The Lost Art of Scripture
Karen Armstrong’s The Lost Art of Scripture analyzes scripture from the major religions of the world. By so doing she discussed the concept of God. Is God immanent, omniscient, and omnipotent? Certainly, God is infinite and beyond description. The human concept of God is quite limited. Our definition of this Ultimate Presence humankind can’t begin to comprehend. It’s as though God doesn’t even exist. People can’t begin to define this Reality.
Another interesting aspect of Armstrong’s work is the recognition that all faith traditions e.g., Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and indigenous religious, all profess the major tenet of the Golden Rule. People ought to do unto others as they wish to be done to themselves. These faiths uphold the tradition of how to live compassionately in the world.
Throughout the text Armstrong stresses the tension that exists between a right and left brain dichotomy. The right brain is myth - poetry, and music. Ancient scripture was transmitted orally. It was dramatized, and acted out for groups. In the past there weren’t books or scriptural sources like the canons that were recorded later. Eventually scripture was codified, no longer was it only to be committed to memory. The Quran itself means “recitation.” When Muhammad received these sutras he was told to recite them. It was long after his death that these same sutras were recalled, and formed the basis of the Islamic cannon.
As for the right brain there were ramifications that didn’t sit too well. By the 18th century the emphasis was on rational thinking. Religious critics began looking at the discoveries in science as a way of interpreting scripture. Many of the scientific humanists saw scripture as untrue. Their myths were considered falsehoods. These critics concluded the stories of the Hebrew bible and the Quran were untrue and ought to be dismissed. But Armstrong pointed out that myths and science have different roles in our understanding. These approaches accomplish special goals. That’s why Armstrong explained that some theologians brought understanding to myths through midrash. Verses are often strung together to give them meaning. That’s why it’s necessary when reading scripture theologians and lay readers alike should take a holistic approach to find its meaning.