David Bentley Hart: The Experience of God
I've had this book on my shelf for a couple of years or so but only recently got around to reading it. That was partly in response to replies to the question I posed a couple of months (?) ago asking for recommendations for excellent contemporary prose stylists. Hart's name was mentioned, and I'd been wanting to read this book for a while, so I dug in.
It's excellent. And it is indeed very well written. It's in part an attempt to counter the shallow arguments of the so-called "New Atheists" (Richard Dawkins et.al.) on what they call "religion," and their mistaken notion of the nature of God as understood in classical monotheism. They think that Christians (their main target) believe in a God who is a discrete and specific being within the universe, not in that respect different from the tooth fairy, whose existence could in principle be demonstrated by empirical methods, and who, since no such demonstrations are available, "almost certainly" (to quote Dawkins) does not exist. This results in some very muddy controversial waters indeed. The fact that some Christians do apparently have this inadequate conception of God is okay--we aren't saved by the precision of our theology--but it does muddy the waters further, especially if they engage in public argument. (And especially especially if they argue from scripture.)
The atheists don't seem to realize that they've vanquished a straw man (at most). It's as if an attacking army has mistaken an outlying village for the enemy's capitol city, conquered the village, and declared victory, while life goes on as usual in the capitol. Hart's rejoinders are sharp and often amusing, but quite serious.
That's not all the book is about, though. I think any believer who is not already immersed in the ideas Hart advances would find his understanding stretched and strengthened. It's not concerned with specifically Christian ideas about God, but with the conception of one absolute God which is common not only to the Abrahamic religions but, Hart argues, present behind the pantheon of Hinduism. It does require some familiarity with basic philosophical and theological terminology, but I think it's within reach of those who, like me, have only a little.
The title seems just a bit misleading to me. I would expect it to refer to personal mystical experiences, but I think rather it's meant to suggest that the foundation of our conception of God lies in the direct experiences of reality and of our own consciousness, as implied in this sentence from the introduction:
God is not only the ultimate reality that the intellect and the will seek but is also the primordial reality with which all of us are always engaged in every moment of existence and consciousness, apart from which we have no experience of anything whatever.
And with that I'm going to turn the floor over to Craig Burrell, who has a lengthy and excellent discussion of the book at All Manner of Thing.
I'm glad you were finally able to read it. It's a much more approachable book than The Beauty of the Infinite.
Posted by: Craig | 11/28/2016 at 05:07 PM
Currently rereading it (I read it when it first came out). It's a very good book -- quite inspiring.
Posted by: Rob G | 11/28/2016 at 05:46 PM
I'll probably read it again at some point.
"much more approachable"--no kidding. BotI seems to be written in some sort of jargon. Is it post-modern-ese? My academic education stopped in the mid-1970s.
I also posted a link to your review on Facebook, in hopes that some of my skeptical friends might read it--the review at least, if not the book.
Posted by: Mac | 11/28/2016 at 06:33 PM
That's great. I put quite a lot of work into that particular review, and I think it came out reasonably well. I'm happy if people read it.
Posted by: Craig | 11/28/2016 at 08:50 PM
You did an excellent job. I kind of doubt that any of the people I have in mind will read it, I'm sorry to say. Oh well.
Posted by: Mac | 11/29/2016 at 07:03 AM