book report: Atheist Delusions by Hart, part 5

The ultimate aim of Hart in his book Atheist Delusions : The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies is to refute the weak claims of the new atheists including books like Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great : How Religion Poisons Everything. Can Hitchens's hyperbolic claim be taken seriously? Hart writes,
Even in purely practical terms, to despise religion in the abstract is meaningless conceit. As a historical force, religion has been neither simply good nor simply evil but has merely reflected human nature in all its dimensions. For our remote ancestors it was the force that shaped society, law, and culture by pointing to one or another "higher truth" that could fuse individual wills into common aspirations and efforts. In its more developed forms it has functioned as a source of prohibition and injunction, burning moral commands into obstinate minds with visions of hell and heaven, endless reincarnation or final repose in God, or what have you, fashioning conscience by breaking and binding inflexible wills, applying now the cautery of fear, now the balm of hope (we may not much like this, but - to paraphrase Freud - inhibition is the price of civilization). In its even more developed forms, it has encouraged love or compassion or peacefulness in numberless souls, even if it has also inspired or abetted sanctimony and intolerance in others. And the more imaginatively stirring the spiritual longing it has awakened in various peoples, the more extraordinary the cultural accomplishments it has elicited from them. Both the most primordial artistic impulses in a people and the most refined expressions have always been indissolubly united to visions of eternal order. In the end, to regret "religion" as such is to regret that humanity ever became more as a species than a collection of especially cunning brutes. p. 221
As far as Hart is concerned the New Atheists can't hold a match to the brutally honest and well considered atheism of Neitzsche, who had no delusion that an atheistic humanity would retain such weak ideals like compassion and service. I will quote from Douglas Wilson's essay debate in the HuffPo which I linked to yesterday.
So if the universe is what the atheist maintains it is, then this determines what sort of account we must give for the nature of everything -- and this includes the atheist's thought processes, ethical convictions, and aesthetic appreciations. If you were to shake up two bottles of pop and place them on a table to fizz over, you could not fill up an auditorium with people who came to watch them debate. This is because they are not debating; they are just fizzing. If you were to shake up one bottle of pop, and show it film footage of some genocidal atrocity, the reaction you would get is not moral outrage, but rather more fizzing. And if you were to shake it really hard by means of art school, and place it in front of Michelangelo's David, or the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral, the results would not really be aesthetic appreciation, but more fizzing still.


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