Battle for God

Write an essay on The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong.

It needs to be at least 4250 words.

The focus in this paper is on the religious fundamentalism as a worldwide phenomenon, and is seen in all the major religions. Jews have fundamentalist sects which rely upon a strict reading of their sacred book, the Torah. Muslims have fundamentalist sects which abhor modernity and see that the merging of church and state is the only proper way to govern society – this is known as governance by Shariah law. Protestant fundamentalists are marked by anti-intellectualism and a lack of rationalism. What all these fundamentalists sects have in common are that they are in opposition to modern thought. Modernity began in the 15th Century with the advent of scientific progress and the elevation of rational thought. It was during this time that man started to realize that they are not the literal center of the universe, and that they are not necessarily special. Meanwhile, modernity breeds a degree of uncertainty. Fundamentalism is a way to buttress the modern world, while providing the true believers with the certainty which they crave. According to Armstrong, Jewish fundamentalism has its genesis in 1492 in Europe.

Among the events that occurred that year, in addition to Christopher Columbus sailing from Spain to find a new trade route to India, is that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had to unite kingdoms under their rule. It was therefore important that the different factions which were to unite had a commonality, and this commonality was religion. This was important to them, because the world was modernizing at this time. This was a time of scientific discoveries and freedoms, and Western rationalism was gaining a foothold in Europe during this time. The royal subjects therefore had the means for academic and intellectual freedom. However, for a state which was trying to unite, such as Spain was during this time, such intellectual and academic freedoms could be dangerous to this nascent effort. Therefore, religion had to be imposed on the subjects, and the religion which was imposed was a common one – Christianity. Therefore, there could not be room for a state such as Iberia – where Christians, Jews and Muslims had previously lived in peace – to continue to exist in such a state. Too many religions at the time of modernizing would mean that there would not be a unified state, so the Spanish Inquisition began. According to Armstrong, the Inquisition was not a way to reinforce bygone beliefs, but, rather, was a way to unify the country during the modernizing process. The Jews were the frequent targets on the Spanish Reconquista in Iberia.

They were forced to convert to Christianity, on the pain of death. Some Jews sought to avoid persecution by voluntarily converting. This resulted, for the “New Christians” in the converted Jews attaining exalted positions in society. As Armstrong states, these Jews often “became wealthy and successful. Some became high-ranking priests, others married into the best families, and many achieved spectacular success in commerce” (Armstrong, 2001, p. 7). This made the “Old Christians” jealous and suspicious of the converted Jews. Riots resulted, as the converted Jews were driven from their homes and saw their property destroyed. This led Ferdinand and Isabella to become alarmed at the fact that, instead of uniting the country, the country was becoming more divisive. Moreover, some of the converted were actually still practicing Jews in private, and were encouraging other of the converted to return to Judaism. The Inquisition rooted out these closet Jews, subjected them torture and imprisoned them and killed some of them – 13,000 of the converted were killed during the Inquisition. This made the converted Jews bitter. Eventually, the situation had gotten out of hand, and Ferdinand and Isabella ended up expelling the Jews from the country. This led to expelled Jews, over a period of time.

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