Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book: Holy War by Karen Armstrong

Given how I felt about the last book I read by Ms. Armstrong, I was wary about this one. However I really enjoyed this one.

It's detailed - it doesn't go extremely in depth into any one particular area because it's meant to cover all of the Crusades and tie in the history to more modern wars and conflicts in the Middle East and how it all boiled down (or over) into what we have today. But it doesn't gloss over anything either. She does a much better job of citing who she is quoting (recall that Ms. Armstrong is not an actual historian).

I think the major difference is time. Holy War is one of Ms. Armstrong's older works while The Bible is a newer book. I think she's dumbing down her writing (which was fairly passable early on) for the audience. Which is a terrible mistake in an author who is trying to write about history and religion and politics, etc. and make them accessible to a wide audience. It might work for a certain segment of the population, but for people who are actually interested in the history in more than a superficial way it's painful and aggravating.

There are some instances where she lets personal opinion enter into the book. For instance, there is one section where she claims that Christianity has done more harm to women than any other religion and mentions that she's 'proved this elsewhere'. She references an article she's apparently written, but I haven't read this so I can't comment on her proof. Another place she basically claims that expecting people to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist makes them stupid. Which...really, just take a look at all the great thinkers that the Church has produced and you can see that that's not so. But these instances are rare, and it's fairly easy to mark where she is speaking from her own thoughts and opinions and where she's taking about historical fact.

There's a ton of interesting information in there - the arrangements that have had to be made in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so that the Christian groups won't fight over it is fascinating. Basically they had to give the keys to the church to the Muslims because the Christians couldn't share. Which is insane, but there you go. Oh! And when Omar conquered Jerusalem he was invited to pray within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre but declined because he knew that the ummah would want to commemorate the place he first prayed in Jerusalem by building a mosque on that spot and would destroy the church to do so. So he prayed across the street - and they did build a mosque there, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre still stands today because of it.

Anyway. This book I would recommend. You can use it as a jump off point to get more into the history in specific details, since this is a more general work. But it can give you a basic overview of the Crusades.


  1. Thank you! It sounds interesting indeed. I enjoyed this review. I'm interested now in why she thinks Christianity has hurt women the most.

  2. I'm curious too, but I don't have the book she wrote about it, and I'm not in any hurry to pick it up at the moment. It's called The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West and here's one of the Editorial Reviews from Amazon: One of the controversial theories of this ambitious study is that marriage and the family in the Christian West have not been accorded the value and respect they have enjoyed in other cultures. London-based feminist Armstrong traces this attitude back to Jesus and Paul. Her thesis is that Christianity's traditional hatred of women and of the body still cripples woman's self-image today. Protestantism, taking over from the Catholic Church, became the most efficient agent in controlling female sexuality. Men's fear and mistrust of the fair sex is traced from the medieval witch craze (a "giant collective fantasy") to sex-denying Victorian England. Certain specialized roles were available to Christian women - virgin, martyr, mystic, mother - but each of these, the author argues, forced women to emulate male-created ideals of behavior.
    Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

  3. Hmmm, thanks for that information! Jesus and Paul, eh? I can understand Paul based on some things attributed to him (although I personally LIKE Paul), but I'm trying to think what Jesus did or said that was anti-woman.

    A guy friend of mine told me a few months ago when I was writing about Islam and women that the whole anti-woman thing went back to Satan hating women because Jesus was going to be born of one - no man required. :) Never heard that before, but maybe it explains this attitude against women! I don't know. It's a troubling subject to think religions devalued women.

  4. Susanne,

    I too get the Paul thing, especially since I used to have a mad on for Paul about those specific things. I loved to use them to prove that the Bible and by extension Christianity was misogynistic and evil.

    Huh. To be fair to Satan, if he does in fact hate people (which I doubt) I think it's an equal opportunity sort of hate. The male attitude toward women is all about control and power. They want it and they don't want to share it and they have some deep seated subconscious fears of female power. It's all about the blood.

  5. I forget sometimes that you believe Satan is a myth or a job. Is that what you believe? You think the parts in the Bible where he is portrayed as our enemy are wrong or truly mean our evil side? Do you think God created evil?

    And what do you mean about the blood and "some deep seated subconscious fears of female power." Sounds intriguing! Please do explain. :)

  6. Susanne,

    Oh, I think he's real. I think it's a job, like you said.

    Many times you can use Satan as a metaphor for our own less than sterling desires and urges, yes. I think when he's portrayed as our enemy, it's meant. But I don't believe that he was a rebellious angel. I think he fulfills a necessary position for free will to mean anything, but that's it. It's a job.

    It's something I read a long time ago about the old cults of women, fertility cults, and how part of the belief in a womans power came from the fact that she could bleed steadily for 7 days out of a month and not die. Before people understood biology it was kind of freaky and people worshiped that power (before it became 'dirty'). Even today in certain pagan circles a womans menstrual blood is used for specific rituals because it's considered so powerful.

  7. Thank you for taking time to educate me on these things! I really enjoyed it! :)


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