Review: David Bentley Hart, “Atheist Delusions” (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry )

Yes, I’m late to the party. The New Atheist thing seems to be moribund at the moment, although the half-corpse sometimes twitches. But that may paradoxically make this book more valuable. I think I will not be alone if I state that the debates around New Atheism are extremely tiresome, because the New Atheists are not so much giving the wrong answers or even asking the wrong questions but not even understanding the questions. I bought Atheist Delusions basically on a lark (oh, Amazon and your one-click Kindle shopping!), mostly out of interest for David Bentley Hart’s famously felicitous prose, expecting a philosophical polemic going over the many arguments that all intellectual Christians know by heart, and expecting that I would skim it, joyously tweet out the most damaging passages, and then forget about it. Instead I found something very different.

Atheist Delusions is a misleading title: this book is really, as the author says in his introduction, a historical essay, only tangentially related to these delusions. It is not, or only as the argument demands, concerned with philosophy, metaphysics or theology. The main argument of the book is simple, and true: Christianity was the only true “revolution” in history, in the sense that it radically transformed the entire outlook of the culture in which it emerged, so much so that it is nearly impossible for us on the other side of the chasm to grasp it…. Christianity, Hart argues, was the first movement to even intuit, let alone take to heart, what he calls a “total humanism”, meaning the conviction that every single human being has infinite value. This is an idea that, at least rhetorically, is today taken for granted by almost everyone in the post-Christian world, but was absolutely new–and scandalous–in the Pagan world. MORE…

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