Quotations by Armstrong, Karen


A lot of the arguments about religion going on at the moment spring from a rather inept understanding of religious truth. Our notion changed during the early modern period when we became convinced that the only path to any kind of truth was reason. That works beautifully for science but doesn’t work so well for the humanities. Religion is really an art form and a struggle to find value and meaning amid the ghastly tragedy of human life.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
“The Reason of Faith,” Interview with Michael Brunton, Ode (Sep-Oct 2009)
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Newton and Descartes started to try and prove that God existed in the same way as they would try and prove something in the laboratory or with their mathematics … And when you try and mix science and religion you get bad science and bad religion. The two are doing two different things. … Science can give you a diagnosis of cancer. It can even cure your disease, but it cannot touch your grief and disappointment, nor can it help you to die well.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
“The Reason of Faith,” Interview with Michael Brunton, Ode (Sep-Oct 2009)
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Added on 26-Oct-20 | Last updated 26-Oct-20
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Respect only has meaning as respect for those with whom I do not agree.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
A History of God (1993)
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Yet a personal God can become a grave liability. He can be a mere idol carved in our own image, a projection of our limited needs. fears and desires. We can assume that he loves what we love and hates what we hate, endorsing our prejudices instead of compelling us to transcend them. … Instead of pulling us beyond our limitations, “he” can encourage us to remain complacently within them; “he” can make us a cruel, callous, self-satisfied and partial as “he” seems to be. Instead of inspiring the compassion that should characterize all advanced religion, “he” can encourage us to judge, condemn and marginalize.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
A History of God, ch. 7 “The God of the Mystics” (1993)
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The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology. Compassion was the litmus test for the prophets of Israel, for the rabbis of the Talmud, for Jesus, for Paul, and for Muhammad, not to mention Confucius, Lao-tsu, the Buddha, or the sages of the Upanishads.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness (2004)
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You shouldn’t speak glibly about God. In Judaism you may not speak God’s name as a reminder that any human expression of the divine is likely to be so limited as to be blasphemous. But God should challenge your assumptions — you shouldn’t imagine you’ve got Him in your pocket.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
Interview with Bill Moyers, “NOW,” PBS (9 Apr 2004)
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“My thoughts are not your thoughts. For as high as the heavens are the above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts, my ways above your ways.” It should be written over every preacher’s pulpit. […] Because so often we think that God’s ways are our ways. God’s thoughts are our thoughts. And we created God in our own image and likeness saying, “God approves of this. God forbids that. God desires the other.” […] This is where some of the worst atrocities of religion have come from. Because people have used this to give a sacred seal of a divine approval to some of their worst hatreds, loathings, and fears.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
NOW Interview with Bill Moyers, PBS (1 Mar 2002)
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Quoting Isaiah 55:8.
Added on 31-Aug-20 | Last updated 31-Aug-20
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There are some forms of religion that must make God weep. There are some forms of religion that are bad, just as there’s bad cooking or bad art or bad sex, you have bad religion too. Religion that has concentrated on egotism, that’s concentrated on belligerence rather than compassion.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
NOW Interview with Bill Moyers, PBS (1 Mar 2002)
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Added on 28-Sep-20 | Last updated 28-Sep-20
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Compassion is not a popular virtue. Very often when I talk to religious people, and mention how important it is that compassion is the key, that it’s the sine qua non of religion, people look kind of balked, and stubborn sometimes, as much to say, “What’s the point of having religion if you can’t disapprove of other people?”

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
NOW Interview with Bill Moyers, PBS (1 Mar 2002)
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Added on 5-Oct-20 | Last updated 5-Oct-20
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