book report: Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart

I picked this one up in the new books section of my local library. New books are only lent out for 2 weeks. I needed to renew it because each paragraph demands careful reading. This book is like an amazing cheesecake, rich and dense and altogether delicious. Unlike cheesecake, this book is nourishing for the soul as well. I highly recommend Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart. A collection of his articles can be found at this blog.

His main contention is the the new atheists either don't know church history or have raised up strawmen to knock down. Hart shows, from primary sources, a true portrait of the early church. His other contention is that the new atheists are not honest about the trajectory of their philosophy. He points to Nietzsche as the post-Christian exemplar. I will share quotes later from him that draw the conclusion for the only possible post-Christian philosophy is nihilism. But I have several quotes to share.

I will include some excerpts over the next couple days. It was really hard to select any paragraph, for they are all good. Here is today's.
p. 164
Christian teaching, from the first, placed charity at the center of the spiritual life as no pagan cult ever had, and raised the care of widows, orphans, the sick, the imprisoned, and the poor to the level of the highest of religious obligations. thus, in the late second century, Tertullian could justly boast that whereas the money donated to the temples of the old gods was squandered on feasts and drink, with their momentary pleasures, the money given to the churches was used to care for the impoverished and the abandoned, to grant even the poorest decent burials, and to provide for the needs of the elderly. The Didascalia, a fascinating Christian document of the third century, describes the duties of a bishop as encompassing responsibility for the education of orphans, aid to poor widows, and the puchase of food and firewood for the destitute, as well as strict vigilance over the money flowing through the church, lest it issue from men guilty of injustice or of the abuse of slaves, or lest it find its way into the hands of persons not genuinely in need. In 251 the church in Rome alone had more than fifteen hundred dependents on its rolls, and even small local churches kept storerooms of provisions for the poor, such as oil, wine, and clothing (especially, tellingly enough, women's clothing). In this way the church, long before Constantine had created a system of social assistance that no civic or religious office of the pagan state provided; once Constantine became emperor and shifted patronage to his new religion, storerooms became storehouses, and the church became the first large,

St. Francis of Assisi renounces his worldly go...Image via Wikipedia

organized institution of public welfare in Western history. It was a great repository and redistributor of goods, alms, state moneys, and bequests; it encouraged the rich to give, beyond the dictates of prudence, even in some cases to the point of voluntary poverty; it provided funds for hospitals, orphan asylums, and hostels. Even when the established church neglected or fell short of the charitable ideals it professed, it still did far more for those in need than the gods of old had ever done.

Who needs the church? Everyone in need, needs the church. Before the church, there was little to be done for the needy. Christ's bride changed the world.
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Joshua said…
Forgive my asking:

I would love nothing more than for you to answer all my questions and prove me wrong, perhaps strengthening my faith at the same time.

But in this post, you claimed that "Everyone in need, needs the church. Before the church, there was little to be done for the needy."

How can this be true when people had each other to rely upon, and help? Someone in need is only in need of help, and together we can make a difference. Before the church, people just had to unify in other ways.

I believe in the teachings of Christ: to love and treat others as you would have yourself treated, but more and more recently I've reflected back upon the Catholic church, and seen its flaws... I think a polytheistic Native American religion would do me more good...

Maybe I'll have to buy this book.
John Umland said…
it's worth buying, but you can also borrow it from the local library as well. the author does not try to hide the warts of the church. it's necessary to recognize the weakness of the humans who make it up.

if you read the posts tagged Native americans on the blog you'll see my reading on that topic and their interaction with the church.

God is good

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