Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: The Battle for God

The Battle for GodThe Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Price: Rs/= 1150
Pages: 442

In The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong traces the history of fundamentalism in the three monotheistic religions, i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The author explains fundamentalism to be a modern phenomenon, which could only take place in our modern times. It is only in the post twenty century world that religion has been sent into the aisles while the values of liberalism control all aspects of human life. It is this attitude towards religion which allows the fundamentalist zeal to grow out of bounds. Fundamentalists consider themselves as the last saviours of religion; they have a mission to bring back religion from the aisles to the centre of our modern society.

Karen Armstrong gives a detailed account of different fundamentalist tendencies in the three faiths. She analyses the Heredims in Judaism, Protestant premillennialism in Christianity, and Syed Qutb's and Khomini's revolutions in Islam.

All these movements have transformed religious mythos into logos. In the pre-modern world, myths were never meant to be considered form a rational point of view. The inherent enigma present inside the mythos allowed people to connect with the divine. The logos, the practical aspects of religion, was always complemented these mythos. Therefore, a perfect balance between mythos and 'the practical' was always present. This balance was completely destroyed after the rise of scientific modern world. This new world was based on tangible and empirical evidences, with no room for mythos. Everything that was logo was open for a critical examination. As the fundamentalist cannot disregard mythos, they have tried to transform their respective religious mythos into concrete ideological logos. Be it the theory of Zionism, the idea of rapture, or the institution of Vilayat-e-Faqi. On the basic level, it is the transformation of mythos that has provided the much need energy to drive fundamentalism in the modern world.

Secondly, in today's world, Nihilism has become a basic ingredient of fundamentalist movements. They have created suicide bombers, excommunicated people who criticise their ideologies, and have put their back towards the modern world. It is these nihilistic tendencies which drives Jewish fundamentalist to plan an attack on the Dome of Rocks and Muslim fundamentalists, such as Taliban, to kill innocent men and women in the name of God. Nihilism has become an integral part of their program.

Meanwhile, the book also maintains that fundamentalism is primarily a modern movement. It is a reaction to the ethos of the modern world. In this respect, fundamentalism isn't an inherently religious movement. It has originated due to the internal dialectics of modern societies. Hence, it is the scientific drive which has led Christians and Muslims alike to test their sacred scriptures on the touchstone of modern science. Moreover, the alienation created as a result of the total neglect of mythos has clearly distorted our subconscious self. Humans always need mythos as much as they need logos. This alienation has created, in the words of Sartre, a "God-shaped hole" that needs to be filled up. Fundamentalism tries to fill this alienation problem, but mostly it is unsuccessful in performing this task.

The author has done an excellent job in trying to explain the fundamentalist's view point from their own perspective. Without understanding their believe structure, it is quite impossible to dialogue with them. Dealing with a fundamentalist is like dealing with an anachronistic person. A modernist and a fundamentalist can never understand each other points of view, because they don't exist on the same plane of thought.

The book prophetically claims hat fundamentalism is here to stay. Liberalism hasn't been able to solve all human problems on the basis of rationality. Fundamentalists of the three faiths will always exploit this fact for their personal agendas.

The aim of this seminal book was to present a historical analysis of Fundamentalism. The author has excellently done her job. She has elaborated all forms of fundamentalists tendencies which have arisen in these great faiths. The book is highly referenced and an excellent bibliography is presented at the end.

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