The conflict between fundamentalism and mainstream society is familiar across cultures and centuries. We've seen it emerge within religious faith, between faiths, and even wearing the mask of politics and human rights. Will the people that violate my beliefs ever give up? I can't stand it anymore! It can make a person mad enough to be an extremist! Or an anti-extremist! In The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong gives satisfying attention to this ever-frustrating, ever-enduring issue. She shows the tense relationship between mainstream society and fundamentalists to be the result of resistance to an aggressive move towards modernization. As a former Catholic nun turned Oxford scholar, Armstrong's credibility is reinforced by her current position as professor of comparative religion at the Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism. She practices what she teaches: compassion and understanding between disagreeing traditions.
Western civilization has changed the world. Nothing including religion can ever be the same again. All over the world, people have been struggling with these new conditions and have been forced to reassess their religious traditions, which were designed for an entirely different type of society. Armstrong develops an enlightening historical comparison between fundamentalist movements in the major monotheistic faiths: Sunni and Shii Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. By isolating the development of each in a clearly written historical context, she shows how vastly different religious traditions, often at odds with one another, actually share a crucial characteristic. Armstrong takes the reader back to 15th century Spain to make her point, which is that each embattled movement has sprung from a total dread of modernity. By showing how modernism and fundamentalism are fed and strengthened by each other in a symbiotic relationship, Armstrong encourages understanding between opposing sides instead of continually intensifying resistance. In fact, while Armstrong recognizes fundamentalism as truly modern, she notes that extremism can distort and thereby defeat the original beliefs it hopes to preserve, and that mainstream society's suppression of fundamentalism avoids a core issue of cultural preservation. Amy Ryce is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee.