Hart: Atheist Delusions—Chapter Nine

Chapter nine is entitled “An Age of Darkness.” This chapter completes Part Two of the book. Before Hart goes forward in Part Three to discuss the role of Christianity as a positive revolutionary force in western culture, he notes the folly of trying to refute the distorted and, at times, just plain false record regarding Christianity bequeath to us by the modern narrative. In other words, something is lost when to refute an accusation one has to grant too much in the way of accepting the terms or assumptions of the accuser. Hart points out that it is relatively easy to refute the claim that Christianity hindered the rise of science, but in doing so we perhaps grant the assumption that the “progress” of science (whatever that might mean) is an absolute value or good too much credence. After all, science has given us cures for polio and, at the same time, provided a plethora of ways to incinerate millions of people in minutes. Define progress. Hart writes:

That Christendom fostered rather than hindered the development of early modern science, and that modern empiricism was born not in the so-called Age of Enlightenment but during the late Middle Ages, are simple facts of history, which I record in response to certain popular legends, but not in order somehow to “justify” Christianity.

Hart goes on to note that his purpose in the first eight chapters was not to show that Christianity is compatible with (because it is also “reasonable”) modernity or that it somehow prepared the way for the modern world and its values. That the Christian faith can rise to the bar set by the secular narrative means little. That in the area of “evidence” and historical “facts,” the Christian narrative is easily able to play the modern game is not, at the end of the day, the point. The Christian narrative calls the very modern narrative into question, unpacks it, unmasks it, and subverts it. Again however, it still doesn’t hurt to show that even by the criteria of one’s own detractors, their views are often erroneous. In a way, such is a double unmasking.

Hart pauses to specify a particular and significant idea he is in no hurry at all to grant any credibility in the slightest. He writes:

Above all, I am anxious to grant no credence whatsoever to the special mythology of “the Enlightenment.” Nothing strikes me as more tiresomely vapid than the notion that there is some sort of inherent opposition—or impermeable partition—between faith and reason, or that the modern period is marked by its unique devotion to the latter. One can believe that faith is mere credulous assent to unfounded premises, while reason consists in a pure obedience to empirical fact, only if one is largely ignorant of both.

To which, one can only add “amen.” The complete ignorance necessary to keep holding to this bifurcating opposition between faith and reason, this modern myth, is staggering. The argument that one bases his reasons upon empirical evidence while his opponent upon blind faith only is the argument of a school boy. It is something akin to believing girls have cooties. Hart goes on to point out that every faith view and “all reasoning presumes premises or intuitions or ultimate convictions that cannot be proved by any foundations or facts more basic than themselves.”

He drives this point home even further by reminding us that:

There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end. Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other. In general, the unalterably convinced materialist is a kind of childishly complacent fundamentalist, so fervently, unreflectively, and rapturously committed to the materialist vision of reality that if he or she should encounter any problem—logical or experiential—that might call its premises into question, or even merely encounter a limit beyond which those premises lose their explanatory power, he or she is simply unable to recognize it.

The rest of the chapter is basically Hart’s introduction to part two of his book. One could spend all day refuting various accusations and erroneous assumptions regarding Christianity, but such, in the end, is usually of little value as far as persuasive power. History has to be interpreted and it can always be interpreted in many different ways, unless one is simply talking about dates, locations, and such. As to what historical events mean and how they should be interpreted is not a matter of simply knowing the history. Thus, to the convinced atheist/materialist, anything asserted, such as has been pointed out in the prior eight chapters, can always be explained or nuanced away. Further, at the end of the day one has to make a positive assertion. One cannot simply refute or be against; one has to assert the more positive vision.

What Hart proposes to do in the next part of the book is assert that positive vision. Christianity, like it or not, created the western world as we know it, and have known it, for the last 2000 years. All that we value in the sense of the liberality of spirit, human rights, the value of human life, our economies, education, art, music, literature, medicine, science, and any area of significance one cares to peruse is entirely rooted in the fertile bed of Christianity, no matter what other weeds have also sprung up from that same bed or been tossed in from other sources. In fact, it is only in the light of Christianity that the existence of modernity or the “modern” even makes sense. It is the bastard child of that faith. Hart writes:

It is my governing conviction…that much of modernity should be understood not as a grand revolt against the tyranny of faith, not as a movement of human liberation and progress, but as a counterrevolution, a reactionary rejection of a freedom which it no longer understands, but upon which it remains parasitic. Even when modern persons turn away from Christian conviction, there are any number of paths that have been irrevocably closed to them—either because they lead toward philosophical positions Christianity has assumed successfully into its own story, or because they lead toward forms of “superstition” that Christianity has rendered utterly incredible to modern minds. A post-Christian unbeliever is still, most definitely, for good or for ill, post-Christian. We live in a world transformed by an ancient revolution—social, intellectual, metaphysical, moral, spiritual—the immensity of which we often only barely grasp. And it is to this revolution (perhaps the only true revolution in the history of the West) to which I want to now turn.

Lastly, the title of “The Age of Darkness” is especially ironic. How ignorant must a culture be when many still believe that a title like that should sum up and describe the time from the fall of Rome until the so-called “Enlightenment” when as Hart notes:

The most pitilessly and self-righteously violent regimes of 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 confidant enthusiasm than the cause of the “brotherhood of man,” the postreligious 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.

If we were honest, if we were rational, if we cared about human life and violence and if we cared one whit about evidence, we would designate the time shortly after the so-called Enlightenment, up to and including our own time, as the true dark ages. Once we consider those killed in the endless wars (civilian and soldier), through colonial expansion, genocides, poverty, death camps, gulags, and execution by the state, the modern age, that secular taliban, has no business lecturing anyone about what is dark or violent.

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3 Responses to Hart: Atheist Delusions—Chapter Nine

  1. Burk Braun says:

    “Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other.”

    Perhaps the best thing I can do here is to point you to the creation museum.

    “If we were honest, if we were rational, if we cared about human life and violence and if we cared one whit about evidence, we would designate the time shortly after the so-called Enlightenment, up to and including our own time, as the true dark ages.”

    The term “dark age” generally refers to lack of high intellectual attainment, of which the current time, whatever else its flaws, is certainly not an example. Likewise in terms of violence and injustice on a per-capita basis, now is the best time in all of human history, as we have previously discussed. Your definition of darkness appears in essence to be weakness of Christian belief. Understandable, but not relevant to a wider historical discussion.

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  2. Burk Braun says:

    An interesting link on connection with this is the population of France through this time. If one graphs it out (log scale), it looks like 500 to 900 were really pretty wretched (“dark”, as it were), with 900 to 1350 being a very good time (like our own), and 1350 to 1700 being rather static. If I could paste an image here, I would. Population numbers are not a complete proxy for human happiness, let alone cultural achievement, but not a bad one either for past times.

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  3. Darrell says:

    The reference to the creation museum in response to Hart's quote only tells us you don't understand the difference between the word “material” and the philosophical position “materialism,” unless you had another point in mind.

    Hart is pointing out how shallow and unreflective it is to posit “darkness” as a lack of technological or cultural attainment (which doesn’t describe the Middle Ages anyway) when some of the most culturally, scientifically, and intellectually advanced states in modern history (Germany, Italy, Japan, China, and Russia) also rose to such incredible heights of violence and bloodshed. Your “per-capita” calculations and population graphs fail to grasp the difference or irony inherent in that converse relation (talk about missing the point!). That failure is extremely relevant, if also understandable.

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