Saturday, 1 December 2007
What is the 21st Century's A-bomb?
From the 1945 through 1989, the biggest thing in world affairs was the atom bomb. Now, it's religion.
That's actually good news, because while many of us would struggle with nuclear physics, religion is arguably easier to understand. Or at least, we've had more exposure to religion than to radiation.
Like many readers of this blog, I've grown up in a western country, in the Christian tradition. But even as a member of the Bible-believing Open Brethren, I never learnt that much about the history of the Bible.
So it was very interesting to read Karen Armstrong's The Bible: A Biography. It's a whirlwind tour through all the versions of the Bible - the Torah, the Talmud, the New Testament, the Kabbalah... and so on!
Armstrong has done some serious homework here, and made the complex simple. Instead of delving too deeply into theology, Armstrong tells simple stories about people, and what they believed.
It's not an unbiased book. In fact, Armstrong is making a strong case against fundamentalism of all kinds, and a plea for understanding and love, ignoring the parts of the Bible that are negative or harsh, and meditating on the parts that are loving and kind - quoting many theologians, both Jewish and Christian, orthodox and otherwise, through the years, who have also advocated this approach.
I appreciate this book, but tentatively disagree with some of its conclusions. I say "tentatively", because I have no scholarship to base my disagreement on, just a tiny bit of subjective experience, and gut feeling.
And I say "some" of its conclusions because overall I believe Armstrong has written a rational, emotionally intelligent and respectful biography about a book that means so much to so many people, and it's an attitude I agree with.
I'd recommend The Bible: The Biography as a (somehow) very thorough yet very fast tour of one of the books that has shaped western civilisation, and continues to wield a lot of influence today.
I started this post by comparing religion to the atom bomb. Like nuclear power, religion can be a force for good or for evil. It's also the force that's driving world issues - yet unlike the atom bomb, which was a single, big thing, religion is a complex, fragmentary issue. We've got a lot of learning to do.
Want to learn about Islam? Read my review of The Q'uran: A Biography.
Need some other spiritual thoughts? See my posts tagged spirituality, or my old blog Oh God, I think I'm a fundamentalist.