Karen Armstrong, who teaches at the Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism in England, spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun and has written a biography of Muhammad. These unique and eclectic credentials make her eminently qualified to write about how God is perceived by the three monotheistic world religions. Her encyclopedic examination shows the evolution of different ideas and practices centered around the Divine. Each generation, explains Armstrong, comes up with its own distinctive emphasis according to need, fear, vision, and emotion.
Perhaps the most intriguing chapter in the book is the one on mysticism. It seems to be the path chosen most often by those who believe that imagination is the chief religious faculty. Here God is beyond the grasp of reason or logical proof. Jewish Kabbalists seek an intuitive apprehension of God in symbols and stories. The Sufis desire union with God through altered states of consciousness. And Greek Orthodox Christians use icons as a focus for contemplation of the mysterious God.
Today's spiritual seekers look for even more perspectives on God. They are interested in ideas of God that supersede the outmoded Big Brother in the Sky, the anthropomorphic concept of God as lawgiver and ruler, and the unappealing image of God as an angry tyrant. Armstrong believes that although Judaism, Christianity, and Islam spawned these versions of God, these images have outlived their usefulness. More suitable understandings are available in the rich stew of religious traditions and in the mongrel spiritual movements afoot in our times.
This one-of-a-kind resource, a worldwide bestseller when it was first released, has been embraced by spiritual seekers and students of religion alike. For some it offers a refresher course on the evolution of ideas about God; for others, it opens fresh avenues of interest. Armstrong has demonstrated the provisional nature of our understanding of God and the relevance of values and visions long buried in dusty tomes. A History of God is a daring and pioneering work for all of the above reasons. It is also most welcome for finally giving imaginative mysticism the attention and respect it deserves.