January 04, 2010
El Cabrero has read (or more accurately listened to) several of Karen Armstrong's books on religion. Some are better than others and some interpretations seem a bit of a stretch but I enjoyed her latest book, The Case for God.
This book was interesting not so much in making a case for God but rather for providing a good survey of religious and cultural history. One insight from the book, however, hit home.
She notes that in the modern world people tend to interpret religious teachings in much the same way they do other kinds of statements, i.e. as more or less factual claims. This kind of literal approach can lead to the impoverishment of religion, either turning in into a kind of fundamentalism (itself a distinctly modern thing) or into something that many people find it easy to dismiss.
Older approaches to religion, on the other hand, embed teachings into rituals, disciplines and practices which place it in a special context.
I've often thought that orthodox Christian teachings separated from traditional practices and viewed as mere statements of historical fact raise all kinds of questions and problems but that these make perfect sense within the context of rituals such as the Eucharist.
Armstrong reminded me that this is the way it was meant to be in older approaches to religion. The modern reduction of religion to textual literalism and merely factual interpretation seems to be a degradation rather than elevation of religion.
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