Both secular liberals and fundamentalists see Scripture as words to be taken literally, the former to ridicule and the latter to embrace. Karen Armstrong wades into these debates and says that both sides are wrong ... A British writer and former nun, Armstrong argues in her magisterial new book, The Lost Art of Scripture, that Scripture shouldn’t be interpreted literally or rigidly from a pulpit or in a library. She argues that Scripture is flexible, evolving, contextual and more like performance art than a book ... In effect, Armstrong has written a highly rational tribute to the murky wingman of our lives that exists beyond what is material and rational ... In juggling texts in Hebrew, ancient Greek, Chinese, Sanskrit and other languages, Armstrong covers a vast range and inevitably wades into areas in which she is not expert ... while I found the broad arguments at the beginning and end of this book to be fascinating and persuasive, I yawned periodically over details of the Rig Veda, neo-Confucians or Sikh ideology. Yet this is a dazzling accomplishment, a reflection of an encyclopedic knowledge of comparative religion and of a wisdom about spirituality in the human species. What shines through is the way Scriptures in so many traditions were an art form, like an opera or poetry reading, meant to elevate us, not simply to give us ammunition to support preconceived views.
...a different, time-honoured and inspiring take on the role of scripture ... scripture was never intended, [Armstrong] insists, as the last word, something sealed for all time, immutable and inviolable. Instead it was always understood as a work in progress, something revered as a way, above all, of conveying meaning about the human condition ... Armstrong is on good form in The Lost Art of Scripture. It exhibits her well-known and admired characteristics as a writer: an ability to be both authoritative on all the major faiths, and studiedly neutral as to which offers the best solutions/worst failings; a reasoned insistence that religion today is misunderstood, as much by the religious as by their critics; and a passionate appeal to our fractious and fractured world to embrace religion’s core message, its 'golden rule' of compassion and respect for others. It makes for a compelling read, impressive in the range of its scholarship, but always cogently expressed for those prepared to commit to the search to understand.
The introduction and conclusion of The Lost Art of Scripture have the tone of a manifesto, but this hefty work is otherwise a panoramic tour of religious history. In it, Armstrong does not deeply explore any single scripture. There is no exegesis nor any original ideas — she’s a scholar but not an academic. She repeatedly refers to scripture as an art form. And despite the book’s title, she doesn’t satisfactorily explain why the art is 'lost' or the sacred texts need 'rescuing.' But Armstrong is an exceptional storyteller, and The Lost Art of Scripture is an amazing story. It is, admirably, a compendium of religious philosophy ... With meticulous sections on Talmudists, neo-Confucians, medieval theologians and Kabbalists, Armstrong continues the story through the Great Awakening, Hasidism and the rise of modern fundamentalism — easily the most misguided religious development in the book ... if there’s a unique slant in her book, it’s her attempt to screen religious history through a neurobiological lens ... by filtering scriptural understanding through this right-brain/left-brain prism, she falls into the same trap she condemns: trying to understand religion rationally ... Perhaps she’s trying to appeal to skeptics, but even Armstrong admits that such an approach is misconceived ... Armstrong’s mission to spread compassion through understanding is certainly laudable. But despite being extensively researched and lucidly written, the aims and means of The Lost Art of Scripture are unfortunately confused.
in this wide-ranging and passionately argued work Armstrong not only insists that the sacred texts of religious traditions need to be rescued, but she embeds this argument in an account of religion as myth, suggesting that if the mythological character of religion was properly understood then it would indeed be possible to restore the lost art of scripture ... Throughout her expansive work Armstrong analyses many of the world’s religions, at different periods in their evolution, and in a range of geographical contexts. The breadth of this book is in many respects overwhelming. No doubt scholars of specific religions will criticise the broad brushstrokes with which she engages the specifics of the texts, doctrines, ethics and rituals of these traditions, and there are inaccuracies ... Armstrong has long been a voice of challenge to the violence and intolerance that has marred the politics of religion, and here her prescription is the recovery of the lost art of scripture. She may have an overly optimistic belief that imaginative, figurative and creative readings of the sacred texts can be a sufficient counterweight to literal, singular and ideological readings of these same texts. Nonetheless one hopes that her confidence is well-founded.
The author’s vast knowledge of world scriptures comes through on every page, as does her belief that all scripture reading must lead to compassion ... A scholarly yet accessible study of world scriptures, and an elegant argument for embracing them as they have traditionally been read. This will appeal to those who view scripture as a life-giving resource that enhances instead of restricts readers’ understanding to literal interpretation.
...her most profound, important book to date ... 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.
In her latest, esteemed religion writer Armstrong...once again demonstrates her encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s religions ... Literalism, argues the author, leads either to fundamentalism or skepticism, either of which have negative consequences for any religion. Though the author adroitly switches among Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, and many other faith traditions, Western religions and Western thought are her primary reference points. Armstrong’s grasp of global religious history and thought is beyond impressive, but the depth of her analysis will overwhelm many general readers ... For those willing to travel this road with the author, the journey is expansive and worthwhile and will make them reconsider what scripture means to those who admire it. Excellent reading for religious scholars and students.