A Social History of God

Monday, April 21, 2014

Karen Armstrong, author of best-selling books on religion and the founder of the Charter for Compassion, addresses the question: How are religious concepts and practices different at different times for individuals and cultures? And we ask immigrants to call in and discuss how God is viewed differently in your country of origin than in the US.


Karen Armstrong

Comments [18]

Nick_A from NY

Simone Weil was a brilliant young Marxist and atheist admired by leon Trotsky who died a Christian mystic and an intellectual influence on Pope Paul V1. She wrote:

"To believe in God is not a decision we can make. All we can do is decide not to give our love to false gods. In the first place, we can decide not to believe that the future contains for us an all-sufficient good. The future is made of the same stuff as the present....

"...It is not for man to seek, or even to believe in God. He has only to refuse to believe in everything that is not God. This refusal does not presuppose belief. It is enough to recognize, what is obvious to any mind, that all the goods of this world, past, present, or future, real or imaginary, are finite and limited and radically incapable of satisfying the desire which burns perpetually with in us for an infinite and perfect good... It is not a matter of self-questioning or searching. A man has only to persist in his refusal, and one day or another God will come to him."
-- Weil, Simone, ON SCIENCE, NECESSITY, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, edited by Richard Rees, London, Oxford University Press, 1968.- ©

Apr. 21 2014 11:27 PM
mike from long island

i have a few questions. why did God choose to show himself, and all his supposed power, the son of God, and all that other stuff, at the point in our history when we were the most vulnerable and frightened? no sign of anything from him as we became more aware of our physical surroundings. no fear of thunder, wind, lightning and all the things god is supposedly responsible for.

why is an earthquake that kills thousand of people not gods fault, but one baby survives in the rubble, and its a miracle??

god is like the boss from hell. everything good is because of him, everything bad is out fault. our supposed " free will" .

how can believers tell you with absolute certainty the " truth", but ask them one sensible question and they say " thats one of gods mysteries".

christianity is like a mafia protection racket. they come to your store and tell you that for money, they can protect you from fires, vandalism, etc . if you dont pay, they are the ones doing the damage. god says believe in me, and i'll save you from hell, and PS , if you dont, i'm the one putting you there. are you kidding??

i also liken it to the way pedophiles operate. pedophiles seek out the vulnerable, and build up a relationship where the victim feels soothed, then wham!! christianity is the same thing, its designed to make you feel bad about yourself. first you hear how it will make all your troubles go away. no friends? jesus is your friend. oh, you have friends? jesus will heal your marriage. happily married? oh, jesus will solve your financial problems. got a good job,no worries? then PS- you are going to hell. original sin?? a minute old baby is already condemded? how low can you sink to suck someone in ???

as we got smarter, the message changes. less superstition, more psycological pressure. now they have the nerve to bend their creation nonsence into " creative design" ? what a joke.

heaven is the greatest place every . use your wildest imagination, and you can only scratch the surface of how awesome it is. hell? use your wildest imagination, and you can only scratch the surface of how awful it is. when someone tell you one thing is super awesome, the alternative super terrible, you know its BS.

the devil?? the best way to get people to worship you is to create a common enemy. its right out of the playbook. every dictator, maniac, and lowlife has done it, all thru history.

its all about control. control peoples fears, and you control them. control equals money and power. its always about money.

finally, whet makes us so self important that we have to believe we move on after death? we need to believe it so bad we make up the biggest nonsense story in human history, to the point we are willing to kill???

i wonder how well things could be right now if we hadnt pissed away the past 3000 yrs believing , fighting, and killing over this nonsence.

it makes me very sad.

Apr. 21 2014 07:29 PM
Peter Casanave from Brooklyn, NY

I tried to call in.

I was raised Catholic. In college I had terrible problems with math and chemistry. This was before electronic calculators. I spent a lot of time thinking about math, and even prayed to try do better.

I had a "life changing moment" similar to a guest who described having a moment of unity with nature. It had to do with math. Let me digress briefly, I had a shock with my first glasses in 7th grade. This shook "seeing is believing" the basis for science and observation, and because of the concept of "belief."

My moment came while exhausted from chemistry. The rules of math are deductive, as opposed to inductive. But, where did the deductive rules come from? Unlike the story of the Ten Commandments the rules of math and logic had to have come about from induction.

This was my "religious moment." There is no knowledge. I already knew that what I could be doubted because of my eyeglasses experience. Now I was confronting doubt in math and logic. Ironically, what I got from this was a comforting calm.

Percent error or "how can you trust your measurements?" became the key. We were using deviation from the mean of our measurements. In short, the measurements themselves were as close to knowledge as we had. The closer they were to one another, the more reliable they were.

For me "knowledge" was replaced by "better belief."

In the religious sense, FAITH was defined for me as believing in something in spite of not knowing. Now I was finding myself as seeing everything as faith, science and religion -- even math and logic.

I had a further inspiration from math in which I concluded that belief (faith?) and doubt were the same thing. How could that be? I had a lot of trouble graphing my assignments, but Cartesian coordinates are based on the number line with a zero and positive numbers to the right and negative numbers to the left of that zero. Couldn't belief and doubt be like positive and negative numbers? Listening to my fellow students in business school got me to the astonishing possibility that a negative debit could mean that someone owes me money. (Like a refund for over-payment.)

The big jump for me was the realization of the shortcoming of language. Science used math and exact definitions to avoid ambiguity, but there are always instances when language fails. Semantic errors are possible, even in when using math to describe a phenomenon.

I am peace with a theoretical creator who may or may not exist, but is a necessary concept for ordering the complications of our lives. In this the creator has a commonality with the concept of "zero" which is NOT to say that that there is no God, but that a name has to be given to the separation point between positive and negative numbers, between belief and doubt.

Apr. 21 2014 12:36 PM
Dennis Dinzeo from Las Vegas, Nevada

We are like ants in Central Park, that may never fathom the reality of New York City. Consequently, it is best to keep our religious beliefs simple, that way we are never far from the truth, nor far from each other. Jesus may have had this in mind when he said "suffer the children come unto me for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Apr. 21 2014 11:52 AM

Anyone know when rational thinker's day is this year?

Apr. 21 2014 11:07 AM
Coogan from NYC

And now the trifecta is hit with bringing on Krista Tippet! Yes!

If there is a heaven, I'm now in it.

Apr. 21 2014 11:05 AM
John A

dan k from park slope,
Equal opportunities for good in the world too, it's all our choice.

Apr. 21 2014 10:55 AM

@Nick from UWS - so true!

Apr. 21 2014 10:52 AM
blacksocialist from BKbaby

did she just say that, "surprisingly", it is secularists that are her greatest allies when emphasizing the importance of people coming together..... what UTTER DRECK... PATHETIC

Apr. 21 2014 10:51 AM
Nick from UWS

I became a Muslim, I became a Jew, I became a Christian, I became a Baptist...everybody accepts this as normal, yet NOBODY asks the big question. Why? Why are people involving themselves heart and soul with this smoke and mirrors nonsense? It seems to me less a matter of "spirituality" than an absolute aversion to critical thinking.

Apr. 21 2014 10:45 AM
Coogan from NYC

I think you should have Karen Armstrong on more often. She's so brilliant, calm, and though provoking. Has a perfect way of pulling together such different ideas, deeply understands individual religions similarities and roots..

There's a wise Jewish scholar named Lee Weissman on Twitter that goes by the handle @JihadiJew I've been following for few years now. Another universal kindred spirit like Karen, knows his stuff, always retains his optimism and has a wonderful sense of humor. Would also make a great guest I bet... I've long thought these two should meet, chat, compare ideas-- if in a public forum all the better, in fact I'd pay good money (to charity, hopefully) to watch them!

Brian, can your awesome team make this happen?

Apr. 21 2014 10:41 AM
stefano from 11206

Growing up in a country where everyone follows the same religion makes it easier to believe in god.

In the USA there are so many religions, sects, and so many contradicting each other that really turned me into a convinced atheist.

It made me feel god is a creation of men to deal with the fear of death. There are no historical records of Jesus or the Jews being enslaved by the Egyptian.

We will never have an answer about how the universe and life happened. There are general rules of nature. But i do not really believe in a god that meddles in worldly affairs.

I am surprised how religion permeates politics and military in the USA, as if a god would take sides and favor one government over another.

Apr. 21 2014 10:41 AM

In Germany after the Second World War and the Holocaust, Wolfgang Borchert wrote in "The Man Outside": "God is dead."

Apr. 21 2014 10:41 AM
dan k from park slope

Can you please ask Karen and all believers what, if there is a God, could have been its reason for creating the universe and us? Why would there be a God to begin with, and why hide its identity and evidence of its existence?

If you begin there, the only way to see the anthropomorphized God of the theists, is as either a bored, cruel, or seriously flawed, child-like being. Why else would it have created us and world, with all the possibilities of evil, famine, drought, disease, etc.? Seems pretty cruel to me, and thus, even if it did exist, I wouldn't give it any thanks.

Apr. 21 2014 10:37 AM

@blacksocialist from BKbaby - lol! too many "believers" ;)

Apr. 21 2014 10:35 AM
Francis from Pa

Brian--You would do a service to listeners by referring to "your god" or "their gods" rather than to "god."

Apr. 21 2014 10:34 AM

Which god are we talking about? Seem very one sided. What about Eastern beliefs or the non-believer?

Apr. 21 2014 10:33 AM
blacksocialist from BKbaby

utter dreck.... is there going to be an atheist to add some rationality to this idiocy? pathetic

Apr. 21 2014 10:29 AM

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