Karen Armstrong earns her living by making liberal believers feel Sophisticated, for she writes books and gives lectures about The Real Nature of God. And that is A God Who is Awesome But Can’t Be Described. (Yet Armstrong manages to write and utter thousands of words about that apophatic God!) How she found this out, and how she knows she’s right in the face of the majority of the world’s believers, who see God as a bodiless human, defies reason. I’ve listened to her palaver for a long time, and not only does she get acclaim and awards for it, but credulous interviewers and journalists refuse to ask her the hard questions like, “You mean God isn’t really some kind of being who can do stuff, but merely embodies Love, Longing, and Awe?” or “How do you know all this, Dr. Armstrong?”
A reader who just heard Armstrong on National Public Radio in Minnesota (MPR) sent me a link to their interview with her, along with this note. And believe me, I feel for this person:
I’m listening to a local MPR program (Talking Volumes) with Karen Armstrong. OMG, she completely absolves Islam for everything bad that ISIS, etc. do. Listening to her well-oiled equivocations is nauseating.She cries for nuance when looking at religion and will with a single sweeping statement about a single jihadi dismiss religion as a motivation for ISIS, etc. Infuriating. And our local Kerri Miller is kissing her ass instead of asking the hard questions she usually does.
Well, the interview isn’t on the page any more (it was live), but it was apparently a rebroadcast of an interview a week ago in which Kerri Miller talked to Armstrong at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. The MPR page has three YouTube videos of the interview, which obviously went on much longer than the ten minutes of videos. But you can get a sense of Armstrong’s “views,” such as they are, in this clip, where she talks about THE REAL NATURE OF GOD:
Note the waffling and repeated recharacterization of what God is. First she equates “God” with the pantheism of Einstein—that is, “God equals the vastness of the universe which incites wonder.” Fine, I’m down with “absolute awe” of the universe, but I don’t need anything “divine” to gawk at. Then she says, “We find the divine in one another,” so now “divine” becomes equivalent to each person’s unique characteristics, not the vastness of the cosmos. Note how she also sneaks in religious words, talking about “the sacredness of each person” and the “sanctity of the individual” (which, by the way, is supposed to prevent us from mocking their beliefs). She argues, as one Muslim cleric asserted, that each person represents a particular instantiation of God.
Armstrong manages to have her cake and eat it too by using religious terms to describe humanistic notions. That’s why the public and press love her.
But what “god” is she talking about? That’s where the interviewers never go after her, so eager are they to osculate faith and avoid alienating liberal believers. They never try to pin her down on what the hell she’s trying to say. I suspect that if they did try, she’d revert to apophatism and say that she can’t characterize God in words.
This is hopelessly contorted theobabble, and it amazes me that people not only listen to this, but seem to lap it up, and rarely criticize it. In fact, I think Armstrong’s views are dangerous, for by failing to criticize religion—or by insisting that religiously-inspired malice is not characteristic of “true” religion—she provides a flak jacket for believers, insulating all faith from criticism.
Give me a good honest fundamentalist over Armstrong any day. At least you can figure out what they’re trying to say!