The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

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9780002555234: The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Britain’s greatest religious historian chronicles the rise and rise of fundamentalism.

One of the most potent forces bedevilling the modern world is religious extremism. The need to understand it has never been greater, and no-one is better equipped than Karen Armstrong to do so.

Focusing in detail on Protestant fundamentalism in the United States, Jewish fundamentalism from sixteenth century Spain onwards and of course latterly in Israel, and Muslim fundamentalism over the last four hundred years, she brings her deeply informed religious understanding to bear on the patterns that underlie fundamentalism. These evolve from the clash between – as she explains it – the conservative pre-modern mind that is governed by a love of myth and revelation, and the progressive rational society that relishes change.

Fundamentalists view the contemporary world with horror, rejecting its claims to truth; there has always been a withdrawal from mainstream society and a fundamentalist ‘counter-culture’ among the three traditions, and a state of war now exists over the future of our culture. These are not terrorists, rather, fundamentalists are now innovative, modern movements which exist in a symbiotic relationship with an aggressive modernity, each urging the other on to greater excess.

The Battle for God is original in its thesis and in its understanding, and by applying that originality to the wide sweep of European and American history affords a compelling narrative; as a history of movements of people and religious ideas it is fascinating, and as an explanation of one of the most destabilizing forces at large in the world today it is extraordinary.

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Review:

About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and people would certainly become less zealous as the world became more modern and morals more relaxed. But the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong ( A History of God), who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions. Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims Armstrong, who points to the Oklahoma City bombing, violent anti-abortion crusades, and the assassination of President Yitzak Rabin as evidence of dangerous extremes.

Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism and Western materialism seem to urge each other on to greater excesses. To "prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side," she pleads. With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion of a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong's writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision. --Gail Hudson

Review:

Praise for A History of Jerusalem:

‘A luminous history of Jerusalem… [Armstrong’s] book, imbued with sympathy for all three religions, added to careful scholarship and deep knowledge of theology and history, is a triumph’
Ian Gilmour, London Review of Books

‘It is a brave person who ventures into this historical minefield… But a book has been published which is the closest we are likely to get to historical balance on the subject. This is Karen Armstrong’s excellent History of Jerusalem… There is a vital need for an even-handed chronicler like Karen Armstrong, who is not afraid to stand up and speak unwelcome truths. ’
William Dalrymple, Independent

‘Splendid… Armstrong’s eminently sane and patient account of [Jerusalem’s] history is essential reading for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.’
John Ash, Washington Post

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