30+ quotes from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Karen Armstrong

Quotes from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Karen Armstrong ·  460 pages

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“The only way to show a true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God’s existence.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Respect only has meaning as respect for those with whom I do not agree.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Ibn al-Arabi gave this advice:
Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed, for he says, 'Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah' (Koran 2:109). Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently, he blames the disbelief of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Yet a personal God can become a grave liability. He can be a mere idol carved in our own image, a projection of our limited needs. fears and desires. We can assume that he loves what we love and hates what we hate, endorsing our prejudices instead of compelling us to transcend them.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“What seems wrong to you is right for him
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.

Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
These mean nothing to Me.
I am apart from all that.
Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better
or worse than one another.

Hindus do Hindu things.
The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.
It's all praise, and it's all right.

It's not I that's glorified in acts of worship.
It's the worshippers! I don't hear
the words they say. I look inside at the humility.
That broken-open lowliness is the Reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, burning.
Be Friends
with your burning. Burn up your thinking
and your forms of expression!”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Pascal's scientific achievements, therefore, did not give him much confidence in the human condition. When he contemplated the immensity of the universe, he was scared stiff:
'When I see the blind and wretched state of man, when I survey the whole universe in its dumbness and man left to himself with no light, as though lost in this corner of the universe, without knowing who put him there, what he has come to do, what will become of him when he dies, incapable of knowing anything, I am moved to terror, like a man transported in his sleep to some terrifying desert island, who wakes up quiet lost with no means of escape. Then I marvel that so wretched a state does not drive people to despair.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“By increasing the amount of Torah (obligatory religious laws) in the world, they were extending His presence in the world and making it more effective.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Wordsworth had discerned a 'spirit' which was at one and the same time immanent in and distinct from natural phenomena:
'A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought
And rolls through all things.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Eventually, with regret, I left the religious life, and, once freed of the burden of failure and inadequacy, I felt my belief in God slip quietly away. He had never really impinged upon my life, though I had done my best to enable him to do so. Now that I no longer felt so guilty and anxious about him, he became too remote to be a reality.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“each generation has to create the image of God that works for it.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“The more I learned about the history of religion, the more my earlier misgivings appeared justified. The doctrines that I had accepted without question as a child were indeed man-made, constructed over a long period. Science seemed to have disposed of the Creator God, and biblical scholars had proved that Jesus had never claimed to be divine.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Yet it is perhaps worth mentioning that the masculine tenor of God-talk is particularly problematic in English. In Hebrew, Arabic and French, however, grammatical gender gives theological discourse a sort of sexual counterpoint and dialectic, which provides a balance that is often lacking in English. Thus in Arabic al-Lah (the supreme name for God) is grammatically masculine, but the word for the divine and inscrutable essence of God—al-Dhat—is feminine.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“My ideas about God were formed in childhood and did not keep abreast of my growing knowledge in other disciplines. I”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Yet my study of the history of religion has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo sapiens is also Homo religiosus”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Human sacrifice was common in the pagan world. It was cruel but had a logic and rationale. The first child was often believed to be the offspring of a god, who had impregnated the mother in an act of droit de seigneur. In begetting the child, the god’s energy had been depleted, so to replenish this and to ensure the circulation of all the available mana, the firstborn was returned to its divine parent. The case of Isaac was quite different, however. Isaac had been a gift of God but not his natural son. There was no reason for the sacrifice, no need to replenish the divine energy. Indeed, the sacrifice would make nonsense of Abraham’s entire life, which had been based on the promise that he would be the father of a great nation. This god was already beginning to be conceived differently from most other deities in the ancient world. He did not share the human predicament; he did not require an input of energy from men and women. He was in a different league and could make whatever demands he chose.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“One of the most characteristic new developments since the 1970s has been the rise of a type of religiosity that we usually call “fundamentalism” in most of the major world religions, including the three religions of God. A highly political spirituality, it is literal and intolerant in its vision. In the United States, which has always been prone to extremist and apocalyptic enthusiasm, Christian fundamentalism has attached itself to the New Right. Fundamentalists campaign for the abolition of legal abortion and for a hard line on moral and social decency.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Muslim fundamentalists have toppled governments and either assassinated or threatened the enemies of Islam with the death penalty. Similarly, Jewish fundamentalists have settled in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with the avowed intention of driving out the Arab inhabitants, using force if necessary. Thus they believe that they are paving a way for the advent of the Messiah, which is at hand. In all its forms, fundamentalism is a fiercely reductive faith. Thus Rabbi Meir Kahane, the most extreme member of Israel’s Far Right until his assassination in New York in 1990: There”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“FIFTEENTH AND SIXTEENTH centuries were decisive for all the people of God. It was a particularly crucial period for the Christian West, which had not only succeeded in catching up with the other cultures of the Oikumene but was about to overtake them.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Deuteronomy had listed a number of obligatory laws, which had included the Ten Commandments. During and immediately after the exile, this had been elaborated into a complex legislation consisting of the 613 commandments (mitzvot) in the Pentateuch. These minute directives seem off-putting to an outsider and have been presented in a very negative light by New Testament polemic. Jews did not find them a crushing burden, as Christians tend to imagine, but found that they were a symbolic way of living in the presence of God. In”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“In the New Testament, the Pharisees are depicted as whited sepulchres and blatant hypocrites. This is due to the distortions of first-century polemic. The Pharisees were passionately spiritual Jews. They believed that the whole of Israel was called to be a holy nation of priests. God could be present in the humblest home as well as in the Temple. Consequently, they lived like the official priestly caste, observing the special laws of purity that applied only to the Temple in their own homes. They insisted on eating their meals in a state of ritual purity because they believed that the table of every single Jew was like God’s altar in the Temple. They cultivated a sense of God’s presence in the smallest detail of daily life. Jews could now approach him directly without the mediation of a priestly caste and an elaborate ritual. They could atone for their sins by acts of loving-kindness to their neighbor; charity was the most important mitzvah in the Torah; when two or three Jews studied the Torah together, God was in their midst. During”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“There is a distinction between belief in a set of propositions and a faith which enables us to put our trust in them.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“People would continue to adopt a particular conception of the divine because it worked for them, not because it was scientifically or philosophically sound.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“eminent monotheists in all three faiths—that instead of waiting for God to descend from on high, I should deliberately create a sense of him for myself.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“but was the prototype of human existence; it was the original pattern or the archetype on which our life here below had been modeled.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Human beings cannot endure emptiness and desolation; they will fill the vacuum by creating a new focus of meaning. The idols of fundamentalism are not good substitutes for God; if we are to create a vibrant new faith for the twenty-first century, we should, perhaps, ponder the history of God for some lessons and warnings.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Had the notion of God not had this flexibility, it would not have survived to become one of the great human ideas.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“In fact Hell seemed a more potent reality than God, because it was something that I could grasp imaginatively.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“When one conception of God has ceased to have meaning or relevance, it has been quietly discarded and replaced by a new theology. A fundamentalist would deny this, since fundamentalism is antihistorical: it believes that Abraham, Moses and the later prophets all experienced their God in exactly the same way as people do today. Yet if we look at our three religions, it becomes clear that there is no objective view of “God”: each generation has to create the image of God that works for it. The same is true of atheism. The statement “I do not believe in God” has meant something slightly different at each period of history. The”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“Theism is so confused and the sentences in which ‘God’ appears so incoherent and so incapable of verifiability or falsifiability that to speak of belief or unbelief, faith or unfaith, is logically impossible.” 2 Atheism is as unintelligible and meaningless as theism. There is nothing in the concept of “God” to deny or be skeptical about.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


“After his death, his followers decided that Jesus had been divine. This did not happen immediately; as we shall see, the doctrine that Jesus had been God in human form was not finalized until the fourth century.”
― Karen Armstrong, quote from A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


About the author

Karen Armstrong
Born place: in Wildmoor, Worcestershire, The United Kingdom
Born date November 14, 1944
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