“Few things are so delightful as watching someone who has taken the time to acquire a lot of learning casually, even effortlessly, dismantle the claims of lazy grandstanders.” — Stefan Beck, New Criterion
If you thought from this post’s title that I was going to enumerate several “delusions” of the “new atheists”, then I am afraid you were mistaken. However,… what I am going to do here is cite the bulk of Dr. David Bentley Hart’s “Introduction” to his book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. (So, you see, my title, while slightly open to misinterpretation, was quite literal.) In the book, Hart does indeed expose and correct such delusions. But, this post is meant merely to spark your interest.
I found Hart to be quite eloquent and honest in his self-examination and exposition. In introducing his work and explaining his method and purpose in writing, Hart touches on several things that I could identify with and echo (in my small way) as a blogger and apologist-in-training who sometimes addresses the same or similar issues. From receiving unreasonable demands for “proof” to being accused of supporting historical atrocities (however they may be misunderstood or misrepresented) to simply being called an anti-science dolt, Christian theists can get pretty frustrated trying to carefully articulate their case before individuals who often don’t take the time or have the patience to listen and give fair consideration. (This, despite their supposed dedication to truth and/or reason.) Hart’s focus is on defending historical Christianity against… well, I’ll let him explain it.
The citation might seem a bit lengthy (and part 2 is even longer), but I couldn’t bring myself to cut anymore out than I already did. I hope you find it illuminating, challenging, something you too might be able to appreciate, or perhaps only “interesting”, but hopefully more than merely entertaining.
“Perfect detachment is impossible for even the soberest of historians, since the writing of history necessarily demands some sort of narrative of causes and effects, and is thus necessarily an act of interpretation, which by its nature can never be wholly free of prejudice. But, I am not really a historian, in any event, and I do not even aspire to detachment. In what follows, my prejudices are transparent and unreserved, and my argument is in some respects willfully extreme (or so it might seem). I think it prudent to admit this from the outset, if only to avoid being accused later of having made some pretense of perfect objectivity or neutrality so as to lull the reader into a state of pliant credulity….
This is not to say, I hasten to add, that I am in any way forswearing claims of objective truth: to acknowledge that one’s historical judgments can never be absolutely pure of preconceptions or personal convictions is scarcely to surrender to a thoroughgoing relativism. It may be impossible to provide perfectly irrefutable evidence for one’s conclusions, but it is certainly possible to amass evidence sufficient to confirm them beyond plausible doubt, just as it is possible to discern when a particular line of interpretation has exceeded or contradicted the evidence altogether and become little better than a vehicle for the writer’s own predilections, interests, or allegiances….
Such honesty costs me little, as it happens. Since the case I wish to make is not that the Christian gospel can magically transform whole societies in an instant, or summon the charity it enjoins out of the depths of every soul, or entirely extirpate cruelty and violence from human nature, or miraculously lift men and women out of their historical contexts, I feel no need to evade or excuse the innumerable failures of many Christians through the ages to live lives of charity or peace. Where I come to the defense of historical Christianity, it is only in order to raise objections to certain popular calumnies of the church, or to demur from what I take to be disingenuous or inane arraignments of Christian belief or history, or to call attention to achievements and virtues that writers of a devoutly anti-Christian bent tend to ignore, dissemble, or dismiss….”
“Some of the early parts of this book concern the Roman Catholic Church; but whatever I say in its defense ought not to be construed as advocacy for the institution itself (to which I do not belong), but only for historical accuracy. To be honest, my affection for institutional Christianity as a whole is rarely more than tepid; and there are numerous forms of Christian belief and practice for which I would be hard pressed to muster a kind word from the depths of my heart, and the rejection of which by the atheist or skeptic strikes me as perfectly laudable. In a larger sense, nothing I argue below — even if all of it is granted — implies that the Christian vision of reality is true. And, yet, the case I wish to make is intended to be provocative, and its more apologetic moments are meant to clear the way for a number of much stronger, and even perhaps somewhat immoderate, assertions….”
Yeah! What HE said!
Stay tuned for part 2, when Hart discusses the true impact of the “Christian Revolution”. He also lays a smackdown on “the ideology of ‘the modern'” and “the myth of ‘the Enlightenment’.” Good stuff!