Monday, May 18, 2009

Atheist Delusions

Fr Jonathan Tobias, in a recent post on Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, the new book by David Bentley Hart, reminds us of why he is the reigning prose stylist in the Orthodox blogosphere. Here's how Fr Jonathan begins:
What an interesting book Atheist Delusions is (by our reigning favorite, David Bentley Hart; out this year from Yale University Press).

The interest starts with the delusions, if you will, of its reviewers. They all meant well, I'm sure, but their method seems to stop short of the second stage of Adler's bookreading technique. The friendly urbane reviewers discuss Hart's tome as if it were a sure bet in a back alley cockfight with the "new atheists." One of them went so far as to suggest that Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, on the morning they were going to start writing down all their atheistical stuff, should have realized that David Bentley Hart was out there on the field already, sharpening up his Gimli battle axe, just for the enjoyable business of separating the loci of nincompoopery from the corpora of nincompoops. They should have realized this with dudgeon and ire and promptly told the valet to leave them alone and stuck their head back under the eider down.

Come now. Tut, tut and all that. This isn't at all the main job that Hart's took upon himself and done well. His proposition was that the Christian Church brought about a profound revolution, whose effects permeated the world of human society. It established what is facilely known as "Christendom" (West and East): everyone knows that, but Hart proves that what we like to think of as "the West" is fundamentally this very Christendom – despite the current and odious attempt to establish a secular singular Europe. All the liberal things we are justly proud of are in fact Christian inventions; to name just a few: things like hospitals, effective medicine, justice for the powerless, "healthcare and welfare," the prohibition of gladiatorial combat, the eradication of slavery, the full involvement of women in religion (suggesting that the male priesthood contradicts the full participation of women in Orthodoxy is as lamentable as supposing that female motherhood diminishes the participation of males in parenthood, or that female wifehood prohibits the full range of male sexuality).

That last point sounds abrupt in a bozart age when "full participation" has been jingo-ized into hieretical affirmative action. But Christianity was the first to involve all adherents – rich or poor, slave or free, men or women, Greek, Roman and Jew – cramming them all into one single Liturgy and Sacrament, the same font and cup, the same nave. The question of "why can't I be the celebrant?" was never related to St. Paul's "in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave nor free."
Gabriel Sanchez, another Orthodox blogger I greatly admire, also had a thoughtful post on Dr Hart's book recently. I gave you the beginning of Fr Jonathen' post, and now I'll give you the end of Gabriel's post:
I would encourage you, regardless of past impressions of Hart, to read Atheist Delusions. Don’t be deceived by the fact it is an entertaining read. That’s just icing. Rather, read it to arm yourself against the falsehoods you encounter every day about the Christian faith, its history, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Read it and be encouraged that retreatism is not the “answer.” Read it and then be sure to follow the Apostle Paul and “preach Christ crucified,” to so many contemporary Christians a stumbling block and unto the secularists foolishness. That is imperative.
I have hitherto studiously ignored David Bentley Hart's work. I did once page through his Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth – his first book, but labeled his magnum opus from the day of its appearance – but was unable to make heads or tails of it. It simply was not the sort of book I'd normally read. (When I do read works of academic theology, I nearly always prefer historical theology to systematic theology, the former seeming not only safer but usually more relevant.) I am now convinced that I should read Dr Hart's latest tome. Now if somebody would only send me a copy, I'd happily review it!


Esteban Vázquez said...

David Bentley Who?

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Bentley? Aren't those cars?

O learned Father "Felix Culpa", your not having been conned by late-twentieth century continental sub-mediocre philosophizing is the reason for your finding this Hart piece incomprehensible. For those who have swallowed the Sartre (or Foucault, et alia) pill, it's quite fun, apparently, and bears meaning in that context, though it's all empty, just as the pieces he reacts to are. There's nothing particularly Orthodox about Hart's writing, and some of it is (as I recall specifically in some few instances of Patristic references) questionably Orthodox. But these criticisms have been made at length before, as you know, by better minds than mine.

There's nothing better to counter the atheists' ludicrous claims than a knowledge of real history. Events, dates, narratives, and so on, as we have them flatly contradict their silly little liberal myths about Church/World history. I always start out with the fact that atheists have killed more people in the twentieth century alone (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al.) than we have documented for all other religions throughout history put together. That fact tends not to get the press it deserves.