PDF/EPUB David Bentley Hart ð Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its ð

In this provocative book one of the most brilliant scholars of religion today dismantles distorted religious “histories” offered up by Christopher Hitchens Richard Dawkins and other contemporary critics of religion and advocates of atheism David Bentley Hart provides a bold correction of the New Atheists’s misrepresentations of the Christian past countering their polemics with a brilliant account of Christianity and its message of human charity as the most revolutionary movement in all of Western historyHart outlines how Christianity transformed the ancient world in ways we may have forgotten bringing liberation from fatalism conferring great dignity on human beings subverting the cruelest aspects of pagan society and elevating charity above all virtues He then argues that what we term the “Age of Reason” was in fact the beginning of the eclipse of reason’s authority as a cultural value Hart closes the book in the present delineating the ominous conseuences of the decline of Christendom in a culture that is built upon its moral and spiritual values


10 thoughts on “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

  1. says:

    I wanted to like this book and did enjoy it as a discussion of Christian history but as a rebuttal directed towards the so called New Atheists Well it wasn't The New Atheists are popularizing atheism and directing it towards the masses Their works are hardly nuanced enough to take the criticism of most academics even those in agreement But this can be true for other arguments too It wouldn't be hard to pick a popular book on Christian apologetics written for laymen and tear it apart So in my mind this book is like a stage for the great warrior to kill the rabbit Sure this book has a particular audience in mind too There's nothing wrong with that but the arrogance that comes through for the New Atheist project does grow tiresome that's not to say the New Atheists can't be guilty of arrogance too Besides if all arguments became academic monographs who in the masses would actually read them anyway There is a place for such popular arguments and discussions But academics if anything should recognize the difference and the tone of their books in my opinion would be better if they reflected this Maybe all parties can at least agree that it's refreshing to see an broad interest in such important uestions But importantly this book only covers criticisms directed towards Christian history which for anyone who has actually read the New Atheists would recognize isn't a significant or read convincing part of their argument anyway To a large extent the New Atheists are only rehashing popular post Enlightenment strains of thinking about Christianity They are hardly adding anything new to the argument which isn't surprising since they aren't historians The argument is old but anyone who knows much about history would recognize that interpretation can never be divorced from the interpreter's viewpoint and context Hart is no different in how he frames his argument Despite how one writes the history of the church whether one chooses to demonize Christians or not the fundamental argument of the New Atheists about the existence of a personal God and the value of faithbelief or danger of faithbelief as Harris might argue remains unanswered by Hart's argumentThis is too bad because at times Hart does make reference to the New Atheists terrible understanding of philosophy and theology but he never elaborates on what he means here But it is here that something important can be said against the New Atheists And perhaps Hart's interpretation of Christian history can feed this but in the end it just never does He could have just as easily taken up the argument for a different interpretation of Islamic history too but he still wouldn't have challenged the core of the New Atheists argument that there is no personal God To make matters worse the history reads of Western nepotism Centrism would work here too although I like the negative implications biases and all implied by nepotism Should we really be surprised to find so many good contributions from Christianity in Western history when Christianity has dominated Western history for so long including the present and it's values all this despite one's view of modernity and post modernity? Even to a large extent Western atheism is a contribution of Western Christianity A honest comparison would be looking into the history of the East too What really was the difference? Is charity really one of them? What about science? Some might consider this a curse than a blessing


  2. says:

    One thing that immediately jumps out at me upon reading this book is what an intellectual mismatch David Bentley Hart is with the New Atheist philosophers of our contemporary popular culture He doesn't so much as deconstruct their contentions as much as pull the rug out from under them with a few deft strokes They're simply not making any serious arguments and it doesn't seem like they think they even need to Hart evinces the erudition and knowledge of both a classical philosophical and theological education The people he's critiuing would charitably be described as charlatans and some of them are even worseThe Christian Revolution alluded to in the book's title doesn't refer to a coming event but the revolutionary arrival of Christianity several centuries ago which transformed a formerly pagan world Our prevailing secular liberal society today tends to disparage uite vociferously Christianity as being a force which imposed backwardness and darkness upon Western civilization and from which we have now awoken ourselves to a world of reason rationality and an improved conception of freedomNeedless to say this popular understanding is not really true; of a legend we have concocted to glorify ourselves in the present As a great empire Christendom had its share of crimes and excesses but it also transformed the world and helped give rise to Western civilization's conception of what it means to be human today More fundamentally it gave the idea that each human life has intrinsically divine and infinite value of its own and that there is thus necessarily a higher morality reuired of us than simply the needs or desires of the moment Secular concepts such as human rights would be incomprehensible without concepts which are themselves borne out of and inextricably tied to Christianity Now that we have or less discarded Christianity in the West what solid basis will we have for continuing to carry these ideas into the future? While they may exist independently within themselves for awhile once the animating underlying principle the religious conception of the value of life is no longer seen as credible how long until we slip into entirely new beliefs? Nietzsche for one seemed to grasp the stunning magnitude of the contemporary Death of God Our current crop of disbelievers on the other hand seem to be cheerfully unaware or unconcerned about what may fill this gaping moral vacuum Not just that they evince an inexplicable and unsubstantiated optimism which happens to fly in the face of the secular 20th century the single bloodiest period of time in human historyWhat is particular disturbing to me is that some of the loudest proponents of the new enlightenment are actually arguing for an outright return to barbarism although they may term it utilitarianism Sam Harris my particular bete noire has for instance argued in favor of the utilitarian revival of torture After all if there's no God that we take seriously and the idea of the infinite value of each human life is now uaint why not use torture when we feel we need it? Why not even contemplate nuclear warfare or other forms of undiscriminating mass violence if the moment seems to call for it as well? This is a return to the primordial view of the world a blank slate where there is no fundamental reality; nothing than the exigencies reuirements and prejudices of ones present circumstances Needless to say this is a call for a return to the most basic and utter primitivism that in our modern age of confusion and ignorance is absurdly masuerading as progress In other words we spent millenia refining these high concepts of the value of man only to toss them out the window on the backs of a few undergraduate level NYT bestsellers This is the behavior of a trivial and confused cultureAs Hart points out our new modern view of the world is in fact the literal definition of nihilism There is no underlying reality and our modern conception of freedom is simply the freedom of the will to respond to each of its whims without obstruction There is no higher calling or higher purpose to strive for And since the will itself is being exercised by a being us that has been stripped of any divine or infinite value then it is not anything in and of itself either Its simply meaningless impulses acting out within a world itself devoid of meaning Our conception of reality is nothing acting upon a vast canvas of nothingness simply the will being pulled this way and that at any given moment This is much different than the classical conception of freedom which was freedom from the desire to commit sin or to act against ones best nature Freedom was the freedom to be who you are meant to be and to act in harmony with your divine calling As I've mentioned before this idea is embodied in the Islamic concept of fitra and ones lifelong struggle to act in accordance with itIndeed most of us don't actually manage to fully live like this and many of us are either still believers in God in some manner or otherwise we find distractions pursuit of wealth nationalism to fill the cavernous void that the public demise of religion has opened up But lurking beneath is this disturbing reality; a reality which has allowed us to be alternately banal and at some times monstrous on a scale never before seen in human history We have refined our ability to be cruel to one another past anything we've ever seen By reducing the world down to its mechanical spare parts it has allowed us to kill with wanton abandon While in the past people killed for various types of chauvinism the new amorality of the time has opened the door for atrocities of a scale industrial and type scientific never seen and we've walked through this door time and again Curiously enough we never seem to step back and reflect upon the significance of this factA lot of this book is a recap of Christian history intended to be a rebuttal of the popular modern characterization of it as one huge shameful mistake Hart is obviously frustrated and it comes out in his tone and I can entirely empathize To be lectured to by a group of people who would best be described as anti intellectuals in the most condescending and arrogant manner is aggravating to say the least The history of monotheism has been far from a utopia but it also happened to give us the best of the underlying moral sensibilities we have today Simply put all of the most cherished values of modernity pity charity compassion have religious origins Rejecting religion as an unmitigated evil would lead to the incomprehensible but it seems rapidly approaching condition of looking at the world as one giant playground of biological machines subject to nothing than their mutual and collective wills Having said all this I don't want to upend secular modernity; my conservatism leads me to be wary of any type of revolution even if its a revolution back towards conservatism It's not impossible to picture a Christian or for that matter Islamic theocracy that is an improvement upon our present circumstances but I wouldn't like to take that gamble and would prefer to fight to preserve truth and goodness within a secular context Doing this however reuires honest and complete knowledge of the past and specifically knowledge of how we got here today Hart is a gifted writer and clearly the product of an intellectual tradition utterly removed from the mass market paperback writers he addresses at points The history was interesting even if it was not why I picked up the book in the first place There were sections where I felt he was too zealous in making his point and also a few legitimate contradictions I found specifically regarding the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria but nonetheless I considered it to be an admirable and edifying exercise One thing he does particularly entertainingly is torch the pasted together spiritualism of secular modernity a partly consumerist phenomenon that seeks to put together bits of old pagan beliefs with a few concepts here and there taken from Buddhism It's tragic and comic at the same time the exercise discarding of Christianity only to seek a superficial type of solace in Wicca or something an effort that almost invariably pierces only skin deep and winds up as a type of ornamentation at best It brings to mind that Rabindranath Tagore specifically predicted that Westerners would end up doing this to cope with the inhuman machine civilization he saw them building in the late 19th century Sam Harris is like a parody of these types of wayward people with a nauseating level of hubris thrown in though he is assuredly oblivious to thisMy intention here was less a review than a summary of my thoughts and takeaways from this book but needless to say it was a worthwhile clearminded work of rare uality Hart makes the argument that we are militantly forsaking what made us good without even realizing who we are how we arrived at this point in the first place and what is keeping us from sliding into the abyss He's sober and realistic in making this case and its compelling The cause of remembering is important and its rare and valuable to find writers who can champion it so elouently Recommended


  3. says:

    I will forgo the standard adjectives that came to mind when I read this book brilliant stunning breathtaking That is a given when one reads David Bentley Hart This book is a combination of alternative history apologetics and smash mouth theology Hart claims the Christian faith represented a revolution in the story of humanity ix It shattered the pagan cosmology 115 and introduced new categories of reality the dimension of the human person for one However Hart's thesis is subtle than that He is not simply saying Christianity has done a lot of good to the world; therefore you need to belive that would be a variant of the genetic fallacy that Hart so masterfully refutes Rather Christianity has its own telling of the story a telling that reworks the categories of human existence within the framework of its own storyOver against the story is the narrative of modernity Modernity's telos is that of freedom Its highest ideal is putting trust in the absence of a transcendental Its freedom is nihilistic Modernity's current defenders and this is the first half of Hart's book retell the Western story in a way to demonize Christianity in their defense of modernity Therefore Hart meticulously shows how Christianity did not impede science the chapter on Galileo is hilarious burn witches the Inuisition despite its bad moments actually limited the bloodiness of the State's persecution of heretics or fight religious wars the Crusades are actually a different case worthy of a conversation but not under this topicConclusionLike all good things this book must end Not only does one have the privilege of being smarter after reading this book one also has an amusing privilege as well Hart's in your face rhetoric is hilarious and refreshing May this book enjoy many printings


  4. says:

    I was going to dismiss this book as annoying polemic until I did a little further research It is not actually a rebuttal directed at Dawkins Hitchens co It is actually of a rebuttal to Gibbons Clarke co The author examines many of the myths about the history of Western civilization detailing how much complex it is than we are usually willing to admit and how much of what we know is akin to the tale of George Washington the cherry tree than it is to hard objective historical fact For instance Christian mobs did not burn the library of Alexandria; Christianity didn't suppress andor destroy the original Greek texts of Aristotle's works but rather preserved them; Galileo co were tearing down hellenistic ie pagan pseudo science which had been limiting Western scientific inuiry for so long that it had come to be adopted as religious dogma Many of these points are pet peeves I have when talking with others about the history of religion and the West and I'm interested to see where this book takes things Unfortunately its inflammatory and baffling title will invalidate it in the eyes of the very people who it seems NEED to read it


  5. says:

    Second Read November 2019 A long time ago in this same galaxy hehe there were a group of men who were deemed the New Atheists Mostly what was new at least as I recall was the certainty of their views and the evangelistic attitude that came with such certainty They sounded like fundamentalist street preachers then rational writers And few people are as certain of their belief or lack thereof as fundamentalists atheist or Christian Of course Christians specifically and theists in general rushed to write responses One such response I came across was written by a historian and theologian David Bentley Hart I read the book and was impressed with his historical knowledge He did not attempt to refute the New Atheists point by point as much as he worked to tell a accurate story of both the rise of Christianity and the beginnings of the modern world The biggest take away from that book for me was that a person may be brilliant in their field biology or chemistry for example but this does not make them adeuate in some other field history or philosophy It seemed as if these New Atheists were being viewed as a sort of new priesthood experts on everything In this they were taking the place of priests of old who To be one who studies science we were being told was to be one who was rational and objective and could be trusted in everything Hart's book showed that historians do well at history and that even rational scientists are susceptible to error when straying outside their area of expertise Whether the New Atheists are still a thing is beyond me but since reading this book I have tackled many of Hart's other works He has become my favorite theologian with books such as The Experience of God and The Beauty of the Infinite Further his essays are delightful whether a collection of short ones A Splendid Wickedness or long ones The Hidden and the Manifest Of course recently he wrote a book defending universal reconciliation That last book reveals that Hart's Christian supporters sure do like when he shoots barbs at his atheist foes but they don't like it so much when he turns his poison pen on the problems he sees with traditional Christian views of hellAnyway I went back to reread this one just because I read it so long ago and I was curious how it sounded now that I am familiar with Hart I found it brilliant than I did the first time There is a need for good history and Hart provides it He pushes back on all sorts of myths arguing that the Christian revolution was mostly good and that the rise of the modern secular world is not as good as it seems its much violent for one thing This is a fantastic book to read alongside of Hart's The Story of Christianity as he dives deeper into the controversial parts of the storyFinally I was watching an interview recently where Hart noted that he does not allow publishers to touch his work but they choose his titles This title is unfortunate Not that Hart would not call his atheist foes some of them not all delusional for he enjoys a bit of sarcasm and a good zinger But it seems less serious than someone of Hart's status would desire It is the sort of title you would expect from a cheap Christian apologetics book interested in style than substance I suppose it is meant to be similar to Dawkins' The God Delusion which seems to be the sort of book arguing against God with style than substance I don't know maybe its a good titleOverall a great work of historyFirst Read Hart does not systematically respond to the New Atheists here instead he focuses on aspects of their attack on Christianity relating to history The general myth in our culture promoted not just by new atheist but older critics of Christianity as well is that the ancient world was a place of reason and prosperity until Christianity came along and replaced it with dogmatic faith plunging western culture into centuries of dark ages from which we only emerged in the modern period with the Enlightenment and a return to reason Hart shows that every point in this story is wrong Most important is the recognition that the rise of Christianity was so revolutionary and changed western culture so thoroughly in positive ways hospitals charity view of humanity etc that these ideas have become so ingrained in our culture to the point we forget they were new with the Christians In the final chapter Hart rightly asks if we lose Christianity why should we retain as many atheists simply assume we will these good things? Overall this book is not really a defense of Christianity as a shattering of the modern myth and retelling of the story Hart does write with biting sarcasm even coming off as mean at times but if the reader can forgive him that we end up with a thorough needed and great book


  6. says:

    I almost wish that Hart had foregone the opening section of this book in which he gets as scrappy and aggressive as those he's challenging Hitchens Dawkins and company because by the time he really hits his stride it becomes not really about the new atheism at all but rather a soaring portrayal of how the Christian faith transformed what it means to be human That part of his book is gorgeous and is worth five stars while his argumentative beginning is frankly not all that appealing


  7. says:

    Just finished finally Two thoughtsThe 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 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 freuently 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 uite reach shrill his tone is far 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 I see that I apparently rated this book before I finished it Given the ending I'm taking back one of those stars Only three stars


  8. says:

    I was frustrated with the book in the early pages because it made a lot of assertions without offering evidence I urge anyone also bothered by this to press on The fat middle of this book is where the thesis is really developedThe thesis is simply that Christianity is the greatest revolution the world has ever seen; that it is in a sense the only revolution because it was a uiet revolution from below; that therefore only Christianity has been capable of truly altering hearts and minds; that Christianity is uniue in the extent it motivates charitable institutions such as hospitals and orphanages; and that above all the Christian vision introduced an understanding of universal human dignity which forever after made it impossible to innocently engage in cruelty toward the weak and the lowlyOn this last point the author's bold claim is that we in the West having grown up in a culture still immersed in Christian attitudes even if we have begun to turn away from it are unable without the author's erudition naturally to imagine how different pre Christian attitudes were toward slaves beggars and the like that it was natural for the rich and mighty to view themselves as utterly deserving and to view others with contempt Of course if a change of fortune brought about a chance of status there could be no recovery especially if one's humiliation came by the hand of an enemy There was no rooting for the underdog no narrative of redemption and rebirth There was only winning and losing and you had better make sure you wonInto this horrible zero sum game came the story of a peasant who died in contemptible humiliation who was also somehow the Son of God and whose life and death dignifies every person no matter how humble That is the story which overturned the old order And today we can't see how different our thinking is unless we read this book Which I recommend


  9. says:

    It's just unfair really four adorably shallow public intellectuals Harris Dawkins Hitchens Dennett with zero theological training versus one of the most learned human beings on the planet Hart basically wins the argument against atheism in the introduction and then just systematically demolishes all of the weak andor fallacious critiues put forward by so called New Atheists albeit with a little too much pretentiousnessbombast but that's just par for the course with Hart unfortunately It's certainly possible to be an intelligent atheist cf Nietzsche Celsus but no one in the past century has really managed it