THE ATHEISTS' PERPETRATORS, David Bentley Hart

by Sotiris Mitralexis

With the book The Delusions of the Atheists: The Christian Revolution and its Modern Enemies , first published by Yale University Press, the American theologian David Bentley Hart (b. 1965) is introduced to the Greek readership for the first time.

This information is not of direct interest to anyone who does not know what David Bentley Hart is and what intense debates are being provoked in the United States by the pen and speech of the creative and wonderfully argumentative, established in an impressive range of solid knowledge of history, philosophy and theology of this Orthodox thinker -- who has in this day and age deeply disturbed American things with his "disturbingly and subversively literal" translation of the New Testament ( The New Testament: A Translation . Yale University Press: 2017). The publication of a book of his in Greek therefore concerns every person interested in the fruits of the modern intellect -- because Hart's speech goes far beyond the limits of an internal discussion on religion or Orthodox Christianity, acquiring the proper universal dimensions of a thinker claims.
The title of the award-winning book here ( Atheist Delusions in the original, in counter-argument with Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion ) does it a gross injustice: the reader might expect a book of "arguments for the existence of God" or something like that, an apologetic venture disagreements and objections in order to stem the momentum generated by the stream of "new atheism" led by Richard Dawkins -- and therefore, if he were intelligent he would not read this, as such a discussion is for a limited audience of pre-convinced debaters. This book, however, has absolutely nothing to do with such a thing: although it begins with a few dozen pages of vitriolic criticism of the naiveties of the "mainstream" in its first part (which some will disturb and others will enjoy), it soon develops into a fascinating panorama of the history of culture, thought, science.

 

Hart begins with some constitutive myths of the modern age (which, as we speak, have as their only truly consistent outcome Dawkins-style militant atheism): (a) the fundamental rivalry between faith and reason/reason/science, with the happy victory of the second from the Enlightenment onwards, (b) the romanticized image of the pagan/pagan ancient world, (c) the causal relationship of faith and intolerance/wars, (d) the Middle Ages as an age of "darkness" between two worlds of light , the Western Roman Empire and the renaissance-modernity-contemporary era. And while today almost no consistent academic scholar of any of the above areas takes these comical oversimplifications seriously and accepts such a flattering self-image of the modern era as historical truth (the above has now been reduced to popular consumption outside of academia walls), yet Hart does not breach open doors when he demonstrates, with captivating mastery, a picture of the historical development of the human spirit so far removed from the usual video game understanding of history.

The third part of the book is dedicated to the reminder of the radically new brought by the unexpected revolution of the spread of Christianity in the European world. Concepts that today we take for granted and self-evident, inherent in the human condition, if not even hijacked by Christianity, such as "humanity", were then a paradoxical innovation: the idea that you should feed the hungry stranger or take care of the unconnected with you homeless, ideas that led not to the realization of some flawless utopia but to the existence of once unimaginable hospitals, workhouses, nursing homes, later a welfare state and -- shall we say -- a concept of human rights, simply would not have emerged in the Western world without the Christian revolution, which Hart demonstrates with an impressive dive into history. In the fourth and final part, the author points out the dangers of today's retreat of such aims in the name of a secularization that considers them, not in vain, self-evident.
The Greek edition of the book is decorated with an epimeter by Stavros Zoumboulakis. This valuable book, so wronged by its title (but also by the present book presentation), concerns, I think, every thinking and critical person today, every reader with an inquisitive spirit -- or, to borrow a phrase from Richard Dawkins, every reader with an unprecedented "appetite for surprise".

*Sotiris Mitralexis is a Seeger Fellow in Greek Studies at Princeton University.

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