Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hart on learning from atheists

"[S]ometimes atheism seems to retain elements of 'Christianity' within itself that Christians have all too frequently forgotten."

- David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (Eerdmans: 2005), 25.

Have you noticed this? Can you think of any examples?


Drew said...

Bruce Benson thinks something similar in Graven Ideologies - from what I remember, he argues that Christians are constantly tempted to think of God as less than he is - in idolatrous terms basically - and that paying attention to atheists jolts us out of our domesticated conceptions of him.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people who reject Christianity seem to cite the problem of evil and they really seem to have a realistic picture of the presence of suffering and the silence of God. I think a lot of Christians turn to cliches about how God works all things for good instead of crying with the psalmist, "How long, oh Lord?"

John P. said...

certainly, alot of my atheist friends have been able to ask better questions about faith and God and religion than a lot of lifetime believers.

There is something to be said for a little "hermeneutical distance" which a non-christian friend can provide. For someone engaged in theological studies, it is also crucial to have those conversations because it forces me to reformulate things i have learned into comprehensible sentences which could enrich a discussion with someone not familiar with the jargon or theory behind theology as such...

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I think the "protest atheists" such as Camus, who deny God because of the problem of evil tend to retain strong "Christian" senses of social justice and compassion over people in pain and suffering. I have noticed less of this in the Dawkins-style skeptics.

Some atheists, however, have strong sense of truth, respect for integrity of information, etc. that seem to have escaped conservative Christian apologists. Have you read Merold Westphal's book on why Christians should read and learn from Nietszche, Freud, Marx--the "masters of suspicion?"

byron smith said...

Drew - I now have that book (on your recommendation) and intend to read it at some stage. Thanks.

Rachel - absolutely. This is precisely what Hart is getting at in this passage and I think this is so crucial. It has to do with not minimising evil, or explaining it away as a necessary part of some greater good.

John P. - great point. Moltmann has a great little article on this here. Really worth a look (and not very long).

MWW - Westphal's Suspicion and Faith is one of my favourites. I have found his basic distinction between sceptical atheism and suspicious atheism immensely insightful.

Anthony Douglas said...

I was just reading a debate that Newsweek organised between Sam Harris and Rick Warren. I suspect Harris would prove a reasonable illustration of the 'not satisfied to leave it to God to fix things' type atheist.

At the same time, and I doubt Hart meant this, he's a great example of someone blinded by their own self-righteousness. Do we forget the power of self-induced blindness sometimes?

I wouldn't call Warren a top-drawer debater, but he's all over Harris. After a slow start, I liked him more than I expected to.

Anonymous said...

Similar to what Drew reads in Benson, we can also read in Jean-Luc Marion. In God without being he writes this:

"Theism and atheism bear equally upon an idol. They remain enemies, but fraternal enemies, in a common and impassable idolatry."