Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart won 2011 Michael Ramsay Prize

For those who are new to this blog, especially if you showed up because of the Riskin post then please read the rules for comments- and follow them. That post received the most nasty or inane comments of anything posted since I started. If you parachute in with a phoney email and a comment that did not require reading the post, it will most likely not get posted.

I have lots of good posts ready to post but little time to post them so this may either be a light blogging week or not, depending on my pre-yom tov schedule. Here is a book award a major prize last week.

Last week, the 2011 Michael Ramsay Prize was awarded to Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart.

Atheist Delusions:The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies (Yale, 2009).
The book as a response to religion’s cultural despisers is not my cup of tea but the award as best theology by the Anglican Church will propel Hart into a position as a leading apologist. His work will not be accepted by skeptics but those believers out there who want to know what is considered an intelligent response should definitely read his books. Hart will socially fill a role as a CS Lewis or Chesterton for our age.

David Bentley Hart is Eastern Orthodox, but in his personal statements calls himself “Modern Orthodox;” don’t get confused.

In the book, Hart defends the role of Christianity in transforming the world for the better through the ages, contrary to the assertions of critics who assert the faith has done more harm than good. If the critics see region as a negative force in society, Hart defends the positive role for religion.

Archbishop Rowan Williams stated:
“But what makes it more than just another contribution to controversy is the way he shows how the most treasured principles and values of compassionate humanism are rooted in the detail of Christian doctrine.”
“No one could pretend after reading this that Christian theology was lacking in intellectual and imaginative force or in relevance to the contemporary world.”

There is a truly great Full Summary of the book out there on a blog. It is good enough to serve as spark notes. If you want the main ideas of the book then read it at the blog.

First Things review when it first came out.

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies
From Amazon review:
To begin with, the book should probably be titled “Atheist Delusions About Ancient History.” This book is not so much a debate with our Fashionable New Atheists
It is more a long, and endlessly fascinating, revisit of Ancient History.

It may not be surprising to learn that there are at least two main narratives commonly provided for “The History of Western Civilization.” Here they are (very compressed):

Narrative #1: The Christian Version. “The world was lost in pagan immorality and darkness; man enslaved man and man dominated woman. Then, with the Birth of Christ, came the Divine Light, and the world was forever transformed. The barbarian, knuckle-dragging rapists of Europe were baptised and brought to Jesus, and the world got much, much better. Even today, there is no other known source of European civilization and we reject it at our peril.”
Narrative #2: The Modernist Version. “We had the Glory of Greece and the Splendor of Rome, but alas a bunch of superstitious people completely replaced the glories of Paganism with the knuckle-dragging ignorance of Blind Faith. The result was the Dark Ages, which only ended when Heroic Forces restored the classics of Greece to a benighted Europe. Then came the Enlightenment, and Democracy, and all manner of good things, once the Europeans cast off the shackles of Faith.” Arthur C. Clarke and many other modern thinkers followed this narrative
While classical atheism has often parried with Christianity on metaphysical grounds, the so-called “New Atheism” has for the most part attacked Christianity on historical grounds: that it was intolerant, anti-intellectual, destroyed classical learning, prevented social and political progress, etc. Hart takes on this widely circulated charges and clearly and decisively rebuts them.

Better than the book is the
The David B. Hart Appreciation Blog with many of his essays.
**Better than the book that won the award are his essays.**
After the Asian Tsunami when both Christian and Jewish clerics competed for the stupidest quote to explain why it occurred, Hart wrote a beautiful piece in the WSJ, which he expanded into an 80 page essay against the current trend to offer explanations for tragedies.
Buber’s essays that in the face of tragedy will care about how humans respond and not the theodicy is usually cited as retold by Rav Soloveitchik or Rabbi Sacks. Hart’s little work on theodicy belongs on the same shelf.

David B. Hart’s “Tremors of Doubt” WSJ

What kind of God would allow a deadly tsunami?

On Nov. 1, 1755, a great earthquake struck offshore of Lisbon. In that city alone, some 60,000 perished, first from the tremors, then from the massive tsunami that arrived half an hour later. Fires consumed much of what remained of the city. The tidal waves spread death along the coasts of Iberia and North Africa.
Voltaire’s “Poëme sur le désastre de Lisbonne” of the following year was an exquisitely savage–though sober–assault upon the theodicies prevalent in his time. For those who would argue that “all is good” and “all is necessary,” that the universe is an elaborately calibrated harmony of pain and pleasure, or that this is the best of all possible worlds, Voltaire’s scorn was boundless: By what calculus of universal good can one reckon the value of “infants crushed upon their mothers’ breasts,” the dying “sad inhabitants of desolate shores,” the whole “fatal chaos of individual miseries”?

In truth, though, confronted by such enormous suffering, Christians have less to fear from the piercing dialectic of the village atheist than they do from the earnestness of certain believers, and from the clouds of cloying incense wafting upward from the open thuribles of their hearts.

When confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering–when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children’s–no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God’s inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God’s good ends. We are permitted only to hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world as divided between two kingdoms–knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against “fate,” and that must do so until the end of days.
Read his full discussion, here and here.

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