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History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong provides detailed information regarding the history of three major monotheistic faiths: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. The first chapter of the book called “In the Beginning”focuses on the first ideas of God that emerged thousands of years ago in the ancient Middle East. People believed that an impersonal power resided in animals and plants. They had a sense that something invisible surrounded them and attempted to keep contact with this reality. Thus, they personalized these invisible forces and created gods associated with sun, stars, and wind (Armstrong 4). The gods ordinarily possessed human features that allowed ancient people to feel affinity with the unseen. The author describes the peculiarities of cultures in Mesopotamia, Babylon, and Canaan. From the eighth century BCE, the Israelites started to worship Yahweh as the only God.

The second chapter “One God”explains the transformation of the Israelites’ view of Yahweh. The author underlines that the prophets tended to create Yahweh in their own image. Thus, Isaiah regarded Yahweh as a king since he was a member of the royal family; Amos considered that Yahweh empathized with the poor; Hosea, in his turn, saw Yahweh as a jilted husband. Eventually, Yahweh became the only God and completely replaced the other gods and goddesses of Canaan and the Middle East. Men began managing religion entirely, which led to the suppression of the cult of goddesses and promoted a cultural change. Yahweh sometimes encouraged an unholy cruelty, but over time he helped people to develop more compassion for others, which initiated the emergence of the second monotheistic religion.

The third chapter, entitled “A Light to the Gentiles” is devoted to the life of Jesus and the spread of Christianity. St Mark's Gospel provided the first description of Jesus’ life that was written twenty years after his death. The historical facts and mythical elements were closely intertwined by that time, and the followers regarded Jesus as God in human form. The Gospels assured that Jesus possessed divine power that enabled him to perform God-like tasks such as healing people and forgiving their sins. Centuries later, Greek Christians admitted that Jesus had never asserted that such divine power belonged only to him. Every person who had a faith possessed the same power. The author describes how Christianity became a state religion of the Roman Empire.

“Trinity: The Christian God,”the fourth chapter of the book, highlights the controversy regarding the views about Jesus that arose in the churches of Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, and Arius, a Christian presbyter, could not reach an agreement whether Jesus was God as God the Father. Arius emphasized the human nature of Jesus, while Athanasius was convinced that Jesus had the same nature as the Father. To solve this issue, the emperor Constantine convened a synod at Nicaea. The bishops did not support Arius’ point of view. Later, the Cappadocians determined three expressions of God: Father, Son, and Spirit. The author underlines that Greeks and Latins viewed the divinity of Christ differently.

The fifth chapter entitled “Unity: The God of Islam” focuses on Muhammed’s life. Karen Armstrong describes how Muhammed created Koran after having experienced divine presence on the seventeenth day of Ramadan in 610. Muhammed entered the transcendental state and even lost consciousness during the creation process. He believed that Allah was identical to the Jews’ and Christians’ God. The Koran rejected the pagan deities as the Jewish scriptures. The uniqueness of God was the central idea in the Koran. Muhammed had many followers and after his death, a number of Arabs accepted Islam, since the paganism was not effective in that world.

“The God of the Philosophers” is the sixth chapter of the book that highlights the religious events from the beginning of the ninth century. At that time, the Arabs experienced a cultural florescence due to the learning of Greek science and philosophy. Arab Muslims studied medicine, alchemy, astronomy, and mathematics that entailed many scientific discoveries. As a result, the Faylasufs appeared – a new type of Muslims who attempted to live rationally. The writer explains the basic concepts of falsafah that was inspired by Greek metaphysics and science. The Muslim Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi was the first who applied the rational method to the Koran. The author also mentions the peculiarities of the crusading religion.

In the seventh chapter called “The God of the Mystics,” the author depicts mystical religion. Mystics aimed to alter their consciousness to experience God directly. Armstrong reveals the practices used by Sufis, the “sober” Sufis, and Kabbalists. In the West a mystical tradition developed slowly, however, during the fourteenth century it started flourishing rapidly, especially in Northern Europe. The Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church denied such unbiblical spirituality that prevented mysticism from spreading.

“A God for Reformers,” the eighth chapter of the book, focuses on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the period of the Italian Renaissance, scientific revolution, and the discovery of the New World. The human achievements promoted the alteration of the concept of God. Thus, the Europeans formed two religious camps – Catholic and Protestant. Jews, Muslims, and Greek also experienced significant crisis. The humanists of the Renaissance criticized the medieval piety and strove to return to the source of the faith. They rediscovered St Augustine’s ideas and recognized the fragility of the human knowledge. The author introduces the ideas of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Thomas More.

The ninth chapter “Enlightenment” demonstrates how technicalization transformed society and provided a new concept of humanity. Such changes also influenced the human perception of the nature of God and its role. The cult of secularism spread widely that affirmed independence of God. People desired the changes. Observation and experiment were in the center of the new scientific attention. People were not satisfied with the old proofs of God’s existence and tried to explain the history of church objectively.

In the tenth chapter called “The Death of God?” Armstrong demonstrates the influence of the advances in technology and science on the emergence of atheism. Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Karl Marx provided scientific interpretation of reality where God was absent. However, the poets, novelists, and artists of the Romantic Movement valued the intuitive and imaginative activities of the human spirit.

“Has God a Future?”is the last chapter of the book. The author indicates the issues that humanity faces in the second millennium. Weapons of mass destruction, the AIDS virus, and ecological disasters threaten human well-being. In addition to this, atheism becomes dominant among people. Armstrong explores whether the idea of God can survive under such circumstances.

Karen Armstrong wrote an impressive book that contains solid information on the long history of three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The author accurately determines the main periods that promoted the significant shift in the human perception of God. Every chapter highlights the historical events that influence the human viewpoint.

At first, the writer explains the roots of the religion. She also admits that currently religion seems irrelevant, since people have enough scientific knowledge that persuades them to focus on the material world around them. The book includes the myths of world creation. One of them is Enuma Elish, a Babylonian myth that influenced the people of Canaan. The author clearly describes how monotheism replaced paganism in the ancient world.

Moreover, she explains the appearance of the cult of Yahweh and mentions the attitude of Buddhism and Hinduism to the ancient gods and goddesses. While in these religions people were encouraged to go beyond the paganism, Judaism strictly rejected the existence of other deities except Yahweh.

Armstrong keeps the chronological order. Therefore, after the detailed explanation of the history of Judaism, she focuses on Christianity. The description of Jesus’ life and his vision helps understand the roots of Christianity and its distinctive features. The author also highlights the prophet Muhammed’s contribution to the development of Islam. These facts are essential in the book, since they help a reader understand the earliest viewpoint on God. The author does not omit any significant historical event. Hence, the readers can easily detect what exactly promoted certain changes in the human perception of God.

Much attention is paid to the mysticism in this work. The author interprets the origin of the world “mysticism” that contributes to the appropriate understanding of this practice and this is probably the most interesting and exciting chapter in the book. The advances in science gradually promoted the emergence of atheism that dominates at present. The last chapter is devoted to the current period and it encourages the readers to consider the faith that is appropriate for the twenty-first century. The author claims that language is not connected with God. Human can perceive God by the intuitive part of mind. Thus, it is beneficial to recognize the mystical attitudes.

The information that I found in the book expanded my knowledge of the major world religions. I learned how religious practices and beliefs transformed over millennia and what economic and social factors promoted these changes. Theological history presented by Armstrong is fascinating. It helps the readers understand their faith better. The author provides analysis of holy and historic writings that are useful to demonstrate Christian, Jewish, and Islamic interpretations of God. A History of God displays persistent human attempts to seek meaning. The article was prepared by professional writer - Lola Nickson, you can find her essays, simply following the paperland writing affiliate programs.



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