Book Review: Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong

I was excited to get the book Fields of Blood because the summary sounded interesting – is religion a rooted in violence?  It’s a topic that is has been and is still relevant for centuries.  Unfortunately, the author spends so much time presenting the different religions that her message gets lost.

At the end of the book, I was left wondering whether her argument was pro or con because she kept changing her stance.  It seemed like she was trying to say that religion has always been accompanied by violence (as evidenced by early hunters using rituals when they killed prey), but when the violence/oppression becomes too extreme, people rise up and speak out against it (many examples given in the book of how rulers who were the head of state and religion were criticized in song and literature … and sometimes deposed due to their excessive aggression.

It took me a long time to finish this book because, while the topic was interesting, the way it was presented was exhausting.  Basically, the author covered religious history going all the way back to the early hunter/gatherers and covered religion in different cultures – everything from the deities in Mesopotamia to Hinduism to Confucianism to modern day Christianity.  I kept asking myself, though, whether her presentation of these religions was opposing the idea of violence in religion.  The book itself, if it were presented more as a history book of religions in the world, is fine.

The book reminded me of a person I know (and we all know someone like this) who likes to talk and talk and talk and talk.  Often, they monopolize conversations.  When they start to speak, you involuntarily cringe because you know that you’re going to be listening to them for at least 10 minutes straight.  Then, at the end of their monologue, your eyes have glazed over and you’re just nodding to be polite and even THEY have forgotten their point.

Religion in and of itself is neither good or bad.  It’s an idea.  It’s a tool for humans to help them explain things that occurred in nature that they couldn’t explain, to cope with difficult situations in their lives, to build community.  However, it is also a tool for oppression (listen to what I say and do what I say or you’re all going to Hell), for hatred (anyone who does not believe what we believe is evil and must be punished), and for division (they aren’t cultured or smart enough to believe what we believe so they aren’t as good as we are).  Religious zealots and unscrupulous opportunists will use religion as an excuse to incite others to serve their purposes.  Should the zealots and opportunists be separated from the idea of religion itself?  I think that would be a better question for a book.  I would argue no because religion fosters the mentality that one should have faith and belief without evidence.  This kind of mentality makes it easier for zealots and opportunists to take over.

Read this book as more of a history book on the world’s religions when you have time … lots of time.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.