I have a serious question for all readers of this post and I hope you leave a thoughtful comment below in the space for thoughtful comments:
What is the single most influential book you have ever read?
If you are a reader like I am, that question is probably super difficult. I can think of at least a dozen books that have moved me and that have meant something to me...the kind of book that gets me reading more, researching, wanting...needing more. I have several books that have served as tremendously meaningful turning points for me.
There is one book that was hugely significant for me and very influential in my transition from believer to nonbeliever. It was about the year 1997; I was working part time at this place where I had some time to read/reflect/write a bit. That's significant because I had a newborn at the time and reading/reflecting/writing aren't typically possible in the life of a new mother.
My sister was living in Dallas at the time and she and I were writing to each other daily (We had no email or any social media at the time so think snail mail. 😊 ), mostly about whatever we were reading at the time. She was reading a book by Karen Armstrong, a British author and commentator of Irish Catholic descent known for her books on comparative religion. The book was a 1993 title A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The book details the history of the three major monotheistic traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, along with some Buddhism and Hinduism. The evolution of the idea of God is traced from its ancient roots in the Middle East up to the present day.
Armstrong's highly intellectual and authoritative work was exactly what I needed at that point, a book that took me on a detailed and illuminating journey to the roots of modern day religion. I'd already read several other books that endeavored to take me there, including Elaine Pagels' Gnostic Bible, but none of the other books was as instantly compelling as History of God for me. As a history buff, I was looking for solid bedrock. I found it in this book.
History of the monotheistic beliefs, but more, history of the rise of religion as an institution. At the time I was still struggling with doubt and questions; my religion was still important in my life but I knew that there were problems that I could not ignore. I had been reading and talking with people for months when I got my hands on this book. I started reading it with a highlighter in one hand and a notebook in the other. Long, long letters snail mailed their way back and forth between my sister and I, both of us coming to similar conclusions about our "beloved" religion.
|Some of what she says |
is utter CRAP.
I felt incredibly comforted, moved, and informed by her book.
I can't say that Armstrong doesn't have her detractors, she does. Nor can I say that she and I are both atheists, she is not. Nor can I say that I agree with all of her views, for I surely do not. But I can say that her scholarship is impressive as hell and I can highly recommend her books to others who are interested in a study of comparative religion.
A God who kept tinkering with the universe was absurd; a God who interfered with human freedom and creativity was a tyrant. If God is seen as a self in a world of his own, an ego that relates to a thought, a cause separate from its effect, he becomes a being, not Being itself. An omnipotent, all‐knowing tyrant is not so different from earthly dictators who make everything and everybody mere cogs in the machine which they controlled. An atheism that rejects such a God is amply justified. ~Karen Armstrong