Written by Karen Armstrong
Reviewed by Dale Watts
Karen Armstrong’s latest book tackles the concept that religion is the cause of warfare. Whether it be Islam or Christianity, or any of the other major religions, historians have tied religion to violence. Armstrong uses her usual research based knowledge to clarify how that is not the simple answer so many deem it to be.
If you have never read a Karen Armstrong book, she documents her material thoroughly and provides the reader with pages of references upon which she bases her thoughts. As with her previous books such as “The History of God” and “The Case for God”, she provides background material necessary for the reader to arrive with her at a conclusion that is logical and sensible.
In “Fields of Blood,” Armstrong uses the first two-thirds of the book to provide a history of how early cultures depended on agriculture to provide for sustaining of the tribe. Religion in this time was never separated from secular life according to Armstrong. And when agrarian based societies outran their limited resources, the government would then be forced to conquer other societies to maintain its control. Manipulating society to convince them that a “just war” was needed to capture the necessary land and peoples to sustain the ruling class was a government strategy. Claiming that such actions were to bring “proper” religion to those being captured was a tactic employed by various groups. Making the people who were to be attacked into monsters was the way to create a “religious zeal” for the fight.
The final third of the book provides the reader with the idea that religion is not a single, unchanging, and inherently violent essence. Until the modern period, she notes, religion permeated all aspects of life because people wanted to endow everything they did with significance. Kings wished to liberate themselves from that concept and many believed they were divine in their own right. However, separating church and state, according to Armstrong, has done little to curb the violence of nations.
I have informed visitors to the All Souls Book Table that reading a Karen Armstrong book is a process that may well take you several weeks, even months. She will make you consider your beliefs and challenge you with her presentation, but bear with her and you will finish this book with a much clearer understanding of how all people must deal with the massive inequality and unfair imbalance of power present in today’s world.