Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart (an Eastern Orthodox thinker) is a book I wish I’d read a long time ago. It’s not particularly revolutionary (as the author himself notes) but it is a timely correction to many cultural misconceptions. Hart is one of the most articulate authors I’ve ever read, though he does come across as a bit snobbish sometimes.
This is not a classic Christian apologetics book, by the way. The author is careful not to argue for or against the truth of Christian belief. The author makes no supernatural claims, and is not even particularly concerned to get his readers to like Christianity. He frequently quotes (with approval) from Friedrich Nietzshe and laments the quality of modern critics of Christianity. His objective is to have them understand the impact that Christianity has had, and the implications of a truly post-Christian society. What he hopes to inspire with this book is a more informed class of Christian critic. The first task Hart tackles then, is the dismantling of these “atheist delusions.”
Hart is primarily concerned that Christianity’s critics honestly recognize what it teaches morally and to honestly look at the things in our culture that we owe to our Christian past. Hart points out that our society is still radically shaped by Christian ideas – ideas that are fading, but powerful nonetheless. In order to prove his argument, Hart provides a sweeping overview of pagan (Greco-Roman) culture and then juxtaposes it with Christianity. Then, Hart also tackles accusations related to science and violence that are leveled at medieval Christian society. Finally, he lambasts almost all popular atheists (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet et al) and in a not-particularly-charitable way (but undeniably logical) shows why they merit all the insults he flings at them.
Hart is at his strongest when he is critiquing his atheist contemporaries for flawed lines of reasoning and when he is comparing Greco-Roman to Christian culture. In particular, he does an excellent and sobering job of showing how many of what we assume to be “moral absolutes” or “human rights” have no basis apart from Christian faith. To my mind, his weakest section deals with the wars of religion in the 16th century onward in Europe. In one or two places he also presumes an Orthodox theology – one might wonder if he would feel that those arguments also apply to the children of the Reformation.
Overall, if I had an atheist friend wanting one book to read, this is likely the book I’d recommend. Not because they’d become a believer – this book is not designed to do that. I’d recommend it because it lays the foundation for a much more honest discussion about Christianity, one that dispenses with popular myths.
Takeaway: Christianity is a revolution that has irrevocably shaped all of us “Westerners” – even the atheists. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.