A Few Quotes From Karen Armstrong
December 26, 2007 15 Comments
I have been reading a transcript of an interview of Karen Armstrong. The interview was conducted by Steve Paulson of Salon.com. You can read it for yourself here. Be prepared to be shocked if you are not familiar with Karen Armstrong. You will notice that she often refers to sages in here answers. Of them she says: “The Axial sages discovered the inner world. And religions became much more spiritualized because humanity had taken a leap forward.” In his introduction Paulson mentions how she is “especially drawn to the mystical traditions”. I did not catch the significance of that point until I had finished reading the interview. Here are a few quotes from the interview.
Armstrong was asked: What is religion?
Religion is a search for transcendence. But transcendence isn’t necessarily sited in an external god, which can be a very unspiritual, unreligious concept. The sages were all extremely concerned with transcendence, with going beyond the self and discovering a realm, a reality, that could not be defined in words. Buddhists talk about nirvana in very much the same terms as monotheists describe God.
Can you see the mysticism dripping off that answer? Being transcendent is defined by Merriam-Webster as “1 a: exceeding usual limits : surpassing b: extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience c: being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge 2: being beyond comprehension“. Is this really the purpose of religion?
She also says
And religion is like any other activity. It’s like cooking or sex or science. You have good art, sex and science, and bad art, sex and science. It’s not easy to do it well.
To some extent I actually agree with this statement but it is hard to do because of the way she words the comment. It is true that we can have good and bad religion but it seems to cheapen religion by comparing it to “any other activity”.
Paulson says: That’s when fundamentalism starts to appear.
Yes, because fundamentalism has developed in every single one of the major traditions as a response to secularism that has been dismissive or even cruel, and has attempted to wipe out religion. And if you try to repress it — as happened in the Soviet Union — there’s now a huge religious revival in the Soviet Union, and some of it’s not very healthy. It’s like the suppression of the sexual instinct. If you repress the sexual instinct and try to tamp it down, it’s likely to develop all kinds of perverse and twisted forms. And religion’s the same.
Don’t miss this! She compares religious fundamentalists to sexually perverse people. Now I will admit that fundamentalists sometimes go too far but I think this analogy is completely out of bounds. There is no way someone can make this claim in a serious manner. It is design specifically to put the fundamentalist in a no win situation. If he tries to defend fundamentalism then he gives legitimacy to the analogy and if he protests the analogy then he is seen as attacking the messenger instead of addressing the issue. I think she should be more responsible in her analogies. She only does a disservice to her arguments with such tactics.
If you’d presented some of these literalistic readings of the Bible to people in the pre-modern age, they would have found it rather obtuse. They’d have found it incomprehensible that people really believe the first chapter of Genesis is an account of the origins of life.
We are not told on what she bases this on. What are her sources? I assume they are listed in her books but I have not yet reviewed her books. It would be interesting to see what they are. At any rate, I think she may be picking and choosing her sources based on her intended conclusions. People mentioned in the Bible itself, including Jesus, believed in a literal interpretation of Genesis.
Armstrong defines theology
Once my television career had folded, I was left on my own with these texts. There was nobody to exclaim derisively about the irrationality of a Greek Orthodox text or the stupidity of a certain Jewish mysticism. I began to read them like poetry, which is what theology is. It’s poetry. It’s an attempt to express the inexpressible. It needs quiet.
Theology is poetry! Wow. She has redefined the term. What does it really mean? Lets turn to Merriam-Webster again to find out. Theology is “ the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially : the study of God and of God’s relation to the world”. So for everyone else in the world theology is the study of God but for Armstrong it is poetry. Redefining terms is a common practice of liberals and cults. It allows them to appear and sound to be similar and familiar to those they seek to mislead. As Christians, we need to be very precise with our definitions and with the definitions of those we debate.
Paulson asks: Does everything end once we die?
I don’t know. I prefer to be agnostic on that matter, as do most of the world’s religions. It’s really only Christianity and Islam that are obsessed with afterlife in this way……Religion is supposed to be about the loss of the ego, not about its eternal survival.
I believe that what we have is now. The religions say you can experience eternity in this life, here and now, by getting those moments of ecstasy where time ceases to be a constraint. And you do it by the exercise of the Golden Rule and by compassion. And just endless speculation about the next world is depriving you of a great experience in this one.
She is more concerned with here and now than with eternal life. She says religion is supposed to be about loss of ego….who says that again? Oh yeah, the sages we mentioned earlier. They “all insisted that you must give up and abandon your ego. The sages said the root cause of suffering lay in our desperate concern with self, which often needs to destroy others in order to preserve itself. And so they insisted that if we stepped outside the ego, then we would encounter what we call Brahman or God, nirvana or the Tao.” It is all about the self. It is new age mysticism. That is what Karen Armstrong appears to be all about. She calls herself a “freelance monotheist” but I call her a non-believer and a false teacher. She is leading people astray and will be made to answer for it on judgement day. The Bible gives a warning to those who wish to be teachers in James 3:1. It says “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” There are also many passages about false teachers.
I pray that God would do a work in Mrs. Armstrong’s life and that she could be brought to Him. I also pray that all those who have been misled by her (including the deacon at my church) will be shown the truth and will turn from her false teaching and seek the answers in God. Only then will He be truly glorified.
What is your take on Karen Armstrong and her teachings? Have you ever encountered anyone who has been influenced by her before? Share your thoughts here and we can all be more prepared to face this false teacher in the future.