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David Bentley Hart, a historian of ideas, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies
, examines the foundation upon which the new atheism rests its case. In a word, new atheism stands on modernity.
Hart throws sharp punches: “There is,” he claims, “no serious science in Dennett’s ‘science of religion’; and there is no genuine moral cogitation or rigorous reflection in any of the moral indictments of religion advanced by him or his fellow ‘New Atheists'” (19).
Do you see any serious moral theory at work in the New Atheists? Where do we find their best moral “cogitations”?
He says their ideas “are attitudes masquerading as ideas, emotional commitments disguised as intellectual honesty” (19) and they “are driven by the precritical and irrational impulses of the purest kind of fideism” (20). Wow, these are some serious indictments. Of what is he speaking?
His answer: “the largely preconscious (or, at any rate, prerational) will of Western humanity toward the values of modernity and toward — more specifically — the modern understanding of human freedom” (20). In his view, New Atheism is rooted in a fideistic commitment to freedom. When I wrote Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy
this was my conclusion: that those who walked from the faith were walking into what they believed was freedom or independence from authority.
Hart contends that pure modernity is to believe in nothing; in other words, pure modernity is nihilism. This, I fear, is the inevitable logical consequence of certain forms of rhetoric, logic, and beliefs. Hart, along with most of us, knows that most are not pure enough in modernity to be nihilists.
Why does the say this? Because pure modernity is “the rejection of any idea of an ultimate source of truth transcendent of the self or the world” (21). I think he’s right here. “To be truly nihilist … is simply to have been set free from subservience to creeds, or to religious fantasy, or to any form of moral or cultural absolutism, and so ideally to have relinquished every desire to control one’s fellows” (21). What do you think?
The issue for Hart is that “it is choice itself, and not what we choose, that is the first good” for modernity (22). This leads the modernist to a bricolage of beliefs and morals – – constructed by choice, by the raw individual.
But Hart believes at the bottom of modernity is a propaganda story that misconstrues freedom through a mythology of the secular age that has rewritten the Christian past. That’s our next chp.