Karen Armstrong: Idolatry

November 7, 2007

Religion-related posts have just shot through the roof!  I warned you that it is pretty much the top of the list of things I think about.

Anyway, a quick post before bed (I’m clearly blogging like a fiend today).  D sent me a link to Karen Armstrong, a religious scholar who has some interesting work on various major world religions.  The article is titled, “A Rejection of A Widespread Idolatry“.  It’s an interesting read.

She ends her piece saying, “Monotheists have always warned against idolatry. It may be that the atheism that is taking hold is a rejection of a widespread idolatry which has forgotten that any conception of the divine is bound to be inadequate. In a restaurant, when we have had a strong-tasting first course, the waiter often brings a sorbet so that we can cleanse our palette and taste the next course. Today many feel the need to rinse their minds of inadequate ideas of God, and may have to enter into what the mystics used to call the dark night of the soul or the cloud of unknowing, so that we can all move forward.”

I don’t know whether atheism is really the way to “rinse [our] minds of inadequate ideas of God”.  But in a small way, I do understand what it means to come into a dark night of the soul.  A vacuous period of uncertainity in which to “cleanse our palette” and move forward.  In my case, move forward to a more realistic and honest understanding of God and who He is – less marred by the imperfect reflections from those around me (my own pitiful reflection of God included).

 (I also thought that she put this point across nicely:  “When we enter into dialogue with anybody, we should not go out to “win”; we should be prepared to be changed by our encounter with others, and see what we have to learn.”)

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3 Responses to “Karen Armstrong: Idolatry”

  1. gukseon Says:

    I’m a big fan of Armstrong, and I do think that if nothing else atheists can help the religious see where they’ve gone wrong. I don’t agree at all with the current crop of “New Atheists” (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennet), but their objections to the excesses of organized religion should be duly noted.

    You should check out Armstrong’s ideas about fundamentalism, btw—-she’s one of the precious few mainstream thinkers who identifies fundamentalism as a distinctly modern phenomenon—something Dawkins and Company can’t seem to grasp.

  2. Tom Heneghan Says:

    If you’re interested in Karen Armstrong, you might want to look at her latest interview on Pakistan, Islam and secularism in the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld.


  3. I read the intro of Armstrong’s Case for God and she writes that it is “unskillful” to characterize God as an intelligent being because God is not the sort of thing that is A being. I wonder if we tend to think of God that way because we project even our basic notions onto it (i.e., self-idolatry).


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