Hart outlines how Christianity transformed the ancient world in ways we may have forgotten: bringing liberation from fatalism, conferring great dignity on human beings, subverting the cruelest aspects of pagan society, and elevating charity above all virtues. He then argues that what we term the "Age of Reason" was in fact the beginning of the eclipse of reason's authority as a cultural value. Hart closes the book in the present, delineating the ominous consequences of the decline of Christendom in a culture that is built upon its moral and spiritual values.
Ranging broadly across Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, Hart explores how these great intellectual traditions treat humanity’s knowledge of the divine mysteries. Constructing his argument around three principal metaphysical “moments”—being, consciousness, and bliss—the author demonstrates an essential continuity between our fundamental experience of reality and the ultimate reality to which that experience inevitably points.
Thoroughly dismissing such blatant misconceptions as the deists' concept of God, as well as the fundamentalist view of the Bible as an objective historical record, Hart provides a welcome antidote to simplistic manifestoes. In doing so, he plumbs the depths of humanity’s experience of the world as powerful evidence for the reality of God and captures the beauty and poetry of traditional reflection upon the divine.
But, by the beginning of the 21st century, this faith that began in such fragility, and that became so powerful--even though its temporal power has now receded in its historic homelands--is the most widespread and diverse of all religions. Christianity is rapidly taking root in cultures very different from those in which it was born and in which it once flourished, and is assuming configurations that could not have been anticipated a century ago.
In The Story of Christianity, the distinguished theologian David Bentley Hart provides a broad picture of Christian history. Presented in 50 short chapters--each focusing on a critical facet of Christian history or theology, and each amplified by timelines, quotations, and color images--his magisterial account does full justice to the range of Christian tradition, belief and practice--Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Evangelical, Coptic, Chaldean, Ethiopian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Malankaran, to name but a few of the many possibilities.
From the persecutions of the early church to the papal-imperial conflicts of the Middle Ages, from the religious wars of 16th and 17th-century Europe to the challenges of science and secularism in the modern era, and from the ancient Christian communities of Africa and Asia to the "house churches" of contemporary China, The Story of Christianity triumphantly captures the heterogeneous richness of Christian history.
Though he responds to those skeptical of Christian faith, Hart is at his most perceptive and provocative as he examines Christian attempts to rationalize the tsunami disaster. Many people want a divine plan that will make sense of evil. Hart contends, however, that the history of suffering and death is not willed by God. Rather than appealing to a divine calculus that can account for every instance of suffering, Christians must recognize the ongoing struggle between the rebellious powers that enslave the world and the God who loves it.
This meditation by a brilliant young theologian will deeply challenge serious readers grappling with God s ways in a suffering world.
The book begins by tracing the shifting use and nature of metaphysics in the thought of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lyotard, Derrida, Deleuze, Nancy, Levinas, and others. Hart pays special attention to Nietzsche's famous narrative of the "will to power" -- a narrative largely adopted by the world today -- and he offers an engaging revision (though not rejection) of the genealogy of nihilism, thereby highlighting the significant "interruption" that Christian thought introduced into the history of metaphysics.
This discussion sets the stage for a retrieval of the classic Christian account of beauty and sublimity, and of the relation of both to the question of being. Written in the form of a dogmatica minora, this main section of the book offers a pointed reading of the Christian story in four moments, or parts: Trinity, creation, salvation, and eschaton. Through a combination of narrative and argument throughout, Hart ends up demonstrating the power of Christian metaphysics not only to withstand the critiques of modern and postmodern thought but also to move well beyond them.
Strikingly original and deeply rewarding, The Beauty of the Infinite is both a constructively critical account of the history of metaphysics and a compelling contribution to it.
Why has Don Juan become so passé of late? What’s the trouble with Ayn Rand? How did the Doge of Venice come to venerate the counterfeit remains of Siddhartha Gautama? Why does the Bentley family’s collection of ancestral relics include a bronzed human thumb? And what, exactly, is the story behind Great Uncle Aloysius, who was born a Quaker but died a pagan?
This collection of occasional essays brings us David Bentley Hart at his finest: startlingly clear and deliciously abstruse, coolly wise and burningly witty, fresh and timeless, mystical and concrete — often all at once. Hart’s incisive blend of philosophy, moral theology, and cultural criticism, together with his flair for both the well-told story and the well-turned phrase, is sure to delight.
Spanning Hart's career both topically and over time, these essays cover such subjects as the Orthodox understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice; the metaphysics of Paradise Lost; Christianity, modernity, and freedom; death, final judgment, and the meaning of life; and many more.
"Here I want -- at least in part -- to entertain. This is not to say that the pieces gathered here are not serious in their arguments; quite the contrary. . . . I mean only that, in these articles, I have given my natural inclinations towards satire and towards wantonly profligate turns of phrase far freer rein than academic writing permits. . . . I have, at any rate, attempted to include only pieces that strike me as having some intrinsic interest, both in form and in content."
-- from the introduction
These stories -- "The Devil and Pierre Gernet," "The House of Apollo," "A Voice from the Emerald World," "The Ivory Gate," and "The Other" -- beguile and entrance the reader through Hart's engrossing, opulent writing style and the complex characters he evokes and explores.
Often bedazzling, sometimes heartbreaking, and ultimately mesmerizing, Hart's wide-ranging stories are united by a common thread of haunting religious and philosophical questions about this life and the next. Here is fiction to fully engage both the mind and the heart.