Discovering The God Of Peace

We’ve featured debates about Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence over the last few months. In a new interview about the book, she admits her views of God and religion have changed over time:

The change began while I was writing “A History of God.” I expected it to be like its predecessors: a rather smart, clever thing where I showed how people just “rejigged” the idea of God to suit their purposes. But things started to change there. I started seeing in depth how inadequate my idea of God had been. As a young girl, and a young nun, I thought of God as “up there.” Then reading all these people, Maimonides, Avicenna, Thomas Aquinas, all the great voices of the monotheistic tradition, and hearing them say that all our ideas of God are man-made and can’t possibly measure up to who God is — this was a start of the deepening of my understanding.

I tended to favor the individual and the mystical over the organized. But one of the things that I’ve learned is that religion is largely about community. People before Luther simply didn’t experience God in an individual way. You did it by living with the idea of God in community and acting kindly and creatively.

How she makes the case for the continued relevance of the tradition of religious non-violence:

Throughout the book I’ve tried to show how the various traditions devised ways to help people get over violence. How Jewish rabbis actually completely revised their interpretation of the Jewish scriptures to take the violence out. How the ideal of ahimsa took root strongly in India. And how Jesus, who was an excitable man, says that extraordinary thing: Love your enemies.

We’re living in a globalized world, and the great theme that religion can give us, and perhaps national mythologies cannot, is that we are profoundly interconnected. Our histories are intertwined; economically we’re absolutely bound up with one another; what happens in Syria has a blowback in Canada. So what the religions have insisted is that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group. You must love your enemies and reach out and practice what the Indian sages called equanimity: You cannot prefer one being to another. You cannot put yourself on a privileged pedestal, because that is no longer a rational response to our globalized world.