From the New York Times bestselling author of A History of God—a book that shines fresh light on the world's major religions to help us build bridges between faiths and rediscover a creative and spiritual engagement with holy texts.
"A dazzling accomplishment." —The New York Times Book Review
The significance of scripture may not be immediately obvious in our secular world, but its misunderstanding is perhaps the root cause of many of today's controversies. The sacred texts have been co-opted by fundamentalists, who insist that they must be taken literally, and by others who interpret scripture to bolster their own prejudices. These texts are seen to prescribe ethical norms and codes of behavior that are divinely ordained: they are believed to contain eternal truths. But as Karen Armstrong shows in this chronicle of the development and significance of major religions, such a narrow, peculiar reading of scripture is a relatively recent, modern phenomenon. For most of their history, the world's religious traditions have regarded these texts as tools that enable the individual to connect with the divine, to experience a different level of consciousness, and to help them engage with the world in more meaningful and compassionate ways.
Religious historian Armstrong (A History of God) examines the world's major religions to make her case that modern humanity has lost track of what scripture meant in the past and, in the process, departed from the compassionate heart of those faiths in her most profound, important book to date. She notes that scriptural narratives had never claimed to be accurate factual accounts; therefore, dismissing them as having no value because they don't conform to "modern scientific and historical norms" is a mistake. Armstrong traces the development of scriptural canons in India and China, as well as in the monotheistic faith traditions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and how religions grappled with social inequity, which she views as inevitable in preindustrial economies and inexcusable now. Along the way, she shows how "in all cultures, scripture was essentially a work in progress, constantly changing to meet new conditions," a rebuttal to contemporary rigid literalist readings. Both nonbelievers and believers will find her diagnosis that most people now read scripture to confirm their own views, rather than to achieve transformation on the mark. "It is essential for human survival that we find a way to rediscover the sacrality of each human being and resacralise our world." This is an instant classic of accessible and relevant religious history.