Monday, November 23, 2009

Is Modernity Bad For You?

"Part of the enthralling promise of an age of reason was, at least at first, the prospect of a genuinely rationale ethics, not bound to the local or tribal customs of this people or that, not limited to the moral precepts of any particular creed, but available to all reasoning minds regardless of culture and - when recognized - immediately compelling to the rational will. Was there ever a more desperate fantasy than this? We live now in he wake of the most monstrously violent century in human history, during which the secular order (on bother he political right and the political left), freed form 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. One might almost be tempted to conclude that secular government is the one form of government that has shown itself too violent, capricious, and unprincipled to be trusted."
I've been reading David Bentley Hart's new book 'Atheist Delusions' and I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. Hart does hold back in this book, and often attacks the New Atheists with all guns blazing (which can be quite amusing). This is a book about history and ideology: Hart wants to set the record straight on the the way the New Atheists use and abuse history, and defends the the history of the medieval and early church [on which he brings a unique perspective given his Eastern Orthodox roots]. He is also totally scathing of the ideology underpinning the New Atheists, particularly modernity and The Enlightenment. According to Hart, the failures of Western civilization lie in the disintegration of Christendom in the 16th Century when the influence of the Church was replaced by the modern Nation-State:

"The savagery of triumphant Jacobinism, the clinical heartlessness of classical social eugenics, the Nazi movement, Stalinism - all the grand Utopian projects of the modern age that have directly or indirectly spilled such oceans of human blood - are no less the results of the Enlightenment myth of liberation than are the liberal democratic state or the vulgarity of late capitalist consumerism or the pettiness of bourgeois individualism. The most pitilessly and self-righteously violent regimes in modern history - in the West or in those other quarters of the world contaminated by our worst ideas - have been those that have most explicitly cast off the Christian vision of reality and sought to replace it with a more 'human' set of values. No cause in history - no religion or imperial ambition or military adventure - has destroyed more lives with more confident enthusiasm than the cause of the 'brotherhood of man,' the post religious utopia, or the progress of the race. To fail to acknowledge this would be to mock the memory of all those millions that have perished before the advance of secular reason in its most extreme manifestations. And all the astonishing violence of the modern age - from the earliest European wars of the emergent nation-state onward - is no less proper an expression (and measure) of the modern story of human freedom than are the various political and social movements that have produced the moderns west's special combination of general liberty, material abundance, cultural mediocrity, and spiritual poverty. To fail to acknowledge this would be to close our eyes to the possibilities for evil that have been opened p in our history by the values we most dearly prize and by the 'truths' we most fervently adore." - D.B. Hart, Atheist Delusions, 2009.


Mike Bull said...

Awesome. Thank you.

Tim Smartt said...

groovy quotes - he certainly doesn't hold back. I like the picture, where is it??

Matthew Moffitt said...

He certainly pulls no punches. Andrew Errington has some great quotes from the book that are worth checking out if you haven't yet.

The picture is in France somewhere. It's a above a church door.