I’ve just started reading David Bentley Hart’s new book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness and Bliss.
Let’s just say that had this been written in the 3rd century it would be worth the canon’s consideration. I took a few of DBH’s classes back when I was a lowly freshman at UVA and he was finishing up his PhD. My theological training then was sufficient only to alert me to how very little I understood of what DBH tried to teach us. Dr Hart seemed well aware of our impoverished intellects too, treating us with resigned sarcasm that every now and then was tempered by true Christian charity.
The gentle condescension and humor that comes through in his writing came through loud and clear in his lectures as well, and I loved every moment of it. I had only been a Christian for a few years, and DBH was the most brilliant brother in Christ I had ever encountered. And he remains so today.
Being taught by DBH was perhaps the first time I realized the extraordinary depth and sophistication that is the ancient Christian philosophic tradition.
At a time when my Christian peers were, in predictable if shallow fashion, having their faith challenged by what they learned in their science and biblical studies classes, my faith was being edified at an exponential rate.
If I could understand only 8% of what DBH tried to teach me, I wagered, then the tradition of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Bonaventure, and Aquinas was secure from anything the Physics or Biology Departments could throw at it.
Anyone who could not accept the philosophical validity of the Christian vision of God, I concluded, simply didn’t understand either the vision or how that vision defines ‘God.’
Ironically, my conclusion is the subject of Hart’s new book. With rhetorical flights and biting condescension, Hart points out the logical sloppiness of pure atheism (calling it ‘magical thinking’ but that’s a post for another day) and skewers the so-called New Atheist Movement for being a rather vulgar misapprehension of what the great theistic traditions of the world mean by the word ‘God.’
Hart rightly points out that pure atheism is only one strand of a fundamentalism common in our unsubtle age, ridiculing biblical literalists for making the same category error.
“Many [19th century Christians who opposed Darwinism] genuinely believed that there was some sort of logical conflict between the idea that God had created the world and the idea that terrestrial life had evolved over time. This was and is a view held, of course, by any number of atheists as well.”
And then, Hart hit me with a point so obvious I’d never even considered it:
“One assumes that fundamentalist Christians and atheists alike are well aware that Christians believe God is the creator of every person; but presumably none of them would be so foolish as to imagine that this means each person is not also the product of spermatozoon and ovum; surely they grasp that here God’s act of creation is understood as the whole event of nature and existence, not as a distinct causal agency that in some way rivals the natural process of conception.”
In other words, not even the most strident biblical literalist would hold their new born baby in their arms and deny that the child is the very obvious fruit of sexual (biological) love. Yet, at the same time, few parents would not also rightly confess that no matter how ‘natural’ this child’s birth was it remains, nonetheless and thoroughly so, a mysterious and gracious gift of God.