The worst society I can imagine is one where Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris get to determine what is good and what is bad and where they get to determine who is good and who is bad.
They are, you know, Christianity’s fiercest (and sometimes uninformed) critics and, once we let them rip all traces of Christianity (or religion) from culture and society, I can’t imagine they will be able to find any grounds for morality. Let them yack all they want about the problem of “religion.” Their beef is with Christianity. Nietzsche, at least, understood Christianity as a cross-shaped form of love and sacrifice. He knew what he was staring at and he knew the alternatives.
But Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris have chosen to ignore what Christianity teaches, fasten themselves on all the bad they can find about those who have abused Christianity to their own ends, and then offer to the world a vision of peace and tolerance and justice shorn of Christianity (or religion).
Problem #1 enters. If DHH were to spend more time thinking through the issues, they would have to admit that what they want for society — justice, for example — is clear biblical teaching and that’s where their vision originated. Problem #2: they also need to admit that what they want for their new society is what they inherited from a mostly Christian social world in which they were nurtured. There is no promise that if they got the world purged of religion that they’d get a Christian social ethic without the religion parts. In fact, as David Bentley Hart argues in his new book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies
, they’re playing with dynamite — apocalyptic chaos.
So begins our series on David Bentley Hart’s new book … join us for this bi-weekly series.
Hart is an intellectual’s intellectual. He’s orthodox, he’s unafraid of impolitic ideas, and he’s taken on the critics in this book — a book that sweeps us through Christian theology and Western civilization in order to put Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris to the test.
Here are some of his opening claims about the book: “… that among all the many great transitions that have marked the evolution of Western civilization … there has been only one — the triumph of Christianity — that can be called in the fullest sense a ‘revolution’…” (xi). “And,” he says, “I am convinced that, given how radically at variance Christianity was with the culture it slowly and relentlessly displaced, its eventual victory was an event of such improbability as to strain the very limits of our understanding of historical causality” (xi).
Along with this claim for Christianity, he tosses dust into the eyes of modernity, which he rejects: “I mean the modern age’s grand narrative of itself: its story of the triumph of critical reason over ‘irrational’ faith, of the progress of social morality toward greater justice and freedom, of the ‘tolerance’ of the secular state, and of the unquestioned ethical primacy of either individualism or collectivism (as the case may be)” (xi).
Hart tires of the DHH line that religion is violent and therefore should be put to rest. Why? Because “the modern secular state’s capacity for barbarism exceeds any of the evils for which Christendom might justly be indicted, not solely by virtue of the superior technology at its disposal, but by its very nature” (xii). I’m not yet a fan of his prose style, but I’ll get over it.