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Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies Hardcover – April 21, 2009
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About the Author
David Bentley Hart is the author of several books, including In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments and The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. He lives in Providence, RI.
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Well done David Bentley Hart
History is, in fact, the fragmentary record of the often inexplicable actions of innumerable bewildered human beings, set down and interpreted according to their limitations by other human beings, equally bewildered. This statement is attributed to one C. V. Wedgewood, a twentieth century historian of some merit.
If you are interested in religion or history, not afraid of a challenge, or just looking for a stimulating read, I highly recommend this title.
Hart accepts that Christianity was an interruption, or irruption, but sees it as one that revolutionized our understanding of what it means to be human. It was the most profound revolution in human history. Hart points out that, unlike today's evangelical atheists, Nietzsche hated Christianity for what it actually was, a religion the God of which is Love and which regards charity as the highest virtue. It was, he understood, unique and subversive in its insistence on God's universal love--beyond ties to place, tribe, nation, or ruler--and the duty of Christians to help the sick, poor, weak and oppressed, to visit prisoners, and to respect the intrinsic dignity and worth of all human life.
Its adherents often disappoint, as Hart insists, like all other human individuals and institutions in our fallen world. But in developing a (highly sophisticated) understanding of the God-man in whom God became human so that humans may become divine, Christians of the early centuries overthrew older views of the infinite distance between God and humanity and rejected the arbitrariness and immorality of the pagan gods. Christians established a world-view that saw the world as law-governed and humans as subject to a natural law "written on their hearts" and--in great contrast to pagan religions--a social ethic. This made scientific discovery--initially largely the work of churchmen and, like Galileo and Newton, devout Christians--a reading of the book of nature that God had written. No longer could we say, except in the depths of despair like the brutally blinded Gloucester in King Lear, "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport." Christianity, says hart, is a religion of joy and hope, as opposed to the prevailing pagan sadness and resignation.
So Hart's argument takes us from the pagan world, with its lack of a sense of the arrow of time and hence of the future and of the purpose and direction of life, its moral callousness toward the weak and oppressed, through the Christian revolution in which king and slave, aristocrat and worker, were of equal worth as sharing in the divinity of the God-man. The Church--again unique in its separation of religion from the state--suffers (what Hart sees as) the catastrophe of being adopted as the religion of the Roman Empire. But unlike the pagan cults, the Church retains its subversive aspect. It insists on the submission even of emperors and kings to God. The long struggle (as well as collusion) between church and state ends in defeat for the Church as Protestant rulers place themselves at the head of their national churches and Catholic states like France and Spain completely subordinate the church to the monarchy--even in Spain's case insisting on the Inquisition as an instrument of "nation-building." The long march of the hypertrophied state culminates in the secularist horrors of the 20th century. Indeed, Hart argues, the modern secular state has a unique penchant or drive to violence on a vast scale that makes the violence attributed (much of it wrongly) to Christianity appear minuscule by comparison.
Hart's view of our present cultural situation is exceedingly--and for a Christian one might say excessively--bleak. He sees a post-Christian world no longer restrained by any conception of the equal dignity and worth of the individual. The moral restraints that are rooted in the Christian social ethic but have no solid basis in secularist ideologies, survive as memories for awhile but then fade. A foretaste of this world appears in the enthusiasm with which progressives and liberals of all kinds took up the eugenics movement in the U.S., which the Nazis adopted and learned from. The twentieth century, with its court-mandated sterilizations, lobotomies, scientific experiments on prisoners and denial of treatment to poor Black men in the interests of science in the U.S. as well as the unrestrainedly murderous anti-Christian regimes (atheist or neo-pagan)of Russia and Germany, shows us the post-Christian future. It is a world in which the God who is Love is dead, science is freed from moral restraint, and humans become objects of manipulation.
Fortunately, there are developments that might make us want to temper such pessimism, not in the sense that Hart is wrong about the dehumanizing implications of a loss of the social ethic or spiritual depth and beauty of Christianity, but in the sense that secularization is not a done deal, not beyond academia and elite opinion anyway. Christianity is growing rapidly in Africa, Asia, and Russia, has not succumbed (except in its liberal forms) to secularization in the U.S., and rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated even in Europe, according some accounts (God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis (The Future of Christianity)).
But this is a profound and serious book that invites us to confront what is at stake in the secularist trends among Western elites.
Hart explains that Greek philosophy is responsible for slowing science progress in Western civilization in what is called the dark ages, which weren't as dark as some make it out to be. He points out that the Catholic Church established many schools, hospitals, and care for the poor during that time, when the secular governments heartlessly ignored the plights of their citizens. The real horrors of nearly unending wars began as the Roman empire was replaced with country states that often claimed full God-given authority to rule their nations. There was a constant struggle between those who wanted to keep the unfettered power of the king vs. those who wanted to limit kingly powers.