Monday, September 21, 2009

David Bentley Hart's "Christ and Nothing"

The essay that David Bentley Hart, Orthodox theologian of aesthetics and a well-practiced rhetorician in the history of medieval and modern thought, wrote for First Things five years ago, I think, is one of the most compelling and terrifying pronouncements of the modern spiritual disposition that I've come across. For those who may doubt the ontological presuppositions behind the absolute sovereignty of the individual will and choice to structure and understand the world, Mr. Hart has a few words to disclose. The essay is also a brief summation of the trajectory of modern thought in dealing with the problem of choice and the inheritance of cultural Christendom as a dominating force that shapes modern culture and thought. Hart is the first theologian I've read who has actively diagnosed and archived to any suitable degree, the extent to which God has been killed and continues to be, as well as offering an extensive understanding of the responsibilities and terrors which ensue when faith does not resolve itself into a complete subjugation to the error of the postmodern condition of boundless skepticism and gnostic delineation of historical criticism, ad nauseam.

We might all be wise to consider his admonitions. Albeit, the concept of modern freedom will not allow the domineering force of obedience to rob it of its ardor for totalizing freedom, if we do listen to him, a freedom which leaves behind all else in its path in the interests of itself, and itself alone. We are free to do all else but to obey...

If you don't read the essay, at least risk the following quote to stir up the blood, or force it to continue its trajectory toward the anesthesia of evasion from thought:

"The only cult that can truly thrive in the aftermath of Christianity is a sordid service of the self, of the impulses of the will, of the nothingness that is all that the withdrawal of Christianity leaves behind. The only futures open to post-Christian culture are conscious nihilism, with its inevitable devotion to death, or the narcotic banality of the Last Men, which may be little better than death. Surveying the desert of modernity, we would be, I think, morally derelict not to acknowledge that Nietzsche was right in holding Christianity responsible for the catastrophe around us (even if he misunderstood why); we should confess that the failure of Christian culture to live up to its victory over the old gods has allowed the dark power that once hid behind them to step forward in propria persona. And we should certainly dread whatever rough beast it is that is being bred in our ever coarser, crueler, more inarticulate, more vacuous popular culture; because, cloaked in its anodyne incipience, lies a world increasingly devoid of merit, wit, kindness, imagination, or charity."

- David Bentley Hart, Christ and Nothing, First Things, October 2003.