book report: Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart; part 7

This is the last quote from Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart. I don't think his "prediction" is anymore than an observation of cultures that have already entered a post-Christian phase.
It may well be that, when Christianity passes away from a culture, nihilism is the

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inevitable consequence, precisely because of what Christianity itself is. Once, ages ago, the revolution that the gospel brought into the ancient world discredited the entire sacred order of the old religion. Christianity took the gods away, subdued them so utterly that, try though we might, we can never really believe in them again. The world was in one sense demystified, even as it was imbued with another kind of sacramental splendor. And so powerful was the new religion's embrace of reality, and so comprehensive and pervasive its effects, that even the highest achievements of antique pagan wisdom were easily assumed into its own new intellectual, aesthetic, and ethical synthesis. When, therefore, Christianity departs, what is left behind? It may be that Christianity is the midwife of nihilism precisely because , in rejecting it, a people necessarily rejects everything except the bare horizon of the undetermined will. No other god can now be found. The story of the crucified God took everything to itself, and do - in departing - takes everything with it: habits of reverence and restraint, awe, the command of the Good within us. Only the will persists, set before the abyss of limitless possibility, seeking its way - or forging its way - in the dark. pp.229-230
I believe that, since nihilism is so unsatisfying, the craving for the transcendent that religion provides is so undeniable that a cycle always ensues for a culture that goes from atheism to moralistic therapeutic deism to shamanism and animism back to Christ. But that does not mean each person in the culture goes through that cycle. Many people will be in the stage that many people are in. The outliers will be the ones who believe in the unpopular. I think Christ is always unpopular with the self-satisfied. It is those who recognize their weakness and brokenness without shame, in biblical terms, the "humble," who God heals. The proud, who shake their fists at a God they don't believe in, He leaves alone to their misery.
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jimbo said…
This is a restatement of his "Christ and Nothing" essay, which is one of the greatest peices of writing I've ever read (and which had a large part in leading me back to he Church) I think I need to pick up this book...
John Umland said…
i thought it was a great read.
I'm curious if he enticed you into Eastern Orthodoxy.
God is good
jimbo said…
Nope, I swam the Tiber from my childhood Episcopalianism over to Rome. I must say that the mysticism of EO did attract me, but ultimately Catholicism was less of a leap (and there's plenty of mystery there, too, if you know where to look...)

BTW, I realized I posted under my google account, so I'm a bit more anonymous than I meant to be. It's your old friend (and onetime creation/evolution sparring partner) Jim Baird.
John Umland said…
Hey Jim.
I keep getting distracted from reading the ante-Nicene fathers. I will get to them someday...

I found Hart's article at First Things,

God is good
jimbo said…
I have a friend (who was my sponser in entering the Church) who is getting her doctorate in Theology, concentrating in the early Fathers. She turned me on to them (and also to the early martyr narratives, which she is doing her thesis on).

I remember when I came across "Christ and Nothing", it was after a long period of frustration with the seeming inability of modern philosophers and pundits to even know right questions to ask, let alone the answers. It was essentially an intellectual slap in the face, pointing out things I had long suspected but could never put into words quite as good as Hart. (Of course, to be fair, no one can...) From there, it was off to Chesterton - and if you're a certain kind of person, once you've read Chesterton there's no going back...
John Umland said…
Chesterton is another fellow I am eager to enjoy when I make the time.

I embrace this from the end of Hart's essay.

"For Christians, then, to recover and understand the meaning of the command to have “no other god,” it is necessary first to recognize that the victory of the Church in history was not only incomplete, but indeed set free a force that the old sacral order had at least been able to contain; and it is against this more formless and invincible enemy that we take up the standard of the commandment today.

Moreover, we need to recognize, in the light of this history, that this commandment is a hard discipline: it destroys, it breaks in order to bind; like a cautery, it wounds in order to heal; and now, in order to heal the damage it has in part inflicted, it must be applied again. In practical terms, I suspect that this means that Christians must make an ever more concerted effort to recall and recover the wisdom and centrality of the ascetic tradition. It takes formidable faith and devotion to resist the evils of one’s age, and it is to the history of Christian asceticism — especially, perhaps, the apophthegms of the Desert Fathers — that all Christians, whether married or not, should turn for guidance. To have no god but the God of Christ, after all, means today that we must endure the lenten privations of what is most certainly a dark age, and strive to resist the bland solace, inane charms, brute viciousness, and dazed passivity of post-Christian culture — all of which are so tempting precisely because they enjoin us to believe in and adore ourselves.

It means also to remain aloof from many of the moral languages of our time, which are — even at their most sentimental, tender, and tolerant — usually as decadent and egoistic as the currently most fashionable vices. It means, in short, self-abnegation, contrarianism, a willingness not only to welcome but to condemn, and a refusal of secularization as fierce as the refusal of our Christian ancestors to burn incense to the genius of the emperor. This is not an especially grim prescription, I should add: Christian asceticism is not, after all, a cruel disfigurement of the will, contaminated by the world-weariness or malice towards creation that one can justly ascribe to many other varieties of religious detachment. It is, rather, the cultivation of the pure heart and pure eye, which allows one to receive the world, and rejoice in it, not as a possession of the will or an occasion for the exercise of power, but as the good gift of God. It is, so to speak, a kind of “Marian” waiting upon the Word of God and its fruitfulness. This is why it has the power to heal us of our modern derangements: because, paradoxical as it may seem to modern temperaments, Christian asceticism is the practice of love, what Maximus the Confessor calls learning to see the logos of each thing within the Logos of God, and it eventuates most properly in the grateful reverence of a Bonaventure or the lyrical ecstasy of a Thomas Traherne."

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