Saturday, December 30, 2006

God on the Net: Part 1

Two publications where I always at least check in every day are Salon and Slate Magazine. There are two different articles currently posted on these sites that have been stirring the pot for me, metaphorically, where faith and my understanding of God are concerned.

First, Salon. There is currently a piece called "Editors' Picks: Best Books of 2006", which links to reviews of books or interviews with the authors which the Salon editors think are of particular value. There you can find Going Beyond God, an interview with Karen Armstrong. (Salon requires either that you be a member or that you get a site pass by simply looking at an advertisement; it is a good deal, and takes just a few seconds).

Of course the editors in this case give this provocative teaser to the article: "Historian and former nun Karen Armstrong says the afterlife is a 'red herring,' hating religion is a pathology and that many Westerners cling to infantile ideas of God." Fair enough. MoreCows has recently discussed the afterlife and reformed views thereof in this incredibly thoughtful and challenging post: What We Don't Know. Getting past the teaser and into the interview, Armstrong's most recent book, The Great Transformation, is on "the axial age," the moment in history when the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Jeremiah and the mystics of the Upanishads all came into being/ came into their understandings of the nature of the divine and what that nature requires of us as human beings.

Here is the part of the interview that most riveted me:

Do you consider yourself a religious person?

Yes. It's a constant pursuit for me. It's helped me immeasurably to overcome despair in my own life. But I have no hard and fast answers.

I take it you don't like the question, do you believe in God?

No, because people who ask this question often have a rather simplistic notion of what God is.

What about an afterlife?

It's a red herring as far as I'm concerned.

But you must have thought about that question. Does everything end once we die?

I don't know. I prefer to be agnostic on that matter, as do most of the world's religions. It's really only Christianity and Islam that are obsessed with afterlife in this way. It was not a concern in the Axial Age, not for any of them. I think the old scenarios of heaven and hell can be unreligious. People can perform their good deeds in the spirit of putting their installments in their retirement annuities. And there's nothing religious about that. Religion is supposed to be about the loss of the ego, not about its eternal survival.

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I am off to take Petra to her riding lesson... more later.


steve said...

Thanks for the link! I like Armstrong's point about how people oversimplify the notion of God.

Gannet Girl said...

I have always enjoyed thinking about what Karen Armstrong has to say.