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Capstone Discussion: Armstrong, "The Case for God"

Class discussion of Armstrong's text

Ben Earwicker

on 12 December 2012

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Transcript of Capstone Discussion: Armstrong, "The Case for God"

About the only thing I like about this chapter is the story about the women who want revenge. This to me is the definition of a true Christian. These women who had the desire, the "need", for revenge took the "high road" and chose to be Christ like and not follow their strong human instinct.
Mindy Karen Armstrong "The Case for God" Introduction ONE Chapter 1: Homo Religiosus Chapter 7: Science & Religion THREE Chapter 4: Faith Chapter 9: Enlightenment FOUR Chapter 5: Silence Chapter 11: Unknowing Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations: "People of faith admit in theory that God is utterly transcendent, but they seem sometimes to assume that *they* know exactly who "he" is and what he thinks, loves, and expects" (ix). What do you think about this and the rest of the paragraph?

"But despite our scientific and technological brilliance, our religious thinking is sometimes remarkably undeveloped, even primitive" (x). In what ways?

"Symbolism came more naturally to people in the premodern world than it does to us today" (x).

I like this idea: "These stories were not historical in our sense, because they were *more* than history" (ix). Explain this a bit more.

Regarding Jungian archetypes and myth - last line on page xi: "A myth was...*something that had in some sense happened once but that also happens all the time.*"

What do you think about this statement: "Religion is a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of mind and heart" (xiii)?

"Our scientifically oriented knowledge seeks to master reality, explain it, and bring it under the control of reason, but a delight in unknowing has also been part of the human experience" (xiv).

"In particular, the meaning of the word 'belief' changed, so that a credulous acceptance of creedal doctrines became the prerequisite of faith, so much so that today we often speak of religious people as 'believers,' as though accepting orthodox dogma 'on faith' were their most important activity" (xv). Do you think this is a fair statement about mainstream evangelical practice? What about in your experience?

Armstrong argues that fundamentalism and atheism are related (xv). In what way does she relate the two? (See her quote at the top of page xvi about the 'parasitic relationship' of atheism to a particular form of belief).

"...fundamentalism is in fact a defiantly unorthodox form of faith that frequently misrepresents the tradition it is trying to defend" (xvi). How do we avoid the simplistic seductions of fundamentalist thinking and acting? Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations Images from National Geographic and resourcesforhistoryteachers.wikispaces.com Look at Armstrong's description of the shaman on p. 5; how does this compare to your idea of a 'shaman,' or challenge your ideas of what a shaman is or does?

"One of the functions of ritual is to evoke an anxiety in such a way that the community is forced to confront and control it. From the very beginning, it seems, religious life was rooted in acknowledgement of the tragic fact that life depends upon the destruction of other creatures" (6). How do you feel about this?

What does Armstrong mean when she writes, "Art involves our emotions, but if it is to be more than a superficial epiphany, this new insight must go deeper than feelings that are, by their very nature, ephemeral" (8)? She goes on to say that, "Like art, religion is an attempt to construct meaning in the face of the relentless pain and injustice of life" (8). What do you make of this?

Going back to a point from the introduction, Armstrong mentions the contrast between belief (mental assent) and experience or ritual. She writes, "In the premodern world, ritual was not the product of religious ideas; on the contrary, these ideas were the product of ritual" (9). Do you think this challenges or supports contemporary evangelical practice?

I like her descriptions on the bottom of page 9, and her conclusion on page 10 that "Before the modern period, most men and women were naturally inclined to religion and they were prepared to work at it. Today many of us are no longer willing to make this effort, so the old myths seem arbitrary, remote, and incredible."

Do you find Armstrong's descriptions in the first chapter compelling, particularly of the transitions from period to period?

Armstrong gets at a common misconception regarding pre-modern ritual use of objects. She argues that, "None of these symbols was worshipped for and in itself. People did not bow down and worship a rock *tout court*; the rock was siimply a focus that directed their attention to the mysterious essence of life" (11).

Talk about her statement on page 13: "The ultimate reality was not a personalized god, therefore, but a transcendent mystery that could never be plumbed."

The material on pp. 15-17 is very interesting, and relevant to Christian thought. Why is this relevant or interesting or intriguing?

"The transcendent was neither external nor alien to humanity, but the two were inextricably connected. This insight would become central to the religious quest in all the major traditions" (19).

In her discussions about Hinduism and Buddhism (19-25), Armstrong discusses the necessity of action rather than creedal belief. "Religion was a matter of doing rather than thinking" (25). Is this compatible with a contemporary Christian worldview, or does it require some adjustment?

One of her last statements in chapter 1 is provocative and challenging: "So religious discourse should not attempt to impart clear information about the divine but should lead to an appreciation of the limits of language and understanding" (26). FIVE SIX TWO SEVEN EIGHT NINE TEN ELEVEN TWELVE Epilogue Chapter 2: God Chapter 3: Reason Chapter 6: Faith and Reason Chapter 8: Scientific Religion Chapter 10: Atheism Chapter 12: Death of God? Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations Reflect on Armstrong's description of the Biblical creation story on pp. 28-9: "...its purpose is to help us to contemplate the human predicament. Why is human life filled with suffering, back-breaking agricultural labor, agonizing childbirth, and death? Why do men and women feel so estranged from the divine?" How do you think about Armstrong's approach and description of the story, in particular her depiction of "Adam, Eve, and the serpent as representing different facets of our humanity" (28)?

Look at the sources for the record and history described on pp. 30-1. I like reading about the history and background of text, and this is a great example.

Again, on myth and history: "...when people wrote about the past in the ancient world, they were less interested in what actually happened than in the meaning of an event" (32).

Look at Armstrong's descriptions on pp. 33-34. How does her approach or perspective provide a broader view of the biblical text? Does research like this challenge, support, threaten, or encourage your own reading of the text?

"Although Abraham is presented to us as a man of vision, the Genesis narratives show how difficult it is to see or understsand the divine as we struggle with life's cruel dilemmas" (35). How does this interpretation feel to you?

Here is another interesting observation: "...Israel's sensitivity to idolatry may have sprung from a buried anxiety. Once people forget that a particular image of the sacred can only be proximate and incomplete, there is a danger that it will cease to point to the transcendent and become an end in itself" (36). Can you think of any contemporary examples, analogies, or stories that illustrate this?

What do you think about this idea: "In making their national God, now the *only* symbol of the divine, endorse the national will, they had crafted a god in their own image" (38)?

There is a lot of rich information in the last paragraph on page 39. Discuss your thoughts on this section.

On pp. 41-2, Armstrong describes the Israelites' exile in Babylon after 597. She writes that "There was a profound link between exile and holiness....By replicating the condition of otherness, the exiles would symbolically relocate to the realm of holiness where God was....Babylon would become the new Eden because the rituals of separation would heal the long estrangement from the divine." Do you find this description of 'ritual in context' compelling or striking?

Read carefully the section at the bottom of page 43 that continues on page 44, and write your thoughts. "This was a nonviolent cosmogony....Everybody should be like Elohim, resting calmly on the Sabbath and blessing all his creatures without exception - even, perhaps, the Babylonians."

What do you think about this statement, on page 47: "The Bible consists of many contradictory texts, so our reading is always selective. Tragically, however, a selective reading of scripture to enforace a particular point of view or marginalize others would be a constant temptation for monotheists"? Armstrong Adolescence vs. Adulthood Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations "Philosophy was not a coldly rational discipline but an ardent spiritual quest that would transform the seeker" (53). Think about the president's message in the opening convocation and his argument that NNU education provides "something more" than only the transmission of knowledge. Does this reflect a return to the origins of education and moral philosophy?

On page 56 and the first half of page 75, Armstrong outlines a number of early religious ideas that would later influence Christianity. It might be easy to skip past all of this until we realize that these early philosophies influenced early church leaders and the authors of scripture. How does this type of background and knowledge impact your understanding of Christianity, if at all?

On page 59, look at the discussion of Socrates and his reluctance to write anything down, so that ideas would not be misunderstood. What do you think of this? What do you think of the notion that "Socrates did not approve of fixed, dogmatically held opinions"?

On the limits of naturalism and living out 'beliefs': "This concentration on the purely physical left too much out....Unlike the *phusikoi*, Socrates was primarily interested in goodness, which, like Confucius, he refused to define. Instead of analyzing the concept of virtue, he wanted to live a virtuous life....It was only when a person chose to behave justly that he could form any idea of a wholly just existence" (60).

Does Armstrong's critique on pp. 62-3 change the way you think about discussion, debate, or dialogue? Does it provide a broader context for what can be mean-spirited or vitriolic discussions today in politics, online, etc.? She writes: "In our society, rational discussion is often aggressive, since participants are not usually battling with themselves but are doing their best to demonstrate the invalidity of their opponent's viewpoint." Should we take a more reflective and introspective approach to dialogue and debate?

Look at the brief description of Plato's "doctrine of the forms" on pp. 66-7. What do you think of this?!

What do you think about Plato's change in perspective toward the end of his life (described on page 69), and how can we avoid becoming similarly rigid, "elitist and hard-line"? Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations Read the first full paragraph on page 79. Should we revisit this seriously or absolutely? Think of the practical implications of this for contemporary evangelical believers. Would you consider this to be radical?

What about this idea regarding the interpretation of scripture: "Any interpretation of scripture that bred hatred or disdain for others was illegitimate, while a good piece of exegesis sowed affection and dispelled discord. Anybody who studied scripture properly was full of love, explained Rabbi Meir; he 'loves the Divine Presence (*Shekhinah*) and all creatures, makes the Divine Presence glad and makes glad all creatures" (80).

Armstrong's descriptions on pages 81-9 of cultural and historical developments may be new to some of you. Think about how you read these pages and identify your personal response to them; we will spend some time after we finish Armstrong's book discussing this and reflecting on your own perception, interpretation, and reaction to this and other texts.

Regarding the practices of early Christians, Armstrong writes, "Christian doctrine would always be a *miqra* that would make sense only when translated into a ritual, meditative, or ethical program" (85). And later, "Faith was purely a matter of commitment and practical living" (99). In other words, "faith without deeds is dead." We say this today, but is this really the case, or have we effectively separated belief and action? Should that be more of an individual or case-by-case question?

Language and context are important elements of all text, written, oral, or other. Look at the last paragraph on page 86 and the first paragraph on page 87. How does understanding of language and context help our interpretation of 'text'?

What do you think about the Talmudic tradition described on page 93? Relate this to evangelical practice today.

On page 96, Armstrong describes traditional Christian methods for the interpretation of scripture and other sacred texts: "This fourfold method remained in place in the West until the Reformation....You began always with the literal reading but then progressed up the ladder of the moral, allegorical, and anagogical senses in a symbolic 'ascent' from the physical to the spiritual levels of existence. Until the modern period, nobody thought of confining their attention to a literal reading of the plain sense of scripture." What are your thoughts as you read this?

Respond to the last page of chapter 4, found on page 102. Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations •On page 105, Armstrong argues that “Today the doctrine of creation ex nihilo [creation out of nothing] is regarded as the linchpin of Christianity, the truth on which theism stands or falls.” She goes on to suggest that this idea “…represented a fundamental change in the Christian understanding of both God and the world….Creation ex nihilo tore the universe away from God” (105). How does this theological concept distance God from the world and the universe? Read Armstrong’s argument onto page 106 for more details.

•Note the developing separation between theological disputes and the practices of silence and reflection: “At a time when many Christians recoiled from the specter of primordial nothingness, others moved forward to embrace it. While some were engaged in wordy disputes and technical Christological definitions, others opted for a spirituality of silence…” (110).

•Is this statement true, in your experience of contemporary, U.S. evangelical practice: “Today religious experience is often understood as intensely emotional…” (111)?

•I find this idea compelling and challenging: “In all the major traditions, the iron rule of religious experience is that it be integrated successfully with daily life. A disorderly spirituality that makes the practitioner dreamy, eccentric, or uncontrolled is a very bad sign indeed” (111). She comes back to this later, when she writes, “The traditions all insist that a mystic must integrate his spirituality healthily with the demands of ordinary life” (153).

•Armstrong presents a different and interesting interpretation of Moses on Mt. Sinai, in the last full paragraph on page 113.

•Look at the top of page 115 for an example of Armstrong’s sympathy toward Christian tradition and practice.

•Rather than challenge some of the more difficult questions within Christianity, Armstrong provides an alternative, expansive view of the traditions and practices related to theology. On 117, for example, she writes that “Trinity was an activity rather than an abstract metaphysical doctrine. It is probably because most Western Christians have not been instructed in this exercise that the Trinity remains pointless, incomprehensible, and even absurd” (117).

•Augustine’s concept of ‘knowing’ strikes me as an interesting paradox, different from our own notion of knowledge and learning. “For Augustine, the Platonist, ‘knowing’ was not an activity that he had initiated but something that happened to his mind….the Known drew the thinker into an intimate relationship with itself” (121).

•On the Doctrine of Original Sin and its cultural context, see page 122. I think this provides useful information in understanding the background to present-day mainstream beliefs in Western Christianity. Also see the bottom of the same page for Augustine’s view of scripture and scientific information.

•Here is a provocative and pointed statement: “Religious people are always talking about God, and it is important that they do so. But they also need to know when to fall silent….We have to remember this when we speak about God, listen critically about ourselves, realize that we are babbling incoherently, and fall into an embarrassed silence” (123, 125). Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations • For a bit more context on current relations between Western countries and the Islamic Middle East, see the top of page 140.

• I like Armstrong’s descriptions on pages 141-2: “When we contemplate God, we are thinking of what is beyond thought; when we speak of God, we are talking of what cannot be contained in words. By revealing the inherent limitation of words and concepts, theology should reduce both the speaker and his audience to silent awe. When reason was applied to faith, it must show that what we call ‘God’ was beyond the grasp of the human mind. If it failed to do this, its statements about the divine would be idolatrous.”

• How does her description on the top of page 145 strike you: “All the ‘proofs’ have achieved is to show us that there is nothing in our experience that can tell us what ‘God’ means”? Read the rest of the page for additional information.

• I like the (brief) outline of Denys’ apophatic method, Thomas Aquinas’ contributions, and the work of Bonaventure from page 141-9 and after.

• On page 150, Armstrong charts the shift in a Western concept of God: “Clearly people were already beginning to think of God as just another being, another member of the cosmos, for whom such a contradiction would indeed be impossible.” She also charts the development of the current idea of a schism between “theology” and “spirituality” or ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ (152).

• Look at the very last paragraph of this chapter, on page 158. Armstrong sets up the second half of the text and the idea of the coming divisions in religious thought and practice. Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations •“The Spanish Inquisition was not an archaic attempt to preserve a bygone religious world; it was a modernizing institution devised by the monarchs to create national unity” (162).This is a striking change from earlier ideas about the Inquisition in Spain, though not without precedent in academia. The reversal is important, though. Later, on page 166, she suggests that “There were thus two rival versions of modernity: one open and tolerant, the other exclusive and coercive.” Is this too narrow a description, or an accurate portrayal of Spanish trends? Also look at how she defines “heresy” on page 162.

•For another sympathetic portrayal, see the top half of page 170.

•On page 171, Armstrong identifies trends begun by the Protestant Reformers that would ultimately lead to a more secularized society. See her discussion of Luther at the bottom of the page, for example.

•On pragmatism and pragmatic developments: “It was no longer desirable to reach for nebulous truth: things had to work effectively on the ground. As people were forced to pit their wits against extraordinary challenges occurring simultaneously on so many different fronts, a more systematic and pragmatic approach to knowledge was becoming essential” (172).

•She writes on page 173 about the shift toward an understanding of “belief” as intellectual agreement, rather than personal commitment or behavior: “Correct faith was gradually becoming a matter of accepting the proper teachings.” She continues this idea on page 187: “Faith was beginning to be identified with ‘belief’ in man-made opinions….”

•“The Protestant reformers may have demanded that Christians be free to read and interpret the Bible as they chose, but there was no tolerance for anybody who opposed their own teachings” (174). Is this an early problem in the Protestant Reformation that continued in some form or another after the early split in the Church?

•See Armstrong’s passing reference to Shakespeare on page 175 for an example of the dense references she alludes to throughout the text.

•Look at the paradox of belief in the context of Copernicus, and the discussion of sensory perception on page 178. Also see the final paragraph on page 180, continuing to page 181 and the second paragraph: “Today it is often assumed that modern science has always clashed with religion.” I think Armstrong’s assessment of this as false is very interesting and relevant.

•Armstrong has yet another alternative explanation to conventional wisdom, this time regarding Galileo. See the middle of page 183 for her contextual description of Galileo’s persecution by the post-Tridentine Catholic Church.

•The first half of page 184 has useful information on the scientific method, hypotheses, and certainty. For information on hypothetical thinking, see page 247.

•See page 189 for a discussion of faith and its application through spiritual exercises. Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations •Armstrong begins this chapter with a discussion of the cultural and historical background of religious practices. She addresses this again on the bottom of page 207, and later on the middle of page 228. I think this is an important distinction to make when discussing historical theologies and the development of religious ideas.

•For a concise and well-presented description of Descartes and his first philosophy, see pages 194-5. For a concise description of Spinoza’s ideas, see page 200. Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations •“The Enlightenment was the culmination of a vision that had been long in the making. It built on Galileo’s mechanistic science, Descartes’ quest for autonomous certainty, and Newton’s cosmic laws, and by the eighteenth century, the philosophes were convinced that religion, society, history, and the workings of the human mind could all be explained by the regular natural processes discovered by science” (212). How does this build on Armstrong’s overall thesis on the development of religious ideas about God?

•I like her presentation of people who refused to be reductionist in their religious practice, like John Wesley and the Methodists (214-5).

•On the difference between Europe and the United States, with regard to faith and spirituality, see page 220: “Unlike Europeans, Americans did not regard religion as oppressive but found it a liberating force that was enabling them to respond creatively to the challenge of modernity and come to the Enlightenment ideals in their own way.”

•There is an interesting link between atheism in Europe and “…the hope for a more just and equal world” (225). See this section for additional information. Also, on page 240, she argues that “The new European atheism was a product of this hunger for radical social and political change.”

•I think Armstrong identifies the idea of cycles and the re-discovery of ancient practices when, on page 230, she writes about the Romantic poets reviving “…a spirituality that had been submerged in the scientific age.” I especially appreciate the next sentence: “By approaching nature in a different way, they had recovered a sense of its numinous mystery.”

•Armstrong claims that extremists in all areas (fundamentalist religion, atheism, etc.) distort their own faith tradition and the traditions of others. She uses this same reasoning when discussing Hegel on pages 232-3: “In a way that would become habitual in the modern critique of faith, he had presented a distorted picture of ‘religion’ as a foil for his own ideas, selecting one strand of a complex tradition and arguing that it represented the whole.” Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations •See a brief description on page 235 of the pragmatism and no-nonsense practices of U.S. evangelicals, and how this differed from earlier European approaches to faith and belief.

•Again, on page 236, Armstrong describes U.S. evangelicalism as pragmatic and distinct: “Rooted in eighteenth-century Pietism, Evangelical Christianity led many Americans away from the cool ethos of the Age of Reason to the kind of populist democracy, anti-intellectualism, and rugged individualism that still characterizes American culture.”

•Look at natural theology and the Scottish philosophers mentioned on page 237. “The Evangelicals brought natural theology, hitherto a minority pursuit, into the mainstream” (238). See the rest of this paragraph, as well.

•See the section before the following quote, on pages 243-5: “Western Christians had become addicted to scientific proof and were convinced that if God was not an empirically demonstrable fact, there was no sense in which religion could be true.” This also demonstrates an increase in the use of false dichotomies to describe evangelical belief.

•“Christians had been taught to regard the truths of religion as well within the grasp of their minds and to treat the plain sense of scripture as factual. This attitude was becoming more and more difficult to maintain” (250).

•On the relationship between faith and science, going back to earlier comments about Kepler, Armstrong writes that “…the relations between science and faith had been more complex and nuanced” (252). Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations •“But the First World War revealed the self-destructive nihilism that, despite its colossal attainments, lurked at the heart of modern Western civilization” (263). How did this and other events of the twentieth century challenge the earlier (what some would call unbridled) optimism in social theory, theology, and other fields?

•On the reduction in certainty with regard to scientific discovery: “After Einstein, it became disturbingly clear that not only was science unable to provide us with definitive certainty, but its findings were inherently limited and provisional too” (266).

•Look at Armstrong’s description of fundamentalism on pages 270 on, as well as the cultural, historical, and other contextual reasons for its development.

•“Fundamentalism,” she argues, “be it Jewish, Christian, or Muslim—nearly always begins as a defensive movement…” (271). “Subsequent history would show that when a fundamentalist movement is attacked, it almost invariably becomes more aggressive, bitter, and excessive” (274).

•See the second half of 276 and 277 for a gripping account of Auschwitz and the perversion of faith, according to Armstrong.

•I think that Armstrong presents another important argument on page 278: “The idea of God is merely a symbol of indescribable transcendence and has been interpreted in many different ways over the centuries. The modern God—conceived as powerful creator, first cause, supernatural personality realistically understood and rationally demonstrable—is a recent phenomenon.” What follows is just as important, and I think all of this is the culmination of her earlier chapters.

•See page 282 for an overview of Tillich and symbolism.

•Look on page 286 at the difference between a “problem” and “mystery”, as described by Marcel. Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations •On the rise of conflict between faith and science: “Belief had emerged as the enemy of peace” (290).

•On the imbalance of “the sixties quest for spirituality”, see page 292.

•Armstrong writes about “militant religiosity” in the U.S. and “in every region where a secular, Western-style government had separated religion and politics” (292-3). How deeply ingrained is this type of thinking in mainstream evangelical thought and practice?

•She describes fundamentalism in greater detail again on pages 294-5. Look specifically at the middle of 294, where Armstrong writes about fundamentalist departures from mainstream Christian traditions. I appreciate her description on 295: “In all its forms, fundamentalism is a fiercely reductive faith.”

•Again sympathetic, she writes, “But it is essential for critics of religion to see fundamentalism in historical context. Far from being typical of faith, it is an aberration” (295).

•Look at the description of Islam and fundamentalism on pages 296-301. How might this change a more negative view of Islam?

•I think Armstrong’s critique of Dawkins and others is valid. She suggests that “They adhere to a hard-line form of scientific naturalism that mirrors the fundamentalism on which they base their critique: atheism is always a rejection of and parasitically dependent on a particular form of theism….This type of reductionism is characteristic of the fundamentalist mentality” (303-4).

•On the shallow critique of the ‘new atheists’, see 306-7. “…the new atheists are not theologically literate” (307).

•I think Armstrong’s description in the first paragraph on page 308 is inspiring, and eminently sympathetic to the practice of faith.

•Look at her description of postmodernism, on page 311. This is an important concept to grasp when looking at contemporary thought. The section from here to the end contains a lot of useful constructs and perspectives that are post-modern.

•See Caputo’s quote on 315, on “…people with historically limited imaginations…” and more. Professor Earwicker's Notes/Observations •Armstrong begins her epilogue with a characteristically bold statement: “Religion was never supposed to provide answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. That was the role of logos. Religion’s task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve: mortality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life” (318). Respond to this idea.

•She also suggests that “many of us have been left stranded with an incoherent concept of God” (320). Explain this and relate it to your own faith background and experience.

•Despite her sympathy, Armstrong writes cautiously about monotheism: “Idolatry has always been one of the pitfalls of monotheism. Because its chief symbol of the divine is a personalized deity, there is an inherent danger that people would imagine ‘him’ as a larger, more powerful version of themselves, which they could use to endorse their own ideas, practices, loves, and hatreds—sometimes to lethal effect” (321-2).

•On dialogue and the current climate of antagonism and debate, see page 323.

•See the bottom of page 325 for a description of contemporary understanding of concepts like “mystery,” “myth,” and “belief.” As I read through the assigned reading, there were several things that caught my eye. Though, there was one sentence in the introduction that I could not get out of my head:
"We bed God to support 'our' side in an election or a war, even though our opponents are, presumably, also God's children and the object of his love and care."
I really struggle with this quote. I agree that everyone is a child of God, but war is such a tough subject to deal with. I lost my best friend this Summer in Afghanistan and unfortunately there is a lot of anger that goes with that. I know that I shouldn't be angry, because sometimes I don't know who to be angry with. Sometimes it's our nation, sometimes it's the Afghans and a lot of times it's with the war in general. I have a hard time loving the other side like I should after the pain I've felt and seen in the family and friends over the death of that young soldier's life. This quote probably stuck with me because of the fresh wound that I have, but I could not stop thinking about it, and trying to figure out how to forgive and humble myself to love the other side like I know God would want me to. Kelsey Koch - My Thoughts Jessica Phelps The first part of this introduction stood out to me about people assuming they know exactly who God is. This is something I know I struggle with sometimes. I like knowing who I am praying to, but I also know that God is more than anything I could ever imagine. Especially because I can read and talk about God as much as I want, it is hard to believe that there is so much more that I don't know. I don't want to put God in a little box where I label and say what He can do, so I need to remind myself that He is more than just the knowledge I have about Him. Response to Kelsey
I am sorry to hear about your friend. I agree with you that war is a difficult subject to deal with. My brother just got home from Iraq. It was very difficult hearing that his unit was attacked or that he had been shot. It is extremely hard not to be angry with those that tried to harm him. My brother was thankfully alive when he got home, but I definitely understand your point of view.
-Jessica Phelps Response to Jessica
I have always felt that God is a father. A father that you can cry to, a father you can yell at, a father that you can disown at times; but he is so much more. I recently asked my 11 year daughter what she thought of God and she so eloquently put it, "God is everything, God is God. He is not a "he" or a "she". God is just God." I loved how simple she put it, yet so complex.
-Mindy the Shaman. I have always considered the Shaman as a witch. A person who conducted spells and magic. The way Armstrong describes a Shaman is a bit more than that, I fell like the Shaman is actually the religious leader. Asking "mother Earth" for blessing of the food they are about to kill. That sounds pretty close to a prayer before eating dinner.
Mindy "...when people wrote about the past in the ancient world, they were less interested in what actually happened than in the meaning of an event." -p. 32
The possibility of many of our Bible stories being metaphors for a deeper meaning and not actually true accounts - I've always wondered about this but even that tends to be shot down by the church because, "If we can't believe everything the Bible says, we can't believe any of it- so don't question it."
Or something along those lines... What do you guys think? Should every story in the Bible be taken literally or do you think some of them could be myth? The thing that struck me immediately upon reading the introduction was the sentence that talked about the tendency for people to think that people have always thought about God in the same way. I was surprised when Armstrong said our religious thinking is underdeveloped despite our "scientific and technological brilliance." Is it possible that our society as a whole is more concerned with advancing scientifically and technologically than in terms of God? Maybe this has caused our society's religious thinking to become outdated.
-- Stephen Field In regards to always thinking about God in the same way, I found that I was really frustrated throughout the first three chapters of the book because I felt like she was saying that bible was fiction and that there were better, more realistic stories out there of how humans came to be. I feel that maybe I was more narrow minded than I should have been because I was thinking about God in the way that I wanted to, not in a way to expand my knowledge and see different points of view.
Kelsey Koch I learned awhile ago not to think that people in the past were more stupid or less advanced than we are, because I've read a lot of stupid writings of today and many ancient writings that, when I can actually understand them, are very intelligent and logical. God is above time and I've never found the Bible, even the OT, to be irrelevant or useless in showing us God's fundamental character. Throughout the entire Bible, although the covenant was changed slightly, God's character and his desire never changes. He is a loving, but also a just God, who will go to incredible lengths to have relationship with His people, even if it means handing them over to their enemies for awhile. He is very protective, is present, and wants, above all, to have and be with His people. Sure, the words that we use to describe Him have changed and certain cultural metaphors are no longer as easily understood as they once were, but most of us take those things into account and understand him easily through the Bible. :)
-Mercy Mercy McCulloch

“We tend to tame and domesticate God’s ‘otherness’…. You certainly could not read your scriptures literally, as if they referred to divine facts.”
When I was studying ancient philosophy, and the question of “can you ever really describe God?” came up and I had to wrestle with this idea. This has been my conclusion:

To a certain extent God will always be outside of our words and our imagination,
but that doesn’t mean that we can’t know anything about Him.

He describes himself and even stuck himself in human form to help us know Him better. Of course, we haven’t yet seen Him, so we can’t really grasp His full glory, but we have glimpses of it. It would be like if you had never seen the full glory of a huge range of beautiful mountains in the sunrise. We can describe it to you and say the feelings we got from it and try to explain what it was like. We could even show you pictures. But you will never know the ENTIRE glory of it until you have seen it. But you know enough and you can have an accurate picture in your head and describe it to other people, even though you haven’t yet seen the full glory of it yet. Does that make sense? Point 4 response: I think her assertion that religion was the product of ritual instead of the other way around kind of challenges contemporary religious practice because it makes it seem like our religion is false and not based upon real, supernatural events. But this assertion doesn't bother me, mostly because, based on my own personal study of religion, I can't see where she got this theory that religion was based on ritual. Every religion is a way of thinking about the world, both life and death, and represents a way of life that most of the time includes an idea of the supernatural. Rituals spawn from that. She seems to think the entire world is a scam built by "who knows" to con everybody else into doing things that don't really mean anything and most of the time don't benefit their proponents. Yes, some religions could have been made up or twisted to control people, but most have been based on supernatural experience or enlightenment about life and/or the universe.
-Mercy Mercy McCulloch "Really, Mrs. Armstrong?!?"

My thoughts are starting to be, “Really? Is she seriously saying that?” when I’m reading this book. It’s fraught with inaccuracies. It makes me wonder how in the world it ever got published. For one small assertion she makes, she takes the Bible completely out of context on page 86. “Mark takes it for granted that Joseph was Jesus’ father and that he had brothers and sisters who were well known to the earliest Christian communities; like other evangelists, he sees Jesus primarily as a prophet.”
Other than the grammar flaw (“Jesus’s” instead of “Jesus’” lol), the sources she uses to explain this assertion are not taken in context. The first verse she uses (Mark 6:3) is a quote by people from Jesus’ hometown when they were offended at him, basically saying “Isn’t he one of us? Don’t we know his family? Where did he get these ideas and powers?” The other verse Armstrong uses is Luke 24:19, which does more to disprove her case, I think. It’s after Jesus’ resurrection and the disciples were in doubt that Jesus was actually the messiah because he hadn’t yet raised from the dead (which, according to Armstrong, didn’t happen). Jesus is talking to them and they, in essence, say that they were hoping Jesus had been the Messiah, but that he had prophesied he would raise from the dead and hadn’t, yet, so maybe he was just a powerful prophet. She took one line from that verse and said that Luke didn’t think Jesus was the Messiah… I am loosing respect for her by the moment because of either her stupidity or her dishonesty. I’m not even mentioning the other things I found that were wrong! Why would they be myths? Because they are amazing and fantastic? Isn't our God amazing and fantastic? When can we start believing? When our own (sometimes faulty) critics say, "Oh, I think that's probably true based on science and my own thoughts" ?
When do we stop trusting our puny intellect and start trusting that God could give us something true about himself and the world around us?
These are not a rhetorical questions. :) I've studied ancient mythology when I was deciding what religion I wanted to commit my soul to, and the Christian story outshone all the others, in both practical application and in evidence of historical accuracy. Honestly, I've lost a lot of respect for Mrs. Armstrong because of the inaccuracies and misrepresentations she's made (the Aryans, Socrates, context issues, her assertions about the purpose and practice of ancient religions, etc), and I don't think we can really take seriously much of what she is saying. :)
-Mercy C. M. Differences between Islam and Christianity
I've read parts of the Qur'an, witnesses of Islam, and have a few Muslim friends. Again, what Armstrong says is not entirely accurate. I'm not sure if she's just ignorant or simply trying to make a case that religion is more about actions than beliefs. You can't have one without the other, and my Muslim friends would agree with me. Belief in Allah as portrayed through Mohammed is ESSENTIAL to Islamic belief.
Yes, they do believe in Jesus as a prophet, but this is a major divergence between Christianity and Islam. In Islam, there is no Messiah. There is no forgiveness of sins. Jesus didn't actually die (because that would be a sign of weakness). In Islam, if you are faithful to the five pillars (and/or die in jihad, of course), then you probably will go to heaven if Allah is merciful. There is more, like the huge inequalities of men and women and protocol for unbelievers, but this is the most essential difference. :)
-Mercy Saying that God isnt a person is unreal.
Although He may not be here with us physically, He definitely is here with us spiritually and mentally. If they say that God isnt a real person and doesnt exist then why is it that God answers our prayers?
-Michelle Yes, war is a hard
thing to deal with
especially if you
have had people
close to you
battling. I feel as
though God has
the ultimate plan
and knows when
and how to take
us, the only thing
that is hard is when
the other side of
the battle isnt
-Michelle In the first part of the chapter it mentioned
how the Jews accepted the non-jews into their
worship. It reminds me of how God always wants
us to accept other for who they are and not to
be judgemental. He also wants us to be able to love
our neighbors. Although this may seem hard, if you are truely giving your life to God, then this task that He asks all of us shouldn't be hard to do. So, have you thought of anyone that you haven't accepted? Maybe we should all reflect upon this and then ask the Lord for forgiveness.
- Michelle It was very interesting to me what Armstrong had to say about faith. She says that faith for the earlier Christians had nothing to do with belief, but that it "was purely a matter of commitment and practical living." It is interesting that one of our definitions of faith today is believing in something without proof. Belief is part of the definition. Maybe, even if Armstrong is not entirely correct, we need to put more action to our faith.

-- Stephen Field S. Field Response

I think language is so important to our understanding of texts. Look at how the word "belief" changed so much over the years. If we were to know the meaning behind many words like this in the Bible it may have an effect on how we think about things, or at least give us a different perspective. Response to Mercy-
I feel the same way. I am not sure if she knows about the different religions or if she just googled some info and plopped them in her book. That's almost what it seems like to me. It angers me that she talks so "loosely" about the Christian religion as if it is fake or unbelievable, especially in a chapter titled Faith. It seems like Armstrong is trying to squeeze God out of everything that has ever happened. On page 51, she has one sentence from a Naturalist that she takes a lot from. She seems to be trying to make a point but sources that are not helping her much. -Deb I personally felt uncomfortable with reading her expose on the origin of man and religion. While I understood that she meant to communicate man's desire to transcend his physical confines and mortality I didn't approve of how Christianity was presented as merely an option among other religions. The Christian faith is received just as that (faith). While I may not become an atheist or agnostic by reading this first chapter it still felt like journeying in the dark with no light (seeing there was no faith in God or evidence of Him to guide this broad overview). In this chapter Armstrong states "Today religious experience is often understood as intensely emotional". I think Armstrong is right for the most part here. I think too often we associate a religious experience with emotions and if you don't show any emotions, it must not have been a sincere experience. I do think religious experiences should be emotional for the most part but they don't always need to be intensely emotional. I think we need to be be real, and express real feelings when these experiences happen, but we also need to be aware that by being more emotional does not mean the religious experience will be better or have more meaning. Armstrong also goes onto say that sometimes when there is too much emotion it can be a distraction to ourselves and others thus making it a negative experience instead of a positive one. I think we need to be real with ourselves when these times come and react genuinely.
-Adam Freiburghaus Response to Stephen. I also found this part interesting. I never knew that there was another way to look at faith. I see faith as believing, even when you can't prove it, but i do agree with stephen that we do need to put more actions into what we believe which will eventually make out faith stronger.

Adam Freiburghaus I agree with you. She is starting to take a lot out of simple statements and scriptures. I found it hard to believe that she was comparing him to a prophet. She also tried to make a distinction between the term "son of God". Yes we all are sons/daughters of God but Jesus was The Son of God. -Deb Others happen to think like Armstrong.
-Deb Jessica Phelps "What is hateful to yourself, do not to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary. Go learn it." I had to read and reread this passage several times. I take it to mean if you think it's bad then don't do it to someone else. Although I do not know much about the Torah, this seems like a very simplified statement. I think about what one statement could sum up the Bible and I don't think any one could do so. Also, saying that the rest is just commentary almost sounds like it is not important. Response to Mercy
I completely agree with you! I feel like she did not know very much and yet wrote an entire book about it. No wonder she is making such a big deal out of small things, she has no idea what she is talking about. At one point she states "Jesus does not seem to have attracted a large following during his lifetime. But that changed in about 30 CE when-for reasons not entirely clear- he was crucified by the Romans." My jaw dropped reading this. "reasons not clear" Reading the Bible makes it pretty clear.
-Jessica There was a part of this chapter that discussed meditation and lectio from Anslem that I really enjoyed. He was explaining that we should not skim over the bible, but to really be thoughtful while we read it. There was a part where he talks about how the Bible was not meant to inform, but to "stir up" the mind and thought process of the reader. It was intended to make us think and to learn and ask questions. He described lectio as "a moment of reflection, awe, or insight." I really like this because many times, I think as Christians, we get caught up in our busy lives and we just skim through the bible to get our devotions in. Sometimes we dont sit down and actually dig deep into the Bible like we should. We need to be actively seeking God and I thought that Anslem worded that very well.
Kelsey Koch This is an interesting thought.
I agree with this statement very
much. Our faith isnt, or shouldnt be
only about commitment or practical
living. It should be an active, God seeking
faith and relationship between God and
the seeker.
Kelsey Koch Response to Jessica
It's so much easier to pray to a God that we can label; I think this is both a tool we use to define God and a limitation we put on ourselves. This means that our faith can only reach as far as our imagination. Does that mean that the less creative of us have less of God in their lives? I don't think so.The thing is...I think we often spend so much time trying to grasp the abstract concept of God that we forget that, as Mindy's daughter so eloquently put it, "God is God." The quicker we realize our limitations, the more we allow ourselves to explore who God is.
-Jana DeSimone In response to Michelle:
I think what Armstrong is trying to get at is that God isn't a "being" in the sense that you and I are. We as humans are limiting God to the extent of our vocabularies, and while there's not much we can do about that, we must also remember not to let ourselves forget that he is so much more than we can fathom. We cannot grasp the concept of what his is because we don't have the words to define him
-Jana DeSimone I find it hard to grasp the idea that ritual comes before religion. I can't quite follow Armstrong's logic on this point; does she mean to say that we continue to do some random act over and over simply because it feels right? If that's the case, then it seems to cheapen the implications of religion. For instance, if the ritual of the Eucharist was only assigned meaning after the fact, then the sacrifice for which it stands would, ultimately, be less meaningful.
-Jana DeSimone Armstrong's interpretation of Moses' encounter with God tied very nicely into the introduction of the entire text, which leads me to believe that this is a point she really wants to drive home: By trying to define God based on human concepts and language, we are so limiting who he/she/it is that we lose the essence of "God". Man's version of God must be constricted to what we can fathom, which amounts to little more than a stunted caricature of his image. However, when Moses climbed the mountain, he cast off those limitations. If we are to be like Moses and stand in the physical presence of God, we must first open our minds and our hearts beyond their perceived limits.
-Jana DeSimone This is a very important part of the Christian walk- I'm so glad you pointed it out. It's hard for me to listen to Christians condemn someone because of what they believe or how they orient themselves. I feel like the motto "love the sinner; hate the sin" works well here. God calls us to love everyone, and it is not our place to determine whether or not they are acceptable; we ought to leave that the Him.
-Jana Response to Jana,
I agree with you about ritual coming before religion. I have always thought of ritual as something that develops from a religious belief. If it is the other way around I feel like there is no solid foundation for a religious belief or ritual.
Meghan In this chapter the author states “If the historians are right about the function of the Lascaux caves, religion and art were inseparable from the very beginning. Like art, religion is an attempt to construct meaning in the face of the relentless pain and injustice of life” (p. 8). This seems like a narrow view of religious purpose, only because religion is not only about making you feel better. It’s about humbling yourself and showing others how you have grown or where you struggle. She is missing other elements. I believe there is ritual practice with community and then a personal relationship that is separate. I think what she is saying about art could apply to a personal relationship but not ritual. I think she also gives a very narrow definition of art. Art isn’t just about pain. If someone is worshiping it might be in sadness but most of the time it’s rejoicing.
Meghan Barker I really feel that the core of what she is getting
to in this chapter is something that I too believe and that is humans are created to believe in something. Having studied quite a bit of art history, including most of the cave paintings that she talks about, I see that many cultures outside of the early jewish faith had a belief in something bigger than themselves and she does a great job explaining how the human mind works to create those "beings". From Marduk to Baal, every culture has some basic drive to belong to something more. I don't feel this chapter was any kind of attack, simply an explanation of how people came to understand God before His revealing Himself to His people.

Anni Lubiens I feel like she wrote it that way
to understand all sides of the argument.
Knowing all opinions and histories can help us gain a better understanding of our own beliefs. Doubt is not a dark path but one that is in some ways necessary for growth, it can only strengthen your faith if you are open to the wisdom that has come before in your own faith and in humanity. I wish with all my heart that education and philosophy were as important to our culture today as it was to the greeks. Imagine a society that continually re-investigates itself and strives to form a better society from the bottom up! Our world would be a much better place if we could combine this philosophy with the resources available to us today. I especially agree with her view on politics and discussion. I feel like I would actually know what we are voting for.

Anni Lubiens Is a nurse who is not a christian not a good source of information when you are choking? Wisdom is still wise. Some people refer to Saul David and Solomon in this way; Saul had no heart for God, David had a whole heart for God, and Solomon had a half heart for God, yet Solomon is the wisest. Knowledge can be valuable no matter the source.

Anni Lubiens in response to Deb. I disagree in the sense that a commentary is there to give you a better understanding of a simple statement. The first command though simple is vague and the commentary is necessary to fully understand it.

Anni Lubiens in Response to Jessica Phelps I think it takes all types to make a world, including a world of faith. We need those that value orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I agree with her summary on the last page of chapter four.

Anni Lubiens I think it is super awesome that you have this understanding of a culture and religion not your own! I love getting into discussions with people who have a different view then mine, and I do agree with you she was a bit american mainstream on her interpretation of the essentials of the Mulsim faith.

Anni Lubiens in response to Mercy AMEN!!!!!!!
-anni lubiens I would say in my experience that the practice of worshiping God is a bit of a tug of war still between tradition and the emotional. By an older generation emotion can be seen as something that upsets the order while a younger generation believes that this passion and emotion can lead more to the truth. In reality the only difference between the two is time. Eventually the latter becomes the former.

Anni Lubiens This post is regarding the quote about Christians being addicted to scientific proof, and if God couldn't be a proven fact, that religion couldn't be true. I can definitely see how some people would think this way. I too sometimes struggle with certain aspects of science and religion and how they mix or don't mix. But i think this is where faith comes in. As a Christian it is sometimes difficult for me to believe things that science proves to trump religion, but because of my faith i can find a balance of the two that makes it easier for me.
-Adam I know, my thought was, "Has she even read the Bible?" Plus, it is also clear from the Bible that Jesus did, in fact, attract a large following. There is a passage in John where the Pharisees are frustrated with Jesus' popularity and one of them says, "Look, the whole world is going after him!" (John 12:19). The verses she uses to "support" her assertions that the writers of the Gospels didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah are flimsy and taken out of context, as well, if you look them up :)
Mercy in response to Jessica I think she was trying to re-invent the wheel here. Jesus already said what was the whole of the commandments: "To love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself." I think, if any statement could sum up the Bible, it would be this, taken from Jesus. (Luke 10:27) In her attempt at a political statement through this book she changed it to the Golden Rule, but that doesn't sum up everything. ;) The rest is very important, but this is a main message, definitely.
Mercy in response to Jessica and Anni I think she's going to say that all religions are basically the same, and so she has to "dim" Jesus a bit in order to make him fit with what some other religions think about him and also to make him seem more scientific, maybe (because miracles can't happen *sarcastic*). :)
Mercy in response to Deb I agree that we do need to put practice with our faith, but I also found this section of her writing disturbing from a skeptical-philosophical point of view, because what I believe and act upon must be correct and worthwhile, otherwise I won't act consistently or for very long on something I don't really believe to be true. :) Just wanted to point that out. :)
Mercy It is true that Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet. :) But they don't believe he was God in the flesh or in any spiritual redemption and most make clear distinctions between themselves and Christians. :) There are, of course, people who think they can be all the same, just like in Christianity :p Jana DeSimone
I thought it was interesting that Armstrong pointed out the fact that scientists were willing to believe in the abstract and the intangible. on Page 184 she talks about Galilleo's approach to exploration, and how he utilizes the mathematical principles to back up his hypotheses. She went on to discuss that he differentiated science and religion- it was his belief that they were not on the same plane, and therefore could not be studied in the same way. I think this is where we often get tripped up in our faith, especially when conversing with a non-believer. It's so very hard to believe when you cannot physically see the form of God, but that's just it- we cannot use our science and theories of mechanics to describe God because he exists on an entirely different realm. All too often we try to use the reductionists' approach to religious explanation, but that completely ignores all emotional, contextual, and situational components of Christianity. Response to Adam
It's so tempting to explain away religion in terms of scientific proof, especially with scientific discoveries regarding the God helmet and the spiritual centers of the brain. However, I think the problem lies in that we use science to explain religion when the two spheres aren't comparable. It doesn't make sense to reduce the emotional, contextual, and situational instances to such fundamentals because that is completely ignoring very pertinent parts of spiritual and religious experiences.
-Jana DeSimone Response to Jana:
I agree with this. I think she makes such bold statements that you have to disagree with sometimes in order for her to make that very case. We need to examine as much as can because it pushes or limits. Like you said pushing our limits opens our hearts and minds.
Meghan I particularly liked chapter 5 because it talks about something that I am currently going through. I am starting to realize how important it is to use logic but it makes it want God more. We can’t know everything about God and drawing close to him emotionally helps with that gap. Although we can’t know everything its still good to question, research, and doubt because God did give us an intellect and I think he wants us to use it to draw conclusions about ourselves and how we relate to each other and God. “The relationship between the unknowable God and the incarnate Logos, who had brought all things into existence, must, therefore, be entirely different from a relationship between two created beings” (p. 107). We need certain things from God and we need certain things from relation to people. I think the monks are inspirational because they do what most of us can’t. They people question more than I am willing to and they draw closer to God than I could imagine. “We had to press on, pushing our minds to the limits of what we could know, descending ever deeper into the darkness of unknowing and acknowledging that there could be no final clarity” (p. 113).
Meghan Barker Forcing religion upon people will automatically want them to not participate in it. When it stated that americans need to become more religious, I was like, Yes we do, although it needs to be done on our own time and in our own way. When we force religion upon people, that's when they seem to back away and step out of the christian lifestyle and some even become atheists. As americans we need to remember that it is a choice to be a christian and that we shouldnt force it upon anyone.
-Michelle Is God really in
our cognition?
This point was brought
up in this chapter, and
I dont know how he
couldnt be. Yes I know that
he isnt physically here like
other people are, but we still
call him the father, son and holy
spirit and rely on him. If God wasnt
in our cognition this how could we fully
trust him with our life? -Michelle I was rather surprised when Armstrong started to talk about God and science. It is an interesting idea that some of the most famous scientist, mathematicians, and brilliant men of that time period thought that God was the answer to everything. He was the one who created the fields they were studying and there was evidence for that. It is different from what there is today. Science and God do not even belong together in our present time. It is interesting to see who time has changed our thinking. -Deb A So much emphasis is placed on the merging of religion and science. I know that as humans we are constantly trying to "explain" everything, but can we honestly say, "I will be a better Christian if I KNOW that the creation cycle happened in 7 days or 7000 years!" I think that Christians loose the point of the creation story. What is important is that God did it!!! It doesn't matter how long it took or how he went about it, what is important to our faith is that HE DID IT!
Mindy This to me is a very loaded question! Is God really in our cognition or does our environment introduce God into our lives. The most famous question in the minds of all psychologists, "is it innate, or is it environmental?" One could argue that God is heavily environmental. He is mentioned in our Pledge of allegiance, He is mentioned on our currency, He is in a number of "USA" songs. If we were to remove God from all those things, in the minds of non-christians would God still be present?
Mindy This chapter I think is my favorite. Faith is exactly how she puts it. "God was beyond the grasp of the human mind." This chapter I think ties in very well with Chapter 11 and the discussion of whether God is already "planted" in our subconsciousness. This is what makes Faith so remarkable-it is just that-thinking beyond the frame of our mind.
Mindy I totally agree with Kelsey! The Bible, in its time, I feel is very controversial, actually in our time it still is. I think my all time favorite story out of the Bible is when Jesus comes in the Temple and is furious. He turns over tables and yells and puts the priests in there place. That is just a lovely picture to me! :) This is Jesus getting in their face and telling them they are not "getting" God-they need to listen with their mind, heart and soul-a great lesson for us Christians, straight from God's son! :)
Mindy I thought it was very interesting how in this chapter
Armstrong was discussing faith in the sixteen century. (page 166) She was explaining how in this century, faith was much bigger during this time than it is now. People were very religious then and used religion with every decision they made and every decision in the process of modernization during the renaissance. This just made me think about religion in the 21st century. I believe that we would like to think that we use faith in our decision making, but I don't think that's the case. It makes me wonder how different our world would be if everyone did this for politics, science, religion, and every other decision we make.
Kelsey Koch One thing related to this that's worth pointing out is that almost every culture has some concept of God. It's not an "American" idea that is brought on by our Christian roots at the founding of this country. I think most of us, especially as children, somehow see (before our inhibitions and biases start messing with us) that life as we know it requires a higher being.
That's my unexplored thought. :) -Mercy Jana's post is very thought provoking. It is very hard to explain God, and Jesus without being able to physically show him. Its all based on faith and believing that its true, but that can be hard sometimes, especially for new believers. We have to be sure to include all parts of Christianity when explain who Christ is, and be open to look at Christianity in many different angles.
Kelsey Koch Armstrong makes too broad a generalization when she says that all fundamentalism was born out of fear. For example, Muslim extremists (the most extreme form of fundamentalism, perhaps), don't just do what they do out of fear. There may be a little fear mixed in their (of hell, etc.), but their primary desire is to serve their god and enter paradise after death. They aren't afraid of any "other side."
Another example could be a local cult that I happen to have personal experience with. They are very strict and shun those who leave the "faith." They are not violent, but could be defined as fundamental and extreme. Their movement was born out of one man's conviction that Christianity, as he knew it, wasn't doing right or acting right. Therefore, he studied and came up with some things he thought might be the problem and decided to fix them by implementing certain principles very strongly in order to distinguish his faith from the rest of the world. He wanted to be different and extreme, and that's how that cult was born. It was as simple as that. Enough people agreed with him that it was viable, and the kids follow because they love their families and want to stay in contact with them. It doesn't have much to do with fear, that was too much of a generalization for me to overlook. :)
-Mercy The author's comparison of the scientific revolution to the revolution in the church is what grasps my attention the most in this chapter. She mentions that a new wave of scientists posited that one simply can't KNOW the universe fully. That in turn (in her words) affected the theology of the church so that the church felt threatened in the early 20th century. She then goes to an excerpt where she claims a Pentecostal movement rose in protest of this wave of scientific discovery (supposedly) against God.
Her claims seem to pit the Church in America as a whole split in two as liberal vs conservative but she's not specific with all of her data. I had the feeling that she simply wants to paint her view as the Church divided asunder yet she does not go into enough detail to let us understand how that division felt for Christians back then.
She also depicts fundamentalists as fundamentally (pun intended) evil. However she does not go into greater depth to describe these fundamentalists. If she did she would allow me to more definitely be able to coherently agree/disagree with her undertoned bias.-Ruben A. Mercy - On Evolution (Or "Hitler Made Sense")
On and around page 274, Armstrong gives an overview of the Scopes trial (where the right of evolution to be taught in public school was questioned). She makes several claims that are impossible to substantiate, including that a fight against evolution was born out of fear of uncertainty (273). But the part that got me was her claim that before Scopes, few people subscribed to "creationism." As a simple logical deduction, few subscribed to it because it wasn't an issue. Just as easily as she said "most people took it for granted that the Bible wasn't literal," you could say that "most people took it for granted that the Bible was literal." Sides started being drawn up only when opposition was encountered, and positions and words for those positions are only created when opposition happens. Does that make sense?
Also, the implications of a strict belief in basic evolutionary progression are ugly. I've been to the holocaust museum and saw the reasoning behind a lot of Hitler's killings. From a non-emotional, evolutionary, atheistic point of view, what he did makes a lot of sense. Why not make the world a better place by wiping out all races that were "sub-human"? I can understand where that one guy was coming from when he started having a problem with it. :)
I also want to bring up the fact that evolution is not a fact. It is still a theory because it cannot be proved and goes against some basic scientific laws that have always been shown to be true (like "stuff doesn't come from nothing."Oversimplified scientific law ;) but you know what I mean).
Just bringing up other views and possible errors and omissions on Armstrong's part. :) "God may be incomprehensible, but people have the option of putting their trust in this ineffable God and affirming a meaning..."

This sentence struck me because of the last bit. Do you think that sometimes people turn to God simply because they desire meaning in their life? I think this is true. When people are at their lowest and need their life to mean something, they are more prone to turn to God. In some ways is it harder to turn to God in times of goodness than in times of need?

-- Stephen Field For me, one of the deciding factors of "who to believe" was the fact that science has changed in it's fundamentals so much over the years. There are a few things that have been found to be solid (Newton's scientific laws, etc), but a lot comes and goes with the wind (flat earth, spontaneous generation, etc.). One day, a lot of our scientific theories may be laughed at by schoolchildren as ridiculous. :)
But God, and the Bible, don't change and haven't ever been proven wrong. Therefore, I believe them. :)
-Mercy “And during these forty years, physicists were content to work as though relativity were true. They had what religious people would call “faith” in it. It was finally rewarded when a new spectroscopic technique became available and scientists could finally observe the effect Einstein had predicted” (p.267)

I think faith is really important! Despite not knowing everything and being in the unknown we should still try and then maybe we might find some truth. I think that faith and critical thinking balance each other out and the end result might be better than living a life where you act as though nothing was true.
Meghan Barker Response to Ruben
I agree! I liked where she was going in this chapter and then it fell apart and I was more confused by what she meant in the end. I didn’t know what she meant by fundamentalism either and frankly I don’t like that term because its over used. Unless you can define exactly what group and what they are doing that is different then the term should not be used.
Meghan Barker In the beginning it talked about how life was life art with all the beautiful things and how we can be creative, it then goes to talk about the bad things in life and how cruel they are. How would life be if everyone was perfect? God has always given us things that are tough but never anything that we cant handle. This was we can grow and build off of out mistakes.
-Michelle "One day a group of Jews decided to put God on trial.... They condemned God to death."
I did not know what to make of this. But I was even more surprised when Armstrong started talking about how Hitler was part of the Catholic faith. She went on to blame the Pope for not excommunicating him or anything else, which did not help with the Holocaust.
It seems that Hitler's supposed faith is something that The Catholic Church wanted to suppressed. Religion may not be perfect, but this could have been done better. - Deb Response >> Do we think of Jesus of a lair? Do we consider him uneducated for not presenting scientific facts to his followers? Some non-Christians might think so given some of the examples we are given from the Bible, but not likely the majority of Christians. Are Jesus' parables any less true because they are fabricated and not based on an actual occurrence or should we think of him a lair because of that. Of course most Christians would say Jesus is not a lair (besides the without sin context) but that it is the message that was important. Jesus' example of a mustard seed being the smallest is false based off of scientific analysis, but the point He still made his point to his followers. The point is that in my opinion it is impressive all the historical accuracies given that the authors were not experts in written history. It could be argued that they were charged with the responsibility of passing on oral history. I do not believe the phrase "God inspired" means without error but that the character of God, our understanding of him, and his purpose for our lives be they message and the "inspiration". If it meant God's message was to be ultimately understood by all no matter what, then God sucks at this cause not all of us are really getting it. But if it was meant for use to interpret through our own reason, experience and relationships with ourselves and others, tradition, and through creation then that would make more sense. So, I get if what the authors of the Bible wrote wasn't all fact but laced with truthful allegories (parables) for us to express and examine our humanness to help us realize God's purpose for us. -Torrey When thinking of the words Faith and Reason put side by side my mind goes to Thomas the Disciple also known as "Doubting Thomas" in some references. Jesus never condemned Thomas for his questions and his doubts that is until he tells Thomas in John 20:27-31

I find it interesting that each version of these passages has a different word placed before believe: doubting, unbelieving, and faithless. Most people think poorly of Thomas because he did not believe at first but Jesus' death showed how valuable we are to him that he lay down his life for us in one of the most horrible ways even though he was innocent and his resurrection validates his position and example for us. No one knew the perfect example until Jesus so this passage isn't telling us to blame Thomas for his doubt but commend him for his pursuit of truth and that Jesus is telling him that now that he has experienced the truth for himself there is no longer a need for doubt. So, we should not condemn those who have not had the opportunity to know Christ but that we should be that example of Christ's character to them. That doubt is apart of the process in the pursuit for truth. Faith and Reason should be used in tandem not fight each other. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (KJV) 27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

30-31 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it. (The Message) 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (NIV) -Torrey << Response to Mindy I like what you have to say Mindy!
I don't find it disheartening that when I watch the science channel they are able to answer or deduce about our world and creation. The fact that we are even capable of theorizing things in the manners that we do is amazing and should be praiseworthy in and of itself. Why should this "traditional" view of the church stifle that creativity? Does the ability to comprehend and utilize the world around us pervert his design? I don't think that if God gave us the capability to do something we should not figure out how to make us of it to benefit us in some way, overall. So, what does aspects of the theory evolution have to
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