David Bentley Hart – The Experience of God [Interview]

December 20, 2013


[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0300166842″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31WLbe1J19L._SL160_.jpg” width=”107″]Page 2: David Bentley Hart – Interview

TE: Another aspect of your work that a number of your readers admire is its interdisciplinary quality. You seem to have a capacity for bringing a number of different fields into conversation with one another, so that there is a fruitful exchange between philosophy, theology, and the history of religions, among other disciplines. How important is it that the work of theology takes place within this sort of expansive view of scholarship? As a related question more specific to your most recent work, did you have any concerns about developing your argument within a more theistic framework, rather than one rooted in the particulars of Christian theology?


DBH: That may simply be symptomatic of a somewhat vagrant mind.  I have never really been able to make myself want to specialize in some very narrow section of one very narrow field of study.  This may be why I was unable as an undergraduate to decide whether I might want a degree in philosophy, classics, religious studies, musicology, art history, world literature, or several other fields.  But, really, these divisions are all an academic fiction, aren’t they?  It seems to me that one of the real tragedies of the modern academy has been the fragmentation of the humanities into a collection of hermetically sealed disciplines that do not seem to understand one another.  That simply is not how culture works, high or low, intellectual or material.  We have Milton scholars, for instance, with no knowledge of the history of philosophy or theology, and only a second-hand acquaintance with the classical sources upon which he drew.  But how can one possibly, then, really know anything about Milton, if nine-tenths of his references and allusions are unintelligible or even invisible to one?  Humane learning has to be omnivorous, indifferent to disciplinary boundaries, or it becomes a fragment of a fragment, with no meaning or intelligibility whatsoever.  And theology is no different from any other humane pursuit in that regard.  As for your final question, no, I had no concerns about writing a book on classical Theism rather than a book on Christian theology.  I am more concerned that theologians are often frighteningly and condescendingly ignorant of other religions.


TE: Your last two books on Yale Press, Atheist Delusions and The Experience of God, both confront the so-called “New Atheism,” though perhaps in different ways and through somewhat distinct arguments. I’m curious as to whether you see these books as working together to present a larger vision of an appropriate Christian response to atheism. What led to your decision to address the new atheists, and is this a project that you will continue to pursue in future works?


DBH:  Actually, neither book was conceived as a direct confrontation with the New Atheists.  In the case of the former volume, the title was originally what now appears as a subtitle; the New Atheists, however, had just had their annus mirabilis in the publishing world as I began writing, and so it was convenient to use their books as a (somewhat comic) point of departure.  They spared me the necessity of constructing straw men.  Frankly, like many others in the academic world, I was rather naïve about the cultural effect those books would have, at least in the near term.  They were all such poor books—shot through with historical ignorance and philosophical ineptitude, rhetorically crass or (in the case of Sam Harris) hilariously pompous—that I imagined no one would take them very seriously.  I mean, the book by Christopher Hitchens was so spasmodically delirious and pointless, so full of historical errors and conceptual confusions, that it came across almost as a parody.  So the New Atheists were at most a minor and marginal presence in that book, and had a somewhat aggressive title not been added to the volume it might never have been perceived as a contribution to that debate.  The new book, on the other hand, is in fact a response to popular misconceptions about traditional understandings of God, and so might be seen as a confrontation with the New Atheists.  But, really, their celebrity is already on the decline, except among their most ferocious disciples, and my book is no more concerned with them than it is with religious fundamentalists, metaphysical “naturalists,” certain proponents of intelligent design theory, deists, or those misguided Christian philosophers of religion Brian Davies calls “theistic personalists.”  I sincerely doubt I will have anything more to say abut the New Atheists in future work.  I might write a little about more intellectually substantial atheist thinkers, like Graham Oppy—a fellow who makes mistakes, and whose arguments fail, not because he is foolish or entirely uninformed, but simply because he is thoughtfully wrong on certain crucial points.

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One response to David Bentley Hart – The Experience of God [Interview]

  1. If DBH is out there somewhere I would love to know his short list of some of the poorly formulated rules of the analytic tradition and also I would be keen to know when the apokatastatic standard version of the New Testament is coming out