Upon seeing the title Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale University Press), I confess to having suspected it would follow the formula of other debunkings of the "Bright brigade," decrying the illogic and inaccuracy of the New Atheists' arguments. Instead, I found someone (in this case, theologian David Bentley Hart) taking a step back from the carnage of the current (pop) culture war to ask bigger questions about how we ended up here in the first place.
Hart, a visiting professor of theology at Providence College, begins by looking at the New Atheist phenomenon, lambasting Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett et al. for their carelessness with and rhetorical manipulation of philosophy, theology, and history. But that is quickly left behind; in the book's second half, we begin to see the Orthodox theologian's real intent: to offer a counter-narrative of religion's role in human history.
The New Atheists trade in "fruitless abstractions of religion," Hart writes, and reduce Christianity to its history's "bloodthirsty crusaders and sadistic inquisitors"—in other words, to its worst constituent parts. But far from being an obstacle to human flourishing and fulfilment, Hart asserts, Christianity gave birth to the idea of humanity as we know it. Never before the 2,000-year-old religion were slave and free, man and woman, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile welcomed in equal measure and with immeasurable love.
Much of Atheist Delusions reminds readers of the importance of remembering what Christianity has done for us—not just for the believer in personal salvation, but also for the nonbeliever in human history. Would we have had medieval leper hospitals if not ...