Friday, January 10, 2014

Atheist Delusions

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

A fairly recent book (2009) that stands out for its overall intellectual persuasiveness — based on a richness of content combined with a splendid and consistently rich prose — is entitled Atheist Delusions - The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. The author is David Bentley Hart, and in a fairly short span of time he is now considered one of the most trenchant and gifted Christian philosphers/theologians writing today.  He also happens to be an Orthodox Christian, but Hart hardly ever makes reference to that in his writings. 

The title of the book is openly polemical, as Hart's purpose is to respond to the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins, and his book entitled The God Delusion.  This short note is not meant to be a book review, but I would like to include a blurb extracted from a review by the scholar Geoffrey Wainwright of Duke Divinity School.  Wainwright's assessment of Atheist Delusions includes the following : 

Provoked by and responding to the standard-bearers of the "New Atheism," this original and intellectually impressive work deftly demolishes their mythical account of 'the rise of modernity.'  Hart argues instead that the genuinely humane values of modernity have their historic roots in Christianity.

I am simply attaching what I found to be a passage characteristic of what I have called the author's intellectual persuasiveness; and that it proves to be a magnificent summation of Hart's over-all thesis that Christianity was the greatest movement in the entire history of Western culture — at least since it appeared — and that its appearance effected a "revolution" in human culture and values.  We may have forgotten this, if we are even aware of the profound impact the Christian Gospel made when it entered the world during the time of pagan Rome's ascendency over the world of late antiquity.  Since a good deal of Christianity today seems tired and lifeless, we need such a reminder to perhaps inject a bit of life into our own commitment to the Christian Gospel. I shared this yesterday evening with our Fall Adult Education Class as a positive assessment of the early Church's accomplishment as that was the subject of this year's class.  I find the passage so impressive, that I wanted to share it with everyone else.  This particular paragraph was meant by Hart to offer a summary of  the book's over-all content and purpose.

The Christian “Revolution”
From Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies
By David Bentley Hart

This book chiefly – or at least centrally – concerns the history of the early church, of roughly the first four centuries, and the story of how Christendom was born out of the culture of late antiquity. My chief ambition in writing is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting:  how enormous a transformation 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 communities where none had existed before; and it 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, inspiration or accomplishment than any other movement 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 implausibility as to strain the very limits of our understanding of  historical causality.

Atheist Delusions, p. x-xi

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