28 October 2009

I don't think he likes Armstrong's new book. . .

A review of Karen Armstrong's new book, The Case for God.

It is a rare occasion that I find it difficult to point out any redeeming features in a book-when I struggle to find a single positive to write in a review. Unfortunately Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God is one of those books-one that is so monstrously bad, so hopelessly awful, so wretchedly miserable, that it took concerted effort just to finish it.
[. . .]

The Case for God, then, is in no way a case for the God of the Bible or, really, for the God of most other faiths. Rather, it is a defense of making the idea of God respectable again, even if it means radically changing what we mean by that name. It is an absolute mess and easily one of the most boring, most obnoxious books I’ve ever read.

Wow.  I've not read the book.  Comments from those who have?


  1. Anonymous1:54 PM

    Well, he has an ax to grind, doesn't he? Look at his website. Ms. Armstrong seems to be doing well for herself. And is implementing her [GASP} Charter for Compassion.

    She has not reduced things to mush. She's brought badly needed insight into the Abrahamic traditions. It would NOT HURT to know a little about the other people in the world.


  2. Full disclosure: I have not read her book (my ADD precludes me from devoting any time to books that I would at best be lukewarm toward). But I did read the excerpt from her book in WSJ that was juxtaposed against one of Christopher Dawkins' writings. I found her argument for God disappointingly insipid. Her support for the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob seemed very theist/deist, general, diverso-inclusive, and non-specific to the point of irrelevancy. Honestly, on the sole basis of argument, I found Dawkins' essay much more compelling. Not an encouraging scenario for religious apologetics in the mass media.

    Michael may be correct in that her writings may speak to some readers (and that could be truly a good thing), but for the likes of the Hanc Aquam crowd, I suspect her book will be sorely lacking in intellectual and spiritual edification.

  3. I haven't read this book, but I have read other things by Armstrong. And it is because I have read other things by her that I haven't read this book. I don't want to be uncharitable, but she really doesn't know what she is talking about. She is an ex-Catholic, the sort who left the Church because she seemingly didn't understand what it was all about.

    I remember in the her *History of Christianity* she made so many elementary mistakes within the first few pages that I realised her opinion on all other topics was going to be worthless. It's a shame she feels the need to continue publishing, but hopefully she is learning things along the way.

    It would not surprise me if that review was accurate.

  4. Anonymous6:49 PM

    She is well respected at Harvard. I think Harvard professors are many things but unintelligent is not one of them.


  5. Anonymous11:34 PM

    It's interesting that most people who commented haven't read the book or can recall the correct title of her first book, "The History of God."

    But I have little doubt that nothing of hers would be of interest to the Hanc Aquam crowd. She'll just have to make due with other, more conducive, environs. That people have heard of...

    It's interesting that the people of this site are far more uppity than people at more recognized universities. Aren't you all affiliated with The University of Dallas?

    I've heard of it. I also heard that it had a good start and toppled badly sometime during the eighties.

    Oh, well.

  6. RE: Anon @ 5.34. . .and now Ladies and Gentlemen, time for Academic Snobbery! Watch it shine!


  7. Fr. Philip,

    Roger Scruton wrote a splendid quote from his book Modern Philosophy: "In argument about moral problems, relativism is the first refuge of the scoundrel."

    I'd like to add a revised corollary: "In argumentation [period], the ad hominem argument is the first refuge of the Academic Snob."

    Uppity Hanc Aquam Reader (NOT affiliated with UD or any other Institution of Higher Learning)

    PS. Back to the vinyard ...

  8. So which of the anonymous commenters was Karen Armstrong? Or does she have fans, a la Dan Brown, who patrol blogdom and post indignant replies?

  9. Hi there anon @5:34, here is some of my Academic Snobbery

    First, I would like to thank you for the hit and run. Its certainly charitable.

    Second, sometimes you do not need to read a book to know it is a farce. I know that anything by dawkins is a farce (though I did read the first few chapters of TGD for fun). Being a well respected scholar does not make you an authority or intelligent. You can be a well respected clown among clowns and still be an idiot. And harvard profs are not well known for their....impartiality...

    Third, I AM at the University of Dallas, and like a book that you have not read (or even perused) you strike us down on hearsay. Brilliant, snobbish and false. You would not last 5 seconds in a courtroom.

    UD may have had some bumps in the past, but take it from the biggest student trouble maker, this university is at higher caliber than most other catholic Universities. These people are not a bunch of washed up, stupid Mississippi hillbillies (no offense Father.

    Of course you would know that if you had ever been here. Recognition is relative.
    We are known as a high level, orthodox, catholic University. Where did you go to tell us that we toppled? toppled how? we certainly are still here and will be for a very long time.

  10. James, there are no hillbillies in MS. We rednecks ran them all off into Alabama.

  11. Anonymous12:32 PM

    I read her book on Genesis and also her one on Mohammed (trying to find something on mosques for my son, in RC elementary school). She is an ex-nun and a real lightweight who knows there is a market for this fluff from the response of listeners to the fawning interviews of Terri Gross on NPR.

  12. Ma Tucker3:59 PM

    I really don't think you can write a decent book when you do not understand the subject matter. I have read her book and found it gravely lacking. Can't help but believe she has lost her faith or maybe never had it. I thought she was more Mohamden than Catolic in the writing.

  13. Ma Tucker, it is not difficult at all to write a book with no substance. people everyday publish books with no substance and all rhetoric. As long as you pull the proper redherrings and make the illogical attacks which satisfy a certain crowd, then you will have an audience. I could probably go to a wikipedia page on some controversial topic and write a shallow, offensive book on it.

  14. Scott W.10:55 PM

    I wrote off anon at "It's interesting..." when he really meant "you suck!" I have no time for people with no stones.

  15. Anonymous10:34 PM

    I have no time with people with no manners.

    And you talk about stones? What are you like Madonna and adopting British speech?

    I didn't say "suck" because, last I heard, that would be the end of what we call civilization.

  16. I read much of the book and found it a disaster. She bemoans the fact that we moderns don't have faith like people used to when they actually believed their "myths". She doesn't realize that the premoderns, as she calls them, didn't think what they believed were myths.

    She seems to believe the Christians were not so literal until the 18th century, which is absurd. Her concept of God allows only for the unknowability of God, therefore we cannot really say much about Him, and it's useless to argue about him -- this completely missed the personal side of God in Christ, which is not a modern invention.

    I was surprised that a scholar of religion could get it wrong on so many levels. The book is worth the read for head-scratching value alone.