Friday, March 27, 2009

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed"

R.R. Reno writes about David Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies in the current First Things. Hart is concerned with "the preachers and 'tireless tractarians' of 'the gospel of unbelief'” and finds them lacking compared with earlier atheist champions. "'By comparison to these men,' writes Hart, referring to the serious atheists, 'today’s gadflies seem far lazier, less insightful, less subtle, less refined, more emotional, more ethically complacent, and far more interested in facile simplifications of history than in sober and demanding investigations of what Christianity has been or is.'" From the article:
In itself unbelief is not something to dismiss, and certainly many unbelievers compel attention and respect. “But,” as Hart writes.., “atheism that consists in vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness, is as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism.” ....

Hart goes on to show how...cartoonish pictures of Christian persecution, intolerance, and lust for religious warfare cannot stand up to judicious historical analysis. To these topics he adds some very important observations about our supposedly modern, rational, and progressive age. “We live now,” he writes, “in the wake of the most monstrously violent century in human history, during which the secular order (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.” ....

We live in a culture eager to put Christianity behind it. What does this augur? By David Hart’s reckoning, we can see nothing terribly promising. .... [A]s Hart notes, “the highest ideals animating the secular project are borrowed ideals,” that is to say, borrowed from the Christian culture out of which modernity sprang. ....

What happens when the borrower denounces the lender? Hart contemplates an answer at the end of the book, in a passage worth quoting at length:
I am apprehensive, I confess, regarding a certain reactive, even counter-revolutionary, movement in late modern thinking, back to the severer spiritual economies of pagan society and away from the high (and admittedly “unrealistic”) personalism and humanism with which the ancient Christian revolution colored - though did not succeed in wholly forming - our cultural conscience. Peter Singer’s meltingly “reasonable” advocacy of prudential infanticide, for instance, naturally reminds one of the ancient world’s practice of exposing supernumerary infants (though lacking the ancient piety that left the ultimate fate of the abandoned child to the gods). It seems to me reasonable to imagine that, increasingly, the religion of the God-man, who summons human beings to become created gods through charity, will be replaced once again by the more ancient religions of the man-god, who wrests his divinity from the intractable material of his humanity, and solely through the exertions of his will. Such a religion will not in all likelihood express itself through a new Caesar, of course, or a new emperor or Führer; its operations will be more “democratically” diffused through society as a whole. But such a religion will always kill and then call it justice, or compassion, or a sad necessity.
.... [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » For Christ and For the World

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