Saturday, June 11, 2005

Karen's journey

I am amazed by Karen Armstrong's story.

I am shocked that her physical symptoms went so long un-recognised as epilepsy! I read what she described and I, a laymen, knew immediately what she had. I did know as background that she had an illness but what it was I had forgotten by the time I got a hold of the book and when I read her symptoms in the early chapters I said to myself oh yes-epilepsy! Perhaps however I know more about epilepsy than other people as my daughter was tested for it when she was about 3. But could the doctors of that day truly been so stupid? Yes, I guess they could. My mother who had classical symptoms of ulcers went undiagnosed by several doctors for many years until shortly before she died and that/they killed her. I am perhaps also puzzled that Karen herself did not do some research into her symptoms. Even though this was an age before the internet she must have been very comfortable indeed in a library and an adept at research. Perhaps this was an attitude of the times? Taking a Dr's word as gospel?

Karen's ignorance of Christianity is equally disturbing. I can believe that, young as she was, she didn't know many things when she entered the convent. What amazes me is that she knew so little about her own faith coming out. She did not realise it was originally a Jewish sect? She did not know that Paul wrote before the gospel writers and that many of the epistles, Acts for example, credited to Paul weren't his? She did not know that much of the supposed events in "life of Jesus" are later accretions? She did not know of the viciousness of the Crusades and of the enlightened years of early Muslim culture? These all came to her as surprises after she left the convent? My, my!!!! It is not her fault. But, I still say, my, my!

Were they not allowed to READ when they were in the convent? I went to a convent school in the 1950's- it was , however, Anglican. Could Catholic nuns be so different? Our nuns read! They read, they read to us and they made us read. Was it the times? There has been an explosion in exposure for these kinds of ideas in the past 2 decades. I have to say also that my father was a priest; he had been through Divinity school in the day when divinity school was a rigourous, almost classical, education so I learned many things from him, and he was perhaps not a theological couch potato. It makes a difference, I guess, because these things that you learn young are taken in, absorbed slowly, woven into your faith so it grows like a garden, from a childhood monoculture until it becomes complex ecosystem of thought, and it is still growing and evolving as plants sown long ago change into maturity. In a slow nurturing one fits contradictions, intitially anti-faith things, into what you believe and in the end what your credo is a rich construct, a personal construct. Poor Karen had a few sad vegetables to tend for 7 years and then left those behind and had to do everything to rebuild, replant I would say her Eden.

I was interested in the people who helped her do this replanting. Michael Goulder particularly. I highly respect the ex-Anglican, atheist Goulder, he whose ideas Spong has popularised, almost bowdlerised, benefitting hugely from Goulder's years of scholarly work. Spong says they are friends and he has Goulder's blessing, well, this says a lot for Goulder but I am not impressed with Spong's self-serving use of Goulder's research. Goulder has done his homework and is truthful about his loss of belief in God. I like his work but it has not destroyed my belief in God, only added to my "what God is like" garden.

It is emphasized throughout the book how smart Karen was considered. I saw none of this intelligence, either in her description of her life in the convent or in her writing in this book. She keeps referring to it and I don't doubt it, although she claims herself to doubt it. She is probably smart indeed. I may have to read her other books to see it at work. This was perhaps too personal and too humble a work for her to display her intellect. I sense that she feels her intellect has not served her well and she is almost loathe to display or use it.

I have many other thoughts about her book, about her conclusions about what God is or isn't. These I will put in my next post.


Cal said...

"...Staircase" looks up at me from the yard sale table. Title seems familiar. We haggle. No loss at 3 bucks. To be honest, I don't know much about KA - she has a huge press - but I have never been able to finish "The History of Islam". Now herstory is looking for a level in my book hopper. I'm in no great hurry.

canary said...

I haven't read The History of Islam. Maybe I'll borrow it from you sometime but I want to try History of God first. Karen seems to have no fear taking on BIG GOD. You can't get much bigger. I think you will find Staircase quite readable,; you will learn much about KA but not much you don't know about God, I predict.

Cal said...

Actually, after checking, I find that the correct title is: "Islam: A Short History" - though the book remains for me just as lengthy, and unfinished. Ho hum! You can have it.

You're right! Staircase came across as a thoroughly believable modern personal journey - an unqualifiedly good read. I zipped through. She must have known her topic better than Islam. Less research to do when it's your own real life, eh?

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)