A Lament of Superficial Opposition
David Hart is, above all, disappointed at the recent wave of “New Atheists” — at their superficiality and intellectual laziness, at the way (in essence) they present themselves as petulant adolescents still impressed with the fact that God does not strike them dead when they turn mom’s crucifix upside down. Hart mainly wishes for some sense of profundity, and all believers should be keenly aware that it is more difficult to grow in faith when the faithless don’t rise to the challenge of initial responses.
Contrast the current debate with Nietzsche, about whom Hart writes:
Because he understood the nature of what had happened when Christianity entered history with the annunciation of the death of God on the cross, and the elevation of a Jewish peasant above all gods, Nietzsche understood also that the passing of Christian faith permits no return to pagan naivete, and he knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated. He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us. If we are, after all, nothing but the fortuitous effects of physical causes, then the will is bound to no rational measure but itself, and who can imagine what sort of world will spring up from so unprecedented and so vertiginously uncertain a vision of reality?
For Nietzsche, therefore, the future that lies before us must be decided, and decided between only two possible paths: a final nihilism, which aspires to nothing beyond the momentary consolations of material contentment, or some great feat of creative will, inspired by a new and truly worldly mythos powerful enough to replace the old and discredited mythos of the Christian revolution (for him, of course, this meant the myth of the Ubermensch).
Current atheists are right to shy from t Nietzschian project; the notion of an Ubermensch wrought a great deal of death and destruction in the last century. So, those who disclaim God based on their gut impressions of reality have little to offer beyond sniping as a means of ignoring the reality that, even if God were a created concept, He has served a purpose. Hart cites New Atheist A.C. Grayling as an example. The atheist points out, in his writings, that he prefers a painting of Aphrodite to those of a crucified Christ, and Hart responds:
Ignoring that leaden and almost perfectly ductile phrase “life-enhancing,” I, too—red of blood and rude of health—would have to say I generally prefer the sight of nubile beauty to that of a murdered man’s shattered corpse. The question of whether Grayling might be accused of a certain deficiency of tragic sense can be deferred here. But perhaps he would have done well, in choosing this comparison, to have reflected on the sheer strangeness, and the significance, of the historical and cultural changes that made it possible in the first place for the death of a common man at the hands of a duly appointed legal authority to become the captivating center of an entire civilization’s moral and aesthetic contemplations—and for the deaths of all common men and women perhaps to be invested thereby with a gravity that the ancient order would never have accorded them.
As a passing fancy, sex from the sea may be more compelling, but at some point lusting after a naked deity has to give way to the question of what the image indicates for humanity. One doesn’t have to come to my conclusions, at that point, but the alternative is hardly life-enhancing if it eventually requires the suppression of our intellectual faculties.