Karen Armstrong (1944-) as Master Teacher: A Dialogue on the British Ex-Nun, Author, and Historian of Religion.

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“Karen Armstrong (1944-) as Master Teacher: A Dialogue on the British Ex-Nun, Author, and Historian of Religion,” by Franklin Parker and Betty J. Parker (bfparker@frontiernet.net), 63 Heritage Loop, Crossville, TN 38571-8270

Betty J. Parker: Frank, explain our interest in Karen Armstrong. Why have so many readers, wanting to understanding why Muslim extremists hate us, turned to her books on religion? Why have so many study groups spent months analyzing her 1993 book, A History of God? What circumstances made her, for a time at least, as writer and lecturer, also a master teacher?

Franklin Parker: Her interviews on CNN, C-Span’s Booknotes, and elsewhere have impressed many. She is a English-born former nun who is a notable historian of religion. Her books and speeches help us understand religious conflicts. Betty, what else explains Karen Armstrong’s appeal?
BJP: Her historical perspective helps us understand, for example, , why they attack us. Yet, she cautions us to separate Islam’s fundamentalist minority from its peaceful majority. Readers find her explanations provocative and plausible. Frank, describe her life.

FP: Her two autobiographical books, Through the Narrow Gate, 1981, and Beginning the World, 1983, tell of her birth on Nov. 14, 1944, near Birmingham, England. Her father, John O. S. Armstrong, from Ireland, married Eileen Hastings (nee McHale) Armstrong, a born English Catholic. Since Catholics are a minority in Anglican England, understandably, her middle class family lived in an enclave of fellow Catholics. The father was a scrap metal dealer. Karen grew up small, chubby, introverted, and serious, unlike her prettier extroverted younger sister, Lindsey, who later became an actress and radio performer and lived in California.

BJP: Karen attended the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus School in Birmingham. She early determined to enter that same teaching order of nuns. Her motivation? When she was 12 her sister Lindsey, then nine, almost died of diphtheria. Karen prayed that if Lindsey lived she would think of becoming a nun. Lindsey recovered. Karen pushed that promise to the back of her mind. Later, a lay Catholic teacher of physics in Karen’s school, Miss Jackson, became a nun. Karen gazed at Miss Jackson’s picture in nun’s habit on the school bulletin board. She thought she saw in Miss Jackson’s eyes the joy and serenity she hoped to achieve herself.

FP: Also, Karen’s Granny, her mother’s mother, as a girl wanted to become a nun but was stopped by her parents. Disappointed, Granny was unhappy all of her life. Karen always thought her Granny should have been given a chance to become a nun.

BJP: In her mid-teens, Karen thought her girl friends too worldly, too trendy, too “boy crazy.” Self-conscious about her dumpy body and less than attractive appearance, she increasingly turned inward, away from the material world, toward books and literature. Growing up Catholic she was comforted by ritual, saints, holy days, and holy visions. Her father, proud of her school success, hoped she would be the first in the family to attend a woman’s college at Oxford University.

FP: Karen spoke to the mother superior of her convent school about becoming a nun. The mother superior advised her to wait and see if she felt the same after finishing high school. When Karen was 15 her father asked: “What do you want to do?” She answered: “I want to be a nun.”

BJP: Her parents tried to dissuade her. They listed the pleasures she would give up, the vows she would be compelled to follow. The mother superior told her parents that Karen was young, bright, was seemingly sincere in wanting to be a nun; that experienced superiors would observe, test, and monitor her training; that there were set times when she could leave if she proved not to have the calling. On Sept. 14, 1962, at 17, with her parents’ wary approval, Karen entered the training convent in Tripton, near London. With mystic resolve to find and serve God, she faced a life of poverty, chastity, obedience.

FP: Her teaching order was founded in the 1840s under the strict rules of 16th century Spanish soldier Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits. Wearing a novice’s confining habit; given a new name, Martha, symbol of a new life, she slept on a hard narrow bed in a dorm-like room with nine other entrants; rose at dawn; washed with carbolic soap; and had to eat everything on her plate. To leave a scrap invited censure, even macaroni and cheese which always made her sick. Her chores were ones she had either never done before or had done poorly before. Postulants prayed five hours daily and performed tasks under the rule of silence. In the one hour of talk allowed each evening, personal and trivial chatter was discouraged.

BJP: Close friendships were also discouraged, as were touching, embracing, or unduly befriending others inside or outside the community. The intent was to reduce human closeness to a minimum, the better to find and serve God. Publicly she controlled her inner despair and hurts. Her sobs at night were less over hard work than over loneliness, giving up family and friends, humbling herself, trying to eliminate ego, in order to be a perfect nun.

FP: She was awkward, inept, nervous. She found food repulsive, lost weight from anorexia, was ill. Yet she had to clean, sweep, sew, cook, and pray. Most frightening were her unaccountable fainting spells. These brought unwanted attention and shame. In the first one, 1963, during morning meditation, she saw bright flashing lights, smelt a horrible odor, broke out in a cold sweat, fell on the floor stiff and unconscious. She awoke shaking, kicking, crying, surrounded by concerned novices and nuns. These spells occurred sporadically.

BJP: Her superiors attributed her fainting spells to hysteria and nervousness They thought her spells were an unconscious bid for sympathy. She was assigned penance intended to strengthen her religious vows. Penance included prayers said standing for an hour or so with arms extended in the form of a cross. She performed self flagellation in a secluded room, striking her back over each shoulder with a corded rope. Another penance was to kiss the feet of her sisters, 70 of them, in the dining hall while they ate.

FP: Her superiors did send her to a physician who, unable to find a physical cause for her problems, accepted her superiors’ belief that she was a nervous young nun. Despite difficulties she finished her training, took the veil, and prepared to become a teaching nun. Her superiors, seeing promise in her academic abilities, decided she should prepare to teach English literature in their parochial high schools. They sent her to St. Anne’s College, Oxford University, where she was studious, timid, hesitant, but gradually spoke up in small discussion groups. She impressed her tutors with her good mind. She read widely in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, wrote weekly papers, and absorbed great literature and history.

BJP: Inwardly, she questioned blind obedience to Catholic dogmas. Her anorexia continued. Her fainting spells recurred. Physically ill, distraught, not able to find God, she sensed that continuing as a nun would kill her or drive her mad. On January 6, 1969, the Feast of Epiphany, the day of miraculous insights, when nuns symbolically renew their vows, she explained her doubts to her superiors. She asked to leave the cloister to seek God in the world.

FP: A sympathetic mother superior who had known her since school days, contacted the Mother Provincial, who spoke to Karen and approved her leaving the order. Karen wrote the bishop, asked to be released from her vows, asked that his dispensation be forwarded to the Sacred Congregation for Religious in Rome. On January 27, 1969, the official papers arrived from Rome. Having entered at 17, now at 24, after seven years, no longer a nun, she was depressed and uncertain.

BJP: A small scholarship enabled her to continue her studies at Oxford. She strove to overcome depression, to adjust to the strange outside world, to get used to miniskirts, raucous music, gyrating dancing. In her second autobiographical book, Beginning the World, she wrote of being lost, of being “in the world, but not of it.”

FP: While she grieved at leaving the convent, her college tutor nominated her for a competitive academic prize. She spent six hours in competition with others writing papers about the novel, tragedy, and verse. When the University Registry letter came, she stared at it, not believing that she had won the Violet Vaughan Morgan Prize for Literature. This prize gave her new assurance.

BJP: Another bright spot at Oxford was the Stanley family. Both Judith and Edwin Stanley taught at Oxford and needed a live–in student to help care for their 10 year old autistic son Simon, a highly strung epileptic. Needing the job, Karen successfully coped with Simon’s erratic behavior, was warmed by this kind family. But her sense of failure and her occasional fainting spells continued.

FP: Karen remained at Oxford, 1969-73, four years, receiving the B.A. degree in literature. She then taught English Literature at the University of London’s Bedford College, 1973-76, three years. She had a failed love affair with an equally troubled Oxford student, was treated by a psychiatrist, had a nervous breakdown, and was suicidal.

BJP: The climax came at age 38 while she taught English at a girls’ high school in Dulwich, England, 1976-82, six years. At the end of a play she had directed, while thanking the student actors and guests, she experienced flashing lights, perspiration, light-headedness. She fainted. In the emergency room of the local hospital, examined by a neurologist, Dr. Wolfe, she described her previous attacks going back to 1963 when she was 18. He gave her an EEG test to measure her brain waves. He diagnosed her condition as sporadic brain wave irregularity leading to temporal lobe epilepsy, probably from a birth defect. He assured her that the epilepsy was controllable by drugs. He said she should have had an EEG test much, much earlier.

FP: The weight of anxiety about her sanity was lifted. She knew from young Simon Stanley’s case that epilepsy is treatable. The right medication was soon found. She has not had an epileptic seizure since. But the head of the Dulwich girls school, worried that epilepsy would frighten parents, replaced her. Her job lost, barred from teaching because of prejudice against epilepsy, she was at another low point, another crossroads.

BJP: To make sense of her shattered life she wrote her first autobiographical book, Through the Narrow Gate?. The title came from the New Testament, Matthew 7:12: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the gate that leads to perdition is wide, and the road spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

FP: Her editor asked that she revise her first bitter draft to include good things that had kept her a nun for seven years. Her final version speaks of the beauty of the liturgy, the belief that every moment of life has eternal significance, her optimism that she would find God, appreciation for the fellow nuns who broke the rules to befriend and comfort her. Her nun’s training came at the wrong time. Second Vatican Council reforms (1962-64) were being debated but not yet implemented. Had she entered a few years later, her training would have been lighter and brighter. All would have been different.

BJP: Glowing reviews of her Through the Narrow Gate, a best seller, brought her to the attention of a specialized London college and led her to another teaching job, this time about religion. In 1982 she was asked to teach about Christianity at London’s Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism and the Training of Rabbis and Teachers. The door of opportunity had opened to her next career as a historian of religion.

FP: The program manager at England’s then new TV Channel 4 asked her to write scripts for a six part TV series about the life and work of St. Paul. She worked for some years with an Israeli film crew in Jerusalem. She interviewed Jews, Christians, and Muslims. A successful TV series resulted, along with a book on St. Paul titled The First Christian, 1984, and two other books of interviews she had with Israeli Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Thus, in her late thirties and early forties, she found herself and her life’s work. Each succeeding book made her a better known researcher and writer on the histories and conflicts of the major religions.

BJP: Frank, what if Vatican reforms had been in effect when she entered? What if her training as a nun had been more humane and she had remained a nun? What if her superiors had not sent her to Oxford to study? Any other “ifs”?

FP: What if neurologist Dr. Wolfe had not diagnosed her epilepsy? What if medication had not controlled it? What if she had not come to the favorable attention of Leo Baeck College officials, and to England’s Channel 4 TV officials—what would have happened?

BJP: We would not have Karen Armstrong, author of some international best sellers on religion and religious conflicts. Here are some of her major books and their themes: 1981, Through the Narrow Gate; and 1983, Beginning the World, her two autobiographical books already mentioned. 1984, The First Christian, about St. Paul; and Varieties of Religious Experiences; 1985, Tongues of Fire; the last two books based on her interviews in and around Jerusalem.

FP: 1986, The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity’s Creation of the Sexual War in the West. Armstrong showed how the medieval witch craze, sex-denying Victorian England, and today’s Christianity have all perpetuated mistrust of the human body and fear of women. She criticized theologians, scholars, and others who have made women, including herself, victims of Christian dogma about the inferiority of women.

BJP: 1988, Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World. Armstrong wrote that in waging wars against each other the three major religions have wasted lives and treasure; that false images, ridiculous perceptions, and absurd demons have haunted them. These three religions, she wrote, must learn to look at the world from one another’s viewpoints.

FP: 1992, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. Armstrong’s respectful, reverential life of Muhammad tried to correct the West’s misconceptions about Islam and its founder. Many Westerners believe wrongly that Islam is a violent religion. It was not violent in origin. About 610 A.D., Muhammad, a merchant from Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia, saw that his squabbling tribesmen needed a holy book, as the Jews and Christians had the Bible. He gave them the Koran, as revealed to him, stressing that Arabs were descended, like Jews and Christians, from Abraham; that Allah, which means God, is the same one God of the Jews and Christians. The Koran, Armstrong stressed, urged prayer, good works, justice, and charity.

BJP: 1993, The End of Silence: Women and Priesthood, is Armstrong’s defense of women as being as capable as men. It is a plea for all religions to allow women to serve as priests and ministers. Also in 1993, her A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is her best known international best seller. It traces the changing concepts of God: from pagan times, to the Hebrew prophets, to the Greeks and Romans, to early Christians, to Islam, to the 16th century Enlightenment thinkers, to the l9th century Death of God philosophers, to our time. This tour de force is not an easy book. But its rich detail and historical coverage make it worth the try.

FP: 1996, Jerusalem, One City, Three Faiths, traced the frictional relations of Christians, Jews and Muslims in the holy city over the last 5,000 years. She is not optimistic that the knotty Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be easily or quickly solved. An Israeli critic, writing in the Jerusalem Post, accused Armstrong of being a pro-Muslim apologist who disparaged Jews and Christians.

BJP: 2000, The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is a history of religious fundamentalism since 1492. It appeared before the horror of September 11, 2001 and was snapped up by readers as a plausible explanation. Religious fundamentalists, Armstrong explained, are militant splinter groups who break away from major religions when they (splinter groups) see the parent religion turn unalterably from original principles. Fundamentalists are true believers who when they see themselves marginalized, pushed aside, and about to be eliminated lash out at change, progress, modernity. Determined not to be wiped out, they organize, plot how to survive, and the more radical misguided few use violence to destroy those who, they believe, have wronged or betrayed them.

FP: 2000, Islam, A Short History, is another attempt to show Islam in its best light. She shows how Muhammad the Prophet gave Muslims the Koran; how in it he stressed peace, good works, and charity. She again countered as incorrect the West’s misconception of Islam as warlike. Followers of Islam, she explained again, are urged to create a just and charitable community.

BJP: Karen Armstrong has written much and lectured widely. There is repetition. One can get lost. Can you pin down her core beliefs about religions and their conflicts. What are her passions?

FP: She has four passions: 1-She is passionate about wanting to correct stereotypes and misconceptions we Westerners have about Islam. 2-She passionately wants us to know what fundamentalism is, how the term is used, why it has arisen recently; why we’ve been shocked by its violent eruption among Islamic extremists. 3-She passionately wants readers to understand that concepts of God have changed over thousands of years; that how we think about God has changed as human problems have changed. 4-She passionately believes that the test of a good religion is its compassion, how it treats its have-nots, its sick and its poor. And now, for another perspective, we condense the content of two TV interviews with Karen Armstrong seen and heard by millions of viewers.

BJP: Here is the gist of the Brian Lamb-Karen Armstrong interview on C-Span, Booknotes, Sept. 22, 2000. Lamb asked her: when were you first interested in writing about God? Armstrong answered, repeating facts already mentioned: I never intended to be a writer. After I left the convent I thought I had finished with God. I was tired of religion. I fell into writing about religion by accident. I lost my teaching job because I’m an epileptic. I wrote my first autobiography, Through the Narrow Gate, 1981, to make sense out of my life. The program manager of a new British TV station who read it asked me to write the scenario for and help film a documentary series on St. Paul’s life. I needed the work, lived in Jerusalem with an Israeli film crew, and was at first skeptical about the authenticity of the St. Paul story. But in Jerusalem, seeing the three faiths living side by side, interviewing Jews, Christians and Muslims, seeing how each adhered to his or her faith, [quote] “I came back to a sense of the divine.” [end quote].

FP: Lamb asked her: What is your religion now? Armstrong answered: I say jokingly that I am a freelance monotheist. I draw strength from all three religions and am open to wisdom from any other faith. I see my former Catholicism as part of a great human search for meaning in a flawed and tragic world. I search after God, after the divine, after the ultimate about which there is no end. Lamb asked her: What has been the biggest problem in your life?

BJP: Armstrong answered: Adjusting. As Catholics in England my family were a minority. We lived in a tight subculture, a ghetto, like the Jews. In the convent I was cut off from the world. After seven years, I went back to a totally transformed world. Everyone was protesting the war in Vietnam about which I knew nothing. I gave up on religion after leaving the convent. After working on religious documentary films in Jerusalem, I adjusted to researching and writing the history of religions. Adjusting has been my hardest but necessary problem.

FP: Lamb said: You wrote your first autobiography, went to Jerusalem to write about St. Paul, and have written ten or so other books. Are they all still in print? Armstrong answered: My second autobiographical book, Beginning the World, is out of print. The publisher wants to reprint it but I resist. I was then in grief, was suicidal, was utterly miserable. I still need to come to terms with that horrible time in my life. Lamb asked: Which of your books has sold the most and how many? Armstrong answered: A History of God, no idea how many, but there are over half a million copies in over 30 languages.

BJP: Lamb said: There are some six billion people on earth: two billion are Christians, of which just over a billion are Roman Catholic, 1.2 billion are Muslims, and only 15 million are Jews. Why have so few Jews written so much and had so much written about them? Armstrong answered: Jews have had a tragic history. Their very existence has been threatened in the last thousand years since the Crusades. So they continually ask themselves and write about: Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a God? Why be Jewish when it brings so much suffering and pain?

FP: Lamb asked: Why have the Jews been so persecuted? Armstrong answered: Anti-Semitism is a terrible European disease. Consider how it arose: the Roman Empire fell; barbarians overran Europe; Europe fell into the Dark Ages; European civilization came to a virtual halt. Europe struggled for a comeback on the world stage, with the Crusades as its first cooperative act. Europeans felt inferior, an out group, afraid, and truculent. So they projected this fear into hating others. They hated the Muslims because Muslims had the Holy Land; hated Greek Orthodox Christians because they escaped the Dark Ages, hated Jews because Jews, wanderers without a homeland, had learned how to survive, some even to prosper.

BJP: Lamb asked: How did the lies about the Jews originate? Armstrong answered: Jews were easy scapegoats To remember their past, their reason for being, they clung to ritual, holidays, customs. It was easy to single out Jews by dress and manner and tar them with bizarre myths, such as Jews kill little children at Passover and use their blood to make unleavened bread to remind them of their escape from Egypt. This ridiculous myth showed the disturbed European mind. This prejudice persisted against all common sense. Hitler used it and other lies to fuel his Nazi Holocaust.

FP: Lamb asked: Why did you write your book titled Islam? What does the word “Islam” mean? Armstrong answered: Islam means to “surrender” to Allah (Arabic name for God), to give up posturing, to stop calling attention to one’s self, to surrender ego. Muhammad (c.570-632), the Prophet, asked fellow Muslims to prostrate themselves to Allah, the same one God of the Jews and Christians. Now, Christians often presented God in human terms like themselves and ascribed to God some of their own prejudices. Christian Crusaders went into battle crying, “God wills it,” as they murdered Muslims and Jews. Muslims, wary of this behavior, speak of Allah, God, ultimate reality, as a state of purity. Islam’s basic values are peace and good works. Because a few Islamic extremists are violent, we in the West, see all Islam as violent. This is not so, said Armstrong.

BJP: Lamb asked: What about Buddha, about whom you are now writing a book? Armstrong said: Buddha stressed self abnegation, continuous effort to lose one’s ego, to empty one’s self. That’s why all we know about him can be put in a thimble. Few can achieve total abnegation. But in so striving, one sees things ever clearer. Lamb asked: Well, Karen, now back to Islam and Muhammad the Prophet. Who was he?

FP: Armstrong answered: Muhammad was a concerned merchant of Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia. Around 610 A.D., Arabia was a desert without crops or resources. Tribes fought within and among themselves for survival. Muhammad knew that Jews and Christians looked down on Arabs as barbaric pagans who had no prophets, no Bible. Claiming revelations from on high, Muhammad dictated in beautiful poetry insights that formed the Koran. That book stressed that Allah required Muslims to humble themselves by prayer, to live righteously, and to dispense justice and charity. [End of Lamb-Armstrong interview].

BJP: Here is the gist of the Bill Moyers-Karen Armstrong interview on his PBS TV program NOW. Moyers asked Armstrong: if you were God, would you do away with religion? Armstrong replied: The test of a good religion is its degree of compassion. When religion concentrates instead on ego or on belligerence, God must weep. Moyers asked: Why have there been so many atrocities in the history of religion?

FP: Armstrong replied: Some extremists are angry enough to kill. Examples: the 9-11 Islamic fanatics, the European Crusaders, the orthodox Jew who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. When fanatics commit atrocities in the name of God, or for the glory of God, that’s bad religion. When you ask fanatics, “what about compassion?” They answer, “what’s the point of having religion if we can’t use it to hurt people who are hurting you?”

BJP: Moyers asked: Why do fanatics have this attitude? Armstrong replied: Fear. It comes from cold fear. Fundamentalists are true believers. Convinced that their basic beliefs are being crushed out of existence, they strike back. Such violence was associated with religion from the beginning. The Hebrew Prophets and later religions, seeing every single human as sacred, transcended this barbarism.

FP: Moyers asked: How do you value the sacredness of others? Where does compassion come from? Armstrong replied: Compassion comes when you put yourself in another person’s position, when you make a friend of a stranger. Genesis tells how Abraham sat outside his tent in the hot afternoon and watched three strangers approach. Most of us would not bring strangers who might be dangerous into our home. Abraham welcomed them into his home. Abraham asked his wife to prepare an elaborate meal for them.

BJP: Armstrong continuing: It turned out that one of the strangers was Abraham’s God. Abraham’s act of compassion led to a divine encounter. In Hebrew the word for holy, Kadosh, also means separate or other. Sometimes the otherness of a stranger, one not of our ethnic or ideological or religious group, instead of repelling us, can bring us out of our selfishness and give us insight into the otherness which is God. [End of Moyers-Armstrong interview].

FP: Betty, despite Karen Armstrong’s trials and tribulations, she has achieved success. Born in 1944 she is now in 2003 age 59. What does she say about her lifestyle as a professional single woman?

BJP: She answered that in her article, “The Loneliness of the Intellectual Woman,” New Statesman, Vol. 129, Issue 4489 June 5, 2000), pp. 23-24. She begins (I paraphrase): I sometimes smile wryly when I hear myself described as an ‘ex-nun’. True, I no longer observe poverty, chastity and obedience, vows I kept for seven years as a nun. I am no longer poor and am certainly not obedient. But I have never married, continue to live alone, pass my days in silence as I did in the cloister, and spend my life writing, thinking, and talking about God and spirituality.

FP: Armstrong continued: Being solitary holds no terrors for me. A writer must spend long hours alone. Somebody once called me a ‘gregarious loner.’ I enjoy company, but I feel lost if I do not spend time by myself each day. I love my work. I can’t wait to get to my desk. I can’t wait to get to the library.

BJP: She continued on marriage: I have always assumed that, one day, I would find somebody to love and would get married like everybody else. But I have been unsuccessful with men. Yet I also realize that, had I had a normal family life and responsibilities, I would not have written as much. Perhaps to succeed as a writer, it has been necessary for me to fail as a woman. She continued: I have to live a good deal of the time inside my own head. It takes an immense effort to drag a book from sources into my mind and then from my mind onto paper. It demands concentration. For months, I retreat from the outside world. The real drama is enacted in my head.

FP: She continued: Now, in a man, this concentration is regarded as noble and inspiring. But in a woman it is often condemned as selfish. Why? Men think women must be primarily caregivers and serve the family. I am taken to task for appearing unfriendly, impenetrable, and inaccessible when producing a new book. Others scold me for remaining single. But I [she must have smiled] have h dad no choice in the matter. Betty, as we end, what do you think is Karen Armstrong’s value to us, to the reading public, to scholarship?

BJP: She is a phenomenon, a valuable contributor to our understanding of religious conflicts. We admire her gumption in rising above adversity. We admire her ability to write and to lecture widely. She has given us fuller understanding of problems on religious differences. Frank, what is Karen Armstrong writing now?

FP: Two books to be published next year in 2004: one is another autobiographical book; the other is on the Axial Age, from 600 BCE to 200 BCE, which saw an explosion of religious ideas from Confucius, Tao, Buddha, the Jewish prophets, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. She continues to probe and to share that mysterious mystical unknowable intelligence called God.

BJP: Where does she find that mysterious mystical unknowable intelligence called

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