It's probably easier for Christians steeped in creedal formulas to see this in other faiths more inclined to orthopraxy than ours. Armstrong raises up the story of the Marranos to introduce her account of the early modern period as pivotal to our current religious confusion.
In 1495, Manuel I succeeded to the throne in Portugal. Under pressure from his relatives, the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, he set out to forcibly convert his kingdom's Jewish population, many of them refugees from the Inquisition. His Jewish subjects had their own ideas.
One hundred years later, some of these Marrano Jews were allowed to emigrate to Amsterdam where individuals enjoyed religious liberty. But they discovered that they no longer fit in. Armstrong draws some interesting conclusions from this history:
It was easy to think about this as I ate, sat, reclined, sang and groaned with fullness at Seder the other night among a group of women who've known each other for decades and celebrate the Passover ritual yearly. Only a few are religious in the traditional sense, if that means having a connection to a Jewish congregation. Though a core are culturally Jewish, almost half of us are not. But over time we've come to value the ritual, the story of a people's escape to freedom and the reaffirmation of hope for freedoms unimagined in that ancient world -- freedom for women, for gays, for the global array of diverse strangers. Nobody knows quite why, but we do Seder. The doing does something to us. It is a reminder of a different form of knowing than that our culture routinely offers us. It seems right.
This is part 2 of several posts reflecting on Karen Armstrong's The Case for God. Part one is here.