crucified one has come: formed, maintained, and augmented by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Each one has prayed with its armies to its god that the armies of the opponents be destroyed. There is no palliating or explaining away the sin of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The three religions failed in another significant way. None of them attacked slavery or race prejudice or other flagrant inhumanities of man to man from the very beginning of their existence. The Arabs of today sanction slavery as spontaneously as the Popes of the 19th century sanctioned the creation of castrati choirs for Papal masses, as readily and blindly as the Protestant ethic of the white American sanctioned the serfdom and degradation of the Negro race until the second half of the 20th century. Each religion has practiced the art of climbing on the bandwagon: only when lay and secular reformers, sometimes lacking any formal religion whatever, raised such a hue and cry that men's consciences were stirred, did the religions begin to turn their huge resources toward reform. The Catholic Church in Germany and Italy acquiesced in Nazism and Fascism at least in the earlier stages of the ideologies. Russian Orthodoxy acquiesced in the despotism and sadism of Czarist times. Greek Orthodoxy sanctioned the corruption of the Byzantine court and is today bitterly nationalist in Greece's disputes with Turkey. No Protestant Church and no Jewish Synagogue ever officially condemned and attacked the Ku Klux Klan before 1945 in America, though individuals did. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have practiced the double standard in this matter...

Thus the three religions have not been witnesses to the truth. All, it is true, have developed an exalted vocabulary, and a very impressive manner of announcing their own grandiose claims. All three have excelled and excel in words, as distinct from actions. All three have an impressive ritual and have refined psychological approaches to man. Yet the witness of words, mere words, has never changed men's minds, nor has mere theological subtlety helped men to be better men. The witness of the three religions have been faulty, at times perniciously false and erroneous. The three of them have witnessed to the uses of hate for the love of a god. And all three have disposed of the lives and happiness of millions of human beings without any real feeling for human suffering or any genuine concern for the concrete realities of life.

It is clear, first of all, that today all three religions lack any authoritative note for man. They have, as yet, each one of them, sufficient number of adherents to give the impression of continuing strength, and this glosses over for them and for the outside world at times their terrible weakness. For each of them, when scrutinized closely, is blackened with sufficient failures to prevent any thinking man from believing in them. And, above all, all three persevere in making a claim which cannot possibly be valid and true: that they are, each single one, the true religion.

Each one of them, however, hides from the ultimate test of its validity and truth behind a wall of unknowing and expectation. All three chorus that only on the 'Last Day,' when the 'End' comes, when"God"decides, will it be clear that the 'other two' and all others besides were false, and it (the claimant) was all along the true community of the one 'God.'"

Malachi Martin, The Encounter
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970, 329-32.




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