What interests me—and what I take to be demonstrable and important—is the particular ensemble of moral and imaginative values engendered in numberless consciences by Christian beliefs. That such values had political and social consequences I certainly do not deny; I feel fairly safe in saying, for instance, that abolitionism—as a purely moral cause—could not easily have arisen in any non-Christian culture of which I am aware. That is quite different, however, from claiming that Christianity ineluctably or uniquely must give rise to, say, democracy or capitalism or empirical science. It is to say, rather, that the Christian account of reality introduced into our world an understanding of the divine, the cosmic, and the human that had no exact or even proximate equivlanet elsewhere and that made possible a moral vision of the human person that has haunted us ever since, century upon century.
David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, p. 202-203
The above quote was called to my attention by the latest episode of the Unbelievable? radio show, in which Hart and Terry Sanderson, president of the UK’s National Secular Society, debate the potential results of the new atheist goal of secularization and the relegation of all religion to individual, inconsequential observance (at best).
I’ve been interested in David Bentley Hart since my friend Cliff Martin reviewed his book a couple years ago. The above quote is indicative of his approach, which is careful not to argue that Christianity is true because it does this or that for the world. As he says on the show, “The book is not an exhortation to ‘believe, because if we don’t, we don’t have moral rationales for behaving the way we ought to behave.’ ” In fact, “It’s not that anyone would deny that there is some natural promptings and desire for the good that is part of our human natures (if you believe in human nature); every faith says as much, that these are indeed human good and human values.” He finds it “silly” to suppose that we would have rationally deduced specifically the types of values that most of us, secularists included, find most important: “It’s simply the lesson of history that what that desire for the good produces is not a particular set of values that are immediately rationally recognizable.” His point is that we cannot and should not ignore that Christianity has yielded felicitous impacts on society that he finds exceedingly unlikely to have occurred in a truly secular environment devoid of Christian influence—benefits which he insists are likely to dwindle in the thoroughly secularized society that’s been progressively more stridently advocated in recent years.
Sanderson, of course, disagrees, which leads to some stimulating discussion. Highly recommended.Christianity in culture • David Bentley Hart • New Atheism • podcast • secularism • Unbelievable