A History of God – Clippings

Interesting snippets I underlined or marked. The entire book is interesting but these things must have stood out to me at the time. Page numbers refer to the paperback version of Karen Armstrong’s A History of God.

“One of the reasons why religion seems irrelevant today is many of us no longer have the sense that we are surrounded by the unseen.   …  When [ancient cultures] personalized the unseen forces and made them gods, associated with the wind, sun, sea and stars but possessing human characteristics, they were expressing their sense of affinity with the unseen and with the world around them” p. 4

“People would continue to adopt a particular conception of the divine because it worked for them, not because it was scientifically or philosophically sound.” p. 17

Aristotle’s  idea of God had an immense influence on later monotheists, particularly on Christians in the Western world. … He developed what amounted to a philosophical version of the old emanation accounts of creation: there was a hierarchy of existences, each one of which imparts form and change to the one below it, but unlike the old myths, in Aristotle’s theory the emanations grew weaker the further they were from their source. At the top of this hierarchy was the Unmoved Mover, which Aristotle identified with God. This God was pure being and, as such, eternal, immobile and spiritual. God was pure thought, at one and the same time thinker and thought, engaged in an eternal moment of contemplation of himself, the highest object of knowledge. … this God remains quite indifferent to the existence of the universe, since he cannot contemplate anything inferior to himself.” selected clips p. 37-38

“We must be careful not to interpret the story of Isiah’s vision too literally: it is an attempt to describe the indescribable, and Isaiah reverts instinctively to the mythological traditions of his people to give his audience some idea of what happened to him.” p. 42

“prophets like Isaiah were trying to make their countrymen look the actual events of history in the face and accept them as a terrifying dialogue with their God.” p. 44

“When they attributed their own human feelings and experiences to Yahweh, the prophets were in an important sense creating a god in their won image. Isiah, a member of the royal family, had seen Yahweh as a king. Amos had ascribed his own empathy with the suffering poor to Yahweh; Hosea saw Yahweh as a jilted husband, who still continued to feel a yearning tenderness for his wife. All religion must begin with some anthropomorphism” p.48

“We can see what this entailed in the writings of the Priestly tradition (P), which were written after the exile and inserted into the Pentateuch. This gave its own interpretation of the events described by J and E and added two new books, Numbers and Leviticus. As we might expect, P had an exalted and sophisticated view of Yahweh. He did no believe, for example, that anybody could actually see God in the way the J had suggested.” p. 62

“Sophia (knowledge) as an aspect of the unknowable God who has adapted himself to human understanding. She is God-as-he-has-revealed-himself-to-man, the human perception of God, mysteriously distinct from the full reality of God, which would always elude our understanding.” p.68

“[Philo (of Alexandria ca 30 BCE -45 BCE) made] an important distinction between God’s essence (ousia), which is entirely incomprehensible, and his activities in the world, which he called his “powers” (dynameis) or “energies” (energeiai). Basically, it was similar to the solution of P and the Wisdom writers. We can never know God as he is in himself.” p.69

“Philo insisted that we will never reach God as he is in himself: the highest truth we can apprehend is the rapturous recognition that God utterly transcends the human mind.” p.70

“As one Rabbi put it, “God does not come to man oppressively but commensurately with man’s power of receiving him.” This very important rabbinic insight meant that God could not be described in a formula as though he were the same for everybody: he was an essentially subjective experience. Each individual would experience the reality of “God” in a different way to answer the needs of his or her own particular temperament.” p.74

“…a woman was commanded to take a ritual bath after the menstrual period, to prepare herself for the holiness of what came next: sexual relations with her husband. The idea that sex could be holy in this way would be alien to Christianity, which would sometimes see sex and God as mutually incompatible.” p.77

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