Showing posts with label God. Show all posts
Showing posts with label God. Show all posts

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hart on 'The New Atheists'

David Bentley Hart is one of the editors of First Things, an inter-religious (i.e. non-denominational), non-partisan 'think tank'.

Some quotes from his essay on New Atheism (linked at right):

The most venerable metaphysical claims about God do not simply shift priority from one kind of thing (say, a teacup or the universe) to another thing that just happens to be much bigger and come much earlier (some discrete, very large gentleman who preexists teacups and universes alike). These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself.
I see this as philosophically similar to the no-self (anatta) teaching within Buddhism, which forms the basis of the teaching of sunyata or emptiness (no-thing-ness). The Buddhist teaching of emptiness, and the apophatic tradition of Christian mysticism, have much in common, despite the obvious differences in belief and philosophy. This is a theme I intend to explore in more depth this year.

Hart discusses Nietzsche's  atheism:

[Nietzsche's ] famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists — those who merely do not believe — to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

Because he understood the nature of what had happened when Christianity entered history with the annunciation of the death of God on the cross, and the elevation of a Jewish peasant above all gods, Nietzsche understood also that the passing of Christian faith permits no return to pagan naivete, and he knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated. He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us. If we are, after all, nothing but the fortuitous effects of physical causes, then the will is bound to no rational measure but itself, and who can imagine what sort of world will spring up from so unprecedented and so vertiginously uncertain a vision of reality?

I feel that the Western tradition misinterprets the meaning of 'the incarnation', insofar as Jesus Christ is depicted as the only instance in history, around which everything rotates. But what was it Jesus said in the [Gnostic] Gospel of Thomas? "Pick up a rock, split a piece of wood, you will find Me there?" "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside you." Within you and without you. Jesus Christ is the 'only', not in the sense of being the only instance, but the exemplar of the only truth as 'the true nature of being', or 'the truth about life' or even 'the truth, light and way'. And if you seek the truth as a Christian, then he is the One and Only, in a similar way that your wife is your One and Only - but it does not mean that Christians have a monopoly on the truth, or that your wife is the only woman in the world, to persons other than yourself.  (My view is similar to that of philosopher of religion John Hick).

In the same essay, I noticed this quote from Nietzsche: "Once the Buddha was dead, people displayed his shadow for centuries afterwards in a cave, an immense and dreadful shadow." This is not correct. There was a 'myth of the Buddha's shadow' as there were 'myths of the Buddha's footprint' embedded in the rocks of the ancient world. But the shadow was not 'immense and dreadful', simply a marking on a rock, around which the legend grew up that it had remained there as a supernatural reminder of the Buddha visiting that place [and where his garment had been laid out to dry on a rock, if my memory serves]. The ancient world was full of myths of this kind. And although Nietzsche professed to respect Buddhism to some degree, his ideas about it, like those of his contemporaries, were ill- informed. This is described in Roger Pol-Droit's The Cult of Nothingness: Philosophers and the Buddha.