Thursday, September 24, 2009

Atheist Delusions

Just finished (finally) Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart. Just two thoughts:

The first hundred pages or so of this book are just grand. Hart's bombastic and over-the-top rhetoric is in some of his other work pretty obtuse, perhaps unintentionally, and in other books one wonders how much intellectual flexing is going on. And perhaps there are works of his where it is just part of the jargon of doing philosophy in our world. But whatever the case, Hart's rhetoric is perfect for laying out the new atheists. He mocks them, harasses them, and generally has a great time of showing how their history and reasoning and logic are about as complex and meaningful as a six year old on a playground. There is some really useful historical work in this book as well, countering some of the more common claims that Christianity generally introduced anti-intellectualism, tyranny, and the mistreatment of women and slaves into the world. Hart handily dismantles various attempts at this and frequently shows that the reverse is actually the case. And he does this without glossing over various failures and problems in the story as well.

On the flip side, the book ends rather bland. While it doesn't quite reach shrill, his tone is far more tragic as the pages go on. Where he begins almost triumphalistically, calling the new atheists cowards and buffoons, he fears that their popularity is a symptom of a broad and grand sweeping change in the modern intellectual and religious landscape that signals the overwhelming retreat of Christianity from western culture. He cites the monastic movement as perhaps something of what the modern Church has to look forward to. And this tragic, retreatist conclusion was the most disappointing. While it's absolutely true that the Lord may have His people in a period of decline, and the scenery may change significantly as this occurs, this retreatist mentality is exactly what got us here in the first place. Now Hart is most certainly not advocating "running away," and his book is a clear example of cultural engagement. But his book begins as a rallying call, looking back at the progress of the gospel down through the centuries, despite many weaknesses and failures on the part of believers. But when it comes to the present, Hart fails to see the same possibilities, the same gospel leaven at work, and one gets the sense that Hart is something of a romantic, looking back in longing for the old days and rather bewildered by the modern world he faces.

Definitely worth the read, but also definitely disappointing, especially after such a fun start to the book. Maybe three stars.


Anonymous said...

I think you're using "retreatist" in two different ways here. American Christianity isn't in a shambles because it's been monastic. We live in Jeroboam II's Israel.


Anonymous said...

Hi Im from Australia.

Please check out these sets of essays on the delusions at the root of both religionism and scientism/atheism

Essays which point out why/how Christianity and Western "culture" altogether IS a shambles.