Sunday, January 17, 2010


David Bentley Hart...

Jessica and I received a book for Christmas, Atheist Delusions: Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. In the book Hart is unashamedly brash with his critique and look at today's new atheists. Hart focuses on aspects of Christianity relating to history and focuses on the myth in our culture, promoted not just by new atheist but older critics of Christianity as well, that the ancient world was a place of reason and prosperity until Christianity came along and replaced it with dogmatic faith, plunging western culture into centuries of "dark ages" from which we only emerged in the modern period with the Enlightenment and a return to reason. Hart argues that this is poor at best knowledge and/or understanding of history. He stresses the important recognition that the rise of Christianity was so revolutionary that it changed western culture so thoroughly in positive ways (hospitals, charity, view of humanity, etc.) that these ideas have become so ingrained in our culture to the point we forget they were new with the Christians and that in fact the rise of Christianity helped to liberate people and bring hope and dignity where there were none.

It has been a very good but tough read (Hart is very wordy) so far, I have been really enjoying it. Here are some snippets of Hart's own introduction to the book:

"Where I come to the defense of historical Christianity, it is only in order to raise objections to certain popular calumnies of the church, or to demur from what I take to be disingenuous or inane arraignments of Christian belief or history, or to call attention to achievements and virtues that writers of a devoutly anti-Christian bent tend to ignore, dissemble, or dismiss."

"My chief ambition in writing it is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting: how enormous a transformation of thought, sensibility, culture, morality, and spiritual imagination Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred upon the human person; its subversion of the cruelest aspects of pagan society; its (alas, only partial) demystification of political power; its ability to create moral community where none had existed before; and its elevation of active charity above all other virtues. Stated in its most elementary and most buoyantly positive form, my argument is, first of all, that among all the many great transitions that have marked the evolution of Western civilization, whether convulsive or gradual, political or philosophical, social or scientific, material or spiritual, there has been only one—the triumph of Christianity—that can be called in the fullest sense a “revolution”: a truly massive and epochal revision of humanity’s prevailing vision of reality, so pervasive in its influence and so vast in its consequences as actually to have created a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good. To my mind, I should add, it was an event immeasurably more impressive in its cultural creativity and more ennobling in its moral power than any other movement of spirit, will, imagination, aspiration, or accomplishment in the history of the West. And I am convinced that, given how radically at variance Christianity was with the culture it slowly and relentlessly displaced, its eventual victory was an event of such improbability as to strain the very limits of our understanding of historical causality."