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David Bentley Hart, a historian of ideas, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies
, has been our guide into some of the philosophical and historical issues at work among the new atheists like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. One of the implicit and sometimes explicit claims is that we are enlightened and that the secular state is safer than a religious-shaped state. To which Hart makes this statement, and he expresses the growing body of literature that both denies the myth of secularization (that all things are becoming more secular) and reveals the profound mischief of the secular state:
“We live now in the wake of the most monstrously violent century in human history, during which the secular state (on both the political right and the political left), freed from the authority of religion, showed itself willing to kill on an unprecedented scale and with an ease of conscience worse than merely depraved. If ever an age deserved to be thought an age of darkness, it is surely ours. One might almost be tempted to conclude that secular government is the one form of government that has shown itself too violent, capricious, and unprincipled to be trusted” (106).
He continues in defense of Christianity:
“Christian society certainly never fully purged itself of cruelty or violence; but it also never incubated evils comparable in ambition, range, systematic precision, or mercilessness to death camps, gulags, forced famines, or the extravagant brutality of modern warfare. Looking back at the twentieth century, it is difficult not to conclude that the rise of modernity has resulted in an age of at once unparalleled banality and unprecedented monstrosity, and that these are two sides of the same cultural reality” (107).
The underlying problem is the unimpeded freedom of the will in its power of nature. Here is a damning statement:
“The savagery of triumphant Jacobinism, the clinical heartlessness of classical social eugenics, the Nazi movement, Stalinism — all the grant utopian projects of the modern age that have directly or indirectly spilled such oceans of human blood — are no less results of the Enlightenment myth of liberation than are the liberal democratic state or the vulgarity of late capitalist consumerism or the pettiness of bourgeois individualism” (107).
The modern theory of liberation/freedom is parasitic upon the Christian sense of freedom, which modernity has both misunderstood and abused.