Review of Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God

One comes away from this book with the sense of having been bludgeoned into acquiescence, of being stunned with detail, and bewitched by misdirection. In his review of this book, Simon Blackburn begins by calling it interesting and eloquent. (Simon Blackburn on Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God.)
I did not find it eloquent, and my interest often flagged as I ploughed one after another through a loosely connected catena of examples. It seems that Karen Armstrong has one book to write, and it involves, practically every time, an exhaustive telling of the history of how we became modern, and how terrible this has really been.

Armstrong has scant ability to discipline her writing, to make selections, and to order them to some purpose. She begins at the beginning – almost every time – and then she writes until she comes to the end, and everything that gets included is a part of her theme, whether that theme is clear or not. She seldom thinks critically about what she is writing, and so she often makes simple mistakes and howling errors, and she makes them, one after the other, seriatim. But everything, we are to understand, goes to make her case, in this case, her case for God, even down to the details of Descartes’ enforced rest in a heated room.

Armstrong does have a theory, and she pounds away at it with the relentlessness of a boxer at the height of his game. Her case for God amounts to this. The modern idea of God, as a being who exists ‘out there’, is a distortion of the original idea of God, which is not a being, or in any sense knowable, but is merely where our thought comes to rest beyond the limits of our language. This, she claims, was well known before the modern age, and no one, in those far off days, would even dream of suggesting that God exists in some sense as men and women exist. The problem lies in the mistaken idea, and a very recent idea too, that religion is easy, and that knowing religious truth is easy too. But it isn’t, we are assured right at the start. Religion is not easy. It is not accessible at the click of a mouse. No, religious truth reveals itself only to those who have embarked on a religious way of life: “You will only discover their truth – or lack of it – if you translate these doctrines into ritual or ethical action. Like any skill, religion requires perseverance, hard work and discipline.” (4)

The implication of course, is clear. No one can reasonably comment on religious belief (which is not, we are assured, propositional, but a matter of trust and commitment), who has not undertaken the risks of religious commitment. Religion is, like riding a bicycle, or playing the harp, a knack that is developed with long practice and devotion. “People who acquired this knack,” Armstrong claims, “discovered a transcendent dimension of life that was not simply an external reality ‘out there’ but was identical with the deepest level of their being.” (5) This reality has been variously called God, Nirvana, Dao, Brahman, and it is, indeed, we are assured, “a fact of human life.” (5)

What is this fact? Well, here is where the problems begin, because, in fact, this fact of human life is indescribable. The human mind is able, says Armstrong, “to have ideas and experiences that exceed our conceptual grasp.” We push our thoughts to an extreme, and then “our minds seem to elide [or to use another favourite term, segue] naturally into an apprehension of transcendence.” (5) And here she compares this experience of transcendence with the experience of music, because, she says, “like religion at its best, music marks the ‘limits of reason’.” (5) At the very end of the book she repeats this claim, saying that, “as we saw at the beginning of this book, [music] is a ‘definitively’ rational activity, [and] is itself a ‘natural theology’. In music, the mind experiences a pure, direct emotion that transcends ego and fuses subjectivity and objectivity.” (314) I’m not altogether sure that this makes sense, but it links up with her claim that perhaps the only viable natural theology that there is “lies in religious experience.” (313)

And this brings us immediately to the next big claim, which is that the experience of pushing one’s thoughts beyond the limits of language, to the mystery which “lies beyond words, concepts and categories,” actually issues in a radical transformation of the person, so that the person is somehow led beyond what she calls ‘the prism of selfhood’ (271) and returns, kenotically, that is, self-emptyingly, to a life of compassion. This is something which characterises all the great religions, according to Armstrong, and the truth which lies beyond the limits of language, the experience of the mystery which defies description, that is, of God, Nirvana, Dao, or Brahman, issues in acts of kindness and compassion.

This is the sum and substance of Armstrong’s book. The rest is just interpretation. The main purpose of the interpretation is to show how this truth, known by all the great religions, has been perverted by the experience of modernity, and translated into just another being, which can be known, or not known, on the basis of argumentation from the things that exist. This being, having been separated from the instinctive life of humanity, and pushed away from it, confining it, as Armstrong says, “like Blake’s Tyger, to ‘distant deeps and skies’,” (314) is unrelated to the unspeakable truths of the state of unknowing transcendence with which the religions have really to deal.

It follows from Armstrong’s understanding of religion and the part that God plays in religion, that religion itself can never be a matter of final truths, definitively stated. The word ‘dogma’, for instance, Armstrong tells us, is, by the Greek Fathers of the Church, used “to describe a truth that could not be put readily into words.” She adds that it “could only be understood after long immersion in ritual, and, as the understanding of the community deepened, changed from one generation to another.” (312) She goes on, rather irrelevantly it seems, to tell us that we no longer understand the word ‘theoria’ as the Greeks did, as contemplation; rather, we understand it now as ‘theory’, “an idea in our heads that has to be proved.” (312) Of course, this is related to what she says about ‘dogma’ (though she does not point this out), because she wants to say of both that the experience encapsulated by these words is of something that literally goes beyond the limits of language, and cannot be expressed in words.

Neither point is by any means clear. In Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle speaks about theoria, he speaks clearly of contemplating truth. Indeed, happiness as activity in accordance with the highest virtue is theoria, because contemplation or reason is the best thing in us, and the objects of reason are the most knowable objects! (cf. Bk X, 7, 11-22) And if we turn to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, in its entry under the word ‘dogma’, it reads as follows: “The original meaning of the word was ‘that which seems good’, and hence it was applied by classical authors as a technical term either to the distinctive tenets of the various philosophical schools or to the decrees of public authorities. … ‘Dogma’, in the Christian sense as opposed to the teachings of the philosophers, soon acquired a definite theological significance. In the accepted Christian meaning the term signifies a religious truth established by Divine Revelation and defined by the Church.” If she wants to make the points that she sets out to make about the ideas of theory and dogma, and their role in religion, Armstrong must do some more work.

Nevertheless, Armstrong perseveres in her understanding of religious truth as something that is beyond the limits of language, so that religious teachings, in the Bible or elsewhere, are always open to repeated reinterpretation and updating as times change. She goes so far as to claim – and it is hard to credit this – that “Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars all insisted on the paramount importance of intellectual integrity and thinking for oneself.” (311) How she can say this, when she knows exactly what heresy means, is simply beyond me. But her understanding of religious truth is so deeply buried in authoritarianism, that it is indeed difficult to know what she might mean by ‘thinking for oneself.’ If religion can be known only through submission to a way of life and a practice, then thinking for oneself, that is, moving outside of the way, is, in fact, a matter of unfaithfulness. Belief, for Armstrong, is not propositional. It is a matter of commitment to and trust in a practice, a way of life. Thinking for oneself can only be to go one’s own way, which was the original meaning of ‘heresy’.

This is clear in her criticism of the catechism. She criticises the catechism she learned as a child for stopping the process of religious exploration early. “The process that should have led to a stunned appreciation [my italics] of an ‘otherness’ beyond the reach of language ended prematurely. The result is that many of us were left stranded with an incoherent concept of God.” (307) But of course, if the three stage mystical process of Denys (Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) had been carried out, it is doubtful if she would, at that stage, have attained the mystical coherence which Denys intended her to reach, nor is it likely that her concept of God would have been any more coherent, since there is an inherent incoherence in the idea of that which lies beyond our words and concepts. As Don Cupitt points out, there is something strange in the idea of an ineffability which is effed as being ineffable. “How can I pretend to remember that at some past moment I was so rapt that I was out of time altogether? Indeed, how can someone pretend to remember and to describe a state of being so lost in immanence that he can be in no condition to remember anything?” (Mysticism and Modernity, 33) These are questions which Armstrong needs to put to herself. But I wish to return to the idea of ‘stunned appreciation’, because it makes so clear how deeply Armstrong’s understanding of religion as life and practice is based on authority. Unknowing also means, in this case, unquestioning, and this has a disturbing resonance.

Armstrong accuses Dawkins’ theology of being merely rudimentary (294), but a few words about the limits of language and kenosis and compassion is really the sum and substance of Armstrong’s theology. No doubt, whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must perforce be silent. As Blackburn says in his review, “Armstrong firmly recommends silence, having written at least 15 books on the topic.” But it is hard to understand why, given the highly focused nature of her own dealings with the theological tradition, she should suggest that Dawkins’ theology is so rudimentary. Just repeating the same point over and over through different historical transitions does nothing to enrich her theology, or to relate it to the incredibly complex and humanly rich thought structures of the great theologians, like Barth or Tillich. We are, however, given a little glimpse as to how Armstrong thinks Dawkins should have proceeded, and this is enlightening. (In addition to calling his theology rudimentary, she also accuses Dawkins of ‘scientism’, but we will bypass this for the moment.) How would an intelligent atheist go about his or her critique of religion? I need to quote her at some length again:

An intelligent atheistic critique could help us to rinse our minds of the more facile theology that is impeding our understanding of the divine. We may find that for a while we have to go into what mystics called the dark night of the soul or the cloud of unknowing. This will not be easy for people used to getting instant information at the click of a mouse. But the novelty and strangeness of this negative capability could surprise us into awareness that stringent ratiocination is not the only means of acquiring knowledge. (313)

I have to admit that I do not know whether this is said tongue-in-cheek or not, but the irony should be evident. The atheist, even if pushed to admit that the religious do not believe that we can know anything definitive about God, that God is, indeed, beyond access to human language and thought, so that it can be known only in unknowing, would not, I suspect, even then, think that it was part of the atheist’s task to remove obstacles to our understanding of the divine. Even if the atheist were forced to admit that the religious did not apply any words univocally to both God and humanity, and that the religious account of God would always fall short, and be understood in terms of analogy or even mythos, it does not seem to me likely that ‘belief in’ God, so understood, whatever the word ‘belief’ is taken to mean here, would still be enough to convince the atheist that the religious person’s ‘belief’ or ‘experience’ was anything other than purely human, and not in any case in touch with something divine.

But we are bound, I think, to put some more strenuous questions to Armstrong. Her claim, remember, is that it has not been until modernity that the idea of God as a being ‘out there’ was even conceptualised, that all earlier religion understood that God could not be known, or could be known only by unknowing and mystery through the medium of religious practice, story or mythos. As soon as God was conceived as being, somehow, within the scope human language and human concepts, as soon as it was thought that God was somehow discernible within the world, God was no longer the God of religion. Quoting from Pascal’s ‘Memorial’, stitched into his coat, about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the God of philosophers, Armstrong immediately adds: “Pascal could see that Christianity was about to make a serious mistake.” (194) It was only now, Armstrong says, that atheism had become a serious option, and Pascal was one of the first to recognise this. (194)

It is time to ask whether Armstrong is right, whether, in fact, religion was always aware of the fact that God could be known only by way of unknowing, and that, before the modern age, God was never thought of as a being somehow ‘out there’, that we could come to know, at least in part, by studying the things that are. Let’s start right there, with the idea that it is possible to come to know God from the existence of the universe. Very strangely, Armstrong takes it as a consequence of the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo that it is impossible to know anything about God. “We have seen,” she says – which is not true, because we have only been told this – “that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo made it clear to Christians that the natural world could tell us nothing about God and that the Trinity taught them that they could not think of God as a simple personality.” (310-311)

But why should she think this? Creation ex nihilo is not taught in the Bible. It is a theological construct. The basic reason for believing that the universe was created out of nothing by God is twofold. First, the fact that the universe as we know it was shaped out of some pre-existing something, a dark chaos, perhaps, would always leave the suggestion that there is something within creation that is opposed to God. There are signs of this dualism in the Bible. God is sometimes pictured (e.g., at Isaiah 27.1), at the beginning of creation, subordinating the powers of chaos, depicted as Leviathan, the great sea serpent, but these powers are still not completely subdued. Indeed, the description of the Flood in Genesis is quite clearly a story of the reversal of the creative process, with chaos breaking in from every side, and the waters, that had been separated to created dry land, inundating the fertile earth that God had made. It is true that this is a result of God’s decision, and the powers of chaos are exercised by God, but the powers of chaos are there, always menacingly opposed to God’s creative will.

Accordingly, the second feature of the idea of creation ex nihilo is that God should be supreme, the only principle of existence in the universe, as befits the Almighty. But, as coming from God’s hand, the creation must provide evidence for God’s nature, and Jesus, for example, takes this to be so when he bids us regard the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. And, of course, Paul in Romans 1, is very explicit, when he tells us that “ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Rom 1. 20) And when, in Acts, we are told that when Paul came to the Areopagus in Athens, he remarked to those gathered there that he had come upon an altar with the inscription, “To an Unknown God”, whereat he immediately turned to them and said, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things,” and he goes on to quote pagan poets, and to say that “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17.23-28) There is here a frank admission, at the same time that Paul expands upon the concept of God in terms that recall Tillich’s idea of God as the Ground of Being, that God is knowable by the things that he has made. And this is a tradition of philosophical and theological study (natural, or philosophical, theology) which did not originate in the modern period, but has many ancient predecessors.

I should like to attend now to a claim that Armstrong makes regarding the terms ‘dogma’ and ‘kerygma’, because it is characteristic of the way that she deals with evidence. Her failure to mention either Jesus or Paul in speaking about our knowledge of God from the things that are made is significant, I believe, and the same tendency is evident in her use of Basil the Great. Basil, one of the Cappadocian Fathers (which included also Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus), made a distinction, according to Armstrong, between kerygma and dogma, and here is how she describes their function: “Basil always distinguished between the kerygma of the Church (its public message) and its dogma, the inner meaning of the kerygma, which could only be grasped after long immersion in liturgical prayer,” and then we are referred to Chapter XXVII, Paragraph 66 of Basil’s treatise “On the Spirit.” This will repay closer study. Here’s the relevant quote:

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. [Basil then describes some of these traditions: signing with the cross those who have believed, turning to the East to pray, the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing.] For we are not, as is well known [he continues], content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition?

But when and how does the distinction between dogma and kerygma enter in to this discussion? It does so by and by, and in this way  quoting once again from Basil: “‘Dogma’ and ‘Kergyma’ are two distinct things; the former is observed in silence: the latter is proclaimed to the world.” But the reason is not so plainly what Armstrong takes it to be. That which is observed in silence, and not proclaimed, is not consigned to silence because it is a matter of unknowing, but because, as Basil says, “Moses was wise enough to know that contempt attaches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar.” So, turning to the East for prayer is part of the mystical tradition, “but few of us know that we are seeking our old country, Paradise, which God planted in Eden in the East. We pray standing, on the first day of the week, but we do not all know the reason.” And so we could go on. But it is simply misleading to say that kerygma and dogma are distinguished in the way and for the reason suggested. It has a much more mundane explanation, and it is not all to the good of the reputation of religion, since it is, in a sense, a matter of thaumaturgy. The mystical, secret traditions do not so much reveal the inner meaning of the public teaching, as keep the practice of the faith intense and attractive. These are not spoken of in the public lore of the church, but are performed in the liturgy, and while they may indeed contribute to the meaningfulness of the liturgy for those experiencing its delights, it is only by overreaching that we can speak of it as expressing the inner meaning of the public teaching, and a way of unknowing.

Armstrong forgets, I think, that at the time that Christianity appeared on the scene, there had already been a long period of interest in the existence and nature of the gods. Cicero’s The Nature of the Gods had been available for some 150 years by the time that Christian theologians began to write about the nature of theirs, and they were very aware of the intellectual ferment in the Hellenistic world. It is naive to suppose that ancient religion was merely, as Armstrong suggests, a practice, and not in any way associated with speculation and theory. This would have been entirely foreign to the world in which Christianity was born. Indeed, the early controversies of the church, especially as to the nature of the incarnation, and the relation of the incarnation to God the Father, show that not only were early Christian theologians adept at theological and philosophical disputation, but they took it in deadly earnest. Lives and reputations were lost, and fortunes were made on the strength of argumentation, and theologians were not above condemning as heretics those already dead, as was done to Origen. To suppose that all this complex argumentation was only a matter of commitment to a practice of unknowing is to suppose too much. The origins of Descartes’ God, or Newton’s, were clearly laid out very early. That these particular concepts lay to hand when they were needed is perhaps a sign that the foundations were laid well. That those foundations were flawed should come as no surprise when we consider the sheer richness and profusion of early Christian theology, and the desperate controversies that were to result from them.

If Armstrong wishes to make a case for God, then she must do this. She cannot rely simply on a rather biased reading of history in order to make it. For, just as there were pious men like Pascal in the seventeenth century who were contemptuous of some of the modern uses that were being made of the idea of God, so there were disputatious men of the early centuries, for whom the concept of God that Armstrong thinks modern would have been the very stuff of their own thought. Early Christians were as eager to have proof of their beliefs, as any Christians today might be. Saying that they were not does not constitute a theology. What Armstrong must do is to show that she has a theology. This is not clear from her book. While she dismisses Dawkins’ theology as rudimentary, it is hard to see that Armstrong has one at all, and Dawkins does not mean to have one. It is fine to make pious noises about unknowing, and the kenosis that is supposed to be a result of it, but it is very trying to hear, time after time, that this is the true meaning of religion, when there is scant evidence in the tradition that it was. Certainly, no religious believer has ever believed that they have a complete understanding of what is meant by the word ‘god’. It always exceeds anything that we can say, because it is, in fact, by definition, greater than anything that we can think. It follows that all that religious practice can do is, at most, to take the religious seeker to the limits of language and drop him off. What happens beyond that either is or is not religious experience. But, if it is, it is not describable, and then we have all the reflexive problems that Don Cupitt is so concerned about, how we can possible remember something we cannot even imagine experiencing?

But there is more than this. Because she has no theology, Armstrong is, I think, given to uncritical claims about religion and its value. She repeats several times the mantra that true religion is about kenosis, self-emptying, and compassion. This is particularly true, we are led to believe, about Islam, and she goes to great pains to excuse aspects of Islam that are indeed very troubling. We have seen how she thinks that Islam welcomes individual thinking, and encourages it. She suggests, at one point, that Islam was the last great religion to develop a fundamentalist form (284), yet Ibn Warraq does not hesitate to date the beginning of Islamic fundamentalism to the ninth or the eleventh centuries, when, as he says, “orthodox Islam emerged victorious from the encounter with Greek philosophy.” (Why I am not a Muslim, 241)

It is very troubling to be told these things when we know that there are places in the Islamic world today where death is the penalty for disbelief. Everywhere, Armstrong depicts Islam as forward looking and progressive, tolerant, non-violent, given to compassion and devoted to justice. In the light of what is happening around her, this seems to me plainly obscene, and clear evidence that her thinking about religion has gone off the rails. She suggests that Islam is not aggressive, that the Qu’ran argues everywhere only for defensive war, yet she refuses to notice the very violent, aggressive nature of the Qu’ran itself, and the way it dismisses all those who do not believe, even though these unbelievers, having the Qu’ran, already know the truth. They are fit only to be thrown into eternal fire. She forgets that Mohammed was a warlord, and that much of his life was spent in fighting and subduing local tribes and stealing their women and booty. Do these constantly repeated threats, or this history, not mean anything or say anything about the religion that is founded upon them?

And then, for Armstrong, with absurd aplomb, to suggest that theologians such as Bultman or Tillich “offer a very different view and are closer to mainstream tradition than any fundamentalist,” (293) seems to spin beyond reason and evidence altogether, given the hesitancy with which their theology has been received by the contemporary church. Of course, Armstrong wants to claim that the idea, put forward by Tillich, for instance, that God is not amongst those beings which exist, but is Being Itself, is in fact at the heart of the Christian tradition. But if she wants to show this – and I am not at all confident that she can do so – she must really do it. She must show – not just tell us – how the central traditions of Christianity actually include the way of unknowing and kenosis. I do not deny that the traditions of unknowing and kenosis are there, but still much of the evidence points the other way. The detailed dogma of Christianity, a structure of theological belief which was hammered out in great detail in the early centuries of the church’s life, tells a very different story. The fact that this theological structure has been upheld and defended by fire and sword, and actually led to an almost total breakdown of civil order in Europe during the seventeenth century, indicates that more was at stake than unknowing.

This inevitably has a bearing on her criticisms of Dawkins and the so-called ‘new atheists’, for they take the realistic God of so much Christian doctrine as the basis for their critique of religion. Armstrong claims that Dawkins is guilty of scientism. In fact, she says that, “For the new atheists, scientism alone can lead us to the truth.” And then she goes on immediately to add that “science depends upon faith, intuition and aesthetic vision as well as on reason.” (295) Since she has gone to great lengths to point out that faith is not propositional, but a matter of commitment, I suppose scientists can say that their methods do depend on a commitment to the intelligibility of the world, that by study and rigorous experiment and testing of hypotheses, the world will yield up its secrets. There also seems to be little reason to deny that scientific advances have often come about through sheer intuition and eureka moments, nor that the elegance and beauty of a theory has often been, by scientists who know, considered to be indications that they were on the right track. But scientism? That is something else entirely. It is a belief that we can know nothing except by the methods of the sciences, and that which cannot be so known must be consigned to the flames. And so all the complexity of human relationships, the beauty of art, the wonders of the natural world, the ecstasy of love: all these things must be rejected, for we cannot know them by means of science. This is beneath contempt.

It may be true – though I do not say that it is – that there is, amongst the ‘new atheists’ “a disturbing lack of understanding of or concern about the complexity and ambiguity of modern experience.” (293) I am not convinced that this is true, though it may be argued. Of course, I would want to argue that Armstrong shows a disturbing lack of understanding of or concern for the very real complexities of the way that religion is playing itself out in the world today, and a too ready willingness to dismiss religious outrages as not truly religious. And if the polemic of the new atheists “entirely fails to mention the concern for justice and compassion that, despite their undeniable failings, has been espoused by all three of the monotheisms,” (293) I should have thought that a glance at the world today might be reason enough to wonder whether these really are the main concerns of religion, whether espoused or not. But, again, Armstrong must argue this, and not just tell us that it is so.

There is still more. On several occasions towards the end of her book, Armstrong argues very vehemently that the new atheists are simply making a bad situation worse. Do they not realise that “The history of fundamentalism shows that when these movements are attacked, they nearly always become more extreme?” (295) They should, then, moderate the polemic. Atheists are right, she says, to condemn abuses stemming from idolatrous religion. However, “when they insist that society should no longer tolerate faith and demand the withdrawal of respect from all things religious, they fall prey to the same intolerance.” (308-9) Since she does not cite sources for these claims, it is hard to know what she means. The so-called new atheists have never, to my knowledge, claimed that society should no longer tolerate faith, nor have they demanded the withdrawal of respect from all things religious. What they have said is that religion cannot hide behind the respect that it has been traditionally granted, and that it must be subject, as the expression of all ideas and beliefs must be in a free society, to criticism, to question, and indeed, if need be, to scorn. It has no right to expect special privileges, and it has not unreasonably been suggested that its claiming such special privilege permits it too easily to slip into abuse. If its response to criticism is to become more violent, then it seems clear that more criticism is needed, not less, until those holding beliefs which they believe should be privileged come to understand that, in a free society, none are exempt from criticism and even, it may be, from mockery and scorn. Some religious beliefs have shown themselves to be so deserving.

One comes away from reading Armstrong feeling bruised. The words arise with such force and profusion that the point she is trying to make seems to get lost amongst them. Indeed, it is hard to believe, after the pain of reading one of her books, that she has sold so many of them, for who would willingly submit themselves to such torment? As I said earlier, to some extent Karen Armstrong has but one book, and she has written it many times. This is not unusual. But what is unusual is that she should think the same thing worth saying again and again, when she did not succeed, the first time, to say it convincingly. Armstrong must actually argue for her position. She cannot simply assume that telling the history of it will prove her point. Indeed, what Armstrong needs to do is to develop a theology, not by telling the history of theology, but by doing it. If what she has to say is genuinely worthwhile, this is the next step she will take. If she does not do it, we can be assured that the theology she espouses is as thin as this book is thick. Theology is hard work, as she says, and she has yet to do it.

Armstrong, Karen. The Case for God: What Religion Really Means. London: The Bodley Head, 2009.

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