Religion is hard work. Its insights are not self-evident and have to be cultivated in the same way as an appreciation of art, music or poetry must be developed….

…Religion was not something tacked on to the human consciousness, an optional extra imposed on people by unscrupulous priests. The desire to cultivate a sense of the transcendent may be the defining human characteristic.

…Before the modern period, most men and women were naturally inclined to religion and were prepared to work at it. Today many of us are no longer willing to make this effort, so the old myths seem arbitrary and remote, and in incredible.

Like art, the truths of religion require the disciplined cultivation of a different mode of consciousness. The cave experience [described in a chapter on religious practices of 30,000 to 1500 BCE] always began with the disorientation of utter darkness which annihilated normal habits of mind. Human beings are so constituted that periodically they seek out ekstatis, a “stepping outside” the norm. Today people who no longer find it in a religious setting resort to other outlets: music, dance, art, sex, drugs, or sport. We make a point of seeking out these experiences that touch us deeply within and lift us momentarily beyond ourselves. At such times we feel that we inhabit our humanity more fully than usual experience an enhancement of being.
— pp.8-10, Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (NY: Knopf, 2009).

This was one passage that interested me in Armstrong’s latest work. Armstrong does not usually write direct Torah commentary, although she did publish an interpretation of Genesis in 1996. Her work — which includes many books as well as audio and video material — often provides useful insights on Torah and Judaism, as she illuminates historical context and philosophical climate around various religious developments.

This profile of the author includes a bibliography.

Here is a link to much of the quoted book: GoogleBooks

“What is Religion?” lecture at Chautauqua is one of several of the author’s video lectures available for free on the web.

Finally, here is a link to Armstrong’s “Charter for Compassion,” which won a 2009 TED (Ideas Worth Sharing) award.

Posted by vspatz

Virginia blogs on Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day" and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at

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