Monday, 2 August 2010
Atheist Delusions: Another book review
David Bentley Hart is an Orthodox (note the capital)theologian of immense erudition, intellectual capacity and wit. I have now ordered some of his other works, but this one proved to be a great way to fill the long hours drifting above the clouds. His way of dealing with the challenge of the new Atheism is one I warm to immensely. I have long known that the best way of dealing with Atheist splutter is to use their own non-arguments against them ( I used to be an atheist but in my early twenties found that I no longer needed the emotional crutch of atheism...) Hart does it better. He knows what many of us timid and polite and nice Christians simply don't: that most of the atheists who beset us with such assurance and confidence simply have no idea what they're talking about. So people with the skimpiest knowledge of history, and no understanding whatsoever of the history of science will regale us with absolutely confident and convinced opinions on, say, the trial of Galileo. People whose knowledge of the Middle Ages comes exclusively from some half baked TV documentary or from one or two badly researched best sellers will argue earnestly about the end of the Roman Empire and the theological and moral development of Europe. With style, panache, élan, learning and relentless logic David Bentley Hart demolishes... no, blends, powders and atomizes... the arguments raised not so much by the serious philosophical atheists (of whom, incidentally there are precious few about), but by the fashionable poseurs, the headline makers, the publishers of cheap and cheerful splentetic tomes, and the ABWFI (Adolescent Boys With Father Issues [my phrase]).
The style of the book is bold, confident and assured. It is a wonderful piece of Christian apologetic, but it is much more besides. It is an interesting potted history of Christianity and of the development of Scientific thinking, written by a man acknowledged as one of the world's foremost scholars of religion. It is a devastating critique of the West, and of Modernism as the prevailing philosophy of the West. It is a hope-full analysis of the Christian Gospel and a statement of its contribution to the intellectual and moral development of Europe and, indeed, of the world. The book is backed by impressive scholarship, properly footnotes and referenced, and all this presented in a readable, and even racy style.
Hart's analysis of Modernism as resting on a particular concept of freedom is an intriguing one, and this is an idea I have spent the last few weeks unpacking for myself. Hart describes the Modernist concept of freedom as being entirely about the individual: that is, MY development as an individual is the highest good, and anything which compromises MY right to do exactly as I please is to be resisted. I believe he is accurate in this, and I am alarmed to consider how far this particular view of freedom has infiltrated the church and influenced the way we organize ourselves and the way we think about life, the universe and everything. We have lost, in large measure the freedom described by Paul in Romans which is freedom from my own self absorption and from the impulses and half conscious powers and principalities which hold me locked down tight in bondage.
This is a book I am savoring until The Beauty of the Infinite arrives. It's one I recommend highly, but don't expect me to lend you my copy. Not just yet, anyway.