Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies

Whilst attacks against Christianity seem to be growing with increasing rapidity, the occasional Christian Apologist makes a stand. The Dawkins Delusion by Mcgrath[1] and Strobel’s The Case For Christ[2] are excellent responses to the contemporary New Atheism movement. Hart’s Atheist Delusions[3] is another excellent response; an argument formulated against misconceptions of Christianity’s history that are commonly used to discredit Christianity.

Present Lies and Past Truths

Hart’s analysis begins with an overview of contemporary misconceptions of Christian history. In Part One: Faith, Reason, and Freedom: A View from the Present, he states that:

atheism that consists entirely in vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of self-righteousness, is as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism. [4]

Contemporary atheism, he continues to argue, is completely ignorant of all the good that Christianity has caused, rather focusing on distorted pieces of evidence, painting Christianity as evil.

He first addresses a common misconception of Christianity hindering science and reason. According to the New Atheism movement, Christian towns established leprosy hospitals merely to clear their conscious; burnt down the Great Library of Alexandria, in a bid to stifle ‘heathen’ research; smothered Galileo’s scientific advancements, because they didn’t fit with what the Catholic church believed; persecuted heathens; and waged giant wars against anyone not conforming to Christian values.

Hart systematically dispels these myths, arguing that Christianity never once tried to stifle reason and science, but rather had a large part in its advancement. According to Hart, “Christianity has been the single most creative cultural, ethical, aesthetic, social, political, or spiritual force in the history of the West” [5] and has only ever had the best of intentions for all of mankind.

Christians were, according to Hart, the only people to care for Leprosy patients whilst any other culture merely killed the victims; the Great Library of Alexandria was not burnt down by Christians, but burnt down years before Christ, let alone in the fourth century[6]; Galileo was not hated by the church, nor did he hate the church[7], but historical records show he wasn’t exactly a pleasant man, was very arrogant and was often jealous of other people’s achievements – the church was merely demanding evidence of his claims, of which Galileo was slow to produce; the apparent persecution of anyone outside the church Hart dismisses as either (a) the result of the aftermath of Christian institutions, (b) politics[8], or (c) uncaring, blood lusting mercenaries recruited to fill the ranks of armies who originally had pure, Christian intentions.

 This section involved the bulk of Harts argument, dispelling historical inaccuracies of ignorant Atheistic claims. His third section addresses the issue of tolerance, arguing against claims that Christianity has been intolerant of other beliefs and cultures. According to New Atheists, Christians have historically forced Christianity onto other cultures. However, according to Hart, Pagans who became Christians did so out of their own free will. They willfully turned their back on their old beliefs and turned toward Christianity. Hart argues that “to renounce one’s bonds to these beings was an act of cosmic rebellion, a declaration that one had been emancipated,”[9] hence the phrase: Christian Revolution.

The Future

Hart seems to gain pace with his argument from this point on, seemingly growing in confidence and vigor. He addresses concerns of Christianity enslaving other cultures, but twists this perception to reveal Christianity as a form of emancipation. The Pagan cultures were, in fact, the aggressive ones, particularly early Roman culture. Christianity has always been seen as a peaceful institution offering freedom from the bondage of sin. Harts language becomes more and more evangelical as it culminates in a doxological analysis of Christ’s act of emancipation. He argues that Christianity is not a religion of intolerance and aggression, as presented by ignorant critics of today[10], but is the only truly human organization. To be human, he argues, is to be Christian.

He concludes with an outlook of the future. After assessing the history of Christianity, Hart nearly pleads with his audience to stand up and defend Christianity. There is a sense of desperation to his language, as he urges for a new Christian revolution, which stands against this New Atheism movement, which continues to enslave many more people at a growing rate. Harts argument pivots around the idea that Christianity brings emancipation, and anything other than Christianity enslaves the human mind from true reason; he states “when Christianity passes away from a culture, nihilism is the inevitable consequence”[11].

Strengths and Weaknesses in Hart’s Argument

The strengths of Hart’s argument are a long list. Nearly insomuch as a rebuttal to contemporary critics, his arguments and claims – sometimes of which are quite controversial – are drenched in evidence and historical analysis and support. His arguments don’t presuppose an answer, but rather begins with the objective data, thus resulting in a reliable answer. Furthermore, his arguments are incredibly thorough and detailed; it would be no easy task to respond to him.

What could be considered as both a strength and weakness is his language. Quite often his language reveals a sense of urgency and desperation, causing the reader to believe his claims and get gathered up in his motivational argument for reform. Furthermore, his language belies an intelligent wit and charm, infused with delicate artistry and masterful aesthetics. However, his language often bordered on the edge of sarcasm, mocking critics such as Hitchens and Dawkins in a style not dissimilar to Hitchens and Dawkins. His artful analogies and stories also at times caused the reader to lose track of the overall argument.

One other weakness – albeit a minor issue – is the fact that sometimes he tended to ramble and be repetitive. In an attempt to be thorough, including historical analysis impossible to fault, it was often difficult to follow his train of thought. However, Hart always returned to the point in glorious fashion, but often what was said in three pages could have been said in one[12].

Final Thoughts

Saying this, however, this is an excellent Apologetic book, and Hart has done an incredible job of what would initially have seemed an impossibly large task. His arguments are flawless and flow from chapter to chapter, building on one another gloriously. It must also be mentioned that Hart admits there have been times where the good name of Christianity has been abused, and people in the past have used the church as an excuse to further their own intentions. However, these are in a very small minority of instances – unlike the claims made by many ignorant critics of today. Hart and his book Atheist Delusions are above reproach, a timely and important argument in a turbulent period of Christian history.

Bibliography

Hart, David B. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and it’s Fashionable Enemies. New

Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

McGrath, Alister, and Joanna C. McGrath.  The  Dawkins  Delusion:  Atheist  Fundamentalism

            and the Denial of the Devine. London: SPCK, 2007.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.


[1] Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion (London: SPCK, 2007).

[2] Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).

[3] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Hart, Atheist Delusions, 100.

[6] Hart argues that the myth of Christians burning the library down was caused by a misinterpretation and confusion of data. The supposed date of the library being burnt down by zealous mobs of Christians in 390 AD was simply a time of distress between Christians and Pagans, in a historically violent city. The library was in fact burnt down centuries earlier by the Roman Empire; a historical fact seemingly lost to Atheistic historians.

[7] According to Hart, one of Galileo’s closest friends went on to become Pope.

[8] Therefore, not the church itself, but rather the State, who persecuted non-Christian societies.

[9] Hart, Atheist Delusions, 113.

[10] These critics, he argues, are a disappointment, and are nothing like they used to be. In his opening chapters he claims earlier critics at least had the dignity to know about what they criticized. Today’s critics, ignorant of actual facts, label anything they don’t like as ‘religion’ and unashamedly attack these ideas blindly.

[11] Hart, Atheist Delusions, 229.

[12] This was particularly prevalent in his final chapters, when it seemed he was carried primarily by incredible enthusiasm and excitement, causing him to ramble. It could even be argued that perhaps what was said in his last several chapters could have been said in two or three.

Advertisements

Single Post Navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: