We had our book circle discussion yesterday on Karen Armstrong's book. I think we all agreed on many things but the discussion was lively nonetheless as we compared our own spiritual paths/growth with Karen's very tortured trail to much the same conclusions. Not that her ( or our) journey is over- We all look forward to a book on the next 20 years of her life!
Perhaps if we disagreed on anything it was whether Karen at this point believes in God at all but then that depended on how we/she defined God and so we were back at alpha again. There was certainly a point where she didn't at all and that is almost a prerequisite, some of us felt, for a mature faith. In studying other religions - Judaism, Islam, Buddhism- she learned much about her own tradition about which she was largely ignorant.
I feel reading her book that I can say more about what Karen does not believe than what she does believe. She does not believe in certainty in belief. She is certain about that! She does not believe in the virgin birth or the divinity of Jesus ( at least in the normal sense of the word divinity). She knows the gospel stories are largely mythic. She doesn't call herself a Christian- She calls herself a freelance monotheist.
What can I say about the content of what she does believe? She appreciates Paul (hurrah!) She says she believes in compassion for others, although in this book I did not see a lot of action on behalf of other people ( except Jacob) which is not to say she isn't a compassionate person-just that she doesn't show it in this book- this book was about something else. She appears self-centered (another in our group thought this as well) but that is natural I think in a memoir. I think she may feel that profound spiritual experiences have a biological source and are not "God given"; her experience as an epileptic makes her distrust her own senses. I think she thinks the experience of God is identical to aesthetic appreciation.
Karen, if asked directly whether she believed God "exists" might be fuzzy in her answer, although I could be wrong about that. I am not fuzzy about that. God is. That's all. What I am fuzzy about is what God is like, how can I/we define or express God. That is impossible for any human to do but something we all strive or should strive to do. I am fairly sure about certain qualities of God, or certain aspects of God. Truth is one of my big ones. " Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood" Science and God are compatible although sometimes it may look like they aren't - if they seem at odds it is because we don't undertand one or the other, or usually both. "Conclusion of all that is inconclusible" Truth and beauty and goodness which humans can recognise in themselves, in others and the world at large are symptoms of God's action or existence in the universe. Order out of disorder. Life. Light. Creation. All traces of God. Not God but traces of God, left from "his" passing by, so to speak. Yes, language is inadequate. "Speech without word and word of no speech"
How we humans relate to and attempt to understand God is a different question entirely and that involves worship, liturgy , religious forms, different religious traditions. I grew up in one tradition. That is the way I find I can relate to God ( and why I am angered at those in my church who try to destroy that tradition and deny it to me and others) I am interested in other traditions but if I were to give mine up and take up say Zen Buddhism I would have too much catching up to do, a whole lifetime of study to get to where I am in my tradition. The same is true of my Hindu friend who finds she can find some understanding of God in her stories of Krishna and Vishnu. Why should she give that up? We have great discussions comparing stories and the truths they lead one to. These are cultural artifacts but ones with value if they are not perverted.
Humans have a tendency to perversion of religion for their own ends. This of course leads one to a discussion of evil which Karen Armstrong didn't mention once. If she does not believe in God but only an ethic then why is there any imperative or tendency for humans to act in any way which is contrary to their own self interest? All the great philosophers, theologians, thinkers dealt with this question. Maybe she confronts this in her other books? "struggling with the devil of the stairs..."