on 12 June 2011
Some of the reviewers on Amazon seem not to have noticed that this book is not a defence of Christian beliefs, nor an attack on atheism as such. It is instead a defence of Christianity against claims made about its allegedly harmful historical impact and character by many today, including the 'new atheists'. It argues that Christianity gave to the world revolutionary ideas of charity and justice: they have been so successful that we hardly notice how radical they were, though most of us accept them. It argues that the Church, for all its many failures, has been, in general, a positive influence on the world. It cites many cases where the story behind the myth shows the Church to have acted better (or, at least, less poorly) than legend holds - the Galileo case for example. It sets out the argument with verve and wit even if, at times, it appears to be indulging its polemical style a little too much. It made me realise how accustomed even knowledgeable - even Christian - people have become to making assumptions about the past that do not reflect well on the Church. Those who do not like the book might do better to stop attacking it for what it is not, and demonstrate its historical errors if they can.
on 23 July 2009
This book is an in-depth exploration of the bad history, as well as the misconceptions and ignorance about what it is people believe, that is so often used to attack religion. Written by well known American University lecturer, philosopher, and theologian, Professor David Hart, Atheist Delusions tackles such contentious moments in history as Galileo's trial and the witch hunts, explaining history and faith without resorting to popular misinformation or rhetoric, his history strong, verifiable, even-handed, and matter-of-fact, his arguments giving plenty of room for you to make up your own mind, something totally lacking from the populist rants of New Atheism's most virulent supporters, who tend to assume, if not demand, that you agree with their every view, regardless of how extreme or defamatory.
Professor Hart does not take not the opposite stance of defender railing against atheism itself, but instead attacks idealistic fanaticism on both sides, confessing that there are many denominations of Christianity that he vehemently dislikes, as well as many outspoken atheists he admires, warning against the angry and destructive creed of aggressive 'New Atheism', as well as challenging those who attack Christianity and other faiths without any idea of what they are about and the bad logic that they often use.
Though I wish it this book could have been a little stronger, and maybe a little less wordy in the introduction, this is a very good book for anyone who has already experienced much of the debate and despairs of the simplistic and pedantic nature of many current arguments, and is a timely warning not to take history's headlines at face value.
on 21 February 2015
A great read. The first half is excellent for pointing out the strawman in many of the classic anti-clerical arguments you hear parroted endlessly these days by lazy atheists who couldn't be bothered to familiarize themselves with the actual facts of the thing they criticize. A good example would be the incorrect belief that Christians burned down the precious library in Alexandria in 390 AD because they were 'against learning' and 'science'. Hart does a good job of demolishing these many strawman arguments. The second half of the book deals with the legacy of Christianity today that underpins much of our civilization, and the impact rejecting our Christian heritage may have on our way of life in the long run. The assumption that a post-Christian world will necessarily be a 'better one' (whatever 'better' means) is seriously challenged in this book, on solid grounds.
on 10 November 2011
This book does not set out to "disprove Dawkins" as you might have thought from the title (and some reviewers seem to have thought).
It is a careful review of certain parts of the history of Christianity aimed entirely at correcting areas of ignorance and misunderstanding about Christianity that are very popular or common today. The writer points out that one of his reasons for writing is that these misconceptions and misunderstandings are often seized upon -or indeed invented by- the "new atheists" as reasons to discredit Christianity, often in the most strident terms.
Thus if you thought that the ancient Greek and Roman world was bustling with scientific vigour and enquiry until the Christian church stifled it- read the facts and you will find you are very much mistaken. If you thought that the "wars of religion" in the 1600s arose as the result of violence between Christian persuasions- read this to find out why you are wrong and see how they were in fact, secular in origin.
The writer in no way actually makes a case out for or against Christianity per se, and he clearly states that it is not his intention to do so. He is good at pointing out the limitations of inference that one can draw from the factual material he cites which makes a refreshing change from some writers in this area. The book is easy enough to read and helps clear up a lot of lazy thinking about the last 2000 years.
If you are a Christian it will probably give you a better knowledge of the past of your own church unless you are well read already.
If you are not a believer read it anyway for the sake of integrity, so that you at least know the historical truth behind Christianity, not the rubbish that people like Hitchens churn out.
If you like to feel superior to religious people and think that none of them can think from a to b for toffee, read it as well- the book does not go into arguments, that is not its job, but it at least gives you brief hints and allusions as to how plenty of intelligent people arrived at other philosophical standpoints than materialism.
on 13 February 2011
One of the best books I've read in a very long time, putting Hart beside the New Atheists is like putting the sun beside a glow worm. The entire point of the New Atheist movement is to create a little club house whose members can congratualte themselves on being the smartest little boys/girls in the whole wide world. This book just blows that ridiculous undergraduate conceit completely out of the water. Firstly, it is NOT a proselytizing book, it is NOT an attempt to convert anyone to Christianity, and it does NOT concern itself with docrines of the various Christian churches. The delusions referred to in the title are the mistakes (and in some cases downright, wilful lies) peddled about the history of Christianity. Christians did NOT burn down the library at Alexandria (probably Julius Caesar four decades before Christ was even born); Christians did NOT suppress the science of the ancient world for 1000 years (there was no science in the ancient world, at least not in the way we understand the word, and in fact, what there was was preserved by the Nestorian Christians of the east on behalf of the Muslim caliphs, for whom they acted as Librarians); the 'religious' wars of the early modern period were in fact nationalist struggles between the declining power of the Hapsburgs and the rising tide of the secular state. Alliances were fluid and changable, and the religion of one's allies made little difference when it came to 'taking care of buisness'.
Hart comes across as a man who is physically sick of the mental poverty of those who regard themselves as public intellectuals today, and the narcissistic conceit of their disciples. In this book, he shows what an intellectual actually is, and unlike the New Atheists, he does not feel any need to allow lies to take hold in the public mind in the service of some putative 'greater good'.
I can't recommend it enough.
This is not only a breathtakingly sweeping historical refutation of the delusions of Dawkins et al, men who mostly have NO training in history whatever and therefore perpetuate myths, not truths. (Ok, it's shooting fish in a barrel, but Dawkins' denunciation of tarot card readers showed him willing to take to minnows with an Uzi. PS. Yes, I have a history degree.)
It's also incredibly funny. My favourite line: Roman pagans were certainly tolerant. In fact, they could tolerate just abotu anything. I've been banging on for years about how misty-eyed modern paganism is about its own past - though Ronald Hutton is an honourable exception - and it's good to hear it affirmed that ancient paganism was violent, gloomy, and fearful - which it WAS, as you can easily tell if you are a Hellenophile like me.
It's also good to hear somebody getting it right about witches and the Catholic Church. How people like Philip Pullman can portray themselves as intellectuals when they fail to read even the most obvious textbooks has long been a mystery. (Presmably their 'sources' are silly fantasy genre fictions about kndly midwife witches living surrounded by herb gardens.)
I can't fault Hart on much - he bigs up the Middle Ages on science a bit too much, but otherwise the book is amazing in its mastery of many diverse periods, and judicious and also beautifully written.
One half of the world believes what the other half makes up. Unless you'd like to be in the numpty half, read this, especially if you are a secular humanist. Don't let it be a matter of faith, as it too evidently is for Dawkins. Test it, try it. You have nothing to lose but your delusions.
on 7 August 2010
I bought this book following the recommendation of a friend, having not encountered David Bentley Hart before. I am not quite sure what I was expecting, perhaps a polemic 'answering' the sort of childishness which emanates from the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens.
In fact, this tome is much better than that. Bentley Hart has quite rightly perceived that much of the 'modern atheist' rhetoric is based upon a revisionist approach to history, constituting simplistic black and white snapshots of our past. Thankfully, the author is just a tad more thorough than the popular polemics, and given his academic credentials is in a good position to dig deeper - with surprising results.
I would surmise that even many Christians have subconsciously imbibed some of the glib parrotings which now pass for serious argument - and feel defensive perhaps about the early church, or the 'dark ages' or the emancipation of slaves. This book is an invaluable resource for correcting those kinds of misconceptions. I don't expect it to be treated seriously by the atheist lobby, where maintaining the party line is more important than serious enquiry. The final section of the book, which focuses upon the radical implications for our understanding of human nature presented by the incarnation of Christ is extremely thought-provoking, and probably deserves more than one read.
Overall, an excellent book and - I concur with a previous reviewer - brilliantly well written. The way this man handles the english language is a joy to behold.
on 3 October 2010
I was very impressed indeed by this very intelligent and witty book.
I am no historian, nor am I a Christian, but have long felt that life in the western world would have been a lot worse without the influence of Christian charity, notwithstanding, as Hart points out, the Church never being at best more than half Christian.
But this book says a lot more than that, and covers a wide range of important topics for anyone who wishes to know more about the core message of Christianity, and why Hart holds it to have been the only real revolution in our history. For the open-minded he makes a very convincing case.
I can't say I was cheered by his sense of foreboding, in the final chapter, regarding the prospects for a post-Christian world. But again, I feel he is (scarily) convincing.
on 13 January 2011
Where does one start with a book with so many positive qualities? Let's start with the language. The author does not in any way talk down to his readers. This is a book that sets out to be an intellectually respectable tome and uses language and vocabulary accordingly. At the same time, though, it is eminently readable, clear and structured in such a way as to make reading it a relaxing, though thought-provoking, experience.
Then there's the content. In a sense this is two books in one. About half of it deals with the first half-millennium or so of Christianity and attempts to explain its success and the important values that it has bequeathed to Western civilisation. The author argues persuasively that the values that many modern atheist writers cleave to, while rubbishing Christianity, are part of their ethical vocabulary because of the very Christianity they abhor. In the other "half" of the book, the author addresses some of the myths that those same writers parade as "historical fact" without recognising their extreme unlikelihood.
Finally, though, I have to recommend this book wholeheartedly because it treats seriously the rational aspect of religious belief that is so often disregarded by atheist critics. As the writer point out, the notion of religious belief as "blind unquestioning faith" is a myth peddled by some atheist critics which is so obviously and demonstrably nonsense as to bring into question their rational faculties.
on 19 February 2014
Hart's historical essay is an excellent and refreshingly academic contribution to the God debate. He makes some very insightful remarks on the foundations of the scientific, modernist enterprise and avoids any "low blows" characteristic of the more reactionary apologetics on both sides.
The reason I didn't give this 5 stars is because the various bits of historical analysis can be long-winded and very tedious. Just skim read those parts if you have other things to be reading or you're not that concerned about the patristic period.