Rod Dreher

If you found the Woody Allen nihilism thread of interest, I’ve got something else for you to chew on. In a bracing essay dismissing the New Atheists lock, stock and barrel, Orthodox Christian theologian David Bentley Hart says none of them hold a candle to Friedrich Nietzsche. Excerpt:

The only really effective antidote to the dreariness of reading the New Atheists, it seems to me, is rereading Nietzsche. How much more immediate and troubling the force of his protest against Christianity seems when compared to theirs, even more than a century after his death. Perhaps his intellectual courage–his willingness to confront the implications of his renunciation of the Christian story of truth and the transcendent good without evasions or retreats–is rather a lot to ask of any other thinker, but it does rather make the atheist chic of today look fairly craven by comparison.
Above all, Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. Just as the Christian revolution created a new sensibility by inverting many of the highest values of the pagan past, so the decline of Christianity, Nietzsche knew, portends another, perhaps equally catastrophic shift in moral and cultural consciousness. His famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists–those who merely do not believe–to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.
Because he understood the nature of what had happened when Christianity entered history with the annunciation of the death of God on the cross, and the elevation of a Jewish peasant above all gods, Nietzsche understood also that the passing of Christian faith permits no return to pagan naivete, and he knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated. He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us. If we are, after all, nothing but the fortuitous effects of physical causes, then the will is bound to no rational measure but itself, and who can imagine what sort of world will spring up from so unprecedented and so vertiginously uncertain a vision of reality?


He is referring principally to those who think they have eluded God simply by ceasing to believe in his existence. For Nietzsche, “scientism”–the belief that the modern scientific method is the only avenue of truth, one capable of providing moral truth or moral meaning–is the worst dogmatism yet, and the most pathetic of all metaphysical nostalgias. And it is, in his view, precisely men like the New Atheists, clinging as they do to those tenuous vestiges of Christian morality that they have absurdly denominated “humanism,” who shelter themselves in caves and venerate shadows. As they do not understand the past, or the nature of the spiritual revolution that has come and now gone for Western humanity, so they cannot begin to understand the peril of the future.

You really should read the whole thing, especially Hart’s conclusion. Essentially he respects Nietzsche’s atheism a very great deal, though obviously he opposes it, because Hart sees that Nietzsche understands precisely what repudiating Christianity means.
(H/T: Ross Douthat)

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