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The “true and reasonable” confrontables of the Christian faith – considering David Bentley Hart’s approach through Lutheran eyes (part I of II)

12 Dec
Festus: “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Paul: "I am speaking true and rational words."

Festus: “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Paul: “I am speaking true and rational words.”

At the Eclectic Orthodoxy blog, Father Al Kimel has been talking about Dr. David Bentley Hart’s new book, The Experience of God.  Previously, I had been deeply impressed by Hart’s Atheist Delusions.

It sounds like the new book, also written with atheists in mind, will pack quite a punch as well.  What follows are some quotes that Father Kimel posted on his blog:

“[God is 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 whatsoever” (p. 10).

Here is a quote that relates to this blog’s “infant theology” approach:

I start from the conviction that many of the most important things we know are things we know before we can speak them; indeed, we know them—though with very little in the way of concepts to make them intelligible to us—even as children, and see them with the greatest immediacy when we look at them with the eyes of innocence. But, as they are hard to say, and as they are often so immediate to us that we cannot stand back from them objectively, we tend to put them out of mind as we grow older, and make ourselves oblivious to them, and try to silence the voice of knowledge that speaks within our own experiences of the world. Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience; it is the ability to translate some of that vision into words, however inadequate. There is a point, that is to say, where reason and revelation are one and the same. (pp. 9-10).*

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

I would simply add that we also try to silence the voice of knowledge that speaks within our own experiences of the word, not just world.  Nor will reason and revelation ever be fully one until Christ returns and abolishes all of man’s sin.

God is “the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things” (p. 30). He is not an inhabitant of the material world or any spiritual dimension. He is not posed over against the universe, nor is he the universe itself. He may be described as beyond being, if by “being” we understand the totality of all created beings. He may be described as being, if by “being” we wish to signify God as “the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation” (p. 30)…. God is not merely one, in a way that a finite object might be merely singular or unique, but is oneness as such, the one act of being and unity by which any finite things exists and by which all things exist together. He is one in the sense that being itself is one, the infinite is one, the source of everything is one” (p. 31, bolded parts italicized in Hart).

Wow.  So I thought about bolding that whole paragraph above.  Yes, that sounds right.

Try this one:

The world is unable to provide any account of its own actuality, and yet there it is all the same. In that instant one recalls that one’s every encounter with the world has always been an encounter with an enigma that no merely physical explanation can resolve. (pp. 88-89)….

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Along with this, I have in the past said that “even the man claiming atheism trusts the being responsible for all that he can see, hear, feel, etc. – not personally as the giver of all good gifts, but rather as the one who is there – and therefore as the one whom he can and must define himself against.  All know, at some level, that making God go away is impossible. Hence the quip about the atheist knowing that God does not exist and also that he hates him.”

Hart talks about what distinguishes Christian theism from others forms of belief in “god”:

The gods are enfolded within nature and enter human thought at the most exalted expressions of its power; they emerge from the magnificent energy of the physical order. God, however, is first glimpsed within nature’s still greater powerlessness—its transitoriness and contingency and explanatory poverty. He is known or imagined or hoped for as that reality that lies beyond the awful shadow of potential nothingness that falls across all finite things, the gods included. (pp. 94-95)

Lutherans distinguish between the theology of the glory (God is found in power, success, and fireworks) and the theology of the cross (God is found in simple, weak, and unassuming things) here and so I find this kind of thinking particularly intriguing. 

If one is really to seek “proof” one way or the other regarding the reality of God, one must recall that what one is seeking is a particular experience, one wholly unlike an encounter with some mere finite object of cognition or some particular thing that might be found among other things. One is seeking an ever deeper communion with a reality that at once exceeds and underlies all other experiences. If one could sort through all the physical objects and events constituting the universe, one might come across any number of gods (you never know), but one will never find God. And yet one is placed in the presence of God in every moment, and can find him even in the depth of the mind’s own act of seeking. As the source, ground, and end of being and consciousness, God can be known as God only insofar as the mind rises from beings to being, and withdraws from the objects of consciousness toward the wellsprings of consciousness itself, and learns to see nature not as a closed system of material forces but in light of those ultimate ends that open the mind and being each to the other. All the great faiths recognize numerous vehicles of grace, various proper dispositions of the soul before God, differing degrees of spiritual advancement, and so forth; but all clearly teach that there is no approach to the knowledge of God that does not involve turning the mind and the will toward the perception of God in all things and of all things in God. This is the path of prayer—contemplative prayer, that is, as distinct from simple prayers of supplication and thanksgiving—which is a specific discipline of thought, desire, and action, one that frees the mind from habitual prejudices and appetites, and allows it to dwell in the gratuity and glory of all things. As an old monk on Mount Athos once told me, contemplative prayer is the art of seeing reality as it truly is; and, if one has not yet acquired the ability to see God in all things, one should not imagine that one will be able to see God in himself. (pp. 320-321)**

Hart: “If one could sort through all the physical objects and events constituting the universe, one might come across any number of gods (you never know), but one will never find God.”  Me: That said, of course the Physical Object par excellence, the Incarnate One who entered history, might find you.

Hart: If one could sort through all the physical objects and events constituting the universe, one might come across any number of gods (you never know), but one will never find God. Me: That said, of course the Physical Object par excellence, the Incarnate One who entered history, might find you.  And you should be listening to Him and those He has sent…

Initially, I’m not sure what to do with that when I read it, but then I read Kimel’s gloss:

“It is precisely because God is “the unity of infinite being and infinite consciousness, and the reason for the reciprocal transparency of finite being and finite consciousness each to the other, and the ground of all existence and all knowledge” that the way of contemplation is appropriate and necessary (p. 324).”

Again Hart:

No one is obliged to make such an effort; but, unless one does, any demands one might make for evidence of the reality of God can safely be dismissed as disingenuous, and any arguments against belief in God that one might have the temerity to make to others can safely be ignored as vacuous” (pp. 327-328).”

How might a serious Lutheran further reflect on Hart’s words here?  I can’t speak for all of us, but I will speak for myself regarding this question in tomorrow’s post.  The caption on the picture gives a preview.

FIN

*Kimel comments: I am reminded of Gerald Janzen’s words: “We experience more than we know; and we know more than we can think; and we think more than we can say; and language therefore lags behind the intuitions of immediate experience.

** Kimel comments on the book in his first post: “Hart reaches out beyond his Christian faith to Judaism, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, as well as ancient Greek philosophy. He is not promoting a generic theistic religion; but he does want his readers to see that the human longing for the transcendent “lies at the heart of all human culture” (p. 6). It cannot be trivially or arrogantly dismissed as primitive superstition. Yes, terrible evils have been done, and continue to be done, in the name of religion; yet it also remains true that “most of the unquestionably sublime achievements of the human intellect and imagination have arisen in worlds shaped by some vision of transcendent truth” (p. 6).”

Paul pic: Wikipedia, Trial of the Apostle Paul, Nikolai Bodarevsky, 1875 ; Hart pic: tamedcynic.org

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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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